Apple Watch Ultra vs Apple Watch Series 8

Apple Watch Ultra vs Apple Watch Series 8


The Apple Watch Ultra and the Apple Watch Series 8 are more alike than they are different... and at the same time, they aren't. Despite their mostly similar shared hardware and feature sets, the two smartwatches are devised with different use cases. 

The rugged Apple Watch Ultra, a device with improved battery life, is geared towards adventurous individuals, whereas the Apple Watch Series 8 serves the workhorse function of Apple's current smartwatch lineup: it's more affordable and approachable, with a friendlier design and a rather adept set of features.

How do these two stack up? Well, as we already mentioned, there are some key differences that could sway your opinion in one way... or the other.

So, which one is the better new Apple Watch in 2022, the Watch Series 8 or the Apple Watch Ultra? Stick around to find out!

Apple Watch Ultra vs Apple Watch Series 8 in a nutshell:
  • Rugged titanium case w/ sapphire glass (Apple Watch Ultra) vs aluminum/stainless steel (Apple Watch Series 8)
  • 49mm case (Apple Watch Ultra) vs 41/45mm (Apple Watch Series 8)
  • 2000-nit display (Apple Watch Ultra) vs 1000-nit display (Apple Watch Series 8)
  • Customizable Action button (Apple Watch Ultra) vs n/a
  • 542mAh battery (Apple Watch Ultra) vs 308mAh battery (Apple Watch Series 8)
  • Emergency 86db (Apple Watch Ultra) vs n/a
  • Dual-frequency GPS (Apple Watch Ultra) vs single-frequency (Apple Watch Series 8)
  • Dual speakers and three-microphone array (Apple Watch Ultra)
  • 100m water resistance (Apple Watch Ultra) vs 50m water resistance (Apple Watch Series 8)
  • Dive computer with pressure and water temperature monitoring (Apple Watch Ultra) vs n/a

Table of Contents:

Apple Watch Ultra

Apple Watch Ultra

The Good

  • Exceptional rugged design
  • Bright and vivid display
  • Solid and reliable battery life
  • Intuitive and logical watchOS 9 interface
  • Excellent performance and functionality
  • Great selection of wellness and health features

The Bad

  • At $799, it's not very affordable
  • Little differentiation from the Apple Watch Series 8
  • Just a single color option
Apple Watch Series 8 (45mm)

Apple Watch Series 8 (45mm)

The Good

  • Beautiful look, premium feel
  • Smooth performance
  • Tons of bands available - 1st and 3rd party
  • Water-resistant
  • Huge amount of fitness tracking options, plus custom programs (available with watchOS 9)
  • Sleep stages (available with watchOS 9)

The Bad

  • Temperature sensor is underused
  • Some may be getting tired with the design
  • Only pairs and activates with iPhone (sorry, iPad users)

Design, Models & Sizes

So, the essential differences between the Apple Watch Ultra and the Apple Watch Series 8 lie in the design section. The formidable Ultra, with its rugged and masculine all-titanium 49mm case and a sapphire glass atop of the display certainly stands out from the more mundane and familiar-looking Apple Watch Series 8. 

You can't really mistake the two wearables, as the Ultra is truly setting a precedent on the Apple Watch scene: it not only looks tough but is also built with durable materials, and hints at endurance and it has. In comparison, I can see why the Apple Watch Series 8 could give off Happy Meal toy vibes—despite that it's still a premium-feeling watch, it can't really hold a candle to the Apple Watch Ultra.

The tried-and-true design of the Apple Watch Series 8 is reiterating the Apple Watch Series 7 design, with super-thin bezels and a nearly fullscreen display that's pushing it to the edges of the curved case. It, on the other side, is reiterating the curved frame design that was incepted by Apple in the iPhone X-iPhone 11 era. Despite year-long rumors that we're getting a regular Apple Watch with flat case design, à la iPhone 12/iPhone 13/iPhone 14, these rumors continue to turn out pure fiction, for good or bad. 

That said, the more compact design of the Apple Watch Series 8 makes it a much more comfortable watch to wear that blends within your outfit way easier, especially for folks with more delicate wrists. 

Read more:

It lacks the rugged and imposing prominence of the Apple Watch Ultra and is lighter, so you might not even notice it once you get used to wearing it on a daily basis. This can't be said about the Apple Watch Ultra, which is heavier and more imposing, and is definitely geared towards the more masculine part of humanity. 

You can have the Apple Watch Series 8 in either 41mm or 45mm size versions, as well as in a slew of different colors and case material variations, which makes it a product that's easier to fit within your specific needs. Nice! 

At the same time, you can have the Apple Watch Ultra, in only one size version, a 49mm, and in only one stock color option, so you are rather limited when it comes to Cupertino's largest wearable so far. 

Software and features

Just a few important differences to consider

Both the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra come with a rather similar set of software features and functionalities on board, both from a pure smartwatch and from a fitness tracking/wellness perspective. From the get-go, both smarwatches have the same sensor loadout: heart-rate monitoring, blood oxygen, ECG monitoring with AFib detection, improved cycle tracking that now takes into account body temperature changes to predict ovulation, respiratory rate, finally granular sleep tracking, and more. Workout and activity tracking scores some improvements on both watches in the form of heart rate zones and custom workout settings. 

The handy trackback feature in the redesigned Compass app is common on both smartwatches as well. Both also have high-dynamic range g-accelerometers, allowing the two wearables to detect car crashes and automatically call 911 for you if you don't respond in a timely manner. A rather grim possibility that we wish you never find yourself in, but having both the Apple Watch Ultra and Series 8 support this functionality gives a minor peace of mind. 

Some exclusive features that are only found on the Apple Watch Ultra include the dive computer feature, which gives rudimentary but vital data about your dive, such as the current depth, water temperature, maximum depth, and overall dive duration. It will also tell you if you're ascending too quickly, which can lead to decompression sickness in the worst case scenario.

Another feature that's exclusive on the Ultra is purely a software one and is by no means a game-changer, but is undoubtedly a nice to have. The so-called Wayfinder watch face is matching up with the rugged design of the Apple Watch Ultra perfectly. It gives navigational data at a glance, providing you with an easy to see bearing, inclination, measured altitude, or cardinal directions. Wayfinder also comes with Night Mode. When the watch face's crown is turned, this feature changes all hues towards the red spectrum and is easy on the eyes in dim light, especially when the watch is completely dark.

And let's not forget the more capable GPS inside the Apple Watch Ultra. It's an L1+L5 dual-frequency positioning system, meaning that it's way more accurate than the regular single-frequency GPS found in Apple's regular watches, the Apple Watch Series 8 included. This means that the Apple Watch Ultra will more accurately track your routes not only in the wild, but in dense urban areas as well, where tall skyscrapers and large buildings often tend to skew GPS signal accuracy. 

There's also the super-loud 86db emergency siren feature on the Apple Watch Ultra, which could hopefully save your life in extreme situations, The Siren feature is designed to emit a slew of different tonal alarms that are easily discernible from just about any natural sound you might encounter in the great outdoors, and would allow rescue teams to locate you more easily. 

Audio Quality and Haptics

The Apple Watch Ultra comes with dual speakers on board, as well as a three-microphone array that will better isolate your voice from your surroundings and improve call quality and the Siri functionality. The speakers give off clear and loud sound which is definitely an improvement over the Apple Watch Series 8. 

The same applies to haptics. The Series 8 has the same taptic engine as the Series 7 and most other Apple Watches, so it gives off accurate and strong haptic feedback. So far, so good, but the Apple Watch Ultra's taptic engine feels stronger and more accurate, possibly to make it easier to feel the feedback if you're wearing gloves or a dive suit. Regardless, the stronger feedback is appreciated in regular usage scenarios as well. 

Battery Life and Charging

You can't beat the Apple Watch Ultra at its game

With a much larger 542mAh battery, the Apple Watch Ultra can easily give you more than two days worth of battery life, whereas the 308mAh battery unit in the 45mm version of the Apple Watch Series 8 is only good for up to a day or so of regular usage. While Apple goes a bit conservative with the estimated battery life expectations on both wearables, my specific usage patterns revealed that one could expect slightly more battery endurance than advertised: slightly over 50 hours on the Apple Watch Ultra and around 30 hours on the Apple Watch Series 8. That said, this is my specific anecdotal experience, so your mileage will certainly vary. 

One thing is for certain, though—if you long for excellent battery life, then the Apple Watch Ultra should definitely be shortlisted. 

In terms of charging, both smartwatches take around an hour to reach the 80% battery charge and then require a 30-minute trickle charge to hit 100%. Have in mind these charging speeds require a 20W fast-charging wall brick.

Processor & Storage

Both the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra have the new Apple S8 system-in-chip. Let that not confuse you, the S8 chip is in fact mostly similar to the S7 and S6 chips that powered the Series 7 and Series 6 of the Apple Watch, respectively. The new S8 has some improved sensors, like the three-axis HDR gyroscope and temperature sensors, which set it apart from its immediate predecessors.

That said, from a performance standpoint, there's really no need for anything faster. Both the Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra perform admirably and juggle throw apps with a spectacular tempo. We've likely reached the smartwatch performance threshold for now, and Apple better turn its head towards improving the efficiency of its smartwatch chips. 

One way Cupertino can do this is by employing TSMC's upcoming 3nm manufacturing process, which would bring greater efficiency gains for its next smartwatch chip. As a refresher, the S6, S7, and S8 chips are based on the iPhone 11's A13 Bionic chip, which uses a 7nm manufacturing process. 

In terms of storage, we get 32GB on each smartwatch, more than enough to house tons of photos, podcasts, and downloaded music tracks. 

Specs Comparison

Here's a brief specs comparison between the Apple Watch Ultra and the Apple Watch Series 8. For the full scoop, check our Apple Watch Series 8 vs Apple Watch Ultra specs comparison: 

Summary and Final Verdict

Overall, the Apple Watch Ultra and the Series 8 are pretty similar in terms of features and functionalities, not to mention that a large portion of the hardware inside is the same. So, you have to carefully consider what the differences between the two are, and which one would fit the bill better.

If you're looking for a regular Apple Watch that you use for your everyday activities, and the most extreme activity you partake in is watching X Games, then an Apple Watch Series 8 would do just fine. 

However, if you're an outgoing individual that previously skipped taking their Apple Watch on hikes from fear of scuffing it or cracking the display, then the Apple Watch Ultra would be a much better offering, but at twice the price. Moreover, if you could use some much better battery life or simply love the rugged new design language that Apple is debuting with the Ultra, then go ahead, it's an excellent choice!

If you're coming from an older Apple Watch, say a pre-Apple Watch Series 6, you will likely consider one of these two, you might also want to consider the second-gen Apple Watch SE. Sure, it lacks many of the features and functionalities that make the Apple Watch Ultra and Series 8 truly shine, but at the end of the day, that one is still a more affordable digital timepiece that serves incoming notifications to your wrist.

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