Apple Watch Ultra vs. Series 8: Which should you buy?

The Apple Watch Series 8 is the standard Apple Watch that you’ve come to know and love over the years. It has a few new features, like Crash Detection and a processor that’s about 20% faster than previous generations. It’s admittedly not as exciting of a new product as the super rugged Apple Watch Ultra, which you can even go diving with, but that doesn’t mean that you automatically should get the Apple Watch Ultra. Let’s dive into the specific differences to see which watch is right for you. 

Apple Watch Ultra vs. Series 8: Design, colors, and finishes

(Image credit: Apple)

To start, the Apple Watch Series 8 has the same design as the previous generation. It comes in two case sizes —  41mm and 45mm — and offers aluminum or stainless steel finishes. The aluminum comes in four colors, Midnight, Starlight, PRODUCT(RED), and silver; while the stainless steel comes in silver, gold, and Graphite.

Of course, the Apple Watch Ultra is a whole different story offering a brand new rugged design we haven’t seen on the Apple Watch before. It’s got a 49mm case, so the screen is larger than the biggest Series 8, and it’s completely flat. The Ultra also looks a far bit different thanks to its extra protection around the Digital Crown and Side button on the right side of the watch.

Over on the other side of the watch, there’s a new Action button. It’s a customizable button that can offer one-touch access to many features. Apple specifically mentioned the ability to start a workout or move to the next interval of a custom workout, but we expect it can do a lot more than we know right now.

The Apple Watch Ultra only comes in a titanium case and one color, meaning you have fewer options for personalization.

Apple Watch Ultra vs. Series 8: Internals and specs

(Image credit: Apple)

You may notice that both the Apple Watch Ultra and Series 8 have the exact same chip — the S8 — which means both models are going to be faster than the watches that came before them. When it comes to sensors — like the new temperature sensors — both watches have them, but there are some more subtle differences that we can point out in the spec sheet. 

Ultra Series 8
Case sizes 49mm 41mm and 45mm
Processor S8 S8
Battery life 18 hours (up to 36 hours) 36 hours (up to 60 hours)
Screen brightness 2000 nits 1000 nits
Water resistance 100m, swimproof and recreational dive to 40m 50m, swimproof
Always-On display Yes Yes
GPS Precision dual-frequency (L1 & L5) GPS L1 GPS
Siren Yes No
Cellular Included in every model Cellular models available
Night mode Yes No
Crash/Fall Detection Yes Yes
Temperature Sensor Yes Yes
Low Power Mode Yes Yes
Starting price $799 $399

Apple Watch Ultra vs. Series 8: Display and features

Apple Watch Ultra in dark red light

(Image credit: Apple)

The brightness difference between the two models looks stark, with the Apple Watch Ultra being twice as bright as the Series 8. This will make it much easier to see the screen in direct sunlight or other bright conditions. That’s not the only trick the Ultra has up its sleeve, as the new Night mode will make it easier for your eyes to see the screen in the dark by turning the display dark and red. However, both do come with an always-on display.

You’ll notice that the Ultra also has better GPS, meaning you’ll likely get a more precise location from your Ultra than you would on the Series 8. However, both employ Backtrack, which quite literally helps you backtrack your steps — important if you’re out in the wilderness.

Both the Series 8 and Ultra have an IP6X dust resistance, but that’s about where the similarity in terms of ruggedness end.

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