Apple Watch Ultra 2 Hands-On: It’s All About That Bright Screen

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The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a new screen. And it’s really, really bright.

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Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer

Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She’s won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.

Expertise Wearables, smartwatches, mobile phones, photography, health tech, assistive robotics Credentials

  • Webby Award honoree, 2x Gold Telly Award winner

At a glance, the $799 Apple Watch Ultra 2 might pass for the first-generation Ultra if you see it on someone’s wrist. It’s the same 49mm size, and the case is also made from titanium. But its screen maxes out at an eye-watering 3,000 nits which makes it the brightest screen of any Apple Watch. Announced alongside the Apple Watch Series 9, the Ultra 2 is Apple’s second high-end outdoor watch and it arrives Sept. 22. 

It’s an evolution of last year’s Apple Watch Ultra, which I called the most exciting watch in years. After some brief hands-on time with the Ultra 2 at Apple Park, I’m most impressed by the screen and new features like Double Tap that let you control the watch with a simple pinch gesture. There are a few more tools on the Ultra 2 for sports enthusiasts too, but doesn’t necessarily warrant upgrading from the first-generation Ultra.

The original Apple Watch Ultra, also $799, was Apple’s take on an adventure watch to compete with the likes of Garmin. It’s aimed at a wide range of sports enthusiasts, with special features for scuba divers and hikers, to name a couple. But the Ultra also appeals to anyone who wants an Apple Watch with the biggest screen and longest-lasting battery — that still holds true for the Ultra 2.

A brighter screen and new Modular Ultra watch face

The Ultra 2 pushes the maximum screen brightness to 3,000 nits, a significant increase from the original Ultra that featured a 2,000-nit display. This should make it even easier to see in bright, outdoor situations like in the snow or in sunlight. I found the easiest way to see the brightness boost was activating the flashlight from the Control Center to see the difference from the first-gen Ultra.

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Watch this: Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a More Advanced Display and S9-Powered Features

The Ultra 2 also has an exclusive new watch face called Modular Ultra, which uses the edge of the display to show more details like altitude, depth or seconds. I found slots for at least seven complications in my brief hands-on time with the Ultra 2 so you can really tune this watch face to your needs. 

Night mode activates automatically when the light is low enough by using the ambient light sensor, which is a feature that also comes to the Wayfinder watch face on the first-gen Ultra if you are running WatchOS 10. Apple has added the second-generation ultrawideband chip that supports precision finding for the iPhone 15.

Apple Watch Ultra 2

Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Double Tap and Siri improvements

Shared with the Series 9 is Double Tap, a pinch gesture that you can use to control the watch. For instance, you can tap your thumb and forefinger together to answer a call. It accomplishes this via the accelerometer, gyroscope and heart-rate sensor. Sound familiar? It builds on the work Apple has done with AssistiveTouch, which allows for greater accessibility through gestures, but it is separate. 

Double Tap is active by default and how it works changes depending on context. I was able to raise my wrist to see the time, then double tap to bring up the smart stack, or widgets, found in WatchOS 10. Double tap again and I was scrolling through the widgets. Open the timer app and I could start or stop the countdown with a double tap. You’ll be able to answer calls with the same gesture.

This is one of the features supported by the new S9 chip, the same as the Series 9 uses. It also powers the on-device Siri, which promises more accurate dictation. You’ll also be able to ask Siri to give you an update on your health metrics, like asking how much sleep you got the previous night.

Apple Watch Ultra 2

The new Modular Ultra watch face.

Apple/Screenshot by CNET

More Cycling tools and extended altitude range

Shipping with the new WatchOS 10 software, the Ultra 2 will also offer more tools for cyclists, including pairing with Bluetooth devices like power meter pedals. You’ll also be able to see your cycling metrics on the iPhone screen thanks to Live Activities. I’ve been testing out these features over the past couple months in the public beta of WatchOS 10 with the original Ultra and as a cyclist, find them really helpful.

The Ultra 2 also has a wider altitude range, from 500 meters underwater to 9,000 meters above ground. Updates to the Depth app now log your sessions so you can review them on the watch or iPhone, plus the Oceanic Plus app from Huish Outdoors now supports freediving.

Apple also upped the amount of recycled materials in the case, from all-virgin titanium on the first-generation Ultra to 95% recycled titanium on the Ultra 2. Battery life stays the same as the original Ultra, rated for 36 hours with regular use and up to 72 hours in low-power mode.

Apple now has three watches in its lineup:

  • The $249 (£219, AU$399) second-generation Apple Watch SE, released in 2022
  • The $399 (£399, AU$649) Apple Watch Series 9
  • The $799 (£799, AU$1,399) second-generation Apple Watch Ultra

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