New Smartwatch: The Apple Watch Ultra is not only worthwhile for extreme athletes - but especially for them

Robust, weatherproof and suitable for adventures - this is how Apple advertises its new Apple Watch Ultra.

New Smartwatch: The Apple Watch Ultra is not only worthwhile for extreme athletes - but especially for them

Robust, weatherproof and suitable for adventures - this is how Apple advertises its new Apple Watch Ultra. And thus appeals to many extreme sports fans. The test shows that the group does not fall into the trap of turning too much to this niche. And also offers normal users many useful innovations.

At first glance, Apple is clearly based on other sports watches: the new Apple Watch is significantly bulkier than previous watches, and with its 49 millimeter titanium case makes even the largest 45 millimeter model appear small in one fell swoop. The angular display edge, the larger clock wheel and the new action button on the left are already familiar from other watches. The bracelets in bright colors optimized for diving, climbing and trail running make the typical sports watch look perfect.

In fact, all innovations in design offer clear advantages. The squarer design protects the large display better, the larger wheel and the separate side button are easier to operate even with gloves. And with the action button, Apple offers the option of controlling the watch more than before using the buttons instead of always having to touch the display.

The most important finding comes relatively quickly: Apple has not reinvented the sports watch or even the Apple Watch with the Ultra. Instead, it expands its excellent smartwatch with useful functions from the sports watch sector.

And that has been noticeably successful. "I looked at the display a lot more," marvels the middle man, Frank Petering, after the first test drive. The amateur mountain biker used to use the Apple Watch to occasionally record his weekly tours. "Actually, I don't pay too much attention to the clock while driving," he admitted to me beforehand. Instead, he primarily evaluates the route traveled afterwards.

It's different with the Apple Watch Ultra, he notes afterwards. This is mainly due to the new screen. It's not that much larger than other Apple Watch models - the 49 mm refers to the case height, not the display diagonal - but it's all the brighter. With up to 2000 nits at maximum brightness, it shines twice as bright as other Apple watches. "As a wearer of glasses, I can see so much more with a quick glance. That wasn't possible before," says Petering enthusiastically.

The mountain biker had clear ideas about what the watch should do better than the Apple Watch. The more robust housing, the control with the action button and the emergency functions such as the siren and the automatic finding of the route covered appealed to him. "And of course the look too," he admits mischievously. His only worries: that the watch with the bulkier exterior tends to get tangled on the sleeve and that the extra weight gets in the way on jerky descents.

After the test drives, both are passé. "The watch feels really good on the arm. It sits super tight with the Alpine strap, the case and the weight didn't bother me at all on jerky descents," he summarizes his impression. In fact, the difference is not huge despite the larger case: the Apple Watch Ultra weighs 61.3g, the Series 8 weighs less than ten grams at 51.5g.

There is one main reason for the extra weight: With the larger case, the Apple Watch Ultra also has a whopping extra battery. Apple promises a runtime of 36 hours, which was always clearly exceeded in tests despite several training sessions. In the worst case, there was still a ten percent charge left after 48 hours. It is true that the Apple Watch cannot keep up with the sometimes week-long running times of special watches. However, everyone should be able to manage just under two days, except for extreme competitive athletes.

And that should usually be enough for them too. "Even if I trained all day, I never got rid of my old Apple Watch before the end of the day," reveals Felix Streng. This is not due to too little training: the track and field athlete won gold in the most important sprint discipline over 100 meters at the last Paralympics.

Actually intended for the wilderness, the Apple Watch Ultra also brings an advantage to city athletes like Streng with an innovation. Thanks to an additional L5-GPS, the watch finds a signal better in the forest and in ravines - which is also a real advantage in the park or in narrow houses. You can see how big the difference is in the screenshot below. The simple Apple Watch has to partially estimate the position between trees and therefore shows slightly less precise routes. Especially with several laps shot, you can see how they differ slightly from each other. The Apple Watch Ultra, on the other hand, superimposes the route traveled almost perfectly ten times. Incidentally, this was not due to the different routes: the two watches each covered exactly the same bike ride on one wrist.

Both athletes immediately appreciate another innovation: the action button on the left side adds another button to the operation of the watch. As a user, I can decide for myself which function the button should have, for example starting a training session or recording laps. So far, however, the selection is still rather small. Apple's own apps in particular currently support the button, but Apple promises that third-party providers will also be able to start their apps with it in the future.

Streng hopes a lot from the action button in the long run. "I train very heavily in intervals and so far have relied on the watch to tell the difference between high interval training and a break. But the button gives me more control, letting the watch know right away that I'm taking a break ", he explains. "Especially with very short breaks of one or even half a minute, that makes a big difference."

Of course, Apple didn't invent the idea of ​​an action button. Sports watches from other manufacturers such as Garmin or Polar have been controlled much more via the side buttons for years, which makes operation much easier during hectic movements. The fact that Apple is now also installing one makes the Apple Watch Ultra interesting for many athletes who were put off by the pure touchscreen control.

However, this also remains important with the Apple Watch Ultra. Along with voice control, operation via the touch display is also the standard input method for the extreme sports model. So owners of other Apple Watches don't have to get used to it that much.

However, the fact that the Apple Watch Ultra is primarily a smartwatch and only secondarily a sports watch should be seen as an advantage by many people. Compared to other sports watches, it may not have every feature - Garmin watches for mountain bikers, for example, automatically recognize jumps - but it offers significantly more added value in everyday life.

The approach also has a major advantage: Compared to other sports watches, Apple has a plethora of third-party apps to offer that can retrofit many of the functions that are actually missing. Apple's map app doesn't support navigation in the wild, and it always needs an internet connection. With hiking apps like Komoot, users can easily retrofit the function.

The extreme sports functions are therefore more of a welcome addition than a rethinking of the watch. With the support of dives to a depth of 40 meters, an amazingly loud siren for emergency situations in remote situations and the revised compass app, which together with the new watch face with always active direction display is intended to support free exploration in the wilderness, Apple did not rethink the sports watch, but made its watch useful for an extended target group.

The two athletes see it that way too. "I've got it in my head now, as soon as I get up I put my watch on and set a timer for my tea," reports athlete Streng. Petering also uses his watch every day to pay, make calls or save reminders. The fact that the Apple Watch Ultra brings these standard Apple Watch functions and then adds additional sports functions instead of having to buy an extra device for sports is what both name as the most important aspect of the Apple watch.

However, everyday use also benefits from many of the extreme sports functions. For example, Apple has rearranged the watch's microphones, calculated using an algorithm that gets the least wind and tries to remove the backgrounds. The enlarged loudspeaker makes the conversation partner easier to understand. What is actually supposed to be an advantage when climbing or on the high seas is of course also useful in everyday life. When I call the clock on a four-lane road in Hamburg in windy weather, the person I am talking to is very surprised. There was only a slight noise in the background. And I remained wonderfully understandable.

Of course, the same applies to the brighter display, the longer runtime and the more accurate GPS measurement. Everything is urgently needed in extreme sports - but the fact that they also represent a real improvement in everyday use is another big plus for the wearer.

That also somewhat justifies the price. Because at 999 euros, the Apple Watch is quite expensive in Germany. Compared to other specialized sports watches or diving and mountain bike computers, the price is clearly put into perspective. If you want to buy these individually, you quickly end up in the range of several hundred or even over a thousand euros. Extreme athletes with higher demands will still use the specialized equipment. But then you don't get a smartwatch either.

With the Apple Watch Ultra, the company has taken a big step towards the extreme sports market - without neglecting its old strengths. The innovations such as the brighter display, the more robust housing, the action button, the plus in battery performance and the more precise location determination as well as the corresponding software make the watch fit for new usage scenarios, but also significantly upgrade it in everyday life.

Apple has succeeded in cleverly expanding the group of buyers for its watch – without restricting everyday use in any way. The Apple Watch Ultra is not the best sports watch for special areas, but it is the best Apple Watch, which is now also suitable for use in extreme sports.

Whether the purchase is worthwhile depends on your own use. If you are only looking for a smartwatch for everyday use with occasional fitness tracking, you certainly do not need the Ultra. Then an Apple Watch Series 8 (here in our test) is easily sufficient. With its striking look and numerous extra functions, the Apple Watch Ultra should also appeal to many of these buyers - as a small luxury item.

Anyone who uses an Android smartphone has no real choice anyway: Like all other Apple watches, the Apple Watch Ultra only shows its advantages in connection with an iPhone.

The Apple Watch Ultra is already on the market and costs 999 euros.

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