Apple Watch Ultra vs Series 8: Specs + Performance Compared

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Whether you’re training for a marathon or taking part in the Couch to 5K, a smartwatch with fitness tracking and accurate GPS can be a useful accessory for assessing your performance and monitoring your progress.

Two great watches to consider are the Apple Watch Ultra and the Apple Watch Series 8.

In some ways they are similar – they both run Watch OS 9 software and share many of the same features and sensors.

But there are some big differences, too, from the very obvious difference in size to the increased functionality and durability of the Ultra compared to the more affordable Series 8.

In this article, I’m going to take a closer look at both wearables and compare the Apple Watch Ultra vs Apple Watch Series 8 specs

I’ll also outline both their similarities and differences to help you decide which of these popular Apple Watch models will be the perfect fit for you!

Apple Watch Ultra vs Series 8: The Overview

Apple Watch Ultra

apple watch ultra

Rugged yet luxurious, with top-notch features for athletes and smartwatch functionality for casual use

ProsCons
Very durablePricey (although good value for money)
Longer battery life and fast chargingMay be too large for some, especially for sleep tracking
Highly accurate location dataNo offline maps
Has all the features of the Series 8 – plus more!

Apple Watch Series 8

apple watch series 8

A sleek, lightweight design with great health and fitness tracking

ProsCons
Stylish appearance for all-day wearLimited battery life
Highly responsive touchscreenLittle improvements in the new Apple Watch, compared to previous Series 7 version
Fluid animationsLess durable than the Ultra
Good safety features

The Similarities: Apple Watch Ultra vs Series 8

Here’s a look at the main features you can expect to find with both the Apple Watch Ultra and the Series 8.

Tracking and Sensors

Both the Apple Watch Ultra and the Series 8 have excellent tracking features, monitoring metrics like calories burned, steps, distance traveled, and active minutes/intensity.

Both will monitor your heart rate – both during workouts and while at rest – and notify you if your readings are ever unusually high or low.

Both models also have a temperature sensor and provide data relating to blood oxygen saturation, stress levels, and sleep quality.

Other great features shared by both devices include:

  • Accelerometer (to detect changes in velocity)
  • Always-on altimeter (for elevation information)
  • Compass
  • Gyroscope
  • Ambient light (adjusts brightness level based on your surroundings)
  • Barometric altimeter
  • Menstrual tracking, with personalized predictions for periods, ovulation, and fertility windows
apple watch series 8 temperature feature

Smartwatch Features

Both the Apple Watch Ultra and the Series 8 run Watch OS 9 software so their interfaces look the same, as do the selection of apps and watch faces (although the Ultra has an extra watch face, which I’ll discuss later).

Plus, of course, both come equipped with all the features you’d expect from a high-quality smartwatch.

You can receive and answer notifications, chat with friends, access a wide range of iOS apps, and stream music paired to bluetooth headphones (allowing you to leave your iPhone at home).

The Ultra has the edge when it comes to the microphone and speakers, though.

Whereas the Series 8 uses the 2nd generation speaker and mic, the Ultra comes with dual speakers and a three-mic array with beamforming to reduce background noise and capture your voice more clearly during calls.

Safety Features

Both models feature Apple’s excellent ‘fall detection‘ feature. If it senses that you may have fallen while training, it will sound an alarm and display an alert, giving you the option to contact emergency services.

If it senses that you haven’t moved for more than one minute, however, it will contact emergency services automatically, then notify your emergency contacts and provide them with your location.

A similar feature is Car Crash Detection, which – if it detects a severe crash – will display an alert and automatically call emergency services after 20 seconds unless you cancel.

It will then play an audio message to emergency services notifying them of the crash and giving them your coordinates.

Both the Apple Ultra and the Series 8 also feature Compass Waypoints with Backtrack, giving you the confidence to explore new territory during your runs without the worry of getting lost!

An extra safety feature with the Ultra, however, is an 86-decibel siren to alert people around you if you’re in distress.

This can be heard up to 600 feet away and is especially useful when running or hiking in areas with limited cellular connectivity.

Always-On Display

The Apple Ultra and Series 8 Watches both have an always-on Retina LTPO OLED display.

This means you can easily check the time or workout stats while you are running without having to interact with the watch.

You can turn this feature off with either model to save on battery power.

apple watch ultra vs series 8

The Differences: Apple Watch Ultra vs Series 8

Here’s a summary of the main differences between the Apple Watch Ultra vs Series 8 to help you decide which is right for you.

Design and Colors

The Series 8 is a smaller, more lightweight watch than the Apple Ultra and comes in two sizes – 41 mm and 45 mm.

The Ultra weighs at least 10g more than the Series 8 (depending on which version you buy) and – thanks to its larger battery – is thicker, too.

It is only available in one size – 49 mm – which some may find a little bulky, especially for wearing overnight.

The Series 8 is undeniably more of a lifestyle piece, available in two finishes – stainless steel and aluminum – and with various colors available for each finish (gold, silver, and graphite for stainless steel; silver, red, starlight, and midnight for aluminum).

The Ultra, in contrast, is only available in one finish (titanium case) and one color (natural).

It has a much more robust feel than the Series 8 and is as ideal for rugged outdoor adventures as it is for tracking your stats in the gym.

The durable case is slightly raised around the display to effectively protect the crystal face from scratches, while the watch is water resistant up to 100 m.

This compares to 50m of water resistance with the Series 8.

apple watch ultra features

The Ultra also features a bar to protect the Digital Crown and side button.

These stand out more on the Ultra than on the Series 8 and are subsequently easier to press, especially if your hands are wet.

Both models are IP6X dust-resistant but only the Ultra has been tested to the MIL-STD 810H military standard.

This means it can withstand all sorts of harsh conditions, including extremes in temperature and altitude, physical shock, heavy rain, vibrations, wind, rust, and even fungus!

All-in-all, this means the Apple Watch Ultra is more worth it of the two models if you regularly run off-road or engage in very high-impact activities.

Choice of Bands

With the Series 8, you get lots of different bands to choose from, including nylon, leather, and stainless steel options.

There are three band options for the Apple Watch Ultra:

  • Alpine Loop: Probably the most popular option, it uses a series of sewn loops to hook a metal clasp, allowing you to achieve a secure fit.
  • Trail Loop: Less aesthetically pleasing, this secures with Velcro and is very quick and easy to adjust.
  • Ocean Band: This is a rubber band with a titanium buckle and is ideal for wearing over a wetsuit.

Alternatively, you can use any band designed for other Apple Watches with the Ultra, as long as the size is compatible.

Apple Watch bands are available either from the manufacturer or from third parties like Amazon.

apple watch bands

Display

While both watches feature an always-on display, the Ultra is the clear winner in terms of brightness.

It has a maximum of 2,000 nits, which is twice that of the Series 8.

This makes it the best choice of the two for visibility when training outdoors in a variety of weather conditions.

Tracking and Sensors

One major difference between the Apple Watch Ultra vs Series 8 is the superior accuracy of the GPS.

This is because the Ultra uses dual frequencies (L1 and L5 bands), while the Series 8 uses just L1.

As a result, the Ultra can track your distance and route information far more accurately in mountainous terrain or forests, or in very built-up urban areas.

The Ultra has other features, too, that make it a better choice for athletes who enjoy a variety of sports, even scuba diving!

These include a custom Depth app – designed to measure water temperature, underwater duration, and depth to 130 feet – plus a new Oceanic app that provides all the key features of an advanced dive computer.

Another bonus exclusive to the Ultra is the Wayfinder watch face.

Designed to appeal to runners, hikers, and underwater enthusiasts, it turns into a compass when you tap the outer edges.

This displays your current latitude and longitude coordinates and has room for eight complications.

It also features a handy Night Mode that turns the face red to preserve your night vision.

Battery Life

Thanks to their touchscreen features and very fluid, animated displays, Apple watches tend to have a somewhat limited battery life compared to other sports watches.

Nevertheless, the Ultra offers a fairly decent runtime of up to 36 hours depending on how you use it.

This compares very favorably to the Series 8 which offers 18 hours of battery life, although the larger battery of the Ultra contributes to its chunkier size.

Low Power Mode is available for both models to extend battery life, although this disables features like the always-on display and heart health monitoring.

Action Button

This useful feature is available ONLY on the Ultra.

A large, orange button on the side of the watch, it can be customized to give you quick access to different tasks, from initiating a workout or starting a stopwatch to setting a Compass Waypoint or turning on the flashlight.

While it’s possible to set a complication to use a shortcut on the Series 8, a physical button is much easier to operate on the go.

Apple Watch Ultra Action Button

apple watch ultra vs series 8 – The Verdict: Which is right for you?

If you’re on a limited budget then the choice is clear – the Series 8 is approximately half the price of the Ultra yet still offers many of the same features.

It is also smaller, lighter, and more stylish, making it an ideal lifestyle piece that looks as good with formal attire as it does with your fitness gear.

But if you have a bit more to invest, then you really can’t go wrong with the Apple Ultra watch, even if you don’t need the advanced features aimed at extreme athletes.

The highly accurate GPS and extended battery life make it a great choice for tracking any workout, while the larger display and enhanced brightness make it much easier to view in all types of conditions.

What’s more its fantastic durability and waterproofing mean that you can wear it with confidence whatever the weather or type of sport you enjoy.

Photo of author
Christine Albury is a dedicated runner and fitness nerd and certified personal trainer: when she's not working out she is studying the latest fitness science publications, and testing out the latest running gear!

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