Apple Watch Ultra Review: Is it Overkill for Golfers?
Every day for the last 4 years I’ve faced the same dilemma: Apple Watch or mechanical watch.
For as long as I can remember I’ve had a fascination and appreciation for mechanical watches. There’s something about the analog nature of it in an increasingly digital world that I find joy in.
I have a small collection of these watches and I wear them frequently.
On the other side of the spectrum is the Apple Watch. It integrates technology even more intimately into my day-to-day life in ways that are useful, convenient, and at times intrusive.
Whether it’s the health benefits it provides, immediate access to weather and messages, or more specific benefits like Arccos Golf integration – there’s no denying the Apple Watch is a genuinely useful tool.
The problem is, you kind of have to choose one or the other.
Sure, there’s the occasional person who will “double wrist” it, and if that works for them? Great.
But my golf swing is already bad enough. I can’t handle the additional heckling that which would inevitably come from wearing a Speedmaster on one wrist and an Apple Watch on the other.
So each day I choose. And I often switch off throughout the day.
But recently, Apple has released a new version of their Watch line that has me thinking I may be spending more time in the digital realm in the immediate future:
I’ve had an Apple Watch Series 4 since it came out, and with each new iteration of the watch, I debate upgrading.
But there’s never been an overly compelling reason to do so. There have been some nice updates, but nothing that truly makes me say “I have to have this.”
Last week the Apple Watch Ultra hit the market, and it immediately had me pouring over every bit of information I could find about it.
Yes, it has some cool features, but would it really be worth upgrading?
49mm is a huge watch, and I was concerned it would be too big for my wrists.
But I decided to go for it, and after 72 hours with the Ultra, I already have some opinions.
In this Apple Watch Ultra review we’re going to look at how it compares to previous generations. I’m going to talk about whether or not the size makes a big difference. I’ll share my favorite new health and fitness features. And because this is a golf blog after all, how the Apple Watch Ultra works for golfers and if it’s worth investing in.
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s jump into this.
First Impressions of the Apple Watch Ultra
As soon as Apple announced the Ultra during their annual event I knew I wanted it.
But there’s one thing that kept me from ordering it the second I could:
49mm is a huge watch.
My largest mechanical watch is 44mm, and even that is borderline too big for my girly wrists.
That sounded massive, and I genuinely didn’t think I’d be able to wear it without it looking like a joke.
So on September 23rd when released I went down to my local Apple Store to see one for myself.
I spent 15 minutes playing with it, wearing it, and trying the different bands.
During that time I had 3 initial thoughts:
- This isn’t as heavy as I expected it to be.
- This isn’t quite as big as I expected it to be (thank God.)
- The Ultra truly is a significant upgrade from my Series 4.
Let’s look at each of these.
Apple Watch Ultra Weight: Not as Bad as Expected
I’ve genuinely preferred watches that have a little weight to them, unless it’s an Apple Watch. I just want it to blend in, or basically disappear while I’m working out or using it.
So with the increased case size I was concerned the Ultra would be too heavy.
Its titanium construction is surprisingly light, and it feels less heavy on the wrist than many other mechanical watches I’ve worn.
Apple Watch Ultra Size: It’s big, but…
The only way I wasn’t going to buy this watch is if it really was too insanely big for my 160mm wrists.
The first thing I did in the store was put it on, and I was pleasantly surprised.
Yes, the Apple Watch Ultra is big. It’s also considerably thicker than previous models, but it doesn’t feel like a 49mm watch. This could be due to its square design, rather than a traditional round case. Or it could be that part of this measurement is because it includes the bump out for the digital crown and side button.
But now after wearing it for 3 days, I’ve been impressed by how similar it feels to my previous Series 4.
Yes, it’s bigger, but so far it hasn’t impacted my life negatively because of it. Rather, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using the bigger, brighter screen.
Which brings us to…
Yes, the Ultra is a Big Upgrade…
Jumping from a watch that’s now 4 years old, any new Apple Watch would be an upgrade.
Better screen, always-on technology, better battery and so on.
But the Ultra feels to me like it’s a big upgrade regardless of which version of the Watch you’re coming from.
For the most part, I won’t recite through all the features and specs in this review.
If you’re an active person and you’ve always wished the Apple Watch could perform more like a Garmin watch?
Just stop right now and go buy it. The additional features for the adventure enthusiast are very impressive. This review from DC Rainmaker does a good job of illustrating all of these.
But chances are, you’re more like me.
You’re active, but you’re not doing Ironmans every weekend.
You wear the watch regularly for all its benefits, but you’re not trying to make a fashion statement out of it.
You’re into tech and like the latest and greatest, but not at the expense of comfort and practical wearability.
And there’s a good chance you’re a golfer, and would like your watch to double as a capable golf watch.
So let’s look at some of the things I like and don’t like about the Ultra through that lens.
5 Favorite New Features of the Apple Watch Ultra
I figure rather than just rattle off all the new stuff, I’d talk about them within context of my favorite new features, and some things I would have liked to see done a little bit differently,
1) The Action Button
The “Action Button”, painted with “International Orange” is already a feature I can tell is going to make my Apple Watch experience better.
Last night I went for a run through some trails by my house.
I do this same 3.5 mile run frequently, and I have specific waypoints I use to mentally segment different parts of the run.
To be able to mark these at the push of a button is extremely handy. Especially as I get more runs in, and can use that information to tell if I’m on pace for where I’d like to be.
The button is customizable to do a variety of different things.
I love being able to use it to immediately mark any waypoint.
Last month I was over in Sunriver, Oregon and we were doing a fairly remote hike about half an hour from the resort.
It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve done in recent memory, and there were a few spots off the trail we ventured to that were spectacular.
At the time I found myself wishing “I wish there was an easy way I could mark this spot.”
I’d assume there is a way I could have done that with my Series 4, but I never figured it out. With the Ultra? One button push, and I can save and label any waypoint I want.
2) The Screen Design and Display
I’m a big fan of both the new screen design and display.
The regular Apple Watch is very sleek with a curved display that wraps around the watch. But two years ago I hit mine on a corner, and it made a nice little ding on the watch.
The new sapphire crystal screen on the Ultra is completely flat, with a bezel that is designed specifically to avoid incidents like that.
This design makes it more difficult to damage the watch, especially under frequent rugged use.
Combine that with the 2000 nit OLED screen? It’s absolutely beautiful.
With my old watch, I never found myself saying “I wish the screen was better.” It’s great.
But after using the Ultra for a few days? There’s a night and day differece. The Ultra display is extremely crisp and clear, no matter what conditions you’re in.
3) Battery Life
This is likely going to be the single biggest new feature that drives sales of the Apple Watch Ultra.
Under normal use, it’s currently rated to have a 36-hour battery life.
And later this year this will be boosted to 60 hours in a low-power mode that will be released.
I rarely had issues with my Apple Watch dying on me. But at the end of the day it would be down to 20% or below.
This made using it for sleep tracking pretty much a non-starter. It would force me to charge it at weird times, which I’d inevitably forget to do, and it didn’t make it practical.
I used a Whoop for 6 months, until I realized that was a bit overkill for my personal fitness goals.
After my first full charge, I wore the Ultra all day and used it frequently.
I went for a run with it, and did a couple of other activities like “core” and “flexibility” workouts.
I left it on all night for sleep tracking.
At Noon the next day it was still at 75%.
That’s incredibly impressive, and makes using the Apple Watch so much more convenient.
Sure it’s not quite on the level as the latest Garmin Fenix watches, but for the average person? You’re also getting a lot more from the Apple Watch than you are a dedicated rugged fitness watch.
4) Dual Frequency GPS
I’ve often proclaimed the Apple Watch as my favorite golf GPS watch, when it’s used with Arccos Caddie.
You’re able to use it to track shots and get rangefinder distances all without having to use your phone.
But there were some pretty significant limitations when it came to using my Series 4 with this.
First off, being an older model, it took GPS rangefinder distances from my phone rather than the watch itself, which is less ideal.
And if I wanted to use it for shot tracking as well? The battery usually wouldn’t make it through a full 18.
The Apple Watch Ultra now has a dual frequency GPS which provides more precise data and better coverage in areas where there is significant tree coverage or buildings block satellites.
With the combination of much better battery AND much better GPS? It will make using Arccos Caddie with your Apple Watch an unbelievable experience.
You’ll still have a pretty good experience with Series 6 and up models, but the Ultra is going to take this to the next level. The Arccos Link is nice to have, but the increased battery and GPS on the Ultra may make the Link unneccessary.
I’ll update this as I get a couple more rounds with the new watch.
5) Upgraded Activity Metrics
Finally, Apple has significantly improved the Workouts app, and pretty much every activity has received an update.
You can now more easily customize your workouts, and customize the data that you view during a workout.
Seeing information like heart rate zones and split times I’ve already found to be super useful.
I’m also getting far more detail on my runs for instance than I was ever able to get with the Series 4.
I’ve been really going all in on Apple Health data lately to understand where my body is at and how I can make improvements, and the extra information the Ultra has provided has been great.
Worth noting, many of these updates were software based in Watch OS9, so even older Apple Watches can benefit from these.
3 Things Don’t Like About the Apple Watch Ultra
Less than a week in, the Apple Watch Ultra has lived up to all of my expectations for it. I’m genuinely pleased with how it performs, how it feels, and the increased data I’m able to get from it.
But it’s not perfect.
Here are a few issues I have with it.
1) Recessed Digital Crown
The Ultra design has a little notch out on the right-hand side of it, and within that is the digital crown which is now recessed.
This design is supposed to make it easier to use with gloves on, but so far I’ve actually found it to be more difficult to use than on previous models.
It’s not quite as easy to push in, and sometimes it oddly gets stuck while turning it.
Flipping through the enhanced info screens while on my run, proved more difficult than it did on my Series 4.
This was a surprise considering the watch was specifically built to function better during activities like this.
2) Band Options
The Apple Watch Ultra comes with your choice of three bands: Trail Loop, Alpine Loop, or Ocean.
And honestly? All three of these are unique bands that look good and serve a purpose.
The problem for me is that none of them were perfect for the purposes of what I wanted them for.
I’ll wear my watch through pretty much anything. I wear it in the shower, I swim with it, wear it for all my workouts, and if I’m not wearing a mechanical watch, I will also wear it out to dinner and such.
The previous silicone band I have on my Series 4 is great for this. It dries instantly and the black silicone just kind of blends in.
These bands are all interesting, but many of them come in pretty bold colors: orange, yellow, white and so on.
But the bigger problem is that 2 of the 3 are some kind of fabric. This means if I hop in the shower with it, it’ll still be wet when I get dressed.
I’m sure either the Trail Loop or Alpine Loop will dry quickly, but neither seemed as suited for the “do anything” ethos that the Ultra seems targeted at.
The Ocean Band is a very chunky silicone band that I ended up choosing – and overall I actually like it. But I wish they had a handful of other silicone options similar to previous Apple Watch bands.
Worth noting, any band from a 45mm Apple Watch will work with the Ultra. So I can actually use the band from my Series 4 no problem.
But I would have preferred to see some more muted colors (more dark green, grey, black etc), as well as a couple more non-fabric options.
3) Lack of a 45mm Model
Overall the 49mm size of the Ultra is not as bad as I expected. I’m enjoying the bigger display, and extra features.
But it still is big. And I still do have small wrists.
I can make it work. It’s not as intrusive as I feared. And I know over time it will become the new normal.
But I would have loved to see this come in a 45 or 46mm version.
Even if battery life had to take a little bit of a hit, I think that size would be perfect for me.
More importantly, if you’re a petite woman? This thing can feel laughably big.
My wife put it on and just laughed “there’s no way I could ever wear this!”
It wouldn’t surprise me to see another smaller option come out in the future, and I think a lot of people would be happy to see it.
Apple Watch Ultra for Golfers: Is it worth it?
We’ve covered a lot in this Apple Watch Ultra review, but since you’re here at Breaking Eighty, you may still be asking the question:
Is the Apple Watch Ultra worth it for golfers?
To be clear, the golfing clientele is not really what they had in mind when they designed this watch.
Sure you might feel like you’ve conquered some major challenges after walking a 36-hole day, but that’s a far cry from a 36 mile trek through the mountains.
That said, the Apple Watch Ultra is the best Apple Watch yet for golfers.
The far better battery life, increased screen size and brightness, as well as the better GPS are all significant improvements over previous models.
So whether you’re using Arccos, Golfshot, 18Birdies – or any number of other golf apps, you should have a significantly improved experience using them over other Apple Watch models.
Especially if you’re using an app that has GPS flyovers available on the watch. The increased screen size and brightness will make using this feature much more user-friendly.
I’d bet there are some people who may complain that the Ultra is big enough that it impacts their golf swing in some way. I haven’t experienced this, and it doesn’t feel that much bigger than other dedicated golf watches.
But if this is an issue? You can get 85% of the benefits simply by going with the smaller Series 8.
There are certainly people out there that will prefer a more dedicated golf watch like the Garmin S62. And I can understand that.
After all, Garmin’s top-of-the-line golf model comes in at $300 less than the Ultra. And if you go for something more middle-of-the-road like the Garmin S42, it’ll come in at less than half the price of the Ultra.
But for what you get?
The world-class health features…
The beautiful OLED screen…
Super tight integration with iPhone…
And quite simply, a watch that can enhance your day-to-day life in so many ways that a dedicated golf watch can’t?
I think the Apple Watch Ultra is worth the investment.
And if it’s overkill for you?
Even a Series 8 at half the price will still make a phenomenal golf watch with most of the benefits of the Ultra.
So is this Apple Watch Ultra overkill for most people?
Is it going to be too big for some people to want to wear all day, every day?
But is it the most full-featured, impressive Apple Watch ever made?
Less than a week in, I’m enjoying it more and more each day.
And if you’re a golfer who loves the convenience of an Apple Watch, and you’re willing to forgo that Rolex (or Timex) from time to time?
Then the Apple Watch Ultra is the most impressive smartwatch I’ve ever seen.
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- Fantastic battery life
- Beautiful, bright screen
- A true upgrade in terms of features
- Don't love the new digital crown design
- Doesn't come in a smaller model
- The priciest Apple Watch yet