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Apple Ultra watch review

Though I’m a gadget freak [1] and somewhat of an Apple fanboy, I’ve been holding off on the Apple watch. First I said I would get one when they figured out an always-on display, then when they improved the GNSS to be better than my old Forerunner 305 [2], then when they added buttons, then when battery life was more than a day.

The Ultra seems to tick those boxes, so when I saw them on sale, that was my Xmas present to myself.

Of course you can check out DC Rainmaker for the complete review (and you should). This is just my personal opinion.

First, as a GMT watch, it’s ok. Aside from the default random button-press/screen-touch always going into the ‘change the GMT time’ mode, whatever thing I press to get out, gets out without changing it [3]. It’s great to be able to see at a glance the air quality, the temperature, and sunrise/sunset, and heartrate. Of course it doesn’t actually display the HR, it just takes you to a screen where it says it’s measuring it every time you look and never gives you the current HR (win Garmin). And the AQI and temp seem to be for someplace else, as they sure aren’t for the place I’m living [4]. But it would cool if it worked. It’s sort of an indicator? I still have to either go outside or look at WeatherUnderground to see if I need a jacket or umbrella, or check with SCAQMD to see if I should skip the outdoor workout.

It gets sunrise/set correct. Though it doesn’t say which it is (nautical? astronomical?), so I wouldn’t rely on this for any alpine start/C2CIAD planning. Good enough for walking the dog, but that’s about it.

Notifications are way better than the Garmin (win Apple), which does okay, but misses about as many as it gets. In general, the AW Apples’ better than the Fenix which is not surprising. The main notification I get from the AW is that the memory is full, and I should delete some songs or pictures. I don’t sync any pictures, and going to music tells me that it’s still trying to sync the one playlist I tried to sync. General/storage tells me that I’m not out of memory, so… not sure how useful that is. Still, I can’t get the Garmin to sync any music at all, so there’s that. Win Apple, though it’s a hollow victory as I still only use iPod Shuffles. [5]

I don’t wear it sleeping. It’s not that comfy.

As a workout watch, one has to compare it to the Fenix. Has the Fenix ever stopped itself because my armwarmer brushed the face? No it has not. At least I assume that’s what causes the AW workout to stop less than halfway through with no notification. Who knows. I haven’t tried to compare HR and power meter readings for a workout, as the main Apple workout app doesn’t connect to power meters. You can buy an app that does, and it does. Sometimes. But most of the time, not, so I have to stand around like I did in 2005 going through the settings to make the AW connect to anything. Forget about connecting to ANT+, or more than two BLE devices. On any given ride, I have radar, lights, cadence, power, and HR. Apple is not connecting to any of these. Glitches aside, Garmin seems to do this pretty well. Win Garmin.

Frankly I don’t find the touch screen useful at all while I’m exercising. I’m sweaty, and I’m busy and I’m trying hard and going fast, so I need to be paying attention if I don’t want to eat it. I can find the buttons without looking, but I pretty much have to stop to work the touchscreen. I haven’t tried the AW with gloves, but they don’t work on an iPhone, so I can’t imagine trying to make things work on a cold day with big old thick cycling gloves on. Also does that mean buying another set of cycling gloves which are touchscreen capable? Because the ones I have now work fine for keeping my fingers warm. Win Garmin.

I don’t think it matters, because on a really cold day, my jacket sleeve will touch the screen and cancel the workout.

So I guess what I’m saying is that Apple has some work to do here? It’s certainly nicer to wear on a day-to-day basis than the Garmin, and handles all the Apple stuff better, but I didn’t need a watch for that. Garmin handles all the workout stuff way better, though its syncing is still kinda hit or miss. Better with the Fenix, iffy with the Edge, crappy with the 735, bulletproof with the 305 until the contacts wore out.

Someone at Apple has to be a serious cyclist or runner. I wonder how they think that the current state of affairs is okay. But then I still can’t eject a TM disk when I want to get up and go someplace, and that’s been a problem for going on 20 years now.


[1] less so than I used to be. I have a job, I deal with too much technology, and the pain of upgrading and transferring and getting operational again is real and immediate. I get about 200 emails a day; Missing a day upgrading hardware means missing sleep catching up. I’m keeping this laptop until the heat death of the universe, even if the M-series is better. It’s not better enough to make upgrading worth while.
[2] which I only stopped using because the buttons literally wore out. As in the watch still works, but the buttons have been used so much they are literally worn through. Yes, the 735/520/Fenix 6/530 that replaced it are better (for N times the price they ought to be), but I’d have never upgraded that wonder if I simply hadn’t worn it out completely.
[3] This should be harder to bork up. I can imagine this causing a minor problem if I think the GMT is set to Berlin or Australia and it’s gone to Bumfuck instead.
[4] Despite having a whole Maps department, Apple still thinks I live in a different city, even though the city limit is a couple of miles from here. This doesn’t explain the temp and AQI discrepancy, as it isn’t right for there either. I assume this is carried over from Dark Sky, as it had the same problem, as does the Ecobee. The LA basin has many microclimes, and the temp, weather, and AQI here can be wildly different just a few miles away. Just like the Bay Area, where all these techbros are from.
[5] Finally with the 2nd Gen AirPod Pro, you can adjust the volume without pulling out your phone, but I can’t imagine trying to skip tracks or adjust volume while going 30 miles an hour or standing on the pedals. And I still figure that I’m one hard bump from losing the AirPod, so I’m going to use the Shuffles until the battery finally dies. Though I may be stuck with the current playlist if my old MBP with iTunes on it dies, as the new versions of Music don’t support the Shuffle at all.