I’ve been suspicious of the Apple Watch Ultra’s Ultra credentials since I first strapped it to my wrist.\
I love this thing, don’t get me wrong. I still think it’s one of the most interesting products Apple has launched in the last few years. It’s silly, weirdly good-looking, and – I know this will be controversial – well-priced for what you get.
The problem with the Apple Watch Ultra lies within Apple’s marketing team. I don’t envy their task at all; they need to somehow illustrate that this watch is capable of delivering on its name.
To Apple, the word ‘Ultra’ means taking feats that are already challenging and moving them onto another level.
Enjoy running? Try ultra running. In a desert.
Fancy a hike this weekend? Why not scale the biggest mountain you can find, instead?
Enjoy a spot of swimming? Sod that – you need to go deep sea diving.
I don’t really fancy doing any of that stuff (bar the diving), but I do enjoy a relatively challenging hike when I go on an annual jaunt to the Lake District every February.
This year, I took the Apple Watch Ultra (running watchOS 9.3 and attached to my iPhone 14 Pro Max) and gave it a real battery test.
My two-day hike test
During our annual trip to the Lakes, we usually undertake two big walks. Spread across a couple of days and always ending with several beers in the nearest pub, it’s an awesome head-clearer (and, yes, head-filler after that ale).
In the past, I’ve always had an Apple Watch strapped to my wrist, and with each iteration of the Apple wearable, its ability to last all day while tracking a hike has improved. Despite this, nightly charging was always a must.
The Apple Watch Ultra promises to fix that thirst for a charging socket.
My plan for the test was therefore incredibly simple. I’d charge the Apple Watch Ultra to 100% for the first day’s hike, and then leave it on my wrist until we returned home.
Would it last two days of hiking and a three-hour car ride back?
How does low power mode work on Apple Watch Ultra?
Swipe up from the bottom of your Apple Watch Ultra display and, within the Control Center, you’ll find the current battery percentage. Tap that, and you’re given the option to turn on Low Power Mode.
In doing so, you’re informed that battery life will be saved by turning off the always-on display, delaying notifications, and switching off certain sensors. Features such as background heart rate and blood oxygen measurements will also be disabled.
The Apple Watch Ultra isn’t the only device to have Low Power Mode – you’ll also find it on the second-generation Apple Watch SE and the Series 8. The difference is the size of the batteries and the way each of these devices is pitched by Apple.
We’re told that Low Power Mode should help the Apple Watch Ultra last up to 60 hours (or two-and-a-half days) with minimal use. According to Apple, “minimal use” includes 35 minutes of app usage, 15 hours of workouts, 600 time checks, 15 hours of sleep tracking and three minutes of talk time.
So, they’re not promising 60 hours of workout timing, which is fair game. However, our two Lake District walks only amounted to around eight hours of workout tracking in total, and sleep tracking for one night was the only other notable task given to my Apple Watch during that trip.
This should be easy, right?
My hike test results – Day 1
At 07:55 on day one, the Apple Watch Ultra was removed from its charging puck with 100% battery life proudly displayed on the watch face.
Ten minutes later, it had already lost 2% of that total, despite having done nothing more than reside on my wrist doing absolutely nothing.
That didn’t feel like a good start.
Thankfully, it appeared to avoid any further needless battery chewing that morning; by 11:10, it still had 93% remaining. This felt far more positive.
I should clarify that, as soon as we reached our hiking destination (the stunning Fleetwith Pike/Haystacks horseshoe in Buttermere), I started the hiking workout in watchOS. What I didn’t do is lock the screen (this is achieved by tapping the water droplet icon in the Control Center). This resulted in a series of frustrating ‘ghost’ screen taps instigated by the edge of my coat sleeve and the workout being inadvertently paused or cancelled entirely.
The Action Button proved equally problematic, thanks to my base layer consistently tapping away at it with each swing of my arm. The Apple Watch Ultra desperately needs a feature that disables all input for such instances.
By 13:48, I had 78% battery remaining. This still felt pretty good. We were over halfway into our hike and the Ultra appeared to be sipping gently from its battery reserves
According to the Fitness app on my iPhone, we scaled a total of 234 flights of stairs, travelled 18 kilometres, and walked 25,101 steps during that first day. At 23:30 that evening, the Apple Watch Ultra had 57% remaining.
My positivity was waning slightly, but this was still a pretty decent tally given the performance of my previous Apple Watches.
It was time to head to bed for some sleep tracking before another day of serious walking.
My hike test results – Day 2
Bleary-eyed and weary-legged, I squinted at the display of my Apple Watch Ultra. Forty-eight percent battery remaining at 09:08. Somehow, just a few hours of sleep tracking had chomped away at nearly ten percent of its remaining juice.
Not the best of starts, then.
That day, we headed to the Great Langdale valley where we decide to scale three of its peaks (including Harrison Stickle, Pike of Stickle… and another one I forgot to note down). It’s a beautiful and relatively challenging walk with stunning views and plenty of workout tracking for the Apple Watch Ultra to get stuck into.
By midday, 40% remained in the Apple Watch Ultra’s tank.
A conclusion about Low Power Mode was already forming in my head. As we made our way up the makeshift stone stairs and across the moss-laden peaks, it seemed entirely unlikely that the Apple Watch Ultra would last the entire car journey home later and another night of sleep tracking.
That incredible walk ended at the pub (yep, it’s a fixture) at around 16:00. The tally for the entire day was 14,000 kilometres, 21,292 steps, and 228 flights of stairs. The Apple Watch Ultra had just 16% battery left by the time we jumped into the car an hour later for the long drive home.
Quite why it used up so much battery during the remainder of the day, I have no idea.
As a point of comparison, my brother-in-law had a Garmin Forerunner 255 strapped to his wrist for the entire trip. He’d been wearing it for three days before we even headed to the Lakes, and on that first day, it still had 85% battery available. By the end of the weekend, around 50% remained.
Battery life tests are incredibly tricky. There are so many variables, obstacles, and potential mistakes that can be made by the tester.
My test results, therefore, shouldn’t be considered gospel. If you take your Apple Watch Ultra on a two-day hike, you may well find that it lasts far longer. Or it may run out of juice halfway through.
However, I’ve worn this device long enough to discover that it is – as I’ve said from the start – a two-day watch. Whether you’re using it ‘normally’ while going about your everyday life, or flicking on Low Power Mode and really putting it through its paces, the result is probably going to be the same.
Does this make it worthy of the ‘Ultra’ name? Well, that’s entirely Apple’s call, and it is certainly a far cry from regular Apple Watches. Although I haven’t tested it, it’s highly unlikely that the Series 8 would have lasted as long during my trip to Lake District. For that reason, it’s to be commended.
But can it really play with the big boys of adventurer watches?
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