That Fancy New Apple Watch Ultra Is Both Cheap and Expensive

Totally capable, and yet surprisingly affordable

  • The Apple Watch Ultra is Apple’s rival to Garmin sports watches. 
  • It’s also Apple’s biggest watch yet, making it attractive to big-watch lovers.
  • At $799, it’s barely more than the 45mm stainless steel Apple Watch.
Screenshot of the Apple Watch Ultra with three band options.


At $799, the Apple Watch Ultra seems expensive, but to athletes and other sports watch makers, it's cheap.

You don't have to be an extreme desert-running Iron Man competitor to appreciate the Apple Watch Ultra, but it helps. Like any high-end kit, many purchases will be aspirational, and the new fitness features in Apple's sports watch can be useful to anyone, even a hiker out for an afternoon walk. Oddly, despite having some of Apple's clearest product messaging yet, the Ultra is still a little confusing.

"No, you don't need to be doing extreme sports to appreciate the Apple Watch Ultra. However, people who are into extreme sports or who have very active lifestyles may find the features of the Ultra more useful than those of the standard Apple Watch," Mario Musa, the founder of Tennis Racket Ball and an Apple Watch wearer, told Lifewire via email.

Extreme Ultra?

Computationally, the Apple Watch Ultra is the same as the Series 8 watch. The difference is that it comes in a rugged skin, has an extra hardware button, way better battery life, and has—in some cases—more accurate sensors than previous watches. The Apple Watch was already a great sports watch, but the Ultra is bigger, tougher, and can last longer. This extra battery life is useful for anyone who does a lot of workouts with their watch, even stay-at-home workouts like yoga. 

Compared to the competition, Apple's Ultra is competitive. Gamin's Enduro 2 is a $1,099 watch that is much more focused on outdoor sports but still has features like Garmin Pay, Music apps, and an App Store. 

But then the Ultra starts to show its weaknesses. For an Apple Watch, a 36-hour battery life is impressive. But compared to the Garmin's 34 days of battery (extendible with solar charging) or 150 hours in GPS mode, the Ultra starts to look less Ultra.

And while the Ultra's GPS is improved over previous Apple Watches, it's still far behind Garmin. "The Ultra has a proper GPS antenna for the first time. It's actually still not that good. Not if you compare to Garmin watches," fitness and Apple Watch expert Graham Bower told Lifewire via direct message. "The sampling frequency is one tenth, and the coordinates scatter way more." 

But as with any Apple product, a lot of the appeal is the looks and the aspirational qualities. 

No, you don't need to be doing extreme sports to appreciate the Apple Watch Ultra.

Big Is a Feature

Some people just like big watches. They like the weight on their wrist, or perhaps they just appreciate a bigger face. 

"It’s for people who love watches that have heft," Aron Solomon, co-founder of Mission Watch Company, told Lifewire via email. "At our own watch company, we’ve made watches that have dials between 39mm and 43mm. Several of our watches are 200m water resistant, so quite thick and heavy. Many of our users wear them diving or for extreme sports, but others wear our watches with a suit."

Think about SUV and truck drivers. How many of them actually do anything that couldn’t be done in a regular compact car? And yet trucks and SUVs make up an incredible 73% of passenger car sales. People like the idea of freedom and power that the car ads sell them, even though all they’re buying is the freedom to see over the roof of the car in front in a traffic jam. Unless that’s another SUV or truck, which seems likely. 

On the other hand, some people just like a chunky watch. A watch is, after all, partly jewelry, something you wear, and something you want to feel good. And as we’ve seen, the bigger watch body also has the extra advantages of a bigger screen and a bigger battery. Even if you don’t care about any of the sports features, it’s a cool-looking watch.

A close-up side view of the Apple Watch Ultra.


And, getting back to that price again, it’s even competitive with Apple’s own alternatives. The entry-level Series 8 is $399, but if you opt for the bigger 45mm model, in stainless steel (not aluminum like the base model) with sapphire crystal, and GPS, then you’re at $749 already. 

The Ultra looks like a real winner. It’s good enough for real extreme sportspersons, looks great, and it’s still affordable for people who just want something a bit bigger than the existing models. It might not be the Garmin killer that some are claiming, but then, it doesn’t have to be.

Correction 9/12/2022: Updated Mario Musa's title in paragraph 3.

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