Apple Watch Ultra vs Series 8: Which should you buy?

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  • Apple / Pocket-lint

    Apple Watch Ultra

    Our top choice

    The Apple Watch Ultra is the Apple Watch Series 8 on steroids, plus so much more. It’s bulked up to offer a more rough and ready device with not only a tougher casing, but a bigger one too, alongside a bigger display, more tactile buttons and extra buttons too.

    Pros

    • Bold and chunky design
    • Loads of great features
    • Good battery life
    Cons

    • Expensive
    • Lots of competition
    • Rugged design not to everyone’s taste

  • Apple Watch Series 8 - square tag

    Apple / Pocket-lnt

    Apple Watch Series 8

    An excellent alternative

    The Apple Watch Series 8 has a great design, heaps of sensors, and more features than you’ll probably know what to do with. Its battery life isn’t the best on the smartwatch market, but fast charging makes it easy to charge daily and the fitness features are superb.

    Pros

    • Familiar and comfortable design
    • Great display
    • Solid performance
    Cons

    • No Action button like Ultra
    • Not much change from Series 7
    • Battery life not as good as Ultra

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Apple announced three smartwatches during its September 2022 launch in the form of the Apple Watch Ultra, the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch SE.


The Apple Watch Ultra is more rugged and larger than the Series 8, designed for more extreme environments and sports – or indeed just those that want a larger device on their wrist. It is significantly more expensive though, so do you need it, or is the Series 8 enough?

Here is how the Apple Watch Ultra and the Watch Series 8 compare. We also have a feature on how all the Apple Watch models compare, as well as how the Series 8 compares to the Watch SE if you want to do a bit more research on which model you should buy.


Price, availability, specs

The Apple Watch Ultra is the more expensive of the two smartwatch models being compared in this feature. In fact, it’s not just more expensive, it is double the cost of the Apple Watch Series 8. The Ultra costs $799 in the US and £849 in the UK, while the Apple Watch Series 8 starts at $399 in the US and £419 in the UK.

There are differences in the sizes and finishes available too, which we go into more detail on throughout this feature, but in a nutshell, there is just one size, material and finish of the Watch Ultra, while the Series 8 comes in two sizes, two materials and several finishes.

You can see a quick overview of how the Apple Watch Ultra and the Watch Series 8 specs compare in the table below but if you want more detail on their differences and the features they offer, keep reading.

  • Apple Watch Ultra Apple Watch Series 8
    Case Material Titanium Aluminium or Stainless Steel
    Sizes 49mm 41mm, 45mm
    Display 1164sq mm, 502 x 410 pixel resolution, 2000nits 904sq mm, 430 x 352 pixel resolution, 1000nits (41mm), 1143sq mm, 484 x 396 pixel resolution, 1000nits (45mm)
    CPU W3 chip, U1 chip W3 chip, U1 chip
    Battery Up to 36-hours Up to 18-hours
    Connectivity GPS & Cellular GPS only, GPS & Cellular
    Durability IP6X rated, MIL-STD-810H tested, EN13319, 10ATM IPX8, 5ATM
    Software watchOS 9 watchOS 9
    Health sensors Body temperature, Blood oxygen, Optical heart rate, Electrical heart rate, 86dB siren, Depth Gauge Body temperature, Blood oxygen, Optical heart rate, Electrical heart rate
    Strap Trail Loop, Alpine Loop, Ocean Loop Solo Loop, Braided Solo Loop, Sport Band, Sport Loop, Nike Sport Loop, Leather, Stainless Steel, Woven Nylon
    Dimensions 49 x 44 x 14.4mm 41 x 35 x 10.7mm (41mm model), 45 x 38 x 10.7mm (45mm model)
    Weight 61.3g 41mm – 32g (aluminium), 42.3g (stainless steel), 45mm – 38.8g (aluminium), 51.5g (stainless steel)
    Mobile payments Apple Pay Apple Pay
    Color options Natural Titanium Midnight, Starlight, Gold, Silver, Graphite, Space Black, (PRODUCT)RED

Design and build

Apple Watch Ultra with orange band on the wrist

The Apple Watch Ultra and the Watch Series 8 share similarities in their design, but the Watch Ultra is larger and chunkier than the Series 8. Made from titanium, it is designed to be able to withstand more extreme environments.

The Digital Crown on the Watch Ultra is more tactile than on the Watch Series 8, allowing it to be used when wearing gloves, and the function button below is more prominent too. There is also an extra programmable Action button on the left side, along with a dual speaker.

The Watch Ultra also has a flat display, designed to protect the screen. It’s also only available in a 49mm casing option, so this needs to be considered for those with slightly smaller wrists but it is a fantastic looking device and it attracts a lot of attention when you wear it.

The Series 8 meanwhile, is made from either aluminium or stainless steel, depending on the model and it comes in 41mm and 45mm case options, so quite a bit smaller than the Watch Ultra. It is also more streamlined in its design, with a curved display and a more understated Digital Crown and side button. It also looks pretty much identical to the models that have gone before it.

The Watch Series 8 is water resistant to 50-metres, while the Watch Ultra is water resistant to 100-metres. Both are IP6X rated, though the Watch Ultra is also MIL-STD-810H tested. There is also a built-in siren on the Watch Ultra, along with International Orange accents, while the Series 8 is more muted in its finish.

Display

Apple Watch Series 8 app view

Both the Apple Watch Ultra and the Watch Series 8 offer an Always-On Retina Display so there is always some information being shown on the screen, even when your wrist is down, rather than just a black rectangle like the Apple Watch SE. The Watch Ultra has a larger display than the Series 8, and it is brighter too.

The Watch Series 8 offers up to 1000nits brightness, while the Watch Ultra has up to 2000nits brightness, meaning the Ultra is better in direct sunlight, though the Series 8 doesn’t have any problems in our experience and both have fantastic displays.

Meanwhile, the bezels around the Watch Ultra’s display are slightly wider than the Watch Series 8, though both deliver a full screen experience. In terms of resolution, the Watch Ultra has a 502 x 410 pixel resolution, while the Watch Series 8 has a 430 x 353 pixel resolution on its 41mm model and 484 x 396 pixel resolution.

Both the Watch Ultra and Series 8 both offer punchy colours and black blacks, though the Watch Ultra has a Night Mode too when on the Wayfinder face – for when you might be hiking or outdoors for example – which is accessed by swiping the Digital Crown upwards, switching the face to red.

Models

Apple Watch Ultra initial review: Rugged and ready photo 12
Pocket-lint

The Apple Watch Ultra comes in titanium only, as we briefly mentioned. This is Natural Titanium so there is only one colour option available too, as well as one size option of 49mm. The Watch Ultra also only comes in GPS & Cellular, with no GPS only model.

The Apple Watch Series 8 meanwhile, has a lot more options. Not only does it come in aluminium and stainless steel models, but there are four aluminium colours to choose from and three stainless steel colours.

The Watch Series 8 is also available in GPS only and GPS & Cellular models and there are Nike models and Hermés models too, with the same hardware but different Watch faces and different straps.

Hardware and sensors

Apple Watch Series 8 review photo 11

The Apple Watch Ultra and the Watch Series 8 both run on the S8 processor with 64-bit dual-core processor, the W3 chip and they also both have a U1 chip on board too.

They also both offer many of the same sensors, including a body temperature sensor, a blood oxygen sensor, optical heart rate sensor and electrical heart rate sensor. The Watch Ultra has a built-in 86dB siren as we mentioned though, and it also has a Depth Gauge, neither of which the Series 8 doesn’t offer. It is worth remembering that those kinds of features may not be necessary for many.

There are also dual speakers on the Watch Ultra, as well as a three-mic array with beamforming, while the Series 8 has a single speaker and microphone. Both have a Compass on board, always-on altimeter, gyroscope and an accelerometer offering up to 256 g-forces.

The Watch Ultra offers precision dual-frequency GPS (L1 and L5), while the Watch Series 8 offers L1 only. The Watch Ultra also has a dive computer in the Oceanic+ app, and EN13319 certification. Again though, while these features will be great for some, they will be overkill for others.

In terms of battery, the Watch Ultra has a 36-hour battery life, while the Watch Series 8 has an 18-hour battery life so the Watch Ultra significantly outperforms the Series 8 in this department and that’s evident in practice too. Both have a low-battery mode, which reduces some features, but the Watch Ultra takes this mode one step further and offers a 60-hour battery option.

Software experience

How to read Apple Watch sleep data and view on your iPhone photo 1
Pocket-lint

Both the Apple Watch Ultra and the Watch Series 8 run on watchOS 9, so they offer a similar user experience, along with many of the same features.

Both have an ECG app and a Blood Oxygen app, and they both offer features like Fall Detection, Car Crash detection, high and low heart rate notifications, irregular rhythm notifications and cycle tracking with ovulation estimates.

They also both have Compass Backtrack, advanced sleep tracking with sleep stages and access to the Apple Watch app store, among the usual Apple Watch features like smartphone notifications and multiple exercise modes.

The Watch Ultra does have a couple of extra features over the Watch Series 8, like the siren, Night Mode on the Wayfinder face and the programmable Action button, as well as the ability to use it as a dive computer, but on the whole, the features transfer across both devices.

Watch Ultra vs Series 8: Which should you buy?

The Apple Watch Ultra and the Watch Series 8 share many of the same core features, though the Watch Ultra has a few extras, along with a larger and more rugged build.

Apple Watch Ultra - tag

Apple Watch Ultra

Our top choice

The Apple Watch Ultra is the Apple Watch Series 8 on steroids, plus so much more. It’s bulked up to offer a more rough and ready device with not only a tougher casing, but a bigger one too, alongside a bigger display, more tactile buttons and extra buttons too.

For those into more extreme sports, or hiking, the Watch Ultra is the definitely the model to get out of these two devices. It offers a longer battery life, a design that’s fit for purpose and features that will come in handy. It’s also a lovely looking device and a superb performer.

Apple Watch Series 8-1

Apple / Pocket-lint

Apple Watch Series 8

An excellent alternative

The Apple Watch Series 8 has a great design, heaps of sensors, and more features than you’ll probably know what to do with. Its battery life isn’t the best on the smartwatch market, but fast charging makes it easy to charge daily and the fitness features are superb.

For the everyday user though, the Apple Watch Series 8 is more than sufficient. It is offered in more options, in terms of materials and colours, and it is cheaper, whilst also offering an excellent user experience. We love both models, so this decision really does come down to budget, personal preference on design but also the features you might require. Neither model will disappoint though.

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