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Why the Apple Watch Ultra is my favorite Apple product in years

I bought the Apple Watch Ultra assuming I'd return it. But within 48 hours, I knew that wasn't happening. Here's why.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer on

When Apple announced the Apple Watch Ultra, I wrote it off as a device that wasn't designed for me. I don't run marathons. I don't scuba dive or go on day's-long hikes without any cellular service. I'm an average user who occasionally works out and goes on a few hikes a year. In other words, fitness features are part of what I use on any smartwatch, but not the driving force. 

I also sit at a desk for work. I don't expose my devices to harsh conditions, let alone need a watch housing made of titanium that can take a beating. 

Review: I put the Apple Watch Ultra through a Tough Mudder: Here's how it held up

Because of how the Apple Watch Ultra was first announced and marketed, in combination with the $799 price, I didn't preorder it. 

But, on the same morning Apple Watch Ultra deliveries were set to arrive and in-store availability kicked off, I checked the stock of my local Apple Store and they had a couple of watches in stock. 

So, on a whim, with zero thought and going against everything I'd said after launch, I bought one. I figured I could return it after testing it; at least I'd have some perspective about what it's like to use the Ultra for future stories. 

Also: 25+ Black Friday Apple Watch deals

After 48 hours, I knew I wasn't returning the Ultra. It quickly became apparent that this isn't a watch only for "athletes and adventurers" as Apple says on the Ultra's webpage

And now, nearly a full two months after release, the Apple Watch Ultra is one of my favorite products Apple has released in the last few years. Here's why. 

Apple Watch Ultra charging on surface
Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Battery life is king

I've never had an issue with the battery life of previous Apple Watch models. When sleep tracking was released, I changed my charging habits to charge my watch in the morning as I got ready, and I can't recall a single instance of ending the day with a dead Apple Watch. 

There were close calls, however. And I did take certain use cases or tasks into consideration to ensure that the battery would get through a full day of use. 

With the Apple Watch Ultra, I don't have to think about battery life every single day. In fact, I'd say I charge my Ultra an average of about every 2.5 days. And even then, it's not because the Ultra's battery is about to die. 

It's because I get an alert before bed that the battery won't last through the entire night while tracking my sleep.

Also: Stop your Apple Watch battery from dying with this trick

Just a couple of weeks ago, I went out of town for the weekend. In the past, I'd have to pack an Apple Watch charger and figure out when to charge my watch while traveling -- a task that's more difficult when traveling because you're constantly on the move. 

But this time around, packing a charger wasn't even a thought. I knew that if I left town with a full charge, I'd make it through the entire weekend without a low battery prompt. And even if somehow that did happen, WatchOS 9's new Low Power mode would extend battery life to last until I got home. 

I left with 100% charge, and 36-some hours later, got home with over 30% left; more than enough to track sleep and charge it the next morning. 

Apple Watch Ultra models next to one another
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

The display is amazing

I never had an issue with the display size of the Apple Watch, especially with the increased size of the Apple Watch Series 7 to 45mm. 

But the added size of the Apple Watch Ultra's screen has transitioned my expectation of what I can and can't do on the watch from a device that I use for glanceable information to a device I actively seek to interact with. 

The additional brightness of up to 2,000 nits ensures I can see the watch's display in direct sunlight and it comes through clear and legible. In short, the large display is a game changer when it comes to using a small computer on your wrist. 

Apple Watch and AirPods next to each other on surface
Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Long battery life + bigger display = an iPhone for my wrist

A larger display and longer battery life are two very obvious reasons to like the Apple Watch Ultra. I realize that. But the combination of the two features feel very much like Apple is working its way towards turning the Apple Watch into an iPhone for your wrist. Instead of being a companion device, as the Apple Watch has been until this point, the Ultra can -- and does -- perform the basic iPhone tasks we all rely on daily. 

Also: The Ultra is the Apple Watch I've always wanted, or so I thought

The list is long, but here's what I use the Apple Watch Ultra for on a regular basis, regardless of whether my iPhone is nearby or not: 

  • Make and receive phone calls (with and without AirPods connected to the watch)
  • Use Apple Maps to get directions, phone numbers, and hours for local businesses
  • Messages app to exchange text messages and iMessages. (Did you know you can attach images to an iMessage convo or new email on an Apple Watch?)
  • Calendar and Reminders apps to view and manage my daily agenda
  • Run Shortcuts for things like playing music, controlling my car, etc.

Admittedly, all of those tasks are basic. But that's exactly what makes them so great on the Apple Watch Ultra. Instead of thinking about sending a message to someone, picking up my iPhone, and then getting lost on Twitter for five minutes and forgetting what I was going to do, I simply raise my wrist and talk to Siri or tap a few buttons on the screen to compose a message. 

Also: The best sports watches right now

And better yet, I don't even need my iPhone with me. I can -- and often do -- leave my phone at home and rely on the Ultra's cellular connection to stay connected, while simultaneously disconnecting from the extra apps and services that come with a full-fledged smartphone. 

Another one of my favorite use cases for the Ultra is going on walks and listening to the Time To Walk workouts that are part of Apple Fitness+ using my AirPods Pro. This is something I occasionally did with my non-Ultra Apple Watch, but something I've found myself doing a lot more of with the Ultra for no other reason than not having to worry about the impact on battery life. 

The Ultra isn't perfect, and it's nowhere near ready to be a full iPhone replacement. But it feels like we're closer than ever to having a smartwatch that can replace a phone. And I, for one, can't wait for that to happen.

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