Hands-On With the Galaxy Watch Ultra, Samsung’s Answer to the Apple Watch Ultra

It’s pretty obvious where Samsung got its inspiration, but how does it actually compare to Apple’s rugged smartwatch?

Inverse deputy tech editor Raymond Wong trying out the new Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra smartwatch tha...
Photograph by Raymond Wong

Four years ago, Samsung gave its flagship Galaxy S series smartphones the “Ultra” treatment with the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Today, at Unpacked in Paris, Samsung’s smartwatch is leveling up with the Galaxy Watch Ultra. Samsung also announced the Galaxy Watch 7, but that’s more of an annual spec bump than a new class of smartwatch to covet.

Intentionally or not, the Galaxy Watch Ultra gives several nods to the Apple Watch Ultra 2. It’s Samsung’s biggest, most rugged, most durable, and longest-lasting smartwatch ever. And at $649.99, it needed to be all that or it wouldn’t even be a starter.

Ahead of today’s Unpacked launch event, I spent some brief time with the Galaxy Watch Ultra, and it’s a beefy smartwatch. That may be a turnoff for people with smaller wrists or anyone who prefers a smaller smartwatch, but as Apple has shown, there’s clearly a big appetite for larger smartwatches that don’t need to be charged every night.

Screams Rugged and Durable

Samsung's Galaxy Watch Ultra comes in three different colors and three different bands including black, white, and orange.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

Similar to the Apple Watch Ultra, everything about the Galaxy Watch Ultra screams rugged and durable. From its bulkier 47mm case and its “cushion design” to its MIL-STD-810 certification, 10ATM and IP68 water and dust resistance, and thick diver-like band, the Galaxy Watch Ultra is made for surviving the outdoors or heavy workouts (over 100 supported). Though it’s a chunkier smartwatch, the Galaxy Watch Ultra’s titanium “grade 4” case makes it light on the wrist; big on paper and appearance, but not necessarily uncomfortable.

Samsung says the Galaxy Watch Ultra is powerful enough for triathletes who need triple-workout tracking. Built-in Functional Threshold Power (FTP) can track “maximum cycling power in four minutes,” which is useful for cyclists. New metrics that can aid in monitoring your health and fitness include “Race,” which compares your past and present workout performances, and “Body Composition” which shares more detailed information about your, well, body composition. Additionally, an “AGEs Index” for tracking advanced glycation end products, enabled by the improved BioActive Sensor, can share aging information.

Of course, there’s a healthy sprinkling of AI in the Galaxy Watch Ultra. A sleep apnea detection feature, powered by an “advanced AI algorithm,” that Samsung says is De Novo FDA-authorized could let you know if you have the sleeping condition. Another Galaxy AI feature is “Suggested Replies,” which can generate personalized replies based on your message conversations. Over a decade into smartwatches, tech companies are now realizing that pecking at a smartwatch screen or dictating a response is inconvenient!

The improved BioActive Sensor.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

The Quick Button is customizable.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

The included band is great for diving.

Photograph by Raymond Wong
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Supporting the more rugged design is a Quick Button that launches a workout by default, but can also be programmed to any other function — just like the Apple Watch Ultra’s Action button. Another Apple Watch Ultra similarity: Certain new watch faces have a “Night Mode” that can automatically turn red at night.

While its screen is not the largest round display out there — the Galaxy Watch Ultra has the same 1.5-inch screen as the 44mm Galaxy Watch 7 — the always-on AMOLED display, which is covered with a sapphire crystal for extra scratch resistance, can get extremely bright at up to 3,000 nits. Its 480 x 480 resolution is plenty sharp for a screen on your wrist; text, icons, and menus looked crisp to my eyes. Around the screen is a touch-sensitive bezel that can be rotated with the tip of your finger to navigate around the software or scroll through menus. I’m really glad Samsung didn’t nix this for the sake of going more rugged.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

Wear OS 5 with Samsung’s One UI 6 runs snappy on the new 3-nanometer, 5-core Exynos W1000 chip. I have my concerns about whether or not the 2GB of RAM will be enough to get it through several years of future software updates, especially if new Galaxy AI features are added. The 32GB of storage might be insufficient compared to the 64GB in the Apple Watch Ultra, though personally, I’ve never filled the storage on any smartwatch I’ve owned.

Where the Galaxy Watch Ultra really shines is battery life. It has a 590mAh lithium-ion battery that’s 96.6 percent larger than the one in the 40mm Galaxy Watch 7 and 38.8 percent bigger than the cell in the 44mm Galaxy Watch 7; the battery is also 4.6 percent larger than the one in the Apple Watch Ultra. Samsung says the huge battery — the longest-lasting in any Galaxy Watch ever — means the Galaxy Watch Ultra can last up to 48 hours with regular wear in “Exercise Power Saving” mode and up to 100 hours in “Power Saving” mode. That would put the Galaxy Watch Ultra in the same class as the the OnePlus Watch 2 which gets 100 hours, and maybe even the Apple Watch Ultra’s 3-day of regular battery life.

The Galaxy Watch Ultra will come in four colors when it launches on July 24: Titanium Gray, Titanium Silver, and Titanium White.

Galaxy Watch 7 Gets the Annual Internal Refresh

Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 7 looks and feels like the Watch 6, but it comes in new colors and the internals are all new and improved.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

There’s really not a whole lot to say about the Galaxy Watch 7. It looks and feels like the Galaxy Watch 6 on the wrist, which means it’s light and comfortable. It comes in two sizes: 40mm with a 1.3-inch and 44mm with a 1.5-inch, both with AMOLED displays and sapphire crystal covers. The touch-sensitive bezel is present on both models. Sadly, there’s no “Classic” Watch 7 this time around.

Pretty much everything the Galaxy Watch Ultra has, the Galaxy Watch 7 has, too, including the same Exynos W1000 chip, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. The main differences are battery (300mAh for the 40mm model and 425mAh for the 44mm version) and a lower 5ATM rating instead of 10ATM on the Watch Ultra.

Boba Fett vibes.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

The Galaxy Watch 7 shares the same BioActive sensor as the Galaxy Watch Ultra.

Photograph by Raymond Wong
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The 40mm Galaxy Watch 7 will come in green and Cream, and the 44mm model in green and silver. The Galaxy Watch 7 starts at $299.99 and also launches on July 24.

Competing with Apple Watch Ultra

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It’s really impossible to look at the Galaxy Watch Ultra and not see it as Samsung’s answer to the Apple Watch Ultra.

There are some things, specifically the Samsung Health and Galaxy AI features, that are unique to the Galaxy Watch Ultra. But based on my limited time messing with the new smartwatch, in more ways than one, Samsung either copied Apple’s rugged smartwatch or seems to have been inspired by it.

To Apple fans, Samsung’s imitation may not feel like a form of flattery, but for Samsung and Android users, it’s finally a proper competitor to call their own. The Android smartwatch market is sorely lacking in rugged options that have the very best in smartwatch and health and fitness tracking that compete with Apple Watches. The Galaxy Watch Ultra is giving non-Apple users what they’re asking for, even if it might not be pushing the envelope. You know what they say: If you’re going to copy, you might as well copy from the best.

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