Because the Apple Watch Ultra has been my favorite Apple product for years

When Apple announced the Apple Watch Ultra, I wrote it as a device that wasn’t designed for me. I don’t run marathons. I do not scuba dive or go on day trips with no cell service. I’m an average user who occasionally works out and does a few hikes a year. In other words, the fitness features are part of what I use on any smartwatch, but not the driving force behind it.

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

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Due to the way the Apple Watch Ultra was first announced and marketed, combined with the $799 price tag, I didn’t pre-order it.

But, the same morning that Apple Watch Ultra deliveries were due to arrive and in-store availability began, I checked my local Apple Store’s stock and they had a couple of watches in stock.

So on a whim, thoughtlessly and going against everything I’d been told since the launch, I bought one. Thought I could return it after testing it; at least I’d have some perspective on what it’s like to use the Ultra for future stories.

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After 48 hours, I knew I wasn’t going to return the Ultra. It quickly became apparent that this isn’t a watch just for “athletes and adventurers,” as Apple claims on the Ultra’s webpage.

And now, almost two full months after release, the Apple Watch Ultra is one of my favorite products that Apple has released in recent years. Here because.

Surface charging Apple Watch Ultra

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 charging my watch in the morning as I got ready, and I can’t recall a single instance where I ended the day with a dead Apple Watch.

However, there have been close calls. And I looked at a few use cases or tasks to make sure the battery could last 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 recharge my Ultra about every 2.5 days on average. And even then, it’s not because the Ultra’s battery is running low.

It’s because I get a warning before I go to bed that the battery won’t last through the night while tracking my sleep.

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Just a couple of weeks ago I went out of town for the weekend. In the past, I had to pack an Apple Watch charger and figure out when to charge my Watch while traveling—a more difficult task when traveling because you’re constantly on the go.

But this time, packing a charger wasn’t even a thought. I knew if I left town with a full charge, I’d make it through the weekend without a low battery message. And even if that somehow happened, WatchOS 9’s new Power Saver mode would extend my battery life until I got home.

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

Models of Apple Watch Ultra next to each other

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

The display is amazing

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

But the additional screen size of the Apple Watch Ultra has shifted my expectations of what I can and can’t do on the Watch from a device I use for visible information to a device I actively try to interact with.

The additional brightness of up to 2,000 nits ensures that I can see the watch display in direct sunlight and that it is 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 the 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. But the combination of the two features just looks like Apple is on its way to turning the Apple Watch into an iPhone for your wrist. Instead of being a companion device, as the Apple Watch has been up to this point, the Ultra can — and does — perform the basic iPhone tasks we all rely on on a daily basis.

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The list is long, but here’s what I regularly use the Apple Watch Ultra for, whether or not my iPhone is nearby:

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

Of course, all these tasks are essential. But that’s exactly what makes them so great on the Apple Watch Ultra. Instead of thinking about texting 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 on-screen buttons to compose a message.

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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 logging out of the extra apps and services that come with a full-fledged smartphone.

Another of my favorite use cases for the Ultra is going for walks and listening to the Time To Walk workouts that are part of Apple Fitness+ using mine AirPod Pro. This is something I’ve occasionally done with my non-Ultra Apple Watch, but something I’ve found myself doing a lot more with the Ultra for no other reason than having to worry about the impact on battery life.

The Ultra isn’t perfect, and it’s nowhere near ready to be a complete replacement for the iPhone. But it seems we are 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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