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Key Takeaways

  • The Apple Watch Ultra 2 builds upon the successful original model with a brighter screen and faster processor.
  • The new Double Tap feature allows users to interact with the watch without touching the screen, providing a convenient and hands-free experience.
  • While there aren't any groundbreaking advancements, the Ultra 2 adds some nice features to the winning formula, making it the best smartwatch option on the market.

After years of incremental hardware and software improvements to the original formula, the Apple Watch branched out into a new direction with the original Apple Watch Ultra in 2022. Sporting a larger screen, better battery life, and a rugged design, the watch quickly became a hit for anyone who enjoys an outdoor adventure or just someone who dreams of hiking and diving.

Now the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is here with some nice, but not Earth-shattering, improvements. Let's take a closer look at what’s new and help you decide If the high-end model is for you.

apple watch ultra 2 watchos10
Brent Dirks / MakeUseOf
Apple Watch Ultra 2
9 / 10

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 builds upon the successful original model. While the design is still the same, the screen can now show up to 3,000 nits of brightness, a big upgrade from the 2,000-nit screen of the original. The new S9 chip is significantly faster than what’s found in the Ultra and unlocks a number of new features, most importantly Double Tap. That allows you to interact with the watch without having to touch the screen—just tap your thumb and index finger together twice rapidly. Some Siri tasks are taken care of on the device, instead of sending them to the cloud. Even though it’s not a huge step up from the first generation, the Ultra 2 adds some nice features to the winning formula. 

Heart Rate Monitor
Color Screen
Notification Support
Battery Life
Up to 36 hours of normal use; 72 hours in Low Power Mode
Operating System
watchOS 10
Onboard GPS
Offline Media Storage
Customizable Strap
Lens Material
Case Material
Connected GPS
S9 SiP with 64-bit dual-core processor
Wi-Fi, LTE
Health sensors
Blood oxygen sensor, electrical heart sensor, third-generation optical heart sensor, temperature sensor high-g accelerometer, high dynamic range gyroscope
Mobile payments
Workout detection
3,000 nits
Water resistance
100 meters
GPS, GNSS, Galileo, and BeiDou
  • 33 percent brighter screen means zero issues reading it outdoors in any lighting
  • Innovative Double Tap feature to interact without touching the screen
  • Some local Siri processing in case of no cloud connection
  • No truly compelling reasons to upgrade from the original Ultra or newer Apple Watch

Apple Watch Ultra 2 Design

You might need to do a double-take when you see the Apple Watch Ultra 2, because it’s exactly the same design as the original. There’s no way to tell either model apart. Even on the rear of the device, where you can usually find the model of Apple Watch, it still says “Apple Watch Ultra.”

But that’s not really a bad thing. The titanium case is 49mm high, 44mm wide, and 14.4mm deep, weighing 61.4g. On the right side of the case is the Digital Crown and Side Button. While I suspect we’ll eventually see both a smaller Ultra and black titanium version, the natural metal looks great, especially when paired with the lighter colors of the iPhone 15 Pro series.

Brent Dirks / MakeUseOf

On the left side is the speaker and the multi-purpose Action Button. While it’s still the same international orange, being able to customize the Action Button is one of the best features of the Apple Watch Ultra. With just a single tap, you can begin a Workout, Stopwatch, Waypoint, Backtrack, Dive, Flashlight, or Shortcut. Shortcut support opens up a much wider variety of tasks you can accomplish with just a button push.

Instead of a rounded design and curved screen like the Apple Watch Series 9, the Ultra 2’s sapphire display is flat and protected with a raised edge. While the Apple Watch with Ion-X glass is notorious for scratching with just the slightest bump, the sapphire display is truly tough.

In a year of wearing the original Apple Watch Ultra, it still looked as good as the day it was unboxed. That’s even with me wearing it full-time with no care about whether I was gardening, swimming, hiking, and more. I strongly suspect the Apple Watch Ultra 2 will stand the test of time and rough activity.

Still Top-Notch Battery Life Even With a Brighter Screen

There is one bright spot for users looking for a major upgrade. The screen can show up to 3,000 nits of brightness in direct sunlight. That’s compared to the 2,000-nit screen of the original. I was skeptical of how much of a difference the brightness would be in real-world usage, but I was delighted with the results.

apple watch ultra 2 design
Brent Dirks / MakeUseOf

I wore both my Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Apple Watch Ultra while coaching my son’s baseball game. The conditions were as poor as possible to see the watch’s screen. It was a hot, cloudless day at noon with the sun shining brightly overhead. I was also wearing dark, polarized sunglasses.

But even with a darker face, the new Modular Ultra, I could see everything on the screen clearly. With the same face on the original Ultra, I had to step into a tree shadow to make out most of the screen. So if you spend a lot of time outdoors, and always want to be able to see your watch’s screen, you should have no problems with the Ultra 2.

Even at night, the increased screen brightness can help in a pinch. When using the built-in flashlight, you can turn the Digital Crown to temporarily turn it up to the maximum brightness. And while I thought the Ultra’s illumination, the max brightness on the Ultra 2 is good enough for me to ditch my long-time keychain and its built-in flashlight.

And don’t worry about the brighter screen affecting battery life. The Ultra 2 can go for up to 36 hours of use or 72 hours in Low Power Mode before needing to be recharged. The Low Power Mode is 12 hours longer than the original. In my testing, I was able to slightly exceed those numbers. In standard mode, I was able to go for three days of moderate use before needing to recharge. That included workout tracking and cellular use without an iPhone. In Low Power Mode, I squeezed just over four days of the same moderate use.

A Big Change Inside: The S9 Chip

By far the big change with the Ultra 2 is inside—the S9 chip. The S8 in the Ultra is basically the same processor first introduced with the Apple Watch Series 6 in 2020. While it was adequate for the original Ultra, the S9 chip is a substantial step up. Apple says the CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine have been improved.

apple watch ultra 2 front
Brent Dirks / MakeUseOf

While I definitely wondered how much difference a faster chip could make in day-to-day use of the Apple Watch Ultra 2, it was noticeably faster. Animations were much more crisp, and even when selecting apps by turning the Digital Crown, the icons and text fly across the screen. Other tasks were also noticeably quicker.

For anyone who likes to save music directly to a watch, the Ultra 2 also has double the storage of the Ultra with 64GB.

The chip also unlocks a trio of new features. First is on-device Siri processing. Previously, any command—even like starting a workout—required a connection to the Internet. But with the S9, any commands that don’t require an Internet connection are done directly on the device. I often run with just an Apple Watch and AirPods, including many areas in cell dead zones, so it’s nice to be able to use Siri even in one of those areas. Coming later this year, thanks to the on-device Siri processing, you will also be able to use Siri to enter and find out health-related information like your resting heart rate and more.

Another nice new addition is Double Tap. Shooting off from the AssistiveTouch accessibility feature, it allows you to interact with the Ultra 2 without needing to touch the screen.

Double Tap Provides Hands-Off Control

apple watch double tap smart stack
Brent Dirks / MakeUseOf

While Double Tap wasn’t originally provided on the Ultra 2 when it officially landed, it is enabled starting with watchOS 10.1. I’ve been testing out the feature in a developer beta version.

Instead of needing to tap the screen to accomplish tasks like answering a phone call or dismissing a notification, just tap your thumb to your index finger twice in rapid succession.

I tried out the AssistiveTouch gestures with my Ultra, and wasn’t impressed as they often wouldn’t work. But Double Tap has been rock solid. The gesture just works, and as long as you remember to do the taps in quick succession, it works perfectly.

After each successful Double Tap, you’ll see an icon on top of the watch screen. And if any part of the screen is activated by the gesture, like the Dismiss button for a notification, it will also be highlighted to better see what’s happening.

One of my favorite uses of the gesture is to respond to a text hands-free. When a text arrives Double Tap to quickly bring up the dictation option so you can speak a response that you see on the screen. Double Tap one final time to send.

From a watch face, Double Tap will default to bringing up the Smart Stack and cluster of widgets that give you quick access to information. You can either choose to scroll through the widgets or select the top widget with a Double Tap.

I’ve also enjoyed scrolling through the Smart Stack using Double Tap. I hope Apple will eventually allow users to have more than seven widgets to use, though.

Even though it’s not an upgrade-worthy addition, Double Tap provides a unique and easy-to-use way to use the Apple Watch Ultra 2 when you can’t or don’t want to touch the screen.

Everything Looks Better With watchOS 10

apple watch ultra 2 watchos10
Brent Dirks / MakeUseOf

While not exclusive to the Ultra 2, watchOS 10 looks great on the larger screen. One of the biggest changes is that the large majority of Apple’s stock apps have been redesigned in watchOS 10, many for the first time ever. From Weather to Activity and Stocks, the apps have been revamped to take advantage of a larger watch screen like with the Ultra 2.

When not using Double Tap, you can access the Smart Stack by sliding up on any watch face or just turning the Digital Crown. Pressing the Side Button once will now bring up Control Center. One somewhat disappointing change is that you can no longer swipe left or right to quickly switch between watch faces. Hopefully, Apple will rethink that decision in the future.

As with previous software updates, there are new watch faces to select from. Modular Ultra is only available for either Apple Watch Ultra model and can showcase seven complications with the exterior of the face showing the seconds, depth, or altitude.

apple watch ultra 2 snoopy face
Brent Dirks / MakeUseOf

Two other new choices are the Snoopy face with the iconic beagle and his best friend Woodstock. This is by far one of the most interactive and fun faces for the watch ever. The duo interacts with the clock hands and the animations change depending on what you’re doing. For example, when you’re in the pool, Snoopy will don his scuba suit on the watch face.

A more minimalist choice, Palette is a world of color that will shift through the day with three overlapping layers.

Apple Watch Ultra 2: Simply the Best

You don’t want to reinvent the wheel, and the Apple Watch Ultra 2 takes the winning formula and makes it even better. The brighter screen, faster processor, and Double Tap are great quality-of-life additions to the rugged design and long battery life.

If you have the original Ultra or newer Apple Watch, there’s no compelling reason to make the upgrade. But if you have an older version or are just looking for the best smartwatch on the market, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is perfect. It's well worth it's retail price and then some.

apple watch ultra 2 watchos10
Brent Dirks / MakeUseOf
Apple Watch Ultra 2
9 / 10

Even though it’s not a huge step up from the first generation, the Ultra 2 adds some nice features to the winning formula.