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Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Ultra 2: don’t make a mistake

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Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Ultra 2: don’t make a mistake


Apple Watch Series 9 (left) next to the Apple Watch Ultra 2 Digital Trends

While this year’s Apple Watch lineup may not look significantly different from what’s come before, the established designs belie the impressive new capabilities that Apple has packed into its new Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 models.

Thanks to a new S9 chip, the two Apple Watch models can now process Siri requests directly on the device, allowing quicker responses and gaining the ability to call up health information by voice. There’s also a new double-tap gesture for one-handed activation of functions like answering calls and starting timers.

Perhaps the most significant part of this year’s Apple Watch lineup is the new Apple Watch Ultra 2, which serves as proof that not only was last year’s premium model more than just a one-off but that Apple also intends it to be a regularly updated part of the family in lockstep with the standard Apple Watch Series.

With two great Apple Watch models available, it’s no longer about simply getting the best new Apple Watch each year; now, we have two models to choose from. Has the Apple Watch Ultra 2 pulled even farther ahead of the Series 9 this year? Let’s dig in and find out.

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Ultra 2: specs

Apple Watch Series 9Apple Watch Ultra 2
MaterialsAluminum with Ion-X front glass

Stainless Steel with Sapphire front crystal

Titanium with Sapphire front crystal
Dimensions and weight41mm: 41 x 35 x 10.7mm, 31.9–42.3 grams

45mm: 45 x 38 x 10.7mm, 38.7–51.5 grams

49mm:

49 x 44 x 14.4mm, 61.4 grams

ColorsAluminum: Midnight, Starlight, Silver, Pink, (Product)Red

Stainless Steel: Gold, Silver, Graphite

Natural Titanium
DisplayAlways-on Retina LTPO OLED

2,000 nits peak brightness, 1 nit lowlight

Always-on Retina LTPO OLED

3,000 nits peak brightness, 1 nit lowlight

ProcessorS8 SiP with 64-bit dual-core processor with 4-core Neural EngineS8 SiP with 64-bit dual-core processor with 4-core Neural Engine
SensorsBlood oxygen sensor

Electrical heart sensor

Body temperature sensor,

Compass

Always-on altimeter

Ambient light sensor

Blood oxygen sensor

Electrical heart sensor

Body temperature sensor,

Compass

Always-on altimeter

Ambient light sensor

Depth gauge

Water temperature sensor

GPSL1 GPS, GNSS, Galileo, and BeiDouPrecision dual-frequency L1/L5 GPS, GNSS, Galileo and BeiDou
ConnectivityLTE (some models), Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n), Bluetooth 5.3LTE, Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n), Bluetooth 5.3
Ultra WidebandSecond-generation Ultra Wideband chip with Precision Finding for iPhone 15Second-generation Ultra Wideband chip with Precision Finding for iPhone 15
Battery life18 hours; 36 hours in low-power mode36 hours; 72 hours in low-power mode
Fast chargingYesYes
SoftwarewatchOS 10watchOS 10
Durability
50-meter water resistance (ISO standard 22810:2010

Certified IP6X dust resistant

100-meter water resistance (ISO standard 22810:2010Recreational dive to 40 meters (EN13319)

Certified IP6X dust resistant

Tested to MIL-STD 810H

PriceStarting at $399$799

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Ultra 2: design

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 are at different ends of the spectrum in their designs, although they still have quite a bit in common — including their square shape, Digital Crown, and watch band attachment system.

However, while the Apple Watch Series 9 follows the design language common to every Apple Watch since the original was released in 2015, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 follows its predecessor in retaining a more rugged and sporty design better suited to the outdoor adventure enthusiast.

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

That’s not to say that the Apple Watch Ultra 2 looks clunky; Apple has done a great job of giving it an elegant design with a natural titanium finish and rounded edges. However, it’s still a sizeable watch compared to Apple’s other wearables; the solitary 49mm model comes in at 14.4mm thick with a hefty 61.4-gram weight. Nevertheless, it’s surprisingly comfortable on the wrist and won’t get in the way, but slim and low-profile it’s not.

By comparison, the Apple Watch Series 9 comes in the usual two sizes — 41mm and 45mm — with multiple finishes and colors available for each. The 45mm GPS aluminum model weighs 38.7 grams, while the stainless steel finish pushes that to 51.5 grams (still about 10 grams lighter than the Apple Watch Ultra 2). The 41mm model drops about 7 to 9 grams off these numbers. Both sizes are available in Midnight, Starlight, silver, pink, and (PRODUCT)RED if you opt for the aluminum finish; the stainless steel version comes in graphite, silver, and gold. Despite rumors that a dark titanium finish would appear this year, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 remains available only in the same natural titanium as the original 2022 model.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Despite its larger size, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 uses the same band attachment system as the rest of Apple’s smartwatch lineup, which means all watch bands are interchangeable, so you can use your old favorites if you’re upgrading. Bands made for the standard Apple Watch may look out of place on the larger Ultra 2, but they’ll work fine.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 shares the same basic controls as the Series 9, with the usual Digital Crown and side button where you’d expect them. However, it also drops an Action button on the other side — a precursor to what Apple did with the iPhone 15 Pro this year. While the Ultra’s Action button is still a bit limited — and watchOS 10 has done nothing to change that — at least it’s there. The Apple Watch Series 9 has no such option.

Lastly, as one might expect for an Apple Watch designed for adventure, the Ultra 2 has a water-resistance rating of 100 meters and can handle recreational scuba diving at depths of up to 40 meters and high-speed water sports. The aerospace-grade titanium is durable enough to withstand the elements, with raised edges that help protect the display from impacts. It’s also been tested to MIL-STD 810H to survive extreme altitudes and temperatures, including sudden temperature changes, ice and freezing rain, and shock and vibration.

Apple

Still, the Apple Watch Series 9 is no slouch. The stainless steel models include the same sapphire front crystal glass and even the Ion-X glass on the aluminum models is designed for durability and crack resistance. While you can’t take a Series 9 scuba diving, it still has a water-resistance rating of up to 50 meters for shallow-water activities like swimming in a pool or ocean, and there are built-in swim workouts for that express purpose. Both watches are rated IP6X for resistance to dust but use ISO standard 22810 for their water-resistance certification, which exceeds the IP68 rating found on current iPhone models.

Design is subjective, and some folks understandably won’t be fans of the larger and bolder style of the Apple Watch Ultra 2. While it scores some extra points for its ruggedness and durability, not everyone needs a smartwatch for deep-sea adventures or scaling the side of a mountain. The Series 9 has a more classic and understated design that can handle everything but the most extreme water sports. We’re calling this one a tie.

Winner: Tie

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Ultra 2: display

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Apple has upped the display game on both of this year’s wearables, giving them the brightest screens of any mainstream smartwatches on the market.

The Apple Watch Series 9 ties with Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 6 by reaching a peak brightness of 2,000 nits, doubling the brightness from last year’s Apple Watch Series 8.

However, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 leaves those in the dust with an eyeball-searing 3,000 nits of brightness, making it easily readable even in direct sunlight. It also gets down to one nit at its dimmest to let you read it comfortably at night or in a dark room.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Along the same lines, the Apple Watch Ultra also has two exclusive watch faces — Wayfinder and Modular Ultra — both of which feature a night mode feature that turns all the display elements red to preserve your vision in the dark. This is especially useful on nighttime hikes, but you can also just as easily use it in your bedroom or at a club.

The Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 both feature always-on display technology to let you see information at a glance without waking up your watch, and the displays are vivid and colorful whether the screen is fully on or dimmed. Although the Ultra 2 has a higher-resolution screen at 410 x 502 pixels compared to 396 x 484 on the 45mm Series 9, that’s mainly to accommodate the larger screen; the pixel densities are close enough to be indistinguishable to the naked eye, with the Ultra 2 measuring 338 pixels per inch (ppi) versus 326 ppi on the Series 9. In short, both displays look fantastic.

Still, with a bigger and brighter display and support for night mode, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 clearly comes out on top.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra 2

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Ultra 2: performance

Apple Watch Series 9 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

When it comes to performance, the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 both got a healthy boost over their predecessors, thanks to a new dual-core S9 chip based on the A16 processor found in Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 15 models. Apple claims it’s 30% faster than last year’s S8, giving the wearables a snappier feel in daily use.

However, since the same S9 chip is used in both the Series 9 and Ultra 2, neither has a performance edge over the other. They both support all the new features that the S9 brings to the table, including Apple’s new double-tap gesture for one-handed activation of watch functions and on-device Siri processing that will let you call up and log health information securely and privately on your wrist.

Apple has also upgraded its Ultra Wideband chip this year, but as with the S9, both watches get the same upgrade. The usefulness of the new chip is somewhat limited at this point, mainly powering a Precision Finding feature to help you locate a misplaced iPhone; there’s no Find My integration for tracking down AirTags or other items that use Apple’s Find My network, so you’ll still need to reach for your iPhone if you’ve lost your keys.

Since both Apple Watch models have the same S9 and second-generation Ultra Wideband chip, there’s no difference in performance and core features.

Winner: Tie

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Ultra 2: software and features

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

While the Apple Watch Ultra 2 doesn’t outperform the Series 9 in raw power, it does have a few exclusive software features designed for its target audience of outdoor adventurers. This includes the Action button we mentioned earlier, which can be programmed to call up workout features, trigger the built-in stopwatch, record waypoints and backtrack to them, activate dive mode, or turn on the flashlight. There’s also a built-in siren that plays a continuous and unique two-tone sound that can be heard up to 600 feet away to help you summon help in remote areas.

Other than the siren, the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 support all the same safety features, including Emergency SOS and international emergency calling on cellular-equipped models, Fall Detection, Crash Detection, Noise Monitoring, and Backtrack — a new watchOS 10 feature that helps you retrace your steps when you get lost, including automatically recording waypoints for where you last had normal cellular coverage, emergency SOS connectivity, and where you parked your car.

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

There are also two exclusive watch faces designed specifically for the Apple Watch Ultra 2. Wayfinder, which first came to the original Ultra last year, features a high-contrast display for better viewing in bright daylight, and it looks even more brilliant on the 3,000-nit display of the Ultra 2. As the name suggests, it uses a layout designed for hiking and can be turned into a compass with a quick tap on the bezel ring. The second face, Modular Ultra, debuted in watchOS 10 as an expanded version of the Modular face that takes advantage of the larger screen to provide room for more complications and show more information.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 also offers a precision dual-frequency GPS with a second GPS band known as L5 to provide greater accuracy and reliability. That’s especially useful for hikers and other folks who spend a lot of time away from civilization, especially when you want to leave your iPhone behind at the base camp.

Bryan M. Wolfe / Digital Trends

While the Apple Watch Series 9 uses the more common single-band GPS, that’s fine for tracking everyday runs. It’s also important to note that the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro use the same dual-band GPS technology, which other Apple Watch models can tap into when they’re in range for greater precision.

Due to its role as a dive-capable smartwatch, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 also includes a built-in depth gauge and water temperature sensor that ties into a preinstalled Depth app and a dive computer app that can be downloaded from the App Store.

Although not everyone will need all that the Apple Watch Ultra 2 has to offer, it still does everything the Series 9 can and more, which gives it a solid lead in this category.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra 2

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Ultra 2: battery life and charging

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Over the past few generations of Apple Watch, it’s become clear that Apple considers daily charging the norm. The Apple Watch Series 9 doesn’t move the needle in battery life, still delivering the same 18 hours that’s been standard for years. While you can get up to 36 hours if you operate in low power mode, it’s unlikely anybody will want to do that regularly as it disables most of the wearable’s best features, from the always-on display to background health measurements.

This means your Apple Watch Series 9 will need to hit the charger about once a day to keep it going. Thankfully for those who wear their watches to bed, Apple added fast charging two years ago, so you can quickly top it up before you go to bed or during your morning ablutions. If you’re near a charger once a day, you can wear your Series 9 for 23 hours a day if you want to.

However, Apple recognizes that Apple Watch Ultra 2 owners won’t always be near a charger, and with the larger size, it’s managed to pack in twice the battery life. That’s 36 hours of regular use and 72 hours (or even more) if you opt for low-power mode. In practical terms, you should have no problems getting through a little over two days on a single charge, which should be enough to cover a weekend camping trip. When it comes time to charge, the Ultra 2 naturally supports the same fast charging as the Series 9. However, the larger battery will take a little bit longer to top up — about 90 minutes versus 60 for the Series 9 — but it’s worth it for the significantly longer battery life.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra 2

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Ultra 2: fitness and health tracking

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Although the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is a better companion for hiking and water sports in other ways, it’s evenly matched with the Series 9 for fitness and health tracking features.

Both Apple Watch models feature the same array of sensors for things like heart rate, blood oxygen, and body temperature and also provide the same ECG app and notifications for high and low heart rates and irregular heart rhythms. Either model can be used for sleep tracking (although the Series 9 is more comfortable to wear to bed for most folks), and women can use the temperature sensor to get retrospective ovulation estimates in the built-in Cycle Tracking app.

The Series 9 also supports the same set of workouts as the Ultra 2, including pool and open-water swims. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 can go deeper, but there’s no “scuba diving” workout; instead, divers can download the Oceanic Plus app to turn their wearable into a dive computer. Along the same lines, the Hiking workout is the same on the Series 9 and Ultra 2, with the ability to track pace, distance, elevation gain, and calories burned on either model.

Winner: Tie

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Ultra 2: price and availability

Apple

The Apple Watch Series 9 comes in two sizes, two finishes, and a choice of GPS or GPS + Cellular versions in the aluminum finish. The most affordable model is the 41mm GPS aluminum model, which starts at $399, while the 45mm stainless steel sells for $799 at the top end with cellular support. These prices assume you go with one of the basic bands; you can opt for a different Apple Watch band when purchasing from Apple or stick with the basics and purchase an alternate watch band later.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is a much simpler purchase, as it’s available in only a single 49mm titanium model that includes cellular capabilities for $799. Both Apple Watch models can be purchased directly from Apple or other retailers like Amazon or Best Buy.

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Ultra 2: verdict

Joe Maring / Digital Trends

There’s little doubt that the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the best smartwatch Apple has ever made. It has a bright and brilliant display, excellent battery life, a rugged design, and advanced features for extreme water sports and fans of the great outdoors. It does everything the Apple Watch Series 9 does and more.

However, that also comes with a premium price and a style that’s not for everyone. If you like the design of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and aren’t scared away by the price tag, you really can’t go wrong with the Ultra 2; however, most folks will be served just as well by the more affordable and Apple Watch Series 9, which provides all the best features of watchOS 10 and the same new tricks like double-tap and on-device Siri that the new S9 chip has brought to the table.

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