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Apple Watch Ultra vs. Apple Watch Series 8: To go extreme or not? That is the question

Trying to decide if you should go all-out with the Apple Watch Ultra or if the Apple Watch Series 8 is more than enough for you? Let me help.
jason-cipriani
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer on
Apple Watch Series 8
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Prospective Apple Watch buyers have more choices than ever right now. Apple just announced three new Apple Watch models — the Apple Watch SE, Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra

Each Apple Watch model was designed with specific users in mind. The Apple Watch SE, for example, is perfect for someone who doesn't want to spend a lot on a smartwatch, or for a parent who wants to be able to get in touch with a child using Apple's Family Setup feature. 

And then there's the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra. The watches have two completely different designs but have a lot of features that overlap, such as the new temperature sensor, women's health features and crash detection, along with the staple ECG, fall detection and blood oxygen features. So which one should you get? Well, the decision may be easier than you think. Let's break it down. 

See also: Apple Watch Series 8 vs. Apple Watch Series 7: Which is best for you?

Specifications


Apple Watch UltraApple Watch Series 8
Processor S8 64-bit dual-core processor, W3 wireless chip, U1 ultra-wideband chipS8 64-bit dual-core processor, W3 wireless chip, U1 ultra-wideband chip
Display 49mm always-on Retina display with 2,000 nits brightness41mm or 45mm always-on Retina display with 1,000 nits brightness
Rating IP6X dust resistant, 100m water resistance, EN13319 certification, MIL-STD 810H IP6X dust resistant, 50m water resistance
Battery life Up to 36 hoursUp to 18 hours
Connectivity Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Cellular, L1 and L5 GPSBluetooth, Wi-Fi, Cellular, GPS
Colors TitaniumMidnight, Starlight, Silver, Product(Red)
Starting price $799$399

You should buy the Apple Watch Ultra if…

apple-watch-ultra-night-mode
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

1. You're ready for a new Apple Watch design

The Apple Watch Ultra has mostly the same design language as a traditional Apple Watch, but with a modern flair. Instead of the display sitting on the top of the housing, it's now recessed in the titanium body to help protect it. On the right side of the housing is the familiar Digital Crown and side button that's been on every Apple Watch model, but they, too, are protected by the titanium housing. 

On the left side of the watch is a new Action button that's easy to spot because of its bright orange color. The Action button is customizable, making it possible to assign tasks of your choosing such as begin a workout, launch a Shortcut or mark a waypoint during a hike. This extra button is not available on the Apple Watch Series 8. 

The 49mm housing is also the biggest Apple Watch made to date, and with double the brightness of the Series 8, the screen is sure to be easy to see in all conditions -- including direct sunlight. 

With a new design comes new bands, as well. There are three completely new watchband designs, each one designed for different activities such as outdoor adventures, endurance training and water sports. 

2. You ride, hike or dive… a lot

Speaking of outdoor activities, the Ultra is specifically made for extreme fitness enthusiasts who need longer battery life, a better, brighter display and improved GPS tracking. 

Apple touts 36 hours of battery life for the Ultra during normal use, or 60 hours when you activate low power mode. The Ultra is compatible with two different GPS frequencies, L1 and L5, which should provide accurate and precise location information regardless of your surroundings. The new compass app will track your route during a hike or bike ride, and then provide waypoints for you to find your way back -- should you get lost. 

Every Apple Watch Ultra comes with LTE capabilities, so as long as you pay your wireless carrier for an additional plan (usually around $10 a month), your watch will always be connected, even if you leave your iPhone behind. 

3. You need a ruggedized watch

As for ruggedness, the Ultra has a long list of certifications -- most of which I had no idea existed until now. For instance, the Ultra is EN13319 certified, which is a widely recognized standard for dive computers and depth gauges. There's a depth sensor built into the watch itself so it'll know when you're diving and automatically adjust to the environment. Its water resistance is rated at 100 meters, which goes toe to toe with actual sport watches

The Ultra is also MIL-STD 810H certified for harsh conditions and temperatures, with Apple claiming it'll work in temperatures ranging from -20 degrees Celsius to 55 degrees Celsius. 

There's even an 86-decibel siren built into the watch should you need emergency help. Apple claims the siren can be heard up to 600 feet away. 

More: Apple Watch Ultra: Price, release date, and features

You should buy the Apple Watch Series 8 if…

apple-watch-series-8-premium
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

1. You want a traditional Apple Watch design

If the Apple Watch Ultra's design isn't all that appealing to you, the Apple Watch Series 8 may be the better choice. It uses the same design as the last few Apple Watch models and comes in 41mm and 45mm sizes. On the right side of the aluminum (or steel) housing is the digital crown and side button that's used for navigating the watch. 

If you have an older Apple Watch, your watch bands will work on the Series 8 without any issues (assuming you get the same sized watch). And, if you happen to like the new Ultra watch bands and have a 44mm or 45mm Apple Watch, you can buy and use one of the new Ultra bands on the Series 8. 

The Series 8 is available in four aluminum colors this year. There's Starlight, Midnight, Silver and Product Red. The stainless steel models come in Gold, Graphite and Space Black. 

See also: New Apple Watch Ultra bands work with other Apple Watch models, too

2. You're not ready to pay $799 for a watch

The Apple Watch SE is the most affordable watch in Apple's lineup, with models starting at $249. However, it lacks some of the key health features that the Series 8 and Ultra have -- such as ECG and blood oxygen level monitoring. 

The Series 8 starts at $399, which isn't exactly cheap, but it's more affordable than the Ultra's $799 price tag

For $399 you can get a 41mm Apple Watch Series 8, or for $429 you can pick up a 45mm Apple Watch Series 8. Both of those prices are for an aluminum body and lack cellular connectivity. If you want to add cellular capabilities, you'll pay a $100 premium -- bringing the total to $499 and $529, respectively. 

Still, those prices are more affordable than the Ultra's price tag and the Series 8 is sure to last a few years, or at least until Apple stops providing software updates to it. 

3. Don't need all of the extreme outdoor features

Even if you like the design of the Ultra, it has more features than I'd wager most people will ever need. Two different types of GPS tracking, the ability to withstand a depth of 100m underwater, and the 2,000 nits display for outdoor viewing can all be overkill. 

With the Series 8, you're still getting a watch that's more than capable of tracking your regular exercise and workouts, your sleep, and now, with the added temperature sensor, you can even view your body's temperature while you sleep. And for women, this plays into reproductive health

The Series 8 is water resistant, as well, and can be used while swimming or even surfing in the ocean. It does all of the core Apple Watch fitness things that the Apple Watch has done for years -- that hasn't changed.

More: The best Apple Watch models of 2022

Alternatives to consider

Open to other Apple Watch prospects? Consider the also-new Apple Watch SE. 

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