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The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is a high-quality smart watch from Apple that manages to improve on its already impressive predecessor. The screen is brighter and sharper, the speed has gone up and the price has gone down slightly. And the Ultra 2's case is now made largely from recycled titanium, as part of Apple's drive towards net zero.
We have looked at several Apple Watches such as the Series 7 I reviewed a couple of years ago, but the release of the original Apple Watch Ultra (left, below, with the Ultra 2 right) last year was definitely a game changer – with Apple's watches becoming much more rugged and closer to the explorer-type watches made by the likes of Garmin and Suunto.
Well, I've now managed to get my hands on the next generation of Apple Watch Ultra – and I have to say I've been very impressed with it so far.
At first glance the two generations of watches look practically identical: the same titanium body, larger size than the regular Apple Watch, and the distinctive three-button setup around the face. However, once you look a little bit closer and begin to use the watch, you can see that there are actually a fair few differences.
First off, how you use the buttons has changed slightly, so the digital crown now opens the app menu, the button below it opens the settings, while the activity start button still does the same thing – starts a new activity. These may seem like pretty minor changes, but in practice the changes are quite significant. They not only make the watch easier to use, you're also much less likely to accidentally start an activity or do something of consequence by mistake. A win-win.
Although the frames are identical in design, the Ultra 2 is one of Apple's first net zero devices, so rather than using virgin titanium, it uses 95% recycled titanium instead, which results in a much smaller environmental impact – another win.
The new screen is the same size as the previous watch's screen, and at first glance there's little difference between the old and the new. However, the new screen is the brightest that Apple has ever produced, pumping out 3,000 nits compared with the 2,000 nits of the earlier model. A 'nit', if you were wondering, is a unit of measurement that equals one candela per square meter. So now you know...
At the heart of the watch you'll find Apple's new S9 processor, so that everything is slightly crisper and quicker to react and load. Yep, yet another win...
In spite of these advances over the previous model, none of these changes are revolutionary, and I don't think many owners of the original watch are going to throw their version out to upgrade to this. But there are still some very interesting iterative changes, advances that have improved things for cyclists in particular.
Double tap is probably the element of the new watch that I find the most useful as a cyclist. For every-day users and most other athletes this is a minor convenience upgrade – but for cyclists it's an incredibly useful addition.
So how exactly does it work? Well, you can perform the primary action on a notification by simply pinching your thumb and forefinger together twice. If I were to to get a phone call, I just pinch my finger and thumb a couple of times to answer it, and then do the same again to hang up. Or if I get a notification from my camera that something is moving in its view, I can pinch to dismiss the notification once I can see it's my daughter playing in the garden.
This is probably a pretty minor feature for most Apple Watch users – but for cyclists it's incredibly handy and a real boon. There's no need now for you to take your hands off the bar to turn off a notification, you don't need to wear conductive gloves to register on the screen, and you don't need to focus on pressing the right button on a small screen while you're moving at speed, which has to be a major safety improvement.
Okay, you do still need to look at the screen for it to operate, but that is a small price to pay for the improvement over how it worked previously.
The brightness may seem like a minor technical improvement on the face of it, but as with double tap it's another gain for cyclists, as the new display is much clearer and more crisp than its predecessor.
It's not as if the previous watch's display was in any way dark or gloomy, but if you put the two watches side by side you can see a clear difference between the two screens, and this difference is most noticeable in bright sunlight. Using the previous model I would sometime struggle to read smaller texts or graphs in brighter sunshine, and this just doesn't happen with the Ultra 2's screen.
As we have reported previously, Apple has added a lot of activity tracking capabilities to its Watch OS10 update, which came out alongside the Ultra 2.
This allows you to pair power meters, speed and cadence sensors, and basically any Bluetooth-enabled external measurement device. You can then use this to calculate your FTP, show climbs and it will effectively as a de facto bike computer.
I am not reviewing the software update, but what I can say for sure is that the brighter and crisper display allows you to see this information more easily in a multitude of conditions than you could with the older version.
For instance, you can now easily see what FTP zone you're in and you can put in different data fields, which are also easier to read because of the screen's extra brightness.
As mentioned, the biggest improvements to the Apple Ultra Watch 2 aren't immediately noticeable at first glance, but they become more obvious when you start to use the watch, which is because these developments are generally internal.
For instance, new S9 chip is an improvement over the chips in both the Ultra and Apple Watch. While this is primarily down to speed – apps open more quickly, they react faster and transitions are smoother – the chip is more efficient too. This means that despite the performance gains and the much brighter display, the watch's battery life has not been negatively impacted.
In fact, battery life has even been improved slightly. The regular usage is still the same at 36 hours, but in its power-saving mode battery life has been boosted from 60 hours to 72. To be honest, I just tend to charge this overnight every other day, and I found it maintained power easily between charges regardless of what I was using it for, which is exactly the same as my experience with the original Ultra.
There are also a couple of new interesting watch faces, and in particular I used the Modular Ultra, which takes advantage of the brighter and sharper screen.
The Ultra 2's £799 price is actually £50 cheaper than Apple's original Ultra watch, which is a good start.
The Garmin Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar Edition comes in at £659.99 and has a similarly rugged titanium body – but its solar-charged battery gives it a vastly better 28-day battery life. But the Garmin doesn't come with the same kind of integration between phone and watch that you'll get from Apple.
Coming in at half the cost is the Apple Watch Series 9, which in spite of its more modest price shares a lot of the Ultra 2's functionality, including double tap – though it doesn't have the same titanium body and has fewer buttons.
I was impressed with the Apple Watch Ultra 2. But while unquestionably a better watch than the original Ultra – faster, brighter and with double tap – I don't think the changes would warrant me upgrading to the new model.
The new, brighter display is very impressive and the inclusion of double tap is something that genuinely makes a different to how easy it is to use when you're riding. The changes have not been revolutionary, but Apple has built on an already impressive smart watch, and upped the net zero credentials behind its production too. All while reducing the price slightly, which is quite an achievement these days.
A new iteration rather than a revolution, but the Ultra 2 is brighter, faster and an excellent smart watch for cycling
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Apple Watch Ultra 2
Size tested: 49mm
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The most rugged and capable Apple Watch pushes the limits again. Featuring the all-new S9 SiP. A magical new way to use your watch without touching the screen. The brightest Apple display ever. And now you can choose a case and strap combination that is carbon neutral.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Always-On Retina display
Up to 3,000 nits
Double tap gesture
Faster on-device Siri
Precision Finding for iPhone
Blood Oxygen app
High and low heart rate notifications
Irregular rhythm notifications
Low cardio fitness notifications
Cycle tracking with retrospective ovulation estimates
International emergency calling
Fall Detection and Crash Detection
100m Water resistant
High-speed water sports
Recreational dive to 40m
Precision dual-frequency GPS
Supports Family Setup
Connect family members who don't have an iPhone26
Up to 36 hours
Up to 72 hours in Low Power Mode
Very well made, with a solid casing made from 95% recycled titanium.
Very good, accurate tracking of everything I wanted combined with an impressively bright screen, and I think the new Double Tap feature is particularly helpful for cyclists.
I had my watch on for everything during the review period. This included bathing children, swimming, DIY, cycling, the lot – and if I sent this back now and said I had never worn it, that would be believable, as there was no sign of a mark on it.
It's not that light, but for its large size it's an impressively light 71g, which is 4g lighter than its predecessor.
At a quid shy of £800 it's fair to say this is not cheap – but it is £50 cheaper than the previous model, which is an achievement in these inflationary days, so I can't really give it a worse score!
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It was excellent, doing everything incredibly well – it displays data clearly, it allows me to operate the important controls with one hand and it sits nicely on the wrist.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The double tap function. This is probably a small gain for many users, but a genuinely extremely useful feature for cyclists.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It's bigger on the wrist than others.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The Garmin Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar Edition has an RRP of £659.99, a similarly rugged titanium body but a considerably better battery life at 28 days thanks to its solar-charged battery. However, it doesn't have the same kind of integration between phone and watch. The Apple Watch Series has similar functionalities, including the double tap feature, but comes in at just £399. It doesn't have the same titanium body and has fewer buttons, but in terms of functionality is broadly similar for half the price.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Not a revolutionary advance over the first Ultra – but it's still an improved iteration. With a brighter, sharper screen, double tap and a better chip it's not a mind-blowing change, but it is still one of the best smart watches for sports out there.
About the tester
I usually ride: CAAD13 My best bike is: Cannondale Supersix Evo
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed,
George is the host of the road.cc podcast and has been writing for road.cc since 2014. He has reviewed everything from a saddle with a shark fin through to a set of glasses with a HUD and everything in between.
Although, ironically, spending more time writing and talking about cycling than on the bike nowadays, he still manages to do a couple of decent rides every week on his ever changing number of bikes.