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How tough is the Apple Watch Ultra? I stress-tested it for 9 months

From hot tubs to engine bays, here's how Apple's 'ultimate sports watch' held up.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Nine month old Apple Watch Ultra
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The Apple Watch Ultra is, in Apple's own words, "the ultimate sports watch" that's built to "take on extreme environments, elevations, and temperatures".

But talk is cheap -- and there's only one way to find out how tough the Apple Watch Ultra really is, and that's to put it to the test.

Also: This rugged satellite-enabled Android phone looks nearly as sleek as an iPhone

So, how about a nine-month-long test? This is exactly what I've done with my Apple Watch Ultra, which has been on my wrist pretty much continuously since I unboxed it. 

In that time, it's seen snow and rain, been in caves and down mine shafts, been on my wrist as I've stuck my hand down into engine bays, and into mud holes. It's been swimming with me in salt water, and its relaxed with me in hot tubs. In short, the watch has seen and done a lot. And I've made sure it's been quite a test, as I have a track record of being harsh on Apple Watches

Over those nine months, I know that I've picked up a few scars personally, but what about the Apple Watch Ultra? 

Quite a few of you have asked me to report on the toughness of this smartwatch. And as you can see from the photo at the top of this story, it's not in bad shape. In fact, ignoring the epoxy resin stain on the band, I think it almost looks new.

Also: My 5 must-have gadgets for off-grid adventures

But I decided to take a closer look at the watch using my Andonstar AD407 Pro digital microscope -- a much closer look.

View at Apple

Let's start off by looking at the titanium case, which Apple says strikes "the perfect balance between weight, ruggedness, and corrosion resistance".

The microscope uncovers a few superficial scratches around the bezel, a couple of which are noticeable when looking at the watch (I've marked these with an arrow).

Few scratches in the titanium case of the Apple Watch Ultra

Few scratches on the titanium case.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET
Few more scratches along the bottom edge of the Apple Watch Ultra

A few more scratches along the bottom edge.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The rest of the case is in close-to-perfect condition.

The titanium that Apple used in the construction of the Apple Watch Ultra has survived surprisingly well

The titanium that Apple used in the construction of the Apple Watch Ultra has survived surprisingly well.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

And yes, there's a lot of dirt and schmoo in the various holes.

My Apple Watch Ultra could do with a good clean

My Apple Watch Ultra could do with a good clean.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The hook that's on the bottom of the band -- the bit that gets knocked and scraped on surfaces all the time -- is in excellent condition.

The titanium hook on the band of the Apple Watch Ultra is in great condition

The titanium hook on the band is in great condition.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The rest of the band, however, is looking a bit frayed.

Apple Watch woven band looking very frayed

The woven band has seen better days.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

OK, but what about the bit that you're all dying to know about -- the sapphire crystal? How has the display coped with nice months of hard use?

Also: Apple Watch Ultra review: Tougher than a Tough Mudder

I carefully scoured the surface of the crystal and came across one bit of damage: a really tiny scratch.

Tiny scratch in the Apple Watch Ultra's sapphire crystal

That scratch in my Apple Watch Ultra's sapphire crystal.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

And here's the scratch when the screen is on. I can't see this flaw with my naked eye, and I can't feel it with a fingernail. I'm tempted to think that it's less a scratch in the sapphire and more like damage to the coating.

This is not visible to the naked eye

The 'scratch' is not visible to the naked eye.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

So, in conclusion, how's the Apple Watch Ultra performed? I believe the answer is incredibly well. I'm impressed there isn't more damage to the case. The titanium does an exceptional job of resisting being scratched, and the fact that there isn't a single deep gouge in it is a testament to its strength.

Also: Forget the Apple Watch Ultra: This is the ultimate outdoor smartwatch

As for the sapphire crystal, having owned watches with sapphire crystals before, I expected this material to shrug off all but the most determined of efforts to damage it, so it's good to see that it's lived up to expectation.

If you're planning on picking up an Apple Watch Ultra, rest assured that it's as tough as a watch can be. And if you're planning on holding out for a new release, then I'd expect that device to be just as robust.

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