In this weekly column, Michael Hicks, editor of Android Central Fitness, talks about the world of fitness wearables, apps and technology related to running and health, in his quest to be faster and in better shape.
I’ve owned four iPhones in my life (4, 6, XR, and 14 Pro), but until last fall I had never purchased an Apple Watch. My twenty-something self was too cheap on accessories, didn’t care one bit about health, and thought I was too casual for runners. Only after I started using Android phones and watches did I try my first one, the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Three months later, I regret to inform my Android-loving readers that they are missing out. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 isn’t perfect and the SpO2 patent scandal made me delay writing this for a couple of months. But now that I’ve gotten used to its benefits and tricks, it’s hard to go back to alternatives.
Now that I’m 30 and suddenly aware of concepts like mortality and body fat percentage, smartwatches have become much more interesting to me. That’s why I worked my way into this role as Wearables editor, having the opportunity to review Android watches like the Galaxy Watch 6 or sports watches like the Garmin Forerunner 965.
In this context, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 stacks up against all the competing wearables I’ve used in recent years. After I return the unit I borrowed from Apple, I’ll seriously consider purchasing another one or the inevitable Ultra 3, even though my current daily watch (the Forerunner 965) has running tools that Apple isn’t in a position to offer (yet). ).
Confession of an embarrassed squirrel fan
One of the most common refrains from my Android Central coworkers is how much they despise the squirrel look compared to a classic smartwatch with rounded edges. I can’t blame them for their bias either. All the lookalikes of Apple, Amazfit, Fitbit and other fitness brands make me associate squirrels with cheap quality.
Coworkers, skip to the next section so I don’t lose all respect. For everyone else, well, you know that the typical rounded smartwatch UI is like looking at a smartphone through a microscope. You can view one tile or app at a time with enlarged text very well, but the layout is limited because things must be placed in the vertical center to be visible properly. Anything on the edge would be cut off, so you’re forced to slide a bezel or turn a crown to see more.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 fits more information on my wrist in a way that’s easier on the eyes, period. With any given menu, you can see more rows or columns of buttons (or just larger buttons) than Wear OS can offer, and everything displayed is completely visible, even if it’s on the top or bottom edge.
I’m not pointing out anything revolutionary here, but I’ll just say it: I like having a 1.9-inch screen! The default Modular Ultra watch face accommodates so many complications that you can see a lot of information without having to touch anything. Meanwhile, if you try to give a circular watch a 1.6-inch or larger screen, it becomes so cartoonishly large that it loses any semblance of “style” to begin with.
Since no Android watch will steal Apple’s aesthetic anytime soon, that means going back to a smaller screen with the Pixel Watch 3 or Galaxy Watch 7, and it’ll be a tough adjustment.
Why the Apple Watch Ultra 2 appeals to me as an athlete
I’ll do a full review of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 at some point, so I’m not going to spend 1,000 words fully explaining everything it does well. I’ll just start with the fact that I really trust the accuracy of their results, while other brands (read: Samsung) don’t try hard.
The Ultra 2’s heart rate closely matches data from my COROS heart rate monitor, and the Ultra 2 was right up there with the Forerunner 965 in elevation accuracy. The dual-frequency GPS, combined with the Apple Maps algorithm, gives me excellent GPS data, even if it is a little more prone to short, random detours than the Garmin.
As for health results, Apple’s nylon Trail Loop band ensures that the Ultra 2 fits naturally and comfortably on your wrist for the best results. With a silicone strap, you have to find the right lug hole and there is always the possibility of choosing one that is too tight or loose and will affect your data.
As for accuracy, aside from Apple’s L1+L5 satellite data being correct, I’m honestly surprised that Apple’s 12-hour GPS battery life estimate seems to hold up to scrutiny. Watches like the COROS PACE 3 or Garmin Forerunner 265 last weeks per charge, but only 14 to 15 hours with dual-band GPS. As long as you charge your Ultra 2 before a run or all-day walk, you’ll get close to what a dedicated running watch can offer.
When it comes to motion alerts, it’s a mixed bag. Apple’s concept of “closing your rings” is iconic for a reason, and I love the reminders to get up during the day (even if they’re annoying) and the satisfaction of reaching your daily goals. However, I notice that the Ultra 2 occasionally registers my restless legs syndrome such as standing and taking steps, and Fitbit’s motion alerts are healthier.
When hiking, you won’t get as many solid mapping tools as the Garmin Forerunner 965 or the extra space of a GPSMAP 67i. Any fans of offline GPX maps will also need to use a third-party app. Otherwise, you can check Maps for topographic data that looks gorgeous on the 3,000-nit display, or use Siri offline to mark a landmark somewhere, then use trackback to create an arrow on the compass that tells you the right direction.
Even if it doesn’t have everything a serious hiker might need for several days, it certainly has more than enough for a daily climb, especially the SOS shortcut for emergencies, an accurate altimeter and compass, and a built-in cellular for finding nearby landmarks. . .
I can’t speak to the cycling features added in watchOS 10 or how well the Ultra 2 works as a dive watch. At least for running, you get custom heart rate zones, running form analysis, and the option to follow personalized workouts. The default training screen, with a ton of ultra-bright data viewable without having to scroll, is a nice bonus to counteract how heavy the Ultra 2 can feel.
What Apple is missing is proper training suggestions or data on training effects, which Garmin provides and has helped me increase my VO2 Max by about 5 points in the last six months. If Apple really starts combining your training results with those Types of fitness recommendations, even if they make you pay Fitness Plus to get them, that might be the last piece of the puzzle for me.
There is no way back
Now that I’ve used the Apple Watch Ultra 2, it’s hard to imagine switching to a standard “Series” Apple Watch with 18-hour battery life, less reliable GPS and durable materials, and all the other upgrades I’ve used. to. I’ve fallen right into Apple’s quality trap, which means giving them a ton of money every few years for a device I successfully ignored for a decade.
Right now, none of the best Android smartwatches offer anything close to an Ultra 2 experience, which makes sense, given that they mostly cost $400 to $500 less. My hope, however, is that more brands start offering a premium smartwatch experience, rather than letting Apple own that space.
Samsung is the first and most obvious candidate, but only if it does much better with the Galaxy Watch 7 Pro than the Watch 5 Pro. It had the makings of a great conventional fitness watch due to its military-grade titanium construction and the three-day battery life, but was hampered by the lack of interesting fitness software and a awful Default watch strap for workouts.
In the meantime, my Garmin Forerunner 965 remains the running crutch I need for training, given that Apple Fitness Plus focuses solely on indoor training. If that ever changes, well… I’m not saying I’ll give up on Garmin, which will continue to innovate and leave Apple playing catch-up.
Yo am saying that if Apple continues to court athletes like me every year with a more balanced smart and fitness experience and fantastic design, then maybe I’ll have to stick with a Garmin for running and an Apple Watch Ultra for everything else.