Apple Watch Ultra 1 vs. 2 Brightness: I tested them head-to-head, and here’s what I found

by | Oct 26, 2023

Apple recently released the Ultra 2, which they claims boasts a 50% increase in display brightness in certain conditions over its predecessor, the Ultra 1.

So, I put both devices in a head-to-head display brightness test in various lighting settings.

Feel free to watch the video below, or continue reading for a more in-depth review.

Apple Watch Ultra 1 vs. 2 Brightness Results

After various tests, it appears that the Apple Watch Ultra 1 is brighter in more environments than the Ultra 2, despite the 50% increase of nits.

Here’s what Apple has to say about the new display:

The biggest and brightest Apple Watch display ever. Powered by the all-new S9 SiP, the Always‑On Retina display is 3000 nits at its peak, making it even more readable in harsh sunlight. In low-light situations, it dims to 1 nit. Night Mode now activates automatically in the dark. The large display gives you room to customize your view to suit almost any activity. And a new watch face shows dynamic info like altitude, depth, or seconds along the outermost edges

Apple is careful with their words here. They say the Ultra 2 can reach 3,000 nits at its peak, making it easier to read in harsh sunlight.

There’s no mention of it performing better than the Ultra 1 in any other situation.

However, users can manually adjust their flashlight by rolling up on the digital crown, which will show off the Ultra 2’s 3,000 nit display.

Why the Ultra 1 is actually brighter

The reason the Ultra 1 appears brighter than the Ultra 2, in most cases, is because the Ultra 2 has a more advanced processor that allows it to dim its brightness depending on the environment.

However, the Ultra 1 is bright all the time, due to the watch not throttling back in situations where there’s less light.

This is why the Ultra 1 appears brighter.

The Display Test

When running the display brightness test, I made sure to set the Ultra 1 and Ultra 2 to full brightness (for all but one test).

Then, I tested both devices:

  • Inside an artificially lit room.
  • Outside on an overcast day (the best I could do).
  • Inside a garage with only naturally light.
  • Inside a completely dark room.
  • Flashlights.
  • Night mode on lowest brightness.

Inside an Artificially Lit Room

apple watch ultra 1 vs 2 inside artificially lit room

My findings in this test were nothing to write home about.

The displays on both the Ultra 1 and Ultra 2 look almost identical. I would go as far as to say the Ultra 1 looks a little bit brighter than the 2, but it is almost unnoticeable.

This could likely be due to the Ultra 2 dimming itself because it thinks this is a dim low-light environment.

What is for certain is there is no significant different in brightness between both screens.

Outside on an Overcast Day

apple watch ultra 1 vs 2 on an overcast day

With both devices outside under natural sunlight, I hoped the Ultra 2 would get to show off it’s high nit display.

However, you can see that’s clearly not the case here. Again, I would go as far as to say the Ultra 1 is just a touch brighter when under overcast with natural sunlight.

Perhaps it’s because it wasn’t sunny enough outside, but it is the best I could do.

I will update this article on the next sunny day we have.

Inside a Garage With Natural Light

apple watch ultra 1 vs 2 Inside a Garage With Natural Light

Taking the watches back inside, this time in my garage, with the lights off and the door open. 

Again, there is no discernible difference between them. Both seemed to perform exactly the same in this lighting.

Inside a Completely Dark Room

apple watch ultra 1 vs 2 Inside a Completely Dark Room

Next, I took the Ultra 1 and Ultra 2 inside a completely dark room to see the difference in display brightness.

According to Apple, the Ultra 2 dims itself to 1 nit while under low light, and that really showed.

You can see pretty clearly that the Ultra 1 shines bright as ever while under low light, making it very easy to see, while the Ultra 2 left me squinting while reading the screen.

Many users are claiming they have issues reading their Ultra 2 screen due to how dim it gets when it’s dark.


apple watch ultra 1 vs 2 flashlight comparison

The best way to see the true potential of the 3,000 nit display on the Ultra 2 is by using the flashlight.

When using the Ultra 2 flashlight, simply scroll up on the digital crown and the flashlight will show off it’s full capabilities.

As you can see in the picture above, there is a significant increase in brightness on the Ultra 2.

Night mode on lowest brightness

apple watch ultra 1 vs 2 night mode

Lastly, I turned the screens down to their lowest brightness setting and turned on night mode.

What stood out to me the most is the difference in color. The Ultra 1 had a slightly darker red color, while the Ultra 2 had a lighter, more orange shade to it.

I do have very good vision, so it may not be as noticeable to everyone.

Again, the Ultra 1 appeared a little brighter than the Ultra 2, but that is likely due to the Ultra 2 dropping to 1 nit in low/no-light settings, as it was designed to do.

My Thoughts on the Ultra 1 vs 2 Brightness 

With the Ultra 2 having 50% more nits, users will only really notice a difference on very harsh sunlight days, or when cranking up the brightness on their flashlight.

The Ultra 2 is now even harder to read in low light environments, which leaves me pondering whether or not I should ditch my Ultra 2 and start wearing my Ultra 1 again.

Many users have expressed their dissatisfaction with how difficult it is to read the screen at night.

I think a useful addition to accompany the brighter screen would be the ability to adjust it at will, but Apple doesn’t allow for that, yet.

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Ken Lynch

by Ken Lynch

Ken is a Technologist, Healthcare Data Analyst, and the owner and sole contributor to The Wearable Guy.

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