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Hey Samsung, the Apple Watch Ultra is how you make a real adventure smartwatch

See the Apple Watch Ultra, Samsung? That’s how you make an adventure smartwatch. Multiple specific features, a robust design, and Apple’s typically effective marketing mean the Watch Ultra will likely be outdoorsy people’s first stop — not the tepid Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, which is a premium Galaxy Watch 5 masquerading as a rugged wearable for the explorer.

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro isn’t very pro

The way Samsung pitched the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro was baffling. Although the titanium case and sapphire crystal make it more durable than the standard Galaxy Watch 5, it doesn’t have the required feature set to be a true Garmin, Polar, Suunto, or Coros competitor. Anyone using a smartwatch in the wilderness, under the water, or up a mountain will have a checklist of crucial features that make it worth wearing.

Unfortunately, a slightly bigger battery, compatibility with GPX files, and a way to route back home aren’t going to be enough. Even so, that’s really all that separates the Pro from the normal Galaxy Watch 5.

What’s interesting is, when you look at the promotional page for the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro now, there’s almost no mention of it being an adventure watch. It mentions the GPX feature and Track Back, and the materials used in its construction… but that’s all. Yet when you go back to the original press release, the Watch 5 Pro is described as being “created for those that love the great outdoors” and ready for anything from “hiking to cycling and beyond.” Many of the images show the watch in the dust, on rocks, or hanging from some wood.

While none of what Samsung says is incorrect, it has clearly pulled back from calling it an adventure smartwatch, and it now looks like what I suspect it was originally conceived as: an upmarket version of the Galaxy Watch 5 with an emphasis on fitness and activity. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I really like the Watch 5 Pro. But it isn’t — and never has been — something that would attract the hardcore outdoorsy crew.

Here comes the Apple Ultra

Now that we’ve all seen the Apple Watch Ultra, Samsung’s reluctance to push the dubious adventure aspect of the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is understandable. It simply cannot compete, and Apple’s comprehensive list of useful features and carefully thought out design decisions makes the Watch 5 Pro’s attempt to appeal look lazy and misjudged.

Like what? An extended battery mode is practically essential on a smartwatch designed for outdoor activities, as people may spend days away from a charger, and it gives the wearer confidence. The Apple Watch Ultra’s battery lasts 36 hours according to Apple, but there’s a low power mode to stretch that out to 60 hours. Samsung’s blurb says the Watch 5 Pro’s battery will last 80 hours, but in our tests, it lasted three days only when turned off overnight, which puts the real total at around 48 hours.

The battery is just the start. The Apple Watch Ultra is also made of titanium and sapphire crystal but has a new microphone array and high-power speaker for clearer calls in bad conditions. LTE is standard, the bands are designed for use in the mountains or in the water, there’s enhanced GPS and a new antenna design, a special compass app that works with the Digital Crown, a programmable side button that can add waypoints to a map, a siren for emergencies, a temperature sensor, and even a night mode for the new Wayfinder watch face for easy viewing in low light. The list goes on with a dive computer, a depth gauge, and — yes — even a Backtrack feature to get you back to your starting point in the event you get lost.

Someone wearing the Apple Watch Ultra while climbing.
Apple

What’s more, I think it looks the part. The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro has a distinct, surprisingly classy design which I think looks really good, but the Apple Watch Ultra looks ready for action with its crown guard, rugged straps, flat sapphire, and massive case. The only way the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro gets close is when you fit the plastic protective case over the top. And, let’s face it, no one in their right mind should be covering titanium in plastic.

The Apple Watch Ultra’s challenge lies elsewhere

Samsung knows the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro isn’t going to take on the Apple Watch Ultra, and it’s good to see that it has shied away from making a big deal out of it. Instead, it has used the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s folding design to poke fun at the iPhone 14 range. However, Apple’s real challenge comes from elsewhere, as the world isn’t lacking niche smartwatches that are great for adventuring.

For example, the Apple Watch Ultra faces far stiffer competition from Garmin with its super desirable and wonderfully varied Marq range. Rather than a one-watch-fits-all approach, there are multiple Marq smartwatches that cater to specific pastimes, like adventuring, driving, sailing, flying, and golf, all with feature sets to match. Each is made from titanium with a range of straps and bracelets available to customize the final look.

It’s a very traditional watch-like approach to a sporting smartwatch from a company with real experience and knowledge in each field, and the products are extremely compelling, if quite expensive. There’s no need to spend so much money, though, with Garmin’s other cheaper models still offering plenty of functionality — along with smartwatches like the Polar Grit X Pro, Suunto 9 Peak, or the Coros Vertix 2. These will be the real test of the Apple Watch Ultra’s appeal, as each brand has dedicated fans who trust the products. Apple definitely has the same, but the Ultra takes the Apple Watch in a very different direction from the mainstream Series 8.

When your main smartwatch has topped the sales charts for seven years, branching out to take on an established yet niche segment isn’t much of a risk, but it still needs to be approached properly and with commitment. Unlike Samsung, Apple seems to have done so, and it’s going to be interesting to see if the Apple Watch Ultra is popular enough to be the first in a long line of adventure and sporting smartwatches.

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