Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra review – probably Samsung’s best watch yet

Samsung has been copying Apple’s homework

What is a hands on review?
Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra
(Image: © Future / Matt Evans)

Early Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra is a beast of a smartwatch. The build quality seems excellent, it’s packed with outdoor-focused features, and promises to be great for casual adventurers and serious Samsung fans alike. It’s unlike any Samsung Galaxy Watch before it, but very much like a certain other watch with Ultra in the name…

Pros

  • +

    Tough titanium exterior

  • +

    New programmable Quick button

  • +

    Tons of features

Cons

  • -

    Battery could still be beefier

  • -

    Screen is no larger than 44mm Galaxy Watch

Why you can trust TechRadar We spend hours testing every product or service we review, so you can be sure you’re buying the best. Find out more about how we test.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra is shaping up to be Samsung’s best smartwatch ever from a technical standpoint, based on our early hands-on and analysis. It takes Samsung’s usual design and flips it on its head, adding an endurance-watch twist – even more so than the adventure-focused Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro did when it debuted a couple of years ago.

Everything about the design has been changed to give this watch a more rugged feel. The strap is thicker, more durable and harder-wearing. The watch’s outer casing is now scratch-proof titanium, and the round watch face has been mounted on a squircle-style shape which Samsung is calling a “cushion”. The usual two buttons are here, but squeezed between the new protective casing surrounding the buttons is another orange button, which Samsung is calling a ‘Quick button’ – presumably because ‘Action button’ was already taken by the Apple Watch Ultra

All right, there’s no getting around it: Samsung has been copying Apple’s homework, and the comparisons between the Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra and the Apple Watch Ultra are unavoidable. Even the naming conventions are the same, for crying out loud, and they do look very similar. They both have similar features, with more accurate GPS, emergency sirens, new Night modes with red illumination, and battery life that’s slightly too short to last you a weekend in the wilderness. 

However, during our tests we found that the Watch Ultra was easy and ergonomic to use, it was comfortable on the wrist, and it has an impressive list of features, even discounting the smorgasbord of options you get as a Wear OS user. Looked at side-by-side with Apple’s now two-year-old Ultra concept, it looks very derivative. However, considered in isolation, it looks like the best smartwatch Samsung has produced yet. 

Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra specs

Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Matt Evans)
Swipe to scroll horizontally
Component Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra
Price$649 / £599 / AU$1,299
Dimensions47.4 x 47.4 x 12.1mm
Weight60.5g
Caze/bezelTitanium
Display480 x 480 full-color AMOLED
GPSDual-frequency GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo
Battery life590mAh, up to 100 hours
ConnectionBluetooth 5.3, Wi-Fi
Water resistant10ATM + IP68

Ultra-valuable: price and availability

Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Matt Evans)

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra will be available to buy on 24 July, and is available to pre-order now starting at $649 / £599 / AU$1,299. 

That makes it the most expensive Galaxy Watch yet – however, it’s cheaper than the Apple Watch Ultra, while filling a similar niche for Samsung users, and it’s cheaper than some of the best Garmin watches that fill the same niche. The Garmin Epix Pro, for example, falls firmly into Samsung and Apple’s “outdoor-orientated watch with a lovely screen” territory, and is more expensive than Samsung’s offering.

Samsung’s butter-smooth AMOLED screen and refresh rate are better than the Epix Pro’s, and for less money. If you can put up with recharging the watch a few times a week, and want access to Wear OS’s library of third-party apps, the Galaxy Watch Ultra is a very reasonable purchase at this price. 

Breaking the mold: design

Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Matt Evans)

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra shares its round-screen design with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 7. In fact, it’s the exact same screen as the 44mm version: a 480 x 480 full-color AMOLED with a Sapphire Crystal always-on display, with the option to switch it to a new infrared style Night mode. Whereas with the Apple Watch Ultra Apple attempted to transform the screen and make it bigger than ever, Samsung leaves a lot of real estate on the watch by declining to make that screen any larger than the biggest Watch 7 size, although I suppose sharing parts helps keep the costs down. 

The casing is made from scratch-proof titanium, while its thick silicone bands, redesigned especially for the Watch Ultra, are partially made from recycled plastics. That casing is fully dive-proof at IP68 10ATM ratings, and designed for extreme low and high temperatures to a “military grade” standard. 

While we certainly couldn’t take it up Everest or throw it in a fireplace during our testing process, I can confirm that it does feel satisfyingly weighty, and more “premium” than a regular aluminum Galaxy Watch, without being cumbersome, weighing in at 60g. Its battery caps out at 100 hours in low-power mode, according to my chat with Samsung’s VP of MX James Kitto, and lasts for “a couple of days” with moderate usage. 

Samsung’s usual two buttons let you cycle through options in the same way as they always have, and are used in conjunction with the powerful AMOLED touchscreen. However, we also have the Quick button now, which can be programmed to automatically start workouts, move onto other segments, or skip to the next workout profile with the new Multisports tile, for disciplines like triathlon. During my initial tests it all flowed very well and felt intuitive, and regular Samsung users will feel right at home despite the very different design. 

Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Matt Evans)

Samsung’s usual two buttons let you cycle through options in the same way as they always have, and are used in conjunction with the powerful AMOLED touchscreen. 

However, we also have the Quick button now, which can be programmed to automatically start workouts, move onto other segments, or skip to the next workout profile with the new Multisports tile, for disciplines like triathlon. During my initial tests it all flowed very well and felt intuitive, and regular Samsung users will feel right at home despite the very different design. 

Well equipped for the wilderness: features

Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Matt Evans)

There’s lots of new stuff to talk about here. The emergency siren (which I elected not to test in Samsung’s private testing room, in case I was tackled by a security guard) is apparently ear-splitting, designed to let you signal for help if you get into difficulties in the great outdoors. The aforementioned programmable Quick button can be programmed to kick off a workout straight away, and hikes, runs, swims and rides make use of that new precision dual-frequency GPS for added accuracy. 

Those GPS workouts make use of older features, such as the TrackBack functionality first introduced on the 5 Pro. This allows you to retrace your steps on a GPS-driven route, following directions until you return to the point at which you deviated from your intended course. Very useful. Dive mode, just like on the Apple Watch Ultra, comes with a water lock and a functionality to eject any water in the system, accompanied by a series of very conspicuous beeps (I did test this feature, clearly). 

Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Matt Evans)

Other features that are holdovers from previous years include health monitoring (with a new, upgraded Samsung BioActive sensor array) for heart rate, blood oxygen, heart rate variability, skin temperature, electrocardiogram heart health scans and body composition analysis using BIA, which estimates your ratio of fat to muscle to bone. I tried this and found the measurements within spitting distance of my last smart-scale measurement: a test I’ve tried before with Samsung watches. 

All this is powered by One UI Watch 6, Samsung’s Wear OS 5 skin, and the Samsung Health app. The latter is where much of the real magic happens in terms of health, with the app aggregating the information your smartwatch collects and processing it to offer you increased personalization and actionable insights into your health and fitness. Third-party apps on Wear OS also means that you can add lots of features and functionality to your watch that Samsung doesn’t offer as standard. Of course, I didn’t have time to test any of this during my brief hardware hands-on, so expect a more thorough breakdown as and when I update this review. 

Early verdict: enough bang for your buck?

Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Matt Evans)

While it’s cheaper than the Apple Watch Ultra, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra is still the most expensive Galaxy Watch by a long way, so the build quality and additional features need to reflect that. And the good news is that this does seem to be, in terms of specs, the best Galaxy Watch we’ve seen yet – although for this price I expected an upgraded screen rather than a recycled one from this year’s mainline Galaxy Watch.

Still, building a titanium tank of a watch doesn’t come cheap, and there’s plenty to dig into here when I get the chance to head out for some runs and hikes to properly put the watch through its paces. The bump in features, rugged aesthetics, boost in GPS and enhanced safety tools all sound great. 

My only concern, as it always is with smartwatches, is that damned battery life. I need a powerful watch that’s able to record multiple GPS workouts over several days on a single charge, and if the Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra struggles with that, then it may suffer the same pitfalls as its Apple namesake. 

Matt Evans
Fitness, Wellness, and Wearables Editor

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.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.