First tests of the Apple Watch Ultra: does the big watch make a big splash?

The Apple Watch Ultra will be available to early customers starting this Friday, September 23, 2022, which means the press has received early copies. The first tests have been published and this gives us the opportunity to make an initial assessment of this brand new connected watch sold from €999 and intended for athletes, before our first feedback when we can test it ourselves.

The Apple Watch Ultra with its exclusive dial (image The Verge).

This new Apple Watch is the biggest ever created by the Cupertino company. Is she too so big? Not for Victoria Song’s The Verge, who explains that she was surprised by this format that was ultimately more pleasant than she initially imagined. Admittedly, with its 49 mm diagonal screen and its thickness of 14 mm, it is much more imposing than a standard model. With the alpine buckle bracelet she used, the journalist even notes that the watch exceeds the width of her wrist.

Despite everything, she quickly got used to this format and finds it sufficiently comfortable. Same observation for Lexy Savvides of cnet : she also expected the watch to be too big for her wrist, but the reporter quickly found a comfortable position. The weight of the Apple Watch Ultra helps a lot: built in titanium, it weighs “only” 61.3 grams without the bracelet. It’s a dozen more than the standard models once again, but it’s still light enough for it to be forgotten, especially under a long-sleeved shirt, suggests Florence Santrot for The Fnac scout.

This enlarged size has several advantages, however. On the one hand, the screen is larger and therefore more readable, which is useful when vision begins to decline, notes Victoria Song. She was able to increase the font size of watchOS 9 without losing too many elements on the screen and thus read content more easily. In addition, Apple has increased the maximum brightness of the screen and that plays a big role. All the tests hail improved readability, especially outdoors, and Pierre Fontaine from 01Net adds that with a peak measurement of 1,801 cd/m², the Apple Watch Ultra breaks all records in their smartwatch measurements.

Image cnet.

The enlarged screen also improves the apps provided by default. For example, testers note that the Exercise app can now display six rows of data, eliminating back and forth between screens. However, third-party apps will need to be updated to take advantage of this increased screen size. Another concrete case, the virtual keyboard becomes much easier to use on this large screen. Otherwise, The Verge points out that the perfectly flat screen – a first in the range – makes this new watch a real mini iPhone on the wrist.

The other big advantage of the larger size is to be found on the battery side. These first tests are almost all enthusiastic in this area, noting that the autonomy announced by Apple of 36 hours is very conservative. In fact, it’s easy to go much further, even when using the Apple Watch Ultra intensively, as Marques Brownlee clearly demonstrated in his video.

The YouTuber started his weekend with a 100% charged watch. He used it all day Saturday and Sunday, with each day between 3 and 3h30 of intensive exercises. The watch also served him both nights to track his sleep. When he shoots his video, it’s the following Monday morning and his watch still shows 20% remaining battery life! It thus lasted more than 48 hours on a single charge, without particularly sparing it and without activating the energy saving mode now offered by watchOS 9.

Certainly, the Apple Watch Ultra does not do as well as specialized watches, as Garmin did not fail to remind anyone who would listen. Gareth Beavis TechRadar regret it and would have liked the watch to last for a week without charging. In the state, underlines the journalist, an almost daily charge remains necessary. The Ultra’s weak point seems to be sports activities with GPS tracking, as seen 01Net who completed a triathlon of 4h30 and more than 60 km.

At the end of the exercise, the Series 8 was already inert, its battery did not hold up. The Apple Watch Ultra had lost “only” 40% of battery, which is much better, but the watch designed by the apple remained far behind the Epix 2 from Garmin which still showed 12 days of autonomy. It’s another world, but we must remember, as the journalist does, that Apple has planned a future mode that is more energy efficient and which should bring the theoretical autonomy to 60 hours.

Before we can judge, the other point that won over all the testers is the action button exclusive to the Apple Watch Ultra. This button is considered particularly useful during sports activities, it must be said that it was designed for this by Apple, even if it allows you to go further using shortcuts. During an exercise, it can be used to pause the activity, but it can also choose to launch a new activity or even activate the flashlight (which rests on the screen). Although it’s not flexible enough for the majority of tests, this button has been widely praised and everyone seems to hope to find it on all Apple Watches one day.

Image TechRadar.

By holding down the action button, the alarm built into the watch is triggered. Victoria Song notes that she is not as strong as she imagined, especially outdoors, but she can be a valuable ally in case of trouble. And not only if you take a walk in the middle of nature and you get injured, it can also be used in an urban environment in the event of a threat, a point appreciated by the journalist. While the alarm is sounding, the remaining battery is displayed on the screen and the watch can stay like this for several hours without difficulty.

The Apple Watch Ultra also opens up new opportunities for the more athletic. Several journalists went to test it in real conditions, like Florence Santrot who left on her bike for a 24-hour ride outside Paris. The very precise compass is then interesting, even if the journalist would have preferred dedicated apps, in particular to follow a route planned upstream. Instead, Apple has provided a function called Backtrack which records your journey and allows you to retrace your steps if you get lost.

The journalist from The Verge didn’t go so far as to get lost in the wilderness for good, but it appreciates its automatic activation in the background as soon as the Apple Watch Ultra no longer detects a Wi-Fi network around you, in plain English , as soon as you are in nature. On the other hand, the fact that it does not rely on cards, even minimal ones or that could be stored upstream, bothered several testers. As it stands, everything must be done with the help of a compass which is precise, of course, but not easy to follow in the middle of nature.

Image The Fnac scout

As for the integrated GPS, it uses new frequencies to improve its reliability and the first results in urban areas show that it is better, without being perfect. CNet tested the same course with an Ultra and a Series 7 and the latter missed a hundred yards. 01Net did the same exercise and also found that the accuracy is better now, even if there are still a few hiccups in the layout.

Water activities, another specificity of the new watch, require rarer skills than walking, so the first tests do not spend much time on the subject. Victoria Song was able to confirm the depth of the local pool thanks to the measurement displayed on the screen of the Apple Watch Ultra. Moreover, the app dedicated to this new activity only works when the watch is submerged under water, reminds the journalist of CNet. But as they all point out, we will have to wait for more serious apps, such as Oceanic + highlighted by Apple during the keynote, to really use this function.

These first tests also remind us that the Apple Watch Ultra does as much as the Series 8 on other functions, such as ECG, temperature monitoring or even accident detection. The sensors on the back of the watch are identical to the standard models and it also benefits from all the usual functions, a connection to an iPhone to relay its notifications, the cellular chip to stay connected to the internet without, etc. This is what often comes up in the conclusions: the Apple Watch Ultra greatly improves the previous models for athletes, but it remains an Apple Watch, with all the advantages and disadvantages that this brings. Including a model not as extreme as the competition.

Image The Verge.

We will give you our first impressions of the Apple Watch Ultra at the end of the week and you can count on a complete test in the days that follow.

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