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Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Watch Ultra: Is it time to upgrade?

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the latest and greatest from the company. But are there enough improvements to justify upgrading this year or should you keep your eye out for Watch Ultra 3?
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Apple launched the first Apple Watch Ultra in 2022, targeted towards the outdoor adventure market where Garmin is dominant. The updated Apple Watch Ultra 2 provides some minor internal upgrades with some continued software updates to make it more compelling.

Rumors indicated that we would see a new black color for the Watch Ultra 2 but that was not announced. Internal updates, along with sourcing of the case materials, was revealed, making the Apple Watch Ultra 2 a fairly minor update for the best smartwatch available today.

Also: Everything Apple just announced: iPhone 15, Apple Watch Ultra 2, AirPods

Looking at the specifications below, there is just one line updated for the new Apple Watch Ultra 2.


Apple Watch UltraApple Watch Ultra 2
Display 49mm 410x502 LTPO OLED sapphire glass touchscreen49mm 410x502 LTPO OLED sapphire glass touchscreen
Materials Titanium casing and three band optionsTitanium casing and three band options
Processor Apple S8 with 64-bit dual-coreApple S9 with 64-bit dual-core
Storage 32 GB64 GB
Connectivity LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth, ANT+, multi-band and dual frequency GNSSLTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT+, multi-band and dual frequency GNSS
Sensors Optical HR, barometer, compass, altimeter, Pulse Ox, skin temperature, water temperature, depth gaugeOptical HR, barometer, compass, altimeter, Pulse Ox, skin temperature, water temperature, depth gauge
Battery Up to 36 hours Up to 36 hours
Dimensions 49 x 44 x 14.4mm and 61.3 grams49 x 44 x 14.4mm and 61.4 grams
Max display brightness 2000 nits3000 nits

You should buy the Apple Watch Ultra 2 if...

Apple Watch Ultra 2
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

1. You want a brighter display

The original Apple Watch Ultra launched with a brilliant display capable of 2,000 nits of brightness. In my one year of usage, I never thought I needed a brighter display, even in full sunlight. However, the Ultra 2 now boasts a display supporting 3,000 nits of brightness.

Also: Every iPhone 15 model compared: iPhone 15 vs. Plus vs. Pro vs. Pro Max

Since there is no LED flashlight on the Apple Watch Ultra, bumping up the display brightness and offering a flashlight boost mode may provide a similar experience in dark conditions. You can assign the large Action button to serve as a flashlight where the display is shown in an all-white color.

2. You want Apple's newest processor

The most significant internal update for the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the move to Apple's S9 internal processor. We'll have to see if there are significant improvements in the speed and responsiveness of the watch, but the original Watch Ultra never experienced any issues, so it is unlikely to be an obvious improvement.

Also: Buying an Apple Watch? Here's how to pick the best one for you

Despite the new processor, the battery life remains the same at a 36-hour advertised life. The brighter display may reduce that while the S9 processor balances things back out.

3. You care about the environment

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is also constructed of titanium, just like the original Watch Ultra. However, it incorporates 95% recycled titanium. If you purchase the Watch Ultra 2 with an Alpine Loop or Trail Loop band, it ends up being a carbon-neutral purchase.

You should keep your Apple Watch Ultra if...

Apple Watch Ultra
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

1. You don't want to spend any more money

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is also priced at $799 so the new watch won't cost you any more than last year's Watch Ultra. You could likely sell your Apple Watch Ultra for $500 (lowest Swappa price is $550 in good condition) and end up paying just $300 net for a new Watch Ultra 2.

Also: iPhone 15 Pro vs. iPhone 14 Pro: Which model is best to buy?

I wrote about what I needed to see in the new Watch Ultra 2 to upgrade so after viewing the announcement it is clear that I am not upgrading this year.

2. Your Watch Ultra has character

The day after my Apple Watch Ultra arrived I went out and ran a Tough Mudder. While the display came out of all of that torture in perfect state, there were a couple minor scratches around the bezel. Over the past year, my Watch Ultra has developed some scratches and wear, adding to the ultra-rugged ambience of the watch. 

If you have battle scars on your Watch Ultra, you may want to keep it around for storytelling and forego the newest model since the upgrades are minor and you can look forward to what is coming next.

Alternatives to consider

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