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Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch Series 8 hands-on: Smarter watches

·Technology Editor
·4 min read

Apple (AAPL) has debuted its latest Apple Watches: the Apple Watch SE, Apple Watch Series 8, and all-new Apple Watch Ultra.

The smartwatches run the price gamut from $249 for the SE to $399 for the Series 8, and $799 for the Ultra. I got to spend some time with the new watches following Apple’s Sept. 7 event, and of the three, I was most surprised by the Apple Watch Ultra.

I initially thought the watch, with its 49mm casing, was going to be an absolute behemoth strapped to my wrist. And while it’s certainly far larger than the Series 7 I normally wear, it’s also not some kind of unsightly mass.

The Ultra is built for extreme athletes — think triathletes, marathoners, and divers. I’m none of those, but when I put on the watch it made me want to at least go for a run. The entire design is sturdier than the Series 8, complete with a lip around the screen that keeps it from getting nicked, a more pronounced Digital Crown, and a new programmable Action Button on the left side.

The Apple Watch Ultra packs a sturdier design and improved battery for endurance and extreme athletes. (Image: Howley)
The Apple Watch Ultra packs a sturdier design and improved battery for endurance and extreme athletes. (Image: Howley)

Turn the Digital Crown when using the Ultra’s Wayfinder face, and its display goes from full color to black and red to prevent the screen from being too jarring when you’re out in the darkness. And if you’re truly lost, the Ultra can emit an 86-decibel siren to alert anyone nearby.

There’s also the ability to set waypoints on the Ultra while you’re hiking and then use them to backtrack to your starting point if you get turned around. I pulled up the feature on the demo Ultra I was using, and adding waypoints seemed rather intuitive.

There are also a host of water-based features including the ability to take the Ultra to deeper depths than prior Apple Watches, and a depth meter to let you know how far down you are and provide you with the water temperature.

The new Action Button on the Apple Watch Ultra can be programmed for specific activities. (Image: Howley)
The new Action Button on the Apple Watch Ultra can be programmed for specific activities. (Image: Howley)

Unfortunately, Apple didn’t have a dive tank on hand to test those. Maybe next year.

The Apple Watch Series 8 and SE are for everyone else

While not as rugged as the Apple Watch Ultra, the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch SE still get some nice upgrades this time around. Both watches now run the same S8 chip, also found on the Ultra, and all three watches get Crash Detection and Fall Detection.

The SE is overall a solid entry-level smartwatch thanks to its $279 starting price, the same as Samsung’s entry-level Galaxy Watch5. It replaces the Series 3 as Apple’s base watch, and should prove more than capable for most users. But if you’re looking for something more, the Series 8 is where it’s at.

The Apple Watch Series 8 gets a more powerful processor and new temperature sensor. (Image: Howley)
The Apple Watch Series 8 gets a more powerful processor and new temperature sensor. (Image: Howley)

The big addition to the 8 is its two temperature sensors: one on the bottom of the watch on your skin and the other on top of the watch. The reason for the two sensors is to help take ambient temperature out of the equation while measuring your body temperature.

You can’t activate the sensor on your own, though. Instead, Apple is marketing it as a means to track ovulation and better predict periods by taking your temperature at night combined with a number of other readings. Of course, you can see how your temperature fluctuates if you’re not monitoring ovulation, such as by seeing how activities such as working out or even drinking impact your temperature over time.

I found the Apple Watch Ultra interesting, while the SE seems like a good buy for first-time smartwatch shoppers or those looking to save some cash. But for my money, it looks like the Apple Watch Series 8 is the overall winner in this group — if only because it appeals to the largest swath of people.

Does that mean they’re worth the upgrade? I’ll have to test them more thoroughly to find out.

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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