Apple Watch Ultra Review

I spent some time with the Ultra this week in the Apple Store and the experience was a little strange. It turned into a 25 minute debate with the Apple employee about why the Ultra is not ‘the most innovative watch ever made’. His words, not mine.

My wife and I were in the shopping centre looking for a suit for a funeral and once that sombre task was complete, the Apple Store was a worthy visit, if only to ensure that I still do not fit in with the rest of the Apple crowd.

The assistant, I don’t believe he was a mega genius magician type employee, asked if I would like to try the Ultra on as I was lurking near the table holding the adventurer’s apparent choice of wrist wear. I put it on my wrist and was somewhat horrified by the shape, the size and the way it looked on my wrist. My wife said it looked quite good on me, but I was far from convinced. We both agreed that it looked ridiculous on her.

He explained to me that ‘Apple had pulled a blinder by using titanium’. I asked how and he advised me that real watches were never made from titanium. I lifted my wrist and showed him my mechanical watch to which he said ‘but that’s not a real watch’. After some debate it transpired that to him a smart watch is real and a traditional (real!) watch is not. He admitted that it may be an age thing, but I was still surprised at this point of view. After digging a little deeper with younger people I know, it appears that this perception is not as rare as I had thought.

A square computer with zero charm, no history and which can be bought anywhere is more real than a mechanical watch that has been built by hand and which oozes charm and history from every millimetre. That at least was his point of view. He also suggested that it did ‘SO MUCH MORE’ than any Garmin which caused another discussion where I tried to explain that it is just as important how something is done compared to what, something every Apple employee should be aware of. And ultimately I am a Garmin guy because the sheer practicality is immense.

Don’t get me wrong, he was a really nice guy and very helpful, and even better he knew of McGST which was a genuine surprise. I just could not, however, envisage any point where the Ultra made sense to me.

The next day I bought one.

I hadn’t lost my mind. After an email discussion it transpired that the Ultra would be a money maker due to promised freelance work and so I smacked my money down and waited for it to arrive.

24 hours later the Ultra had made its way to my house and it was time to unpack it.

The materials are impressive in terms of their spec. Titanium, ceramic back and a sapphire crystal are decent and comparable to traditional watches at a similar price point. The use of titanium makes sense to bring the weight down, but don’t expect it to be impervious to damage. My experience of titanium is that it does not wear that much better than stainless steel. Well, technically it does wear better, but it looks worse with damage if that makes sense. Steel looks aged in a pleasing way, titanium looks damaged.

The box is nicely made and wastes no materials, the braided charging cable makes sense if you are taking it to a harsh environment or even going camping and the separation of the strap in a different box is a nice touch. There is nothing surprising here, but it does feel right.

I chose the orange Alpine Loop strap which is not very nice at all and to think that it is £99 on its own makes me squirm. The colour works, this is specifically my favourite colour, but I personally do not like the locking mechanism or the way it wears. It feels too wide and at times is uncomfortable. There is a sense that it is designed to look like it specialises in tough activities, but it does not fulfil the promise of the aesthetics.

It is somewhat representative of the Apple Watch Ultra itself. Very few people who buy it will be going on tough adventures over the weekend, that’s what a Garmin is for. No, they will be going to the gym, maybe doing a quick run or even merely walking. You ‘could’ go on an adventure with the Ultra just as you ‘could’ drive off-road in your Range Rover and that is why they sell so well. It’s about creating an image of doing something rather than actually doing it and in my view after a few days with the Ultra I would not take it on an adventure in a harsh environment. As I said, that’s what my Garmin is for.

The tougher Garmins (fenix, epix, Instinct, Enduro and tactix) are designed specifically to be sports watches whereas the Ultra is designed to be all things to as many people as possible and this lack of specificity is where it falls down a little when you look at Apple’s marketing.

“To build the ultimate sports watch, we crafted every element with painstaking attention to detail for unparalleled performance. Titanium strikes the perfect balance between weight, ruggedness and corrosion resistance. The new case design rises up to surround the flat sapphire crystal and protect it from edge impacts. The Digital Crown is larger and the side button is raised from the case, making them easier to use while you’re wearing gloves.”

The ultimate sports watch? That’s just not true. A 36 hour battery, there are Garmin’s that do 36 days. And the toughness, water resistance etc are not unusual in other sports watches from the likes of Garmin and many other brands.

I guess at least the Ultra has ‘L1 and L5 GPS for incredible accuracy and precise metrics’ whereas the Garmin epix 2, for example, only has GPS, Glonass, Galileo, multi-frequency positioning and SatIQ. Oh, that’s interesting.

But, and it is a big BUT, the Ultra offers cellular, seamless Apple Music and podcasts, a much cleaner and easier to use interface, the apps you are already familiar with alongside lots of decent third party offerings and all of the benefits that come with those features; phone calls, messaging, Siri etc etc.

The Apple Watch is a multi-functional smart watch that really can help you to get through the day and it should be applauded for that. I just don’t appreciate Apple’s marketing which suggests it competes easily with the competition for tough sports and environments. It does much more than the competition, but it does not do the tough stuff better which means it is not the ‘ultimate sports watch’.

Is it a daily wear watch?

Yes and no. If you consider what I wrote earlier about people using it for everyday activities, it is a bit of a pickup truck that is used to drop the kids off at school. The size of the watch is a big price to pay for the extra battery life, but the Apple Watch does seriously need extra battery life. I would view the Ultra battery performance as acceptable (just) and the series 8 and below as not acceptable. The fact that it has a toy-like appearance and literally no charm makes it potentially less suitable in specific situations. The standard Apple Watch, especially the stainless steel models, can disappear in even formal situations, but the Ultra stands out maybe a little too much. From the shape to the size to the orange touches, it is obvious that you are wearing an Ultra and the utilitarian design only enhances the lack of aesthetic flexibility. Imagine wearing it with a suit or with any clothes that are not casual. It could look out of place very easily and even for someone like me who does not spend much time on how I look (no point with my face), it feels a little jarring and showy.

It is the equivalent of Hublot in the traditional watch world.

Actually, that isn’t fair. It is the Hublot in terms of how it stands out on the wrist, but it is arguably the best smartwatch in the world. A Hublot is not the best mechanical watch in the world. Some may argue that it is, but they are likely hanging out with anti-vaxers and brexiteers so can be safely ignored.

The Ultra has turned out to be more wearable than I expected provided you do one thing. It needs to be firmly secured to the wrist to sit comfortably and too light a strap will cause some top-heaviness when you move your arm around. The Ultra is top heavy because of its form and the weight of the sapphire crystal, and for most watches this is considered a design failure. I would like to argue that this is unavoidable for a smartwatch, but most smartwatches are bottom heavy so I guess it is just a design thing.

I was aware that this is a big watch as I played with watchOS more. It feels exactly like a normal Apple Watch, the like of which I have dabbled with for years, but when doing this the watch itself appears bigger than ever. The mismatch between what I am seeing on the screen and what is on my wrist is a difficult change to get used to.

Overall I will give the Ultra a pass on being wearable for most activities, but you do need at least a 7.25” wrist to not have it hang over the edges of your wrist and you need to be aware that it will catch under a sleeve quite often. The sharp edge on the bezel is a bizarre design choice for a watch, especially one that is supposed to be used for rigorous activities. It catches on sleeves all of the time for me and if you run the back of your fingernail over it the top layer of your nail actually scrapes off. That’s ridiculous.

The better(?) battery

My initial experience of the battery in the Ultra is that it is not twice as good as the standard Apple Watch. It is most certainly better, but after the first day I had 40% charge left following 2 workouts with podcasts playing and cellular on. The second day brought a return of 55% so I am hopeful that some bedding in time is needed to get the most out of it. Strangely, the third day gave me 64% so things are looking OK. If it eventually runs to 2 days consistently I could live with that. Any less and it is the same old worst in class smartwatch battery from Apple that we are so sadly used to.

My suspicion is that I will get used to the extra battery life between charges and that hopefully the Ultra and I can meet in the middle, at a point where it feels acceptable. If I can forget the Garmin battery life and ignore the lack of charging that my mechanical watches need I may be able to view the Ultra power performance in a much more positive light.

I can see clearly

The display is superb and it benefits a lot from being flat. I did not expect the bezel to be visually so impressive, but it houses the screen perfectly and certainly has something special about it that feels stark in a positive way. It would appear that the feature that can scratch the top of my fingernail off is at least visually close to perfect.

As great as the display is, I personally would accept a little visual downgrade to upgrade my thoughts in the previous paragraph about the battery. This, however, will never be the Apple way and a part of me is not convinced that it should be. Only a tiny part though.

The new features

A lot of the new features are designed to fit the marketing narrative about the Ultra being a tough adventure watch and the reality is that 98% of people will not use them 99% of the time. I have not had need to use the siren, the depth gauge or the dual-frequency GPS so far, but maybe they will come in handy at some point. I am sure the GPS will be useful, but for the vast majority the new features will just sit there in the background and on the product page at Apple.

Good value?

Yes, actually. The materials alone are comparable to traditional watches at this price point and most certainly compared to the titanium Apple Watch from last year.

When I took it out of the box I was surprised at how solid it felt in the hand, and even more so at the sense of quality. Titanium is an unusual material- it can look like plastic from a distance, but up close it has a warmth that is hard to replicate. It is typically Apple with regards to the finishing and I must say that it feels more like a ‘real’ watch than previous models.

And ultimately…

I, as usual, have been somewhat critical of many features in the Apple Watch Ultra and especially so regarding how it is marketed. It is easy to feel irked at the way Apple ‘suggests’ that it is the ultimate sports watch and to feel that emotion magnify when reading some of the Apple fan’s opinions. It magnifies further if you have a lot of experience with the competition and understand that in terms of sports Garmin is likely a better fit for most activities. A Garmin will do less, but it will do what it does while offering a sense that it is indestructible.

The fact that the Ultra can do cellular (calls, podcasts etc), that is has access to an impressive App Store and so much more gives it a unique advantage, but there is one feature of the Ultra that leaves me feeling positive about it.

It is square, ungainly, too big and looks like a computer on the wrist, but it does feel like a watch. That may sound like nothing, but somehow the Ultra feels like a watch and I suspect that is because of the tightness of the components and the overall quality of the materials.

The Apple Watch Ultra is not for everyone. Indeed, it is suited only to the minority, but it does represent a departure from the traditional Apple Watch design that is becoming incredibly dull and invisible. It is not a positive design in any way, but the Ultra is an impressive smart watch overall.

Mental health in the UK is about to get worse

The UK government’s recent mini-budget has come in for a lot of criticism. Its effect on stock markets, pensions and the value of the pound have barely been out of the news. As a clinical psychologist, one issue I find alarming, but has barely been discussed, is the possible effect this will have on the mental health of the British public. Specifically, I am concerned about the cutting of the top rate of tax, what this will do to income inequality, and what this will do to people’s mental health… More here.

The UK is very poor at dealing with mental health and provision to help people has been close to non-existent over the past decade. It amazes me that our government now seems to be deliberately making the situation worse.

The Kindle Scribe

With a 10.2-inch, 300 ppi glare-free Paperwhite display, Kindle Scribe is perfect for reading and writing, even in direct sunlight. The large display gives you room to take notes or write a diary entry and makes it easy to adjust font size and margin width for improved reading comfort. Writing on Kindle Scribe feels like writing on paper. From the natural grip of the pen in your hand to the sound you hear when you write, Kindle Scribe’s surface is crafted for the best possible reading and writing experience… More here.

For a very long time I have been hankering for a decent eBook reader that could also be an e-ink notetaker. And here it is?

I like the Kindle setup, the huge selection of books and the sheer quality of the hardware, and it will be interesting to see how well this works. I suspect that the way it handles the content you create will be crucial because so much of the competition struggles in that area.

Why Printers Are So Terrible

Because wow, they truly are. Like many people, I’ve had printers break on me in a myriad of irritating ways. Sometimes, the nozzles on inkjet cartridges started leaking or clogging, or wireless connections crapped out and never worked again. Other times, paper jams created a pile of internal confetti impossible to extract — or, conversely, the printer insisted it suffered from a paper jam that didn’t exist… More here.

Hate printers. Hate them hate them hate them!

The Apple Watch Ultra is a terrible watch design

There’s no getting around the fact that the Ultra looks big. But it does not feel heavy on the wrist. The case surface has a different finish than the Series 5–7 models that were offered in titanium. On those Series models, the titanium surface had a brushed finish. On the Ultra, it has a sort of textured finish. Micro-pebbled perhaps describes it. It’s definitely not perfectly smooth, let alone polished, but it’s also just as definitely not brushed. However the texture is best described, it very much befits a rugged sports watch. It feels good and in my opinion looks good… More here.

Gruber is a watch person and he understands watches. He is, however, a major apologist for all things Apple and so cannot seem to write about the elephant(s) in the room when reviewing the Ultra.

The problems are laid out well in this video which shows just how big it is on the wrist, to the point of ungainliness and Marques explains in his review how the shape is a big part of the problem.

The extra battery life (still woefully behind many Garmin models), extra toughness (still not convinced it is as tough as it needs to be) and added features such as the siren do not make up for the disadvantages. The sheer height of the thing, the dimensions and most of all the shape are not consistent with what would work on any wrist.

It looks like a computer on the wrist and it does not suit being worn every day for non-adventurous tasks. This is Apple’s first foray into making a new Apple Watch design, but that square shape needs to go at some point, it really does. A circular shape may not be logical for a digital display, but wearing anything on your wrist all day long is not by definition a logical thing.

The time for action is now

1/ Having been promised an energy price freeze, millions will be shocked when hit with a 25% rise in fuel bills in October. 5 million kids risk being pushed into poverty, with charities having to stop feeding the hungry so they can help the starving. We have to act. [THREAD]

2/ After a summer of doing nothing the government has finally done nowhere near enough. Things are so bad that @Human_Relief which has spent 30 years focused entirely on aid to the world’s poorest countries, has opened a food bank in Birmingham.

3/ In June, Rishi Sunak gave households on universal credit £1,200 a year for fuel bills. But he’d already taken £1,000 a year from them, whilst benefits rose by just 3.1% as inflation hit 10%. Once the October fuel bills land, this will leave them £1,450 a year worse off.

4/ The low paid get just £550 in government help, despite facing £1,300 rise in fuel bills not to mention other costs. Families with more than 2 children are even worse off as the flat-rate payment gives them just £2.60 a week per person for a couple with 3 kids.

5/ It’s no longer the welfare state that’s the last line of defence but charities. And yet charities find themselves broke. Compassion isn’t running out but cash is. Churches are worried they won’t be able to afford to heat their halls for those who cannot heat their homes.

6/ The reversal of the NI rise will give £1,800 to the richest and just £7.66 a year to the poor. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen as the government lavishes billions on the already wealthy at the expense of the new poor.

7/ The removal of the bankers’ bonus cap, corporation tax cuts and the rejection of a further windfall tax will mercilessly underline that a winter of destitution is coming for millions not because we are a poor country but because we are an ever more unequal one.

8/ The coming battle must be against poverty, not against the poor. You cannot rely on a heartless government having a change of heart, but concerted action by the public can force a change of mind. The time for action is now.

A superb thread from Gordon Brown. Just superb. What we saw today was the scariest moment yet in the current Conservative reign. I cannot believe what they are doing to the poorest in our society.