HomeTechnologyComputingWhy the Apple Watch Ultra is my favorite Apple product in years

Why the Apple Watch Ultra is my favorite Apple product in years

When Apple released the Apple Watch Ultra, I wrote it off as a device not designed for me. I don’t run marathons. l no scuba diving or day-long walks without any cell service. I am an average user who occasionally sports and takes a few walks a year. In other words, fitness features are part of what I use on every smartwatch, but not the driving force.

I also sit at a desk for work. I don’t expose my devices to harsh conditions, let alone need a titanium watch case that can take a beating.

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Because of the way the Apple Watch Ultra was first announced and marketed, coupled with the $799 price point, I didn’t pre-order it.

But on the same morning Apple Watch Ultra deliveries were due to arrive and in-store availability kicked in, I checked stock from my local Apple store and they had a few watches in stock.

So on a whim, without thinking and against everything I’d said post-launch, I bought one. I thought I could bring it back after testing; at least i would have some perspective on what it’s like to use the Ultra for future stories.

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After 48 hours I knew I was not returning the Ultra. It quickly became clear that this is not just a watch for “athletes and adventurers”. Apple says on the Ultra’s web page.

And now, almost two full months after its release, the Apple Watch Ultra is one of my favorite products Apple has released in recent years. This is why.

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Apple Watch Ultra charges on the surface

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Battery life is king

I’ve never had a problem with battery life on previous Apple Watch models. When Sleep Tracking was released, I changed my charging habits to charge my watch in the morning while I got ready, and I don’t recall a single instance of me ending the day with an empty Apple Watch.

However, there were close calls. And I considered certain usage scenarios or tasks to ensure that the battery would last a full day.

With the Apple Watch Ultra, I don’t have to think about battery life every day. In fact, I’d say I charge my Ultra every 2.5 days on average. And even then it’s not because the Ultra’s battery is about to die.

It’s because I get a notification before I go to bed that the battery won’t last all night while I track my sleep.

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A few weeks ago I went out of town for the weekend. In the past, I’ve had to pack an Apple Watch charger and figure out when to charge my watch while traveling – a task that’s more difficult when traveling because you’re constantly on the go.

But this time, packing a charger wasn’t even a thought. I knew if I left town with a full charge I could get through the weekend without running out of battery. And even if it somehow did, WatchOS 9’s new Low Power Mode would extend battery life until I got home.

I left with 100% charge and 36 hours later I came home with over 30% left; more than enough to keep up with sleep and recharge the next morning.

Apple Watch Ultra models side by side

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

The display is great

I’ve never had a problem with the Apple Watch’s screen size, especially the larger size of the Apple Watch Series 7 up to 45mm.

But the added size of the Apple Watch Ultra’s screen has changed my expectation of what I can and can’t do on the watch from a device I use for at-a-glance information to one I actively try to communicate with.

The extra brightness of up to 2,000 nits allows me to see the watch’s display in direct sunlight and it comes through clearly and legibly. Basically, the big screen changes the game when it comes to using a small computer on your wrist.

Apple Watch and AirPods side by side on the surface

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Long battery life + bigger screen = an iPhone on my wrist

A bigger screen and longer battery life are two obvious reasons to love the Apple Watch Ultra. I realize that. But the combination of the two features feels very much like Apple is working to turn the Apple Watch into an iPhone for your wrist. Rather than being a companion device, as the Apple Watch has been until now, the Ultra can perform the basic iPhone tasks we all rely on on a daily basis.

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The list is long, but here’s what I regularly use the Apple Watch Ultra for, whether my iPhone is nearby or not:

  • Make and receive calls (with and without AirPods connected to the watch)
  • Use Apple Maps for directions, phone numbers, and hours of local businesses
  • Messaging app to exchange text messages and iMessages. (Did you know you can add images to an iMessage convo or new email on an Apple Watch?)
  • Calendar and Reminders apps to view and manage my daily agenda
  • Run shortcuts for things like playing music, driving my car, etc.

Admittedly, all those tasks are easy. But that’s exactly what makes them so great on the Apple Watch Ultra. Instead of thinking about texting someone, picking up my iPhone, and then getting lost on Twitter for five minutes and forgetting what I was about to do, I just raise my wrist and talk to Siri or tap a few buttons on the screen to compose a message.

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And better yet, I don’t even need to have my iPhone with me. I can – and often do – leave my phone at home and rely on the Ultra’s cellular connection to stay connected, while simultaneously disconnecting from the extra apps and services that come with a full-fledged smartphone.

Another of my favorite use cases for the Ultra is walking and listening to the Time To Walk workouts that are part of it Apple Fitness+ my use AirPods Pro. This is something I occasionally did with my non-Ultra Apple Watch but something I found myself doing a lot more with the Ultra for no other reason than not having to worry about the impact on the longevity of the battery.

The Ultra isn’t perfect, and it’s nowhere near ready to be a full iPhone replacement. But it feels like we’re closer than ever to a smartwatch that can replace a phone. And I can’t wait for that to happen.

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