During a coffee with a friend this morning, we talked about the brilliance of the Apple ecosystem. As it turns out, we’re both as stupidly reliant on it as each other.

By ‘stupidly’, I mean that we are, literally trapped and for the silliest of reasons.

For me, it’s the ability to copy and paste seamlessly between my Apple devices. Without my iPhone in tow, my productivity dips simply because I spend more time faffing about transferring things between devices (be it the aforementioned clipboard, or images and web addresses). My friend said the same; without his iPhone, the inability to AirDrop stuff between his colleagues becomes a real issue.

These are the least flashy, exciting, or marketable elements of the Apple ecosystem, but Apple knows exactly what it’s doing. It’s how they ‘get’ people like me and force us to stay within their walled garden.

Sometimes, however, they screw this up. It’s obviously not intentional, and these errors in Apple’s master plan are only discoverable if you dare to venture outside of the aforementioned walled garden. But they are there and I’ve recently discovered one of the biggest in the form of the reliance I thought I had on the Apple Watch.

I was wrong about the Apple Watch

For the last month, I’ve been exclusively wearing a Garmin Fenix 7 Pro smartwatch. My usual timepiece – the Apple Watch Ultra – has lay dormant on the kitchen table for that entire time.

It’s still there, in fact. And the Fenix 7 Pro is still on my wrist. And I don’t want to take it off.

This has come as a huge surprise. I was convinced I’d miss the Apple Watch Ultra. It remains the most interesting, exciting product Apple launched in 2022 and is a genuine technical marvel. Having owned and worn an Apple Watch since the launch of the first version in 2015, how on earth could I live without it?

Quite easily, as it turns out.

I think there are several reasons for this. Firstly, I’ve never been an Apple Watch power user. I track workouts but rarely check the data thereafter, and I use it to track my sleep but, well, you guessed it – I never really pay any attention to what it tells me about my time in the Land of Nod.

I’ve grown used to notifications appearing on my wrist over the years, but as time has worn on, I’ve become less reliant on them and, conversely, rather irritated by their consistency.

More importantly, beyond the standard first-party Apple Watch feature set, I don’t do anything else with it. I don’t use it to open my garage door, it isn’t built into my home automation system (because I don’t have one), and there’s not a single third-party app that makes any meaningful appearance on my wrist.

The Apple Watch plays a role in the aforementioned ecosystem, of course, but for me that extends as far as unlocking my Macs and Apple Pay. That’s it.

This means my Apple Watch of choice (the Ultra) needs to fight for a place in my life much harder than I originally thought.

The biggest problem with the Apple Watch Ultra

The Apple Watch Ultra is sold on the basis of being built for extreme adventure.

It isn’t.

That’s a little unfair, actually. It is built like a tank and can no doubt survive elements, conditions, and treatment that far exceed the stuff I do with mine. But there’s one element which makes all of this stuff irrelevant.

The battery life on the Apple Watch Ultra isn’t built for adventure.

This is a three-day watch, maximum. And that’s if you use it cautiously. If you decide to do some of the crazy stuff Apple proudly shows Apple Watch Ultra wearers doing in its promotional videos, it’ll conk out far quicker than you’d want it to (and, yes, that means ‘base camp’ will be entirely unreachable).

I’ve conducted a few battery tests with the Apple Watch Ultra, but the one that sticks in my mind most readily is when my brother-in-law joined me for a hike in the Lake District. He was wearing a Garmin which hadn’t been charged for a good few days prior to our trip. Like me, he used it to track our two-day hiking antics, but, unlike me, by the end of the adventure he still had oodles of battery life left.

My Apple Watch Ultra was practically dead.

The Garmin Fenix 7 Pro I’ve been testing has 18 days of battery life available from a full charge. It offers every feature I used on the Apple Watch Ultra bar the ecosystem stuff and one admittedly annoying omission which I’ll explain in a moment.

What has surprised me the most during this period, though, is that I don’t miss the Apple Watch Ultra at all. It’s in plain sight every day in the kitchen, but I don’t experience any temptation to put it on my wrist. I’m looking forward to experiencing it again after such a long time away from Apple’s wearable, but that’s more from curiosity (and for content) than a burning desire.

Who’d have thunk it, eh?

I miss you, cellular

There’s one big thing I miss about the Apple Watch Ultra and that’s the ability to leave my house for a run and be without my iPhone.

It’s possible to load music onto the Fenix 7 Pro’s internal memory, but that’s a massive faff and very restrictive for someone who likes to listen to a wide variety of music while running.

The brilliance of any cellular-equipped Apple Watch is the freedom it delivers for soundtracked workouts and the ability it provides to spend some much-needed time away from your phone.

Is that enough to have me running back to it, though?


Will I go all-in on Garmin?

As noted, as a tech reviewer, I need to return to the Apple Watch Ultra to see how it feels after such a long time away. I also need to compare it against the recently announced Watch6 Classic from Samsung.

Despite this, I am an instant Garmin convert. I don’t understand 98% of the data it gives me about my workouts, but I quite enjoy digesting numbers and information I don’t fully understand. I’m weird like that.

It’s the battery life that does it for me – the tech feature that is as old as the hills but still the most important for most people. The less time you spend worrying about battery life, the more you can truly enjoy the benefits of a smartwatch.

The Apple Watch Ultra has a long way to go in that regard.

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