Run-tester Kieran Alger reviews the Apple Watch Ultra 2, a brilliant running smartwatch but perhaps not the best dedicated running watch

With its rugged but slick design, stunning screen, beefed-up durability, longer battery life and top-performing GPS and heart rate, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the best Apple running watch. It also happens to be the most expensive. And even with the extended battery life, its run time is short compared to the best running watches like the Garmin Enduro 2 or the Fenix 7. Unless you tap into third party apps, it’s also not as comprehensive when it comes to training, performance, recovery and navigation tools. So, should you buy it?

Men’s Fitness verdict

If you want a brilliant smartwatch – the best in the business – that also has good running credentials, this is it. But if you want the best running watch, you can get more for your money.
  • Best smartwatch battery life
  • Stunning, rugged design
  • Accurate heart rate and GPS
  • Very expensive
  • Battery life still short for a running watch

How we test running watches

Kieran Alger is an ultramarathon runner and professional product tester. He ran with each of these watches for a minimum of four weeks, across a range of distances near his base in West London.

Fit and display

Before I get into the nitty gritty, here’s my take. If you want a brilliant smartwatch that also has good running credentials, this is worth considering. If you want the very best running watch, there are smarter options. 

Despite Garmin, Polar and Suunto upping their AMOLED game, the Apple Watch still packs the best screen we’ve seen on a smartwatch, and a better screen than you’ll find on any running watch. For brightness, crispness and clarity, visibility in all lights and a brilliantly responsive touchscreen, you won’t get better. 

At 61.4g for the case alone, this is a chunky watch. I know, so is the Epix, Fenix, Enduro, Vertix etc. The big, rugged build is part of the design DNA of adventure watches, but I tested the Ultra 2 with the Trail Loop strap and found it often worked its way loose and I had to retighten it.  The watch tugs a bit more than even the big Garmins, and I imagine if you’ve got smaller wrists this just isn’t going to be entirely comfortable. Sadly, Apple hasn’t yet offered a smaller-but-still-rugged alternative for daintier wrists. 

Battery and GPS

Battery life remains OK for a smartwatch, but sadly hasn’t been improved over the first-gen. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 doesn’t have the staying power of the likes of the Garmin Enduro 2. But this is a smartwatch that kills battery anxiety – at least for racing. Based on my tests, you can expect around 45 hours run time in the lowest power/accuracy mode. With regular heart rate and GPS readings, it could stretch to 24 hours. In the highest accuracy mode, you might get 20 hours. So it’s got you covered for marathon race weekends – not just the race – and it can now cope with most single-day ultra-distances. It’s also not that far off having the battery chops to handle a multi-stage ultra. 

For general usage, I got two days of regular training in full power mode with general daily usage between runs. You might get three if you tweak the power settings in-between runs. One limiter here is the overnight battery burn, which was around 10%. That’s notably higher than the Forerunner 965 and the Polar Vantage V3.

On GPS, the Ultra 2 offers dual-frequency precision multiband GNSS, using the L1 and L5 bands to boost the distance and real-time pace-tracking accuracy. And it’s excellent across all the power modes. It matched the Garmin Forerunner 945 and the much pricier Enduro 2 for total distances, even in the lower-reading-frequency power-saving mode. The GPS tracks show it’s also quite noticeably better at locking onto the paths and roads than the Forerunner 965. 

My heart rate tests were solid, too. Regardless of the power mode, the average heart rate readings were within two beats of the Garmin Forerunner 965 optical and the Garmin HRM Pro Plus chest strap. 

One area where I feel the Ultra doesn’t match its rivals is navigation. At least not unless you look beyond Apple’s native apps. There’s no simple way to upload (or export) GPX routes and no turn-by-turn navigation or nav integrated into the Apple running app experience. Third-party services like Komoot and AllTrails can plug the gaps, but many come with extra subscription costs. It’s fiddly and it’s not free.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 sets the benchmark for smartwatches with running credentials, and it’s very clearly a far more powerful tool for daily life than any of its rivals. With calls and messages, offline music and effortless contactless payments, there’s no disputing its practical superiority. The native running experience now offers quite a lot of the training insights you’ll find on Garmin and if you’re willing to beef that up with third party apps it’ll do almost everything your Garmin, Polar or Suunto can do, just not in the same integrated fashion.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 technical specs

DisplayRetina LTPO OLED, 3000 nits (peak)
Display resolution502 x 410pixels
Display size1.92inches (diameter)
ConnectivityBluetooth, WiFi

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