When the Apple Watch first came out in 2015, I remember thinking that Apple should license the Apple Watch OS to dive computer manufacturers. As an avid diver, it made sense that a simple, bright display at 100 feet would be far better than the gray-on-gray, hypercomplicated dive computers I’d used.
Well, it took seven years, but the Apple Watch Ultra, the first major variation on the Apple Watch since its debut, looks exactly like the high-performance, rugged Apple Watch I’ve been waiting for.
Apple Watch Ultra preorders and release date
The Apple Watch Ultra is available to order now on the Apple Store and will begin shipping on Sept. 23. The watch starts at $799, with a variety of band options that include an Alpine Loop for outdoor adventuring, a Trail Loop for endurance athletes and an Ocean Band for those planning to go underwater.
The most rugged Apple Watch ever
Clocking in at a starting price of $800, the Apple Watch Ultra is aimed not only at divers but also extreme and endurance athletes. It’s a rugged, long-lasting beast of a watch, and Apple has packed just about every feature into the gadget, from increased battery life to more precise GPS to a loud siren to signal where you are.
It has all the usual features of the new Apple Watch Series 8 and SE, including the new temperature sensors, ovulation estimates and crash detection, but it adds a screen that is larger (49mm compared to the Series 8’s 45mm) and brighter (2,000 nits compared to 1,000 nits) as well as new ruggedness standards. It’s water resistant down to about 330 feet (100m) compared to the Series 8’s 164 feet (50m), IP6X dust resistant and adds the MIL-STD 810H certification, which means this thing meets the US Department of Defense environmental engineering standards. The watch is rated from minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit to 131 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Apple Watch Ultra is crafted from aerospace-grade titanium and features a flat sapphire front crystal screen. Apple says the brighter screen is more easily seen in even the brightest of outdoor conditions, while a turn of the digital crown switches to a night mode that turns the whole display a James Bond red.
The watch also adds a new button, which Apple helpfully calls the Action Button, that can be customized to quickly access features like switching workouts or marking laps. And the crown and side button have been enlarged and raised, so they can be better accessed while wearing gloves.
The GPS in the watch got a boost too, featuring dual-frequency L1 and L5 bands. This is key for serious runners who rely on precise measurements for distance, pace and route data to train and compete.
Apple claims the battery can last up to 36 hours during normal use and the new low power setting extends battery life to up to 60 hours, making it a good choice for multi-day hiking trips or other endurance events.
For hikers and outdoors lovers of all levels, the new compass app in watchOS 9 (available on Sept. 12) enables precise waypoint tracking as well as bearing marking and can show latitude, longitude, elevation and incline. Just press the Action Button to mark a waypoint on a hike, and the watch will help you backtrack if you get lost.
Most interesting, the watch is certified to WR100 and to EN 13318, internationally recognized standards for recreational scuba diving. The Ultra includes a new Depth app that displays time, current depth, water temperature, duration below water and maximum depth. Using the new Oceanic+ app — which will be available later this year — the Ultra works like a dive computer. It will include dive planning, metrics, visual and haptic alerts, no-decompression limits, ascent rate, safety stop guidance and entry and exit coordinates. Upon reaching the surface, the data will then be synced to a dive log on your phone. As a diver, I’m already salivating at all this.
Finally, the Ultra offers three new specialty bands for running, hiking and diving, each with its own characteristics that Apple says were designed for each type of athlete. The new watch face, Wayfinder, which is unique to the Ultra, includes a compass in the dial and can be customized for any of the three activities the watch is aimed at.
Apple makes it clear: This is not your standard smartwatch. It’s aimed squarely at adventure and endurance athletes and scuba divers. Apple didn’t even call it a smartwatch in its presentation but instead went with the “sports watch” nomenclature more common to products from Garmin.
This is not a watch to wear at a fancy dinner unless it’s being hosted by the Cousteau Society. It’s a beefy, bulky thing. It’s overkill for those who run around the neighborhood or hit the gym three times a week. If that’s your lifestyle, stick to the new Series 8 or even the SE.
But if you’ve found yourself on a backtrail, wishing for more battery on your watch or a way to make your way back to civilization, it could be a bargain. I know I’m seriously considering it as a one-device-for-all, whether I’m diving or not. But that $800 price tag is definitely a stumbling block.