Four months after my initial review of the Apple Watch Ultra, a lot has changed in my opinion about it; many of the issues that first bothered me have turned out to not be so bad. At the same time, there are also features I thought were great, but have ended up being more cumbersome than useful.
I want to set the record straight – below are six reasons I was wrong about the Apple Watch Ultra.
I was wrong about the Apple Watch Ultra
My biggest criticism about the Apple Watch Ultra, in terms of being a sports watch, was the lack of any useful navigation. Apple’s new compass with waypoints felt (and still feels) terrible to use. Especially with a watch that is more than capable of using maps and real-time routing.
My initial testing of apps capable of adding navigation to the watch left me unimpressed. The ones I used felt clunky and did not integrate nearly as well as it does on most other sport watches.
However, long after my review I eventually found an app that solved this problem: Footpath. With Footpath, you can create, save, and download offline routes and get turn-by-turn directions. And importantly, unlike others I tried, you can utilize this navigation feature while tracking your workout with other workout apps.
This is still a little more clunky than using navigation on Garmin, but it does help make the Apple Watch Ultra finally feel like an actual sports watch.
The new Action Button is a feature I initially liked about the Apple Watch Ultra. While it felt a bit limited in it ability to be customized, having an additional button seemed a solid bonus for sports use.
Unfortunately, the longer I’ve used it, the more and more I dislike the Action Button; I am at the point where I prefer to have it completely disabled.
The Action Button’s biggest flaw is that it can only ever have one function set to it (which can be changed within the settings). Rather than changing functions depending on which app you are using, or which “Focus” you have set, the action button can only ever do its one assigned task.
This means that:
- The Action Button is used very infrequently
- Since it is used so little, it is more likely to be used accidentally then on purpose.
I wear my Apple Watches with the opposite orientation of most, because when I am strength training, I do not want my wrist hitting buttons while in extension (like when doing a pushup). With with Action Button there, that means I need to disable it unless it constantly being pressed and setting off the SOS alarm.
If I was able to disable the Action Button via a “Strength Focus” setting, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But currently you either have to have it completely on or completely off. Given how little value it has throughout the day, leaving it disabled seems to be the best option for me.
Apple Watch Ultra does not track recovery metrics (like HRV) as well as most other high-end wearables. I’ve tried and subscribed to various apps and still have not found any to a great job with this. The problem (in terms of HRV at least) is likely more to do with the limitations of the Apple Watch Ultra itself, rather than the apps trying to sort the data it collects.
However, one thing I did not appreciate enough in my initial review is how easy and useful this watch makes habit tracking.
For example, I struggle with drinking enough water throughout the day, so I now use an app called WaterLlama to display and track my hydration directly onto my watch face. Looking further, there are dozens of well-made habit tracking apps that can do this for whatever goal you need to keep front of mind.
The ability to constantly be reminded of and effortlessly track developing habits is an incredibly powerful tool. The Apple Watch (and Apple Watch Ultra) provide the best version of this tool that I have ever used.
Heart Rate accuracy
Apple Watches are well known for their high degree of heart rate accuracy. Initially this seemed to be no different on the Apple Watch Ultra and an additional reason why sports enthusiasts may want to choose it over others. After additional time testing, however, it seems the heart rate accuracy is a bit worse on the Ultra than on Apple’s other watches, which is likely due to its larger size.
Interestingly, most sports watches tend to give too low a reading when they are off. The Apple Watch Ultra does the opposite, often giving a heart rate reading that is much higher than it really is.
Music, calls, and texts
One thing I didn’t touch on too much in my initial review was the Apple Watch Ultra capability to make calls, texts, and play downloaded music/audible without a phone. While I mentioned it, I was so disappointed with the sports functionality that I didn’t really get to enjoy as much of these “smart watch” features.
The more I’ve used the Apple Watch Ultra, the more useful I have found all of this to become. I don’t like to run with my phone if I don’t have too, but I often will in case of an emergency (or in a lot of cases because I want to listen to continue listening to an audio book). Unlike other sports watches, I can do all of this seamlessly with Apple, and this deserves a lot more praise than I originally gave it.
Another new feature I was initially impressed with was addition of running power being added to the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Ultra. While I still like the fact that it has been added, the more I have used it, the less happy with it I am.
There are several issues, from not being able to see real-time power by split, to having power drop to zero when walking, though my main issue is the accuracy. When compared to other sports watches, and especially pods like Stryd, I have found the power readings to be pretty inaccurate when picking up the pace. Often, but not always, reading power during sprints significantly lower than they should be.
After four months of use, I can definitely say that the Apple Watch Ultra is growing on me. While I still prefer a Garmin for running with navigation, and prefer a WHOOP/Oura for HRV and Recovery tracking, I find the Apple Watch Ultra best for pretty much everything else.
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