The Ultra’s new design means new room for new things, and Apple opted for new hardware buttons.
You can see it better in photos than I can write in a description. Buttons on the Watch’s right side (when worn as Apple intended, though you are software-allowed to wear the Watch upside down with the Digital Crown on the left side of the Watch) have been raised out and “protected” in a titanium housing. The Digital Crown is larger and turns inside this housing.
I don’t know if the titanium housing was created to improve mishap button presses in Series watches or if this is a style-first idea. I quite like the way the titanium housing sticks out to the side though — it kind of reminds me of the now-trendy Oris watch you see Aaron Boone wearing on the bench at Yankee games. Asymmetry seems to be a thing.
Pressing the buttons inside that housing is different than I remember the Series 4 Apple Watch I last had. The dock button clicks with perfection (and brings up the dock, which is a far cry better than the preferred contacts list it used to bring up way back when). But the Digital Crown button is a bit mushy. It spins wonderfully, to be sure. But actually clicking it provides less feedback than I’d like.
Another quick anecdote: We have a salt water spa in the backyard, in which I always bring the Watch Ultra. The Ultra measures water temperature, which has been really nice to have over my course of Watch Ultra ownership given an expectant wife and two young children. The water temperature always differs slightly between the gauge on the tub and the Watch; usually the Watch shows a degree (Fahrenheit) warmer. Interesting.
I’ll often venture into that salt water tub in the later evening and jump into bed shortly thereafter. If I don’t properly dry off the Digital Crown, I’ll notice it to be a little crusty in the morning once the salt has dried around the Crown.
On the far side is the new kid in town: the Action Button. It does a few new things, most of which will go unused by the majority of Ultra owners. The major ones you’ll want to pay attention to are the ability to fire a shortcut using the Action Button and, if you are a swimmer, perhaps you’ll opt to set your Action Button to the “Dive” functionality.
First, Shortcuts: Depending on the number of times you need to run a shortcut each day, there’s a good chance the Action Button can make quick work of it. For the first little while, I opted to set my Action Button to a “Toggle Focus” shortcut, which basically put all my devices into Do Not Disturb mode. Press once to turn on Do Not Disturb. Press again to turn off Do Not Disturb.
I found I only did this a few times a day, however.
So since then, I’ve opted for the “Dive” functionality given the salt water tub in the backyard. I assume the Watch has enough defensive mechanisms to ensure water doesn’t get inside even without the “Water Mode” turned on, but I’m not taking any chances. Plus, the fact the Ultra-exclusive Dive app provides water temperature is just a bonus.
I probably use the Action Button four or five times a day with this functionality. I like it. I don’t love it. I hope Apple provides more functionality options for the Action Button in the future.
If I could offer a solution to the Action Button now after a few months of use, it’d be to use the button to pull down Notification Center. As it is right now, you have to swipe with a bare finger from the top of the Watch, scroll with the Digital Crown, and then either flick up or click the Digital Crown to get rid of Notification Center. With all the cold weather we’re having, how nice would it be to hit the Action Button to bring down your notifications, scroll them with the crown, press another button to expand a notification and read the whole notification, and then press the Action Button to hide Notification Center once more? Maybe I’m the only guy on the planet who would find this useful, but I think I’d prefer to use the Action Button this way over any current option Apple provides.