Apple Watch Series 9 vs Ultra 2: Which flagship wearable should you buy?

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watch9-vs-watchultra2

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Apple has dropped the details on its high-anticipated line of new watches, and while the latest entries – the Series 9 and the Ultra 2 – aren’t changing a whole lot stylistically from their predecessors, there are actually a fair amount of technical upgrades. 

Both watches have Apple’s new “double tap” feature to answer calls or other actions by tapping your index finger and thumb twice, both have a new ultra-wideband chip inside, and both have the new S9 SiP (System in Package) that brings 5.6 billion transistors and a 30% faster GPU. 

Also: Everything Apple just announced: iPhone 15, Apple Watch Ultra 2, AirPods

Both can be preordered now and will be available for purchase starting Friday, September. 22. 

The two watches do have plenty of differences. How do you decide which one is best for your needs? Here’s a breakdown of the Apple Watch Series 9 vs. the Apple Watch Ultra 2.

Specifications

Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Ultra 2

Size

41 and 45mm

49mm

Weight 31 to 51 grams depending on model 61 grams

Display

Flat

Curved

Battery 18 hours with typical use / 36 hours on low power mode 36 hours with typical use / 72 hours on low power mode  
Case Aluminum or stainless steel Titanium
Water resistance 50 meters 100 meters
Customizable action button No Yes
Price: $399 $799

You should buy the Apple Watch Series 9 if…

The Apple Watch Series 9

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

1. You’re looking to save a little money

Given that both watches deliver a fair number of upgrades from their previous generations, you’re doing well to upgrade to either one of these either from an older Apple Watch — or if you’re a brand-new wearer. But if price is a concern, look to the Series 9. You’re not “settling” by any means if you choose this watch, as the Ultra 2 carries a few features that only appeal to certain people. But at a cost difference of $400, you’re going to have to really need those features. Don’t feel like you’re going cheap by choosing the Series 9 over the Ultra 2. 

Also: The best smartwatches of 2023: Expert tested and reviewed

2. You want more options

Both watches have a plethora of bands available in materials and colors, but the Series 9 has options for the watch itself, including size and material. The S9 has an aluminum finish with Ion-X strengthened glass display and a stainless steel finish with a sapphire crystal display option plus a choice of sizes: 41mm or 45mm. Counting all finishes and colors available, the S9 offers a total of eight options. When it comes to the Ultra, there’s one finish and color. You’re just choosing a band. If you want a watch where you have a little flexibility in the device itself, go with the S9. 

3. You’re buying your first smartwatch and you want the latest tech 

If you’re new to the world of smartwatches and you want something that does basic smartwatch things that’s in the Apple ecosystem, stick with the Series 9. Both the S9 and the Ultra 2 are high-end smartwatches, but the former will do the job just fine if you’re looking for a traditional smartwatch. And if you’re the type of person who always wants the latest tech, the S9 does have some “inside” improvements over the S8 and you’ll still get that buzz of having the newest thing on the market. The price of the Series 8 will most likely drop more once the Series 9 is officially released, but right now there’s only a difference of about $50. 

You should buy the Apple Watch Ultra 2 if…

The Apple Watch Ultra 2

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

1. You’ll be using it outdoors

The Ultra 2 packs some features that are especially appealing to people who enjoy outdoor/extreme sports. For starters, it has an exclusive new watch face called “Modular Ultra,” which displays details like altitude, depth, and seconds. There are special features for hiking and scuba diving, a built-in siren, plus a deep dive into cycling metrics. Additionally, the Ultra 2 has a slightly stronger frame than the Series 9, making it a bit more durable and rugged. 

Also: The best fitness rings of 2023: Oura, Evie, and more

This is also Apple’s brightest watch ever at 3,000 nits (both the original Ultra and the new Series 9 max out at 2,000 nits), making it easier to see outdoors in bright sunlight. The Ultra 2, like the original Ultra, also has a customizable action button that the S9 lacks. You can assign a task to this button, such as starting/stopping a workout, timing with a stopwatch, turning on the flashlight, etc. The “outdoor-friendly” features are easily the single biggest selling point of the Ultra 2 compared to the Series 9. 

2. You like a bigger watch face

If you’re looking for a big, bold watch, consider the Ultra 2. The Series 9 comes in 41mm and 45mm options while the Ultra 2 looms large at 49mm. Anything around the 45 mm mark or more is considered a large men’s watch by most fashion standards, so the size of the Ultra 2 is definitely eye-catching. This is the same size as the current Ultra watch.

3. You need a longer battery life

While technically one of the “outdoors” features, this difference applies to most users. The Ultra 2 has a 36-hour battery life with typical use and 72 hours on low power mode compared to the Series 9’s 18-hour battery life. Surpassing the 24-hour battery life mark is a rarity in the world of smartwatches, so if you absolutely need a watch that claims to carry its battery into the next day, the Ultra 2 should be your choice.

Alternatives to consider

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic with a white background.

BEST FITNESS ALTERNATIVE

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic 47mm

Samsung’s newest smartwatch features fitness tracking, advanced sleep coaching, wellness insights, and more.

Black Google Pixel Watch with clock hands on its display

BEST ANDROID ALTERNATIVE

Google Pixel Watch

Google’s entry into the smartwatch game has a beautiful rounded face, domed design, and deep Fitbit integration.

Apple Watch Series 8 [GPS 41mm]

BEST APPLE ALTERNATIVE

Apple Watch Series 8

If you want to stay in the Apple ecosystem, the Series 8 Watch is still a very solid timepiece with many of the same features. 





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