Last year, if you’d offered me any watch to run with, I’d have reached for a Garmin Forerunner 955, or maybe a Polar. But over the last couple of months, something strange happened, and I began strapping on the Apple Watch Ultra 2 more and more until it overtook my trusty Garmin Forerunner 955 as my run companion of choice.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting more out of using the best Apple Watch day-to-day than I used to, as my skill in eking as much as I can out of watchOS continues to grow. Or maybe it’s because no fitness watch – or fitness product, really – made huge strides this year, and the Apple Watch Ultra 2, despite an incremental update on last year’s model, edges closer to perfection than the rest.
From watches to bikes to running shoes, the fitness tech world seems to be in a period of consolidation rather than innovation. Peloton rebranded, uncoupling itself from the bikes and treads with a new-look, gym-focused app, but it faces stiff competition from the best fitness apps. In e-bikes, I got my first ride on the fantastic Cowboy 4, but despite the brand’s impressive software, the new Cowboy Cruiser isn’t reshaping the best electric bike landscape yet.
Fitbit’s had a pretty bad year, and the Google Pixel Watch 2 and Fitbit Charge 6 arrived too late for this year's awards. In running, the ASICS Gel Nimbus 25 is a great shoe – possibly the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever run in - but it’s not for those who like firmer, more responsive rides. A squishier shoe and a new-look app aren’t enough to kick the Apple Watch Ultra 2 off its perch.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 gets a new S9 chipset, which allows it to take advantage of Apple’s innovative new double-tap function and the redesigned directional Find My Devices feature (when paired with an iPhone 15). It also boasts the best and brightest screen of any smartwatch, with up to 3,000 nits of OLED Retina Display glory at your fingertips. It’s got new credentials too, as the watch is said to be carbon neutral when paired with its new bands.
However, the changes aren’t too significant here – they’re only building on what came before, but as I’m really discovering now, that makes the full package of the watch a doozy. Runners get virtual pacing features simpler and easier to set up than Garmin’s alternatives, ground contact time and vertical oscillation metrics, new adventuring features and topo maps thanks to watchOS 10, and access to outrageously good third-party content.
It also turns your iPhone into a working cycling computer. For active types, the Action button (and now Double Tap) is making all the difference, with the ability to start and stop workouts with gloves on, in cold weather.
Crucially, it’s a fantastic everyday wearable too, and certainly perhaps the best smartwatch overall on the market right now from a technical perspective. Thanks to the Action button, Siri, Double-Tap, and iPhone connectivity, there are lots of ways to interact with the watch, allowing it to fit into all sorts of lifestyles.
The downside? The Ultra 2 only lasts two days compared to serious activity watches, and if I were going away for an activity trip with fewer opportunities to charge, I would take a Garmin for convenience.
However, as a tradeoff for this lack of battery, you get a far more complete wearables experience. When I stopped to think about which devices I’d reached for the most this year, it was an easy pick both for me and for TechRadar readers, despite only using it for around four weeks.
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Matt is TechRadar's expert on all things fitness, wellness and wearable tech. A former staffer at Men's Health, he holds a Master's Degree in journalism from Cardiff and has written for brands like Runner's World, Women's Health, Men's Fitness, LiveScience and Fit&Well on everything fitness tech, exercise, nutrition and mental wellbeing.
Matt's a keen runner, ex-kickboxer, not averse to the odd yoga flow, and insists everyone should stretch every morning. When he’s not training or writing about health and fitness, he can be found reading doorstop-thick fantasy books with lots of fictional maps in them.