Article updated on September 20, 2023 at 6:00 AM PDT

Apple Watch Ultra 2 Review: A Brighter Screen Makes My Favorite Watch Better

A searingly bright screen and faster responses are nice but not necessary upgrades.

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Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
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The Apple Watch Ultra 2 doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, simply because it doesn't have to. After wearing the Apple Watch Ultra 2 for a week on hikes, bike rides and some casual spelunking (seriously!), it has less of a wow factor compared with the first Ultra. And that's only because it feels so familiar. It's available now alongside the Apple Watch Series 9, which shares the same upgraded chip.

Like Apple's first Ultra, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 costs $799 (£799, AU$1,399) and is sold as an outdoors watch with a rugged design and a range of sports features. The Ultra 2 still has a customizable action button, fall and car crash detection, ECG, temperature sensor, dual-frequency GPS, and built-in LTE. It shares the same heart rate sensor, which is incredibly accurate, and has the same collection of sports features to suit divers, runners and outdoor enthusiasts. It also looks identical to the first Ultra, even though the 49mm case is now made from 95% recycled titanium.

8.8/ 10

Apple Watch Ultra 2


  • Incredibly bright screen
  • More accurate dictation and on-device Siri
  • 64GB storage means more space for music and apps
  • WatchOS 10 brings great new cycling and hiking features
  • Double Tap is very useful


  • Battery life is the same as first Ultra
  • Limited recovery metrics

So what is different? The screen, chip and new Double Tap feature are the key highlights. For hikers and cyclists in particular, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a lot to offer, but that's more a reflection on WatchOS 10 than the hardware itself. You'll be able to get most of the same great experience on earlier, compatible Apple Watches too, including the original Ultra, which I named the most exciting watch in years when it came out in 2022. 

Watch this: Apple Watch Ultra 2 Review: So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

That blisteringly bright Apple Watch Ultra 2 screen

It's impossible to spot the difference between the original Ultra and the Ultra 2 -- that is, until you see the screens. Apple has cranked the brightness to 3,000 nits on the Ultra 2, earning it the title of the brightest screen on any Apple product. The iPhone 15 Pro by comparison reaches a peak brightness of 2,000 nits, the same as the original Apple Watch Ultra.

I took the Ultra 2 on a hike in the Marin Headlands on a bright overcast day, then to Ocean Beach in San Francisco when the sun was in full force the following day. I didn't have any issues seeing the screen in either situation, whether it was a quick time check, reading a message or glancing at my workout stats. To be fair, I had no issue with the screen brightness on the first Ultra when it comes to readability and outdoors use.

But it's the flashlight that gets a bigger boost. I took the Apple Watch Ultra 2 into a cave and it lit up the rockface much better than the first Ultra when I compared the two. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2 screen

Just a spot of casual weekday spelunking to see how bright the Ultra 2 flashlight can get.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

You can even force the Ultra 2's flashlight to hit maximum brightness by turning the digital crown, which is something you can't do on the first Ultra. Side note: Don't do what I did and crank the brightness on the flashlight in a dark room, screen aimed at your eyes. My retinas are still cursing me.

From a safety point of view, the brighter flashlight is great if you're walking, running or riding at night. But you can't see workout stats, messages or make a call without losing the light. Maybe in the future, the edge of the screen could stay at maximum brightness so you could still interact with the watch and not lose the light. I'm still not totally sure what the best use case is for this brighter new screen if it's not for safety purposes, given the screen on the first Ultra was bright enough for just about any environment.

On the flip side, the Apple Watch Ultra 2's screen also gets dimmer than the first watch, going down to just one nit when you have the watch in sleep mode. It can also get that dim if the screen isn't active and you're in a really dark room.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 gym

The ambient light sensor adjusts the brightness depending on the situation.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Apple Watch Ultra 2 gets Double Tap

The Ultra 2 shares the same S9 chip as the Series 9, which allows for on-device Siri, overall performance improvements and the double tap gesture.

Just as the name suggests, you double tap your thumb and index finger to act as a screen press when you can't reach the watch with your other hand. There are over 65 different actions you can make in Apple's own apps, like skipping a track in the Music app, taking a photo on the iPhone with the Camera remote app or starting a timer. Third-party apps can also work with Double Tap.

Double Tap on the Series 9

Answering a call using Double Tap on the Series 9.

Celso Bulgatti/CNET

So far, the most helpful Double Tap action has been responding to a message when I can't reach the screen, like when I'm walking my dog. I'll feel the buzz of an incoming message, raise my wrist to read it, then double tap to reply and voice-to-text dictation automatically pops up. Double Tap is available on the Ultra 2 when you update to WatchOS 10.1.

Double Tap builds on the foundation set by AssistiveTouch, a feature designed to help people with physical impairments control the Apple Watch without touching the screen. Double Tap is a separate function exclusive to watches that have the S9 chip, and it's on by default, while AssistiveTouch needs to be turned on from the Accessibility menu. 

Double Tap has been accurate at registering my gestures, but I wish it did more for the workout app specifically. At the moment, double tapping doesn't do anything. I'd love to see it sub in for the action button so if you can't press it, you could just double tap instead to perform the same action, like marking a segment.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 gym
Lexy Savvides/CNET

WatchOS 10 adds so much to Apple Watch Ultra 2

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 brings several important updates for hikers, cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts thanks to WatchOS 10. Offline and topographic maps are now available in Apple Maps and the compass app supports cellular waypoints. This means it shows the last place you had a signal so you can make a call and check messages on your own carrier, or a spot where you can make an emergency call on any network. 

Apple Watch Ultra cellular waypoint

The compass app now shows the last place you had cell signal.

Celso Bulgatti/CNET

Cyclists get two big updates with WatchOS 10: support for Bluetooth accessories like power meters and being able to see your metrics as a live activity on the iPhone. Both features work for indoor and outdoor cycling workouts. 

From a safety perspective, I love seeing the live activity on screen, because you don't want to lift off the handlebars all the time to see your stats on the watch. It shows you all the same detail as the Apple Watch but on a much larger surface area. If you pair the watch with a cycling accessory like power meter pedals you can also see more in-depth data like cadence, speed and power, including functional threshold power.

You're also getting a few new Ultra-exclusive watch faces including Modular Ultra, which has a horizontal complication slot and the option to show the time nice and big. It's coming to the original Ultra too. Night mode on this watch face and the Wayfinder face now activates automatically using the ambient light sensor, instead of turning the digital crown like before. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2 is faster thanks to that S9 chip 

Aside from Double Tap, the S9 chip also supports on-device Siri, which is helpful because it's faster and works when the Ultra 2 or your iPhone doesn't have a signal. You can do things like start timers, start a workout, or even add a waypoint in the Compass app with your voice.

Later in the year, you'll be able to ask Siri for health data, such as how many hours you slept or log medications. I wish that feature was active at launch, because it's probably one of the big reasons I'd choose to use Siri on the watch rather than pull out my phone.

To see if there was a tangible difference in performance between the first and second Ultras, I ran a couple of side-by-side tests. Opening apps was the same, but the Ultra 2 turned on 20 seconds faster than the first Ultra. Message dictation was faster on the Ultra 2, but the biggest perk is it's more accurate, especially getting my Australian accent right.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 performance

You can see the difference in dictation speeds on the original Ultra (left) and Ultra 2 (right).

Celso Bulgatti/CNET

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 also has the same new ultra wideband chip found in the Apple Watch Series 9 that supports precision finding. You do need an iPhone 15 or 15 Pro to take advantage, otherwise you'll just hear the familiar chime when you ping your phone from the watch.

I also appreciate that the Ultra 2 doubles the internal storage to 64GB of the original, a big deal for any media storage but especially for offline music. Unlike earlier Apple Watches, there is no limit to the amount of manual music downloads you can make on the watch. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2 battery life is the same as before

There's not much new when it comes to battery life as the Ultra 2 lasts the same amount of time as the first Ultra. It's tricky to give a catch-all estimate of how long the battery will last since everyone uses their watch differently, but I get close to two full days of use out of the Ultra 2 on a single charge with notifications, a GPS workout and sleep tracking. Apple's official rating is up to 36 hours with regular use, but it's possible to get almost three days with light use and by not using LTE, playing music or tracking sleep.

For extended outdoor workouts with GPS, you can expect up to 12 hours, which is enough for a marathon or century ride. There's also a low power mode that can now get up to 72 hours of runtime out of the Ultra 2 thanks to performance optimizations and the new chip. Compare that with the 60 hours Apple quoted for the first Ultra. I still have more battery testing to run with the Ultra 2, especially around LTE connectivity, so check back soon for more. You can also charge the Ultra 2 from the iPhone 15, thanks to USB-C.

While it's a good thing that Apple managed to maintain the same battery life while adding resource-intensive tools like a brighter screen and S9 chip, I would have preferred to keep the same screen on the original Ultra and get more runtime as a result.

Apple Watch Ultra 2

The original Apple Watch Ultra (left) and Ultra 2.

James Martin/CNET

Who is the Apple Watch Ultra 2 for?

If you already own the first Apple Watch Ultra, this is a modest update and I'd recommend skipping the Ultra 2, especially since Apple's always good at delivering feature updates to older watches through software. If you're coming from an earlier Apple Watch Series, it's more compelling because you get a completely new design, a huge screen and better battery life.

The Ultra 2 feels like it's forging its own path compared with other sports and endurance watches because you can wear it everywhere, for almost any activity. Most importantly, it's a true smartwatch: there are no compromises on app support, cellular connectivity or that seamless second screen experience that you often miss out on with competing sports watches.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is still missing a way to interpret all your health and fitness data with recovery metrics. I hope that's in the works and maybe something that could be added in a software update.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Apple Watch Ultra vs. Series 9

Apple Watch Ultra 2Apple Watch UltraApple Watch Series 9
Shape SquareSquareSquare
Watch size 49mm49mm41mm, 45mm
Materials, finishes TitaniumTitaniumAluminum, stainless steel
Display size, resolution 1.91-inch, 502 x 410-pixel OLED1.91-inch, 502 x 410-pixel OLED41mm: 1.61-inch, 430 x 352-pixel OLED; 45mm: 1.77-inch, 484 x 396-pixel OLED
Dimensions 44mm x 49mm x 14.4mm49 x 44 x 14.4mm41mm: 35 x 41 x 10.7 mm; 45mm: 38 x 45 x 10.7 mm
Weight 61.4g61.3g31.9g-51.5g, depending on size, spec and material
Colors Natural titaniumNatural titaniumAluminum: midnight, starlight, silver, pink, Product Red; stainless steel: graphite, silver, gold; Hermes stainless steel: silver, space black
Always On YesYesYes
Interchangable bands YesYesYes
GPS Yes (L1 and L5)YesYes (L1)
Automatic workout detection YesYesYes
Compass YesYesYes
Altimeter Yes (operating range: -500m to 9,000m)YesYes
Water resistance 10ATM (100 meters) and recreational scuba diving up to 40 metersYes, up to 100m5ATM (50 meters)
Calls YesYesYes
Microphone Yes (3-mic array)YesYes
Speaker YesYesYes
Voice assistant Yes (Siri, on-device)Yes (Siri)Yes (Siri, on-device)
Mobile Payments Yes (Apple Pay)Yes (Apple Pay)Yes (Apple Pay)
Sleep tracking YesYesYes
Period tracking YesYesYes
Sensors SPo2 (blood oxygen), ECG, optical heart, ambient light, high dynamic range gyroscope, high-g accelerometer, water temperature, depth gauge + appSPo2 (blood oxygen), ECG, optical heart, ambient light, high dynamic range gyroscope, high-g accelerometer, water temperature, depth gauge + appSPo2 (blood oxygen), ECG, optical heart, ambient light, high dynamic range gyroscope, high-g accelerometer
Emergency features International emergency calling, Emergency SOS, crash detectionInternational emergency calling, Emergency SOS, crash detectionInternational emergency calling, Emergency SOS, crash detection
Compatibility iOS 17iOS 16iOS 17
Software WatchOS 10WatchOS 9WatchOS 10
Processor Apple S9S8 SiP with 64-bit dual-core processorApple S9
Connectivity LTE and UMTS, Wi-Fi 4, Bluetooth 5.3LTE and UMTS, Wi-FILTE and UMTS, Wi-Fi 4, Bluetooth 5.3
Memory and storage 64GB64GB64GB
Power USB-C magnetic fast chargingUSB-C magnetic fast chargingUSB-C magnetic fast charging
Battery life Up to 36 hours; up to 72 hours (low power mode)36-hour battery life, 18 hours on LTEUp to 18 hours; up to 36 hours (low power mode)
Battery capacity UnavailableUnavailableUnavailable
Price (USD) $799$79941mm: from $399; 45mm: from $429
Price (GBP) £799£84941mm: from £399; 45mm: from £429
Price (AUD) AU$1,399AU$1,29941mm: from AU$649; 45mm: from AU$699