My Apple Watch Ultra Initial Thoughts

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The new Apple Watch Ultra right out of the box (Image by Skip Owens)

It took great restraint, but I did not pre-order an Apple Watch Ultra on September 7th when it was announced. I was pretty sure the Ultra made sense for me, but I really wanted to try that new larger form factor on my relatively small wrists before throwing down the cash. So I waited. And on launch day I walked into an Apple Store and tried one on. I quickly realized it wasn’t as big as I feared and much to my surprise they actually had the one I wanted in stock. So I walked out of the Apple Store on Apple Watch Ultra launch day with a brand new watch. Ironically, if I had pre-ordered the Ultra I would still be waiting a couple of weeks for it to arrive. So my message here is this, if you are lucky enough to live close to one or more Apple Stores you will likely be better off going into the store and trying to buy one in-person than ordering one online right now. The Apple Store I went to did not show that local pickup the same day was available, but when I went into to try the watch on they had stock available to purchase in store.

I’ve only had a couple of days with the Apple Watch Ultra, so rather than try to write a review with such a small amount of time spent with the watch I thought it would be more helpful to address some of the questions some of you that are on the fence about purchasing an Apple Watch Ultra might have…

Is the Apple Watch Ultra Too Big?

A side by side comparison of the Apple Watch Series 6 (on the right) and the new Apple Watch Ultra (on the left). It is easier to get a good size comparison when looking at the back of the watches. (Images by Skip Owens)

This is difficult to answer as it will depend on the size your wrist and your general comfort with having a “large-ish” device strapped to your wrist. I have relatively small wrists so I wasn’t so sure that this new larger watch wouldn’t look out of place and bulky on my wrist. But once I actually put one on my wrist it wasn’t as large as I feared. Unless you have super tiny wrists I doubt the actual footprint of the watch will cause you any problems. The thing you will likely notice the most is the thickness. The Apple Watch Ultra case sticks up quite a bit higher off of your wrist. But in reality the Apple Watch Ultra is a similar size compared to some of the higher end non-smart men’s watches out there. So if you didn’t have an aversion to large watches back in the days before smart watches were a thing, I don’t think you have an issue with the size of the Apple Watch Ultra. But I definitely recommend trying on one before buying. Also see my question/answer below about wearing it in a formal or business environment. And for all of you women out there, I can’t speak for you. But I did see a really good YouTube video review from iJustine on the Apple Watch Ultra. Seeing her review with an Ultra on her wrist might help you decide.

What Problems Does the Apple Watch Ultra Solve For Me?

The Apple Watch Ultra solves several pain points I had with previous editions of the Apple Watch. Primarily it solves the battery life issue I had. I sometimes go on long multi-day bike rides where each day I ride 100 miles or more. For this type of long distance bike riding the previous Apple Watches just didn’t have enough juice to survive. But now with the Apple Watch Ultra it can easily handle these rides.

I had an issue with durability way back on the first generation Apple Watch. Again, it happened after a long bike ride. The back case of the Apple Watch actually came off after charging the watch. I don’t know if it was the sunscreen I was using that got into the seal or if between the heat of the riding out in the sun all day followed by a long charging session it just heated up the adhesive too much. But either way, I suspect with the more rugged design of the Apple Watch Ultra I will no longer have to worry about this happening again.

This is a photo of my Apple Watch back that separated from the case in 2016 after a charging session (Image by Skip Owens)

I had an issue with accidental Digital Crown presses when wearing weight lifting gloves and working out with previous version of the Apple Watch. The cuff of my gloves would scrunch up against the Digital Crown and occasionally activate it. This was so much of a problem for me I ended up turning the Apple Watch upside down on my wrist so that the Digital Crown faced in towards my arm instead of out towards my wrist. Now that the both the Digital Crown and side button are protected with a bezel I can return the Apple Watch to its standard orientation and not worry about accidental button presses during workouts. Update: turns out the new bezel didn’t help. If I am wearing weight lifting gloves and switch from lifting weights to doing pushups my glove still activates the Digital Crown. So I’m back to wearing the Digital Crown on left side of the watch again.

The final problem this new Apple Watch Ultra solves for me is my desire to be as independent from my iPhone as possible. There are three features that make this even easier with the Ultra. The first is that the larger screen can now accommodate an on-screen keyboard, allowing me to quietly text my kids at work while in a meeting. This was one instance where I still needed a phone or I had to step out of the room. The second new feature is the more powerful speakers and microphones. Now, even if I don’t have AirPods with me there is no situation where taking a short phone call on the watch using the built in speakers and microphones won’t work. The third new feature that makes iPhone independence even easier is the longer batter life. Now I can take a huge number of phone calls on cellular (with my iPhone not connected to it) with my Apple Watch and not run out of battery.

Does the Apple Watch Ultra Work With Other Apple Watch bands?

The general answer to this question is that almost all previous Apple Watch bands that were compatible with the larger of the previous Apple Watches (the 42mm, 44mm and 45mm) will work with the new Apple Watch Ultra and the new Apple Watch Ultra bands will work with the previous 42mm, 44mm and 45mm Apple Watches. The smaller variants of the Apple Watch (38mm, 40mm and 41mm) do not have compatibility with the Ultra when it comes to watch bands.

But that isn’t the complete story. I actually have two watch bands that no longer fit when paired with the Ultra. Because the Apple Watch Ultra case is both wider and taller (specifically taller) than the previous 42mm, 44mm and 45mm Apple Watches, any type of band that was a continuous loop is now going to be a different size (slightly larger) because it now has a taller Apple Watch that completes the loop. Pictured below are two example of Apple Watch bands that now don’t fit me while wearing them with the new Apple Watch Ultra. One is the Pride Edition Braided Solo Loop and the other is the Button-Stud Apple Watchband from Form Function Form.

The Perfect Leather Apple Watch Band For Typing: FFF Button-Stud

 

Two loop style bands that are just a little bit too big due to the extra height of the Apple Watch Ultra (Images by Skip Owens)

Because both of these bands form a continuous loop once connected the Apple Watch they are dependent on the hight of the Apple Watch to complete the loop on your wrist and be just the right size. Now that the Apple Watch Ultra is just ever so slightly taller, your perfectly fitting loop style band is now a little larger than before when installed on the Ultra. Just to confirm I took digital calipers to my Series 6 Apple Watch and my new Apple Watch Ultra. The height distance between the lower and upper band grooves on the Series 6 was 34.6 mm and the same measurement was 39.4 mm on the Apple Watch Ultra. While about 5 mm doesn’t sound like much, it doesn’t take much extra circumference with the added weight of the Apple Watch Ultra to allow that band to shift and flop around on your wrist. I suspect for most people with loop style bands like these they will likely not like looser fit they get when pairing that band with the Ultra. If you like a looser fitting band and your loop band was a little on the snug side with your previous Apple Watch then you might be ok with the fit of that same loop style band on the Ultra. But for me it is just a little too loose.

Taking caliper measurements of the new Apple Watch Ultra (Image by Skip Owens)

I did have one band I was really worried about not fitting and it still fits perfectly. I have a Pad & Quill Cafe Cuff Apple Watch Leather Band. It is adjustable, so no worries there. But because it is a leather cuff design, the leather cuff has a cutout sized perfectly for the circular sensor suite in the back of the watch. I was worried that because the Ultra case was larger the circular sensor suite on the back of the watch may not line up properly. The different case size did result in the sensor not lining up perfectly with the cutout in the leather cuff, but it wasn’t off by enough to prevent all of the sensors from making contact with my skin. So not only do the sensors work perfectly but this large leather cuff band looks amazing with this new larger watch case!

The Cafe Cuff Apple Watch band looks even better with the larger Apple Watch Ultra (Image by Skip Owens)

Can You Comfortably Type on a Laptop While Wearing the New Apple Watch Ultra Watch Bands?

I opted for the Green Alpine Loop band with my Ultra. And while I haven’t typed on a laptop with either of the other two Ultra bands I can pretty safely say the only Ultra Watch band that would be perfectly compatible typing on a laptop with would be the Trail Loop Band. Both the Ocean Band and the Alpine Loop have metal components that are used near where your wrist would be resting on a laptop. I prefer a thin band with no metal components on the band both for comfort and to ensure I don’t scratch up my laptops. The Trail Loop for me actually works really well while typing on a laptop because of where the metal loop ends up being located on my wrist (just high enough so that the metal piece doesn’t make contact with the surface of the laptop). But this is going to be highly dependent on your exact wrist size and band size. If this is a concern for you I suggest you try out several different sizes of the Alpine Loop and choose the size that put that metal clasp safely away from where your wrist rests on the laptop.

How Do the Old Bands Look With the New Apple Watch Ultra?

Obviously the 3 new bands made specifically for the Apple Watch Ultra look the best because the click in adapter at the ends of the bands that slide into the Apple Watch case match the color of the case perfectly. That being said, the vast majority of the Apple Watch bands out there will not look out of place on the new Apple Watch Ultra. I’ve take a picture of all the bands I have and wear with my new Ultra and I think they all look fine with the new larger watch.

Images of all the major types of Apple Watch bands I own on the new Apple Watch Ultra (Images by Skip Owens)

Does the Apple Watch Ultra Work Well in a Formal or Business Environment?

There are a couple of aspects to this question. The first is how much can you dress up an Apple Watch Ultra for a formal event or for when you are wearing nice business clothes into the office? In general the Apple Watch Ultra looks great paired with a variety of leather watch bands. So I think you can get away with wearing an Apple Watch Ultra in just about every occasion without it looking to much out of place. The bigger question in my mind is overall functionality with your clothes. If you are wearing a nice form fitting long sleeve dress shirt the Apple Watch Ultra has the potential to really stick out from under the cuff of your shirt. It may also be hard to extend your arm and get the Apple Watch Ultra to slip out of the end of a tight fitting shirt cuff. So I will probably end up holding on to my Apple Watch Series 6 through at least part of the winter to see how well this thicker watch case works with all of my long sleeve clothes. But I suspect in most cases it will work just fine for my purposes.

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