Apple Watch Ultra 2 Review: You’ll Still Need to Keep Your iPhone Handy


Although the Watch Ultra 2 has its own onboard precision dual-frequency GPS system, it’s mostly there to more precisely map and track your workouts. The watch doesn’t have its own onboard offline maps to navigate independently of the iPhone. Instead, you click into Apple Maps on your phone while you’re at home, download the offline map, and then keep your iPhone charged and within range of your Ultra 2 to look at the map on your wrist.

The latest version of watchOS has improved tracking for bike rides and cycling workouts.

Photograph: Apple

Likewise, watchOS 10 now shows cycling as a live activity on your phone screen so that you can use your phone as a de facto bike computer. I did this on a bike ride to the beach and it’s very handy! However, unlike with a dedicated Garmin unit that crams all your relevant data onto one display, Apple’s workout data and mapping functions are all very siloed into various apps. You end up toggling quite a bit between Workouts, Maps, and Music or Podcasts. That’s in addition to the toggling you have to do between Apple Health and Workouts when you want to check your running statistics versus, say, the amount of hours you slept.

It’s all there, and accessible, but it’s a little annoying that you can’t see everything in one place, and it introduces the possibility of user error. Who among us has never accidentally closed a tab? Let them cast the first stone. I’ve never accidentally shut off Garmin’s breadcrumb feature, because that’s why I wear a Garmin watch. It’s for workout tracking and navigation, not all of the things all the time.

In this context, the second-gen UWB chip makes a lot more sense. It has to be easy to find your phone, because you need it for everything. I’m constantly switching my phone and wallet between the handlebar bag on my bike, the pocket in my gym bag, my running pack, my cycling pack, etc. Being able to use precision finding to locate it perceptibly lowers my stress levels.

The Double Tap gesture lands on Apple Watch-bedecked wrists next month.

Video: Apple

The Double Tap gesture will be enabled on the Watch Ultra 2 and the Watch Series 9 in October. Apple sent an additional Series 9 model that has Double Tap, and I’ve written about that feature in my review of the Series 9. I couldn’t access Double Tap on the Watch Ultra 2 during my testing period, but I did come across a situation where I wished I could have. I went rock climbing and, as usual, forgot to start my workout. I waited to get to a small rise in the face and leaned my full body against the wall. While trembling as I clung to the rock with my hands, I tapped my sweaty nose on the Ultra 2’s screen to launch Workouts and then press the Climbing button. Hard to picture Alex Honnold doing this, and yet here we are.

The Watch Ultra 2’s codependency with the iPhone skews the wearable’s value proposition a bit. When you’re considering whether you should buy a Garmin Epix Pro (8/10, WIRED Recommends) or a Watch Ultra 2, it’s not one watch versus another. It’s one ecosystem versus another, one fragmented and one integrated. Do you want to buy a Garmin Edge and an InReach Mini and a Forerunner and a regular degular smartwatch? Or just one watch and an iPhone (and probably a portable charger) to do all the things, all the time. I consider that this equation now balances out in favor of the Watch Ultra 2, especially since, well … I love outdoor adventures, but I do spend most of my time at work and doing family stuff. The equation might not balance out for many outdoorspeople—not being able to access offline maps without the phone is, unfortunately, kind of huge—but it’s getting there faster and faster.



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