Last week, I took my Apple Watch Ultra on a two-day hike.
The battery lasted two days.
It wasn’t far off Apple’s quoted 60 hours of battery life with Low Power Mode turned on, but I was still rather underwhelmed.
For a smartwatch which is, apparently, designed for ultra adventurers and people who swap the comfort of their home for camping in the wilderness, getting just two days from the battery didn’t feel particularly ‘ultra’.
However, it appears I overlooked something. In fact, as it turns out, I didn’t really test the 60-hour battery claim at all.
This is because there’s a needless, practically hidden second low-power mode setting on the Apple Watch Ultra. It is, possibly, one of the most un-Apple settings I’ve encountered, and it has made me question everything.
How I tested it
I’m not an extreme hiker. I’ve never been wild camping. I hiked up Snowdon in the dark once, but that was with about 1,000 others as part of a charity event.
However, every February, I head to the Lake District with my brother-in-law and a bunch of other guys. It’s one of those vitally important annual head-clearers that I always look forward to. We do some pretty serious walking over those two days, too. Some serious drinking is also thrown in for good measure, granted, but we at least earn those beers.
This was the first year I travelled to that beautiful part of the UK with my Apple Watch Ultra. It seemed rude not to give the Lower Power Mode a thorough test while up there. So, that’s exactly what I did (or, at least, that was the intention).
The test was simple. I charged the Apple Watch Ultra fully for the first day, switched on Low Power Mode immediately and went hiking for two days. The Ultra remained on my wrist for the entire time, including overnight for sleep tracking.
By the end of day one, it had 57% remaining. Come 17:05 on the second day, it had just 16% remaining.
After two days of hiking and workout tracking in Low Power Mode, the Apple Watch Ultra was basically finished and rapidly finding itself in need of a charger.
How I SHOULD have tested it
The YouTube comments arrived pretty quickly. They weren’t voluminous or particularly pointed, but they were unavoidable.
“Great video Mark, and lovely scenery. Now, if you could just activate the ‘Fewer GPS and heart rate readings’ in Low Power mode and go back and repeat it all for us as a comparison, that would be great, ta!”
“Did you have the low power option in the workout app selected? You’re not going to get near 60 hours without that.”
As it turns out, there’s a second lower power mode which needs to be turned on in conjunction with the regular Low Power Mode if you want to approach Apple’s 60-hour battery life claim.
Confused? I don’t blame you.
The second setting can be found within Settings – Workout. Beneath the toggle that turns on Low Power Mode when you start a workout, you’ll find another switch rather clumsily labelled ‘Fewer GPS and Heart Rate Readings’. We’re told that this preserves battery life by reducing the frequency of heart rate readings and GPS measurements. It sounds confusingly identical to the regular Low Power Mode, but it also turns off alerts and splits.
Even more confused?
I really don’t blame you.
Unfortunately, the presence of this hitherto undiscovered additional low-power mode option does place a huge question mark over my entire testing process in the Lakes. I didn’t have that second setting switched on, which, presumably, means I was only testing a watered-down version of the Low Power Mode.
This isn’t very ‘Apple’, is it?
I’m happy to admit that I screwed up with this one; I should have conducted more research. The second low power mode setting for workouts arrived with watchOS 9.1 late last year, so it has been around for a few months now.
The problem I have with this is that it feels very unlike Apple to have two seemingly identical settings for one device. Even more perplexing is the fact that Apple is so tight-lipped about what, exactly, we lose when both settings are turned on.
What does “certain metrics will be unavailable” mean? What data are we losing? Will our workout results be less accurate? The Apple support article for Low Power Mode doesn’t shed any light on this at all.
Why aren’t these two features combined? Do we really need to tell the Apple Watch Ultra to preserve even more battery life on top of what it does with Low Power Mode engaged? Is it really that significant when the second setting is switched on? And, once again, how much of a risk is involved in doing so if you really care about your workout metrics?
With the battery life of the Apple Watch Ultra being inevitably scrutinised since the day it hit the shelves, shouldn’t the ability to reduce battery usage be a one-switch affair?
Should I re-test?
This oversight on my part does raise one important question: should I conduct a re-test of Ultra Low Power on the Apple Watch Ultra??
I only head to the Lake District once a year, which feels like rather too long to wait. We’ll probably have a new Apple Watch Ultra by then with even more amazing battery life, anyway.
Won’t we, Tim?!
The good news is we have numerous beautiful walking spots in the UK, and I do enjoy a nice trip out of the studio once in a while. So, let me know in the comments – should I conduct a retest with both battery-saving settings turned on? And where should I go, if so?
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