Apple Watch Series 8, SE, and Ultra: Everything you need to know

From the Series 8's temperature sensor to the SE's faster performance to the Ultra's extreme durability, here's what you need to know.

With new iPhones come new Apple Watches, and Apple didn’t break that tradition today when it hosted its annual September event. Alongside the iPhone 14 series, the company took the wraps off its new Apple Watch Series 8. It also unveiled a new version of the Apple Watch SE, as well as the rugged Apple Watch Ultra. Here’s everything you need to know about each new model.

Apple Watch Series 8

Apple Watch Series 8 in Midnight and Gold

The Series 8 is probably the most boring update out of the new lineup, simply because of how similar it is to the Series 7. Apple isn’t introducing a new design or screen sizes with this generation – in fact, there’s only one major hardware difference between the new model and last year’s: a temperature sensor.

Temperature sensing on the Apple Watch Series 8 uses a dual-sensor setup. One is placed on the back of the watch so it’s close to your skin, while a second is just under the display to reduce bias from the outside environment. The sensors can be used to generally track your body’s temperature like when you’re sleeping, but it seems that Apple is positioning it more as an important part of women’s health than anything.

Apple Watch Series 8 ovulation tracking with temperature sensor and iPhone

With the temperature sensor, the Series 8 can get a better idea of ovulation. It’s able to deliver retrospective ovulation estimates as well as improved period predictions. Cycle Tracking users can also receive notifications if they experience a possible deviation, like irregular or prolonged periods and persistent spotting. This can help your doctor diagnose underlying health conditions.

A lot of people had assumed the temperature sensor in the Series 8 would be used for things like fever detection when you’re sick. Whether the sensor could work for something like that is beyond me, but at least for now, that feature isn’t supported.

Apple Watch Series 8 car crash detection

The Apple Watch Series 8 also ships with Crash Detection, which uses a variety of sensors inside the watch to detect whether you’ve experienced a car crash and emergency services are needed. Apple provides a solid rundown of how the feature works in its press release.

To enable Crash Detection, Apple developed an advanced sensor-fusion algorithm that leverages a new, more powerful gyroscope and accelerometer on Apple Watch, which now has the highest dynamic range accelerometer in any smartwatch. To create the algorithm, data was collected from these new motion sensors at professional crash test labs with common passenger cars in simulated real-world accidents, including head-on, rear-end, side-impact, and rollovers. In addition to motion data, Crash Detection uses the barometer, GPS, and the microphone on iPhone as inputs to detect the unique patterns that can indicate whether a severe crash has taken place.

When Apple Watch detects a severe car crash, the device will check in with the user and dial emergency services if they are unresponsive after a 10-second countdown. Emergency responders will receive the user’s device location, which is also shared with the user’s emergency contacts. When combined, Crash Detection on Apple Watch and iPhone work seamlessly to get users help efficiently. When a severe car crash is detected, the emergency services call interface will appear on Apple Watch, as it is most likely to be in closer proximity to the user, while the call is placed through iPhone if it is in range for the best possible connection.

In addition, the new Series 8 comes with Low Power Mode out of the box, which delivers up to 36 hours of battery life when your iPhone is nearby. The mode disables or limits features like the always-on display, workout autostart, heart health notifications, and more to eek out endurance, so it’ll be interesting to see how much of a difference it really makes. Apple is also throwing in international roaming, which lets you connect to cellular networks when you leave the US through your phone’s plan.

Other than that, this is the Apple Watch we all know and love. It comes in two sizes: 41mm and 45mm. The AMOLED displays are exactly the same as before, there’s an S8 processor that’s basically the S7 with a couple of tweaks, it runs watchOS 9, and it comes in both aluminum and stainless steel finishes.

I can tell you right off the bat, if you have an Apple Watch Series 7, you do not need this watch at all.

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch SE 2022 in various styles

On the other hand, anyone with an Apple Watch older than a Series 5 might want to look into the second-generation Apple Watch SE, which was also announced today.

It looks exactly like the previous SE but with a redesigned back case that’s made of a nylon composite material for a lighter chassis. Inside, you’ll find the same S8 chip as the Series 8 so you’ll get identical performance, and it comes with the same Crash Detection and international roaming as the more expensive model.

The watch still ships in 40mm and 44mm sizes, and it’s an obvious call to those who still have an Apple Watch Series 3 to finally get them to upgrade.

Apple Watch Ultra

Apple Watch Ultra from right

Finally, there’s the Apple Watch Ultra, and it’s by far the biggest “upgrade” to the Apple Watch since the original debuted in 2015.

I put “upgrade” in quotes because to some, this will definitely be seen as an upgrade. Others won’t have the same resonance because it isn’t designed for them. The Apple Watch Ultra is geared to those who demand more from their smartwatch – folks who need their watch to be extremely durable, reliable, and long-lasting. We saw Samsung do this back in August with the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, and now, it’s Apple’s turn.

Apple Watch Ultra Action button view

Right off the bat, this watch looks a lot different than other Apple Watches. The Ultra boasts aerospace-grade titanium for its 49mm body, which rises to the top and protects the edges of the flat sapphire crystal display. Speaking of which, that display is nearly two inches diagonally, making it the largest Apple Watch ever.

The screen gets up to 2,000 nits bright which is twice as bright as any previous Apple Watch, and it can show a ton of granular detail and information. On the right, there’s a larger Digital Crown with improved sensitivity, a crown protector around it, and a raised side button below it so that it can be pressed when wearing gloves. On the left, Apple includes a new Action button in a high-contrast orange which can be customized to do things like activate workouts, log your distance while hiking, bring up a compass, and more. There’s also improved speakers with a second driver for louder volume, as well as better mics that are better in windy environments.

Apple Watch Ultra diving

Of course, the ultra-durable exterior is just the tip of the iceberg for the Apple Watch Ultra. Apple has loaded lots of features into this watch for all types of fitness enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and anyone who generally goes a bit harder than the rest. During its presentation, it went over three areas where the Apple Watch Ultra shines, and I’m gonna try to sum them all up along with each of their respective features in bulletin points. Here we go.

  • “Endurance Sports and Elite Athletes”: For the marathoners out there that go the distance, the Apple Watch Ultra can give you a much more precise idea of your location using L5 GPS frequency. A variety of running metrics like Stride Length, Ground Contact, Vertical Oscillation, and Running Power help to flesh out the details of your latest venture, and there are a handful of new at-a-glance workout views so you can keep tabs on how you’re doing. Apple is also including a new auto-detecting Multisport workout for triathlons, duathlons, or any multi-activity workout that involve swimming, biking, or running.
  • “Explorers”: For anyone who wants to explore the wilderness on the regular, Apple promotes its new Compass app in watchOS 9 which gives you more in-depth information. Compass Waypoints can help you mark a location or point of interest directly in the app, and you can use the Action button to do so on the fly. There’s also Backtrack, which can record the route you took through the woods or up a mountain using the GPS and help you retrace your steps when you want to go back. Apple also includes an 86-decibel siren for emergencies, extreme operating temperatures of -4° F (-20° C) to 131° F (55° C), MIL-STD-810H certification, and a special mode that turns the interface red so it’s easier to see in the dark.
  • “Ocean and Water Sports Enthusiasts”: The Apple Watch Ultra is also really good for anyone who spends a ton of time in the ocean. The design is certified to WR100, which is twice the rating of previous Apple Watches and means it can go down to 100 meters. It’s also EN 13319 certified which is an important metric for a lot of diving gear. There’s a new Depth app that displays the time, your current depth, duration under water, and more so you can keep track of all your dives. Apple also announced a partnership with Huish Outdoors to develop a new Oceanic+ app that turns the Apple Watch Ultra into a full-blow dive computer, which is pretty insane.

The Apple Watch Ultra also offers all of the normal Apple Watch features like blood oxygen monitoring, the temperature sensor from Series 8, Cycle Tracking, ECGs, Crash Detection, and the typical watchOS experience. It also comes with up to 60 hours of battery life with Low Power Mode, the most for any Apple Watch to date.

Rounding things off, the Apple Watch Ultra is compatible with three new band styles built for different purposes: the Trail Loop, the Alpine Loop, and the Ocean Band. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Ultra will work with previous 42-45mm Apple Watch bands, although the fit might be a little off.

Pricing and availability

Apple Watch Series 8, SE, Ultra

The Apple Watch Series 8 will start at $399 for the GPS models and $499 for LTE. Meanwhile, the second-generation starts at $249 for GPS and $279 for LTE. The Apple Watch Ultra will ship with LTE by default and cost $799.

The Series 8, SE, and Ultra are all available to preorder starting today. The Series 8 and SE launch September 16th, while the Ultra lands on September 23rd.