Apple made waves when it announced the wonderfully massive and feature-packed Apple Watch Ultra on Wednesday, and many of our fellow tech sites caved in to the hype. the edge (opens in a new tab) claims the $800 watch could make Garmin obsolete as a company, while Digital Trends (opens in a new tab) put Samsung and the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro in the blast, saying Apple gave it a template for a “real adventure smartwatch.”
In the face of all this hyperbolic zeal, I want to take a more nuanced approach here. Because, on the one hand, I agree that Apple did with Ultra what I Dear Samsung is all about the Pro in terms of adding more unique “rugged” features that cater to people who enjoy the great outdoors.
Still, outside of Apple superfans who want the most expensive device in each category, this $800 “adventurer’s watch” may not strike a chord with its target audience. Because despite Apple’s best genuine efforts, it still has the same core issues as Samsung’s Watch Pro.
In my review of the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, I complained that Samsung didn’t pack enough new features to really suit “pros,” plus a three-day battery that approaches two with active GPS use. The extra battery it is practical but nowhere near other fitness smartwatches, and in all other respects Samsung Health definitely targets more casual athletes than serious ones.
Apart from some GPX maps and a trackback feature, the “Pro” doesn’t have any sensors, software or hardware advantages that the more affordable Galaxy Watch 5 doesn’t either, including a 1.4-inch screen on the 44mm model.
Compare that to the Apple Watch Ultra. In addition to providing a much larger screen with twice the brightness (2,000 nits) for outdoor visibility, Apple Watch Ultra has an additional action button for shortcuts like instant workout starts, dual-frequency GPS, watch faces that display six metrics at once, personalize workouts with a Pacer that keeps you on track, an in-depth Compass app, a low-power mode, and many other benefits.
At first glance, the Apple Watch Ultra seemed tailor-made to solve all my complaints with the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro and appeal to serious hikers and athletes.
Samsung’s watch reserves its shortcuts for traditional tools like Google Assistant and Google Wallet, with no extra buttons, and relies heavily on its touchscreen. The Ultra’s dedicated button and Digital Crown give you much better touch controls on the go. Outside of the Coros Pace 2, in my opinion, there are not enough watches for runners who wear crowns.
Apple’s huge square display shows more information as you run, while the Pro lets you swipe to see more than just your pace and distance.
Dual-frequency GPS is one of my favorite benefits of the Garmin Forerunner 255 and the brand’s more expensive models, as it uses multiple satellite signals to pinpoint location and reduce false positives. Garmin can also connect with two GNSS systems at the same time as GPS Y GLONASS, so it may still give a bit more accurate results, but not much.
While the Pro does have Trackback functionality, it’s pretty basic; you just go from point A to B, and then you’re guided back to A. Using the compass on the Apple Watch Ultra, you can drop various waypoints with custom icons and be guided back to specific points, like route markers, instead of everything the way back to your car.
Lastly, Apple has put much more effort into catering to runners with watchOS 9, while Samsung seems to have given up since its Galaxy Watch 2 Active days. In addition to measuring stride length, ground contact time, vertical oscillation, and running power, Apple Watch also added Pacer earlier this year: You enter a target distance and pace, so you’ll get warnings if drifts too far above or below your target Pace: similar to the Garmin Pacepro. Compare that to Samsung and its Running Coach, which only has a few set steps and distances for walking, jogging, and running that you can’t tweak.
So yes, while I consider the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro to be the second best Android smartwatch behind the base Galaxy Watch 5, the Apple Watch Ultra looks far superior as an adventurer’s watch, as it should, given that it will cost a whopping $350 more.
But despite the fact that my mouth metaphorically began to salivate during the Ultra reveal live, it was my time with the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro that brought me back to Earth.
Your Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch will encourage you to stand up and stretch when you’re inactive for too long, closing your daily activity circles. And Apple/Samsung Health will tell you how well you’re sleeping, calories burned, and even niche data like the quality of your fitness. but what is it No do is tell it what to do with that data.
The biggest advantage of any Garmin or Fitbit watch with Premium is that it will give you guided training or recommended daily runs based on your current VO2 Max and previous training data. If you run a marathon, you’ll get immediate feedback telling you to take it easy for a week. But with the Apple Watch Ultra or GW5 Pro, it’ll tell you the next day to wake up your lazy butt and zip up those rings! It doesn’t have the same contextual information to warn you if you’re overtraining as Garmin would based on your Body Battery score.
It is possible that Apple pushes its own internal algorithms to be able to deliver this information. But I wonder if that data will end up locked behind an Apple Fitness+ paywall, similar to Fitbit Premium data. Right now, all of your data is totally free, but if you were to decide to start “training” runners with data, you could see Apple deciding to include that training with your current home workout.
We measure battery life in months. Not hours. #Enduro2 pic.twitter.com/OcTLdpvHV6September 8, 2022
Let’s say you buy the Garmin Fenix 7, the brand’s most popular adventure watch, for $100 less than the Apple Watch Ultra. That watch gives you a training readiness score and recommended recovery time based on your sleep and recent workouts; a personalized daily workout; a real-time stamina widget that calculates how much energy your body has left; the aforementioned Pacepro; and downloadable multi-color maps for any continent.
Plus, as Garmin cheekily pointed out in its post-Apple event tweet, its watches last on a scale the Apple Watch can’t match, even when they’re huge. apple estimates (opens in a new tab) that its battery will last 36 hours of normal use, 60 hours in low power mode, or just 12 hours with continuous GPS tracking. Buy a Fenix 7 and it’ll last 18 days or 57 hours of GPS, or up to 136 hours on Garmin’s own low-power mode.
Testing the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, I had a slightly minor issue: It will last about 20 hours of GPS, or 80 hours total without needing a low-power mode, which makes it more reliable. But 2-3 days will always be the limit for a fully “smart” lifestyle watch, and you need to make the watch uncomfortably heavy and thick to achieve that.
And if you’re expecting the Apple Watch Ultra to last 12 hours, keep in mind that Apple’s estimates in a lab may not match real-world use. Also, since Garmin’s dual-frequency GPS setting reduces the Forerunner 255’s battery life from 30 to 16 hours, using this tool on the Ultra will likely only last 7 hours, the same as the Basic Apple Watch Series 8.
For many serious multi-day hikers, the prospect of their watch dying in the middle of nowhere is just too risky. And without some algorithmically generated widget data to help warn you if you’re pushing too hard, you may injure yourself (or not know your own limits).
So while the Apple Watch Ultra lives up to its name much better than the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, I still don’t know if it will sell outside of Apple’s current customer base. Brands like Garmin, Polar, Coros and Fitbit will not lose their customer base to the Ultra at the moment.