Apple made waves when it announced the beautifully massive and feature-rich Apple Watch Ultra on Wednesday, and many of our other tech sites gave in to the hype. The edge (opens in a new tab) claims the $800 watch could render Garmin obsolete as a company, while Digital Trends (opens in a new tab) put Samsung and the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro in the limelight, saying Apple had given it a model for a “true 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 the Ultra what I sought Samsung has to do with the Pro in terms of adding more exclusive “ruggedized” features that cater to outdoor folks.
Still, outside of Apple superfans who want the most expensive device in every category, this $800 “adventurer’s watch” may not strike a chord with its target audience. Because despite Apple’s genuine efforts, it still has the same basic issues as Samsung’s Watch Pro.
In my review of the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, I complained that Samsung didn’t pack in enough new features that would really cater to “pros”, other than a three-day battery that’s approaching two with active use. of the GPS. The extra battery is practical but doesn’t come close to other fitness smartwatches, and in all other respects Samsung Health is definitely targeting casual athletes more than serious ones.
Aside from some GPX maps and a trackback feature, the “Pro” has no sensors, software, or hardware advantages that the more affordable Galaxy Watch 5 also lacks, including a screen. 1.4 inches on the 44 mm model.
Compare that to the Apple Watch Ultra. As well as giving a much more massive display with twice the brightness (2,000 nits) for outdoor visibility, the Apple Watch Ultra has an additional Action button for shortcuts like instant workout start, dual-frequency GPS, watch faces displaying six metrics at a time, personalized workouts with a Pacer that keeps you on track, a step-by-step Compass app, low-power mode, and more.
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 additional buttons, and relies primarily 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, not enough runners’ watches use crowns in my opinion.
Apple’s massive square display shows more information as you run, while the Pro swipes to see other data besides your pace and distance.
Dual-frequency GPS is one of my favorite perks of the Garmin Forerunner 255 and the brand’s more expensive models, using multiple satellite signals to pinpoint location and reduce false positives. Garmin can also connect to two GNSS systems at once like GPS and GLONASS, so it can still provide slightly more accurate results, but not by much.
Although the Pro has Trackback functionality, it’s pretty darn basic; you simply navigate from point A to point B and then guided to A. Using the Apple Watch Ultra’s compass, you can place multiple waypoints with custom icons and guide you to specific points , such as trail markers, instead of all the way back to your car.
Finally, Apple has put a lot 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 already measuring stride length, ground contact time, vertical oscillation and running power, Apple Watches also added Pacer earlier this year: you enter a target distance and pace, so you’ll get warnings if you stray too far above or below your target pace – similar to Garmin’s Pacepro. Contrast that with Samsung and its Running Coach, which only has a few fixed paces and distances for walking, jogging, and running that you can’t change.
So yes, while I consider the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro the second-best Android smartwatch behind the base Galaxy Watch 5, the Apple Watch Ultra seems far superior as an adventurer’s watch – as it should be, given that it will cost $350 Suite.
But despite the fact that my mouth started salivating metaphorically at the Ultra livestream reveal, 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 get up and stretch when you’re inactive for too long, and close your daily activity rings. And Apple/Samsung Health will tell you how much you sleep, calories burned, and even niche data like how good your form is. But what is that won’t do is tell you what to do with that data.
The biggest advantage of any Garmin watch or a Fitbit with Premium is that it will give you guided coaching or recommended daily runs based on your current VO2 Max and past training data. If you run a marathon, you’ll get immediate feedback telling you to relax for a week. But with the Apple Watch Ultra or the GW5 Pro, it will tell you the next day to stop being lazy and close 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’s possible that Apple is pushing its own internal algorithms to be able to provide this information. But I wonder if that data will end up being locked behind an Apple Fitness+ paywall, similar to Fitbit Premium data. Right now, all of his data is completely free, but if he decides to start “coaching” runners with data, I could see Apple deciding to bundle that coaching with their current home workout coaching.
We measure battery life in months. Not hours. #Enduro2 pic.twitter.com/OcTLdpvHV6September 8, 2022
Say you buy the Garmin Fenix 7, the brand’s most popular adventure watch, for $100 less than the Apple Watch Ultra. This watch gives you a workout readiness score and recommended recovery time based on your sleep and recent workouts; personalized daily training; a real-time endurance widget estimating how much energy your body has left; the aforementioned Pacepro; and downloadable multicolored maps for any continent.
Plus, as Garmin cheekily noted in its post-Apple event tweet, its watches last on a scale that Apple Watches can’t match, even when massive. Apple Estimates (opens in a new tab) that its battery will last 36 hours of regular 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 GPS hours – or up to 136 hours in Garmin’s low-power mode.
Testing the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro I had a bit less of a problem – it will last around 20 GPS hours 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 have to make the watch uncomfortably heavy and thick to remove it.
And if you expect the Apple Watch Ultra to last 12 hours, keep in mind that Apple’s estimates in a lab may not match your actual usage. Also, since Garmin’s dual-frequency GPS setting reduces the Forerunner 255’s battery life from 30 hours to 16 hours, it’s likely that using this tool on the Ultra will only last 7 hours – the same as the base Apple Watch Series 8.
For many serious athletes who go on multi-day treks, the risk of your watch dying in the middle of nowhere is just too risky. And without some algorithmically-generated widget data to warn you if you’re pushing too hard, you might end up hurting yourself (or not knowing your own limits).
That’s why, even though 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 won’t lose their clientele at the Ultra for now.
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