Serious $799 device for serious athletes

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Apple Watch Ultra.

Sofia Pitt

I’ve been testing Apple Watch Ultra ahead of its release on Friday.

The Ultra is designed for extreme athletes and outdoor adventurers. I appreciated a lot of what it has to offer, especially the noticeably improved battery: It’s got 36 hours of battery life when used normally and will last up to 60 hours when in low-power mode when an update comes later this year. That’s way better than the 18 hours you get with the Series 8, the newest edition of the regular Apple Watch.

The water resistance, scuba-diving computer, redesigned compass and precise GPS for endurance athletes are pretty remarkable technical feats for a smartwatch.

But a Peloton class with Olivia Amato is about as extreme as my workouts get, so these exciting new features were lost on me. If you’re like me and exercise is something you do to stay healthy, you don’t need to spend $799 on the Ultra.

Apple Watch Ultra box.

Sofia Pitt

I have used some variation of the Apple Watch for more than five years, and I appreciate it as a great companion to my iPhone. It helps motivate me to stay active and “close my rings.” Receiving notifications when I’m on the go and being able to ping my iPhone from my watch when I misplace it (many times a day) helps me makes the most of my time.

But since I won’t take advantage of most of the new features the Ultra has to offer, I won’t be splurging on the watch. Here are a few other reasons why I’m holding off on the Ultra and the value it might offer you if you’re more athletically inclined than me.

Apple Watch Ultra unboxed.

Sofia Pitt

Not designed with women in mind

Aside from the fact that I am not an athlete, there’s another reason the Ultra doesn’t seem like it was designed with me in mind. The 49mm titanium watch face looks ridiculously large on my wrist. I realize the big size is the tradeoff for a longer-lasting battery, but the Ultra just doesn’t feel like it was created for a woman’s wrist.

Apple Watch Ultra

Sofia Pitt | CNBC

While I’ve been testing it over the last week, I have received many comments. “That looks ridiculous on you,” my one friend said. “It looks like a computer is on your wrist,” another said.

Apple Watch Ultra underneath.

Sofia Pitt

Too bulky for sleep tracking

I don’t use my current Apple Watch Series 7 to track my sleep because it’s uncomfortable and because the battery only lasts 18 hours max. The Ultra has the right amount of battery life to use as a sleep tracker, but it’s far too bulky to wear to bed.

Like the Series 8, the Ultra has a new temperature sensor that enables menstrual cycle tracking with retrospective ovulation estimates. But Apple recommends you wear the Ultra to bed for best results, and since I find it too uncomfortable to wear to sleep, this was a no-go for me.

Larger speaker for phone calls

Aside from the larger battery, I really appreciate the larger speaker on the Ultra. The watch has two speakers that work together, which makes the Ultra 40% louder than the Series 8, according to Apple.

I often use my watch to pick up phone calls, especially while I’m cooking. I could hear the difference when using the Ultra compared with my Series 7. While this feature is really meant to be louder in extreme conditions for the outdoorsy type, I appreciated it for regular use, too.

Advanced emergency capabilities

The Ultra has a ton of features that are designed to keep adventurers safe. It has a more precise GPS, works in extreme temperature and has better water resistance.

While I’m not a hiker, I used one of these features to find my way back home from a walk. Back track is a new GPS-enabled setting that allows hikers to retrace their steps. If you’re off the grid, the function starts working automatically. I can see how valuable this would be for someone who doesn’t have GPS or cellular and is lost in some remote area.

There’s a new action button on the Ultra, which you can customize to serve several possible functions. I use it to create compass waypoints, which means it drops a pin if I’ve been somewhere I want to remember. The intended use for this is for hikers who see an awesome waterfall and want to remember its location. I’d be more likely to use it to mark a restaurant I’ve walked past so I can look it up later.

The Ultra also has an emergency siren, which Apple says can be heard up to 600 feet away.

When the Ultra is in night mode, you can also see the screen in pitch black, as I tried to demonstrate in the picture below. This feature can be used only when you’ve downloaded the Wayfinder watch face, but it provides you with the most vital information in the dark, such as your compass location, which is more accurate than ever.

Apple Watch Ultra night mode.

Sofia Pitt

Buy it if you take your sport seriously

If you are an adventurer, a hiker, a serious runner or a recreational scuba diver and you don’t mind a bulky watch face on your wrist, the Ultra is a great wearable. The Ultra offers features found in a dive computer such as tracking depth, water temperature, dive time and an underwater compass. Getting precise metrics while on a run or having access to emergency services while hiking off the grid could be worth the money.

Putting all of these features in one watch makes Apple stand out from its main competition in this extreme sports market: Garmin. Many of Garmin’s extreme sports wearables are tailored to an individual activity, such as the Garmin Descent, which is specifically designed for scuba divers. It’s a pretty astounding technical feat to pack all of these sports features alongside all the regular features of the Apple Watch — notifications, movement tracking — in one small package. Most exciting, as we’ve seen Apple do before, the innovations in the Ultra could be passed down to the regular watch in future models.

But for today, the Ultra is $400 more expensive than the Series 8 and $550 more expensive than the SE, which is really the best watch for most people. So if you’re only looking for better battery life and a louder speaker, the price difference is hard to justify.



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