The appealing features of the Apple Watch Ultra conceal the same problems as the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro.
I will grant that the enormous watch is very alluring, but it isn’t the Garmin-killer that some tech sites portray it to be.
When Apple unveiled the stunningly large, feature-rich Apple Watch Ultra on Wednesday, it caused a stir, and many of our sister tech websites bought into the hype. The Verge(opens in new tab) asserts that the $800 watch may render Garmin obsolete, and Digital Trends(opens in new tab) criticises Samsung and the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, claiming that Apple provided a model for a “true adventure wristwatch” to Samsung.
In the midst of all this exaggerated fervour, I want to take a more measured tack. Because on the one hand, I do think that Apple added more special “rugged” capabilities to the Ultra than Samsung should have added to the Pro to appeal to outdoor enthusiasts.
However, aside from Apple aficionados who demand the most costly product in every category, this $800 “adventurer’s watch” might not appeal to its intended market. Because despite Apple’s sincere attempts, the watch still shares several fundamental flaws with Samsung’s Pro watch.
Apart from a three-day battery that lasts closer to two with active GPS use, I argued that Samsung didn’t include enough new functions that would genuinely cater to “professional” in my evaluation of the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. Although the extra battery is convenient, it doesn’t compare favourably to other fitness smartwatches, and Samsung Health clearly caters to more recreational athletes than serious ones in all other areas.
The “Pro” doesn’t have any sensors, software, or hardware features that the more cheap Galaxy Watch 5 doesn’t also have, including a 1.4-inch display on the 44mm variant, except from some GPX maps and a trackback feature.
In contrast, consider the Apple Watch Ultra. Aside from giving a much more massive display with twice the brightness (2,000 nits) for outdoor visibility, the Apple Watch Ultra gets an extra Action button for shortcuts like instant workout starts, dual-frequency GPS, watch faces showing six metrics at once, custom workouts with a Pacer that keeps you on track, an in-depth Compass app, a Low Power Mode, and a bunch of other perks.
The Apple Watch Ultra first appeared to be created specifically to address all of my issues with the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro and to entice serious hikers and sports.
The Samsung watch mostly uses its touchscreen and reserves its shortcuts for more conventional apps like Google Assistant and Google Wallet. You get significantly better on-the-go tactile controls thanks to the dedicated button and Digital Crown on the Ultra. I don’t think there are enough running watches that use crowns, except from the Coros Pace 2.
While running, Apple’s enormous square display can hold more information, whereas the Pro requires you to swipe to see anything other than your pace and distance.
One of my favourite features of the Garmin Forerunner 255 and the more costly models of the brand is dual-frequency GPS, which uses multiple satellite signals to identify location and minimise false positives. Garmin can simultaneously connect to two GNSS systems, such as GPS and GLONASS, thus it may still provide data that are marginally more accurate.
The Pro has trackback capability, but it’s fairly rudimentary; you basically travel from point A to point B and then are directed back to point A. You may set up many waypoints with personalised icons on the Apple Watch Ultra’s compass to direct yourself back to particular locations, like trail markers, rather than returning all the way to your vehicle.
Finally, Apple has made a lot more of an effort with watchOS 9 to cater to runners, whereas Samsung seems to have given up since the days of the Galaxy Watch 2 Active. Along with tracking Stride Length, Ground Contact Time, Vertical Oscillation, and Running Power, Apple Watches included Pacer earlier this year. It works similarly to Pacepro from Garmin in that you input a desired distance and speed and then get alerts if you veer too much above or below that pace. In contrast, Samsung’s Running Coach only offers a limited number of pre-set walking, jogging, and running distances and speeds that cannot be changed.
Yes, even though I believe the Apple Watch Ultra to be a vastly superior adventurer’s watch and will cost a staggering $350 more than the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, which I consider to be the second-best Android smartwatch behind the Galaxy Watch 5 base model.
Although I metaphorically started to drool during the Ultra livestream presentation, it was my experience with the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro that brought me back to reality.
When you sit for an extended period of time, your Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch will prompt you to stand up, stretch, and close your daily activity rings. Additionally, Apple/Samsung Health will provide information on your sleep quality, calories burnt, and even specialised running information like your form quality. It won’t, however, advise you on how to use the data.
The best feature of any Garmin watch or Fitbit with Premium is that it will suggest daily runs for you based on your current VO2 Max and previous workout data. If you complete a marathon, you will immediately receive comments advising you to rest for a week. However, if you have an Apple Watch Ultra or GW5 Pro, it will remind you to close those rings the following day. It lacks the contextual data that Garmin would use based on your Body Battery score to alert you if you are overtraining.
To be able to give this information, Apple might push its own internal algorithms. But I wonder if, like the Fitbit Premium data, that information will be placed behind an Apple Fitness+ subscription. Currently, Apple offers all of its data for free, but if it were to start using data to “coach” runners, I could see the company deciding to include that coaching along with its present at-home workout coaching.
— Garmin (@Garmin) September 8, 2022
Consider that the Apple Watch Ultra costs $100 more, but the Garmin Fenix 7, the company’s most well-known adventure watch, costs $100 less. Your daily workout is personalised, you receive a Training Readiness score and recommended recovery time based on your sleep and most recent workouts, a real-time stamina widget that estimates how much energy you have left in your body, the aforementioned Pacepro, and you can download multi-color maps for any continent with that watch.
Additionally, even when they are enormous, Garmin watches survive longer than Apple Watches, as the company sarcastically pointed out in a tweet following the Apple event. According to Apple’s estimates(opens in new tab), the battery can operate for 36 hours under normal conditions, 60 hours in low-power mode, or just 12 hours if GPS tracking is active. If you purchase a Fenix 7, it will survive up to 136 hours in Garmin’s own low-power mode, or 18 days or 57 GPS hours.
Testing the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, I encountered a little less trouble because it is more dependable and will run for an estimated 20 GPS hours or 80 hours overall without the need for a low-power mode. However, a completely “smart” lifestyle watch will never last longer than 2-3 days, and in order to accomplish this, the watch must be uncomfortable heavy and thick.
Additionally, bear in mind that Apple’s estimations from a lab test may not correspond to your actual use if you anticipate the Apple Watch Ultra lasting 12 hours. Plus, given Garmin’s dual-frequency GPS setting cuts the Forerunner 255’s battery life from 30 hours to 16 hours, it’s likely using this tool on the Ultra will make it last just 7 hours — the same as the basic Apple Watch Series 8.
The potential of your watch failing in the middle of nowhere is simply too risky for many professional athletes who participate in multi-day expeditions. And without algorithmically generated widget data alerting you if you’re pushing too hard, you can end up hurting yourself (or not knowing your own limits).
Because of this, I’m still unsure if the Apple Watch Ultra will be popular outside of Apple’s present customer base even if it lives up to its name much better than the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro does. The Ultra won’t yet displace popular brands like Garmin, Polar, Coros, and Fitbit from their user base.