Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 review: Still the Android king

A solid smartwatch for Android users - but not a major leap forward
Samsung Galaxy Watch 5
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The Galaxy Watch 5 represents Samsung's second go-around with the revamped Google Wear OS, after the two forces combined last year to deliver a more serious smartwatch experience.

While the Galaxy Watch 4 was a relative success, it wasn't without its drawbacks. And now, with Samsung's Tizen OS platform firmly in the past, the latest generation arrives once again arrives to showcase the very best of Google's current software.

It remains reasonably priced for a top-end smartwatch, with the cheapest Galaxy Watch 5 coming in at $299/£269 and the LTE version priced a little less than the newest Apple Watch.

Is it one of the best smartwatches you can buy, or is it one to avoid? Here's our comprehensive take on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5
By Samsung
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 remains the best smartwatch for Android users, thanks to the improved Wear OS 3. But the changes between it and the Galaxy Watch 4 are so small that this isn't one to rush to upgrade to. If you're an Android phone owner looking for a smartwatch that actually behaves like one, it's still a great option. If you're looking for a mix of smart and fitness skills, though, there are better options elsewhere.

  • Good core smartwatch features
  • Bustling app store
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Some good fitness tracking elements
  • Not hugely different from Watch 4
  • Battery life worse than Pro model
  • Still an average sports watch

A minor upgrade

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 on wrist

We're fortunate to still have the Galaxy Watch 4 in our possession, and it really is a case of spotting the difference here. These watches are pretty much identical. There are some differences, but they're very minor in the grand scheme of things.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, as we did like the old-gen design, but, for anyone hoping for big changes, you're going to be disappointed.

You're still getting the choice of 40mm and 44mm case sizes, with both sizes available in Bluetooth and LTE models and featuring an aluminum case instead of the titanium one included on the bigger Galaxy Watch 5 Pro.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 v Galaxy Watch 5 design

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 (left) and Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (right)

You can remove the bands, but the style of lug connectors means you're going to get the best fit with Samsung's own official bands. We actually had a very nice blue band, but had to abandon it as it was too big, and instead swapped in the new D-Buckle strap Samsung included with the Watch 5 Pro.

There are still two flat physical buttons on the right side of the case, and, while the sensor array around the back looks the same, it's now slightly raised, which seems to improve contact with the skin.

Things have changed in the screen department, too, with Samsung swapping Gorilla Glass for a sapphire crystal to help make the display more scratch-proof.

We can't say the Watch 4's screen ever felt at great risk of getting scratched, but it's always to see things being upped in the durability department.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 v Galaxy Watch 5 Pro design

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (left) and Galaxy Watch 5 Pro (right)

Samsung has retained the digital bezel present in the Watch 4, which has evolved from the rotating one that featured on its older Tizen smartwatches.

You can still swipe your finger around the edge of the screen, and the small haptic vibrations will let you know you've made good contact with it. It also means you can easily scroll through Tiles (Wear OS widgets), or scroll up and down the app screen if you're not a fan of swiping across the display.

It feels like a feature that's stuck around for loyal Samsung smartwatch fans, but it doesn't feel like it adds much value with Wear OS running the software show now.

That display on the 44mm Watch 5 we had to test is a 1.4-inch, 450 x 450 resolution Super AMOLED, while the 40mm version packs a 1.2-inch, 396 x 396 Super AMOLED screen. Those are the exact same screens found on the corresponding Galaxy Watch 4 models.

You're still getting an exceptionally bright display with accurate colors, and it really elevates animated elements in the UI like watch faces and Tiles. There is an always-on display mode, as well, which is accompanied by raise-to-wake gesture support that can often feel a little slow in operation.

The water resistance rating remains the same as the Galaxy Watch 4, also, which means you can keep it on in the shower and swim with it up to 50 meters in depth.

Living with Wear OS 3.5

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Wear OS

The Galaxy Watch 5 runs on Wear OS 3.5, with Samsung's Watch UI laid on top of it. That same Wear OS 3.5 has since rolled out to the Galaxy Watch 4, and we can't say there's actually any really noticeable difference between what we experienced on that watch and this one.

We've been using it while paired up with a Samsung smartphone, which means you have all of the key apps at your disposal to get the most out of the Watch 5. That's the Galaxy Wearable, Samsung Health and Samsung Health Monitor apps.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 on wrist

On the watch, the software looks great and feels slick. Swiping up, down and left to right from the main watch face gets you to those key parts of the operating system. Down below is the app screen where you'll find a mix of Google and Samsung apps, and things like Samsung Pay, Google Maps and the Galaxy Buds controller app are all present.

Accessing and downloading apps from the Google Play Store from the watch isn't as fiddly as it might first look, either, and we managed to quickly search for things like Google Wallet and Spotify.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 notifications

The most notable new Google addition is Google Assistant, which is a massive upgrade on Samsung's own Bixby in terms of responsiveness. We actually found it useful to have available to ask about the weather or events that are coming up in your calendar.

Samsung's approach to letting you view and interact with notifications has always been a highlight, letting you respond quickly to a message or letting you view images that have been shared in messages - and that doesn't change here.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Spotify

You have roughly 7GB of the 16GB of storage included, which means a fair amount of room for things like pictures and, of course, music. There are Spotify and YouTube Music apps to let you store playlists offline (as long as you're paying up for those streaming services).

We used it with Spotify's Wear OS 3 app, and it felt great to use. If you're just controlling music playing on your smartphone, that's supported very well, too.

Samsung does also offer LTE connectivity at an added price here, as well, but that's not something we had to put to the test.

Ultimately, the experience of using the Galaxy Watch 5 as a smartwatch is very good overall. When you compare it to what you can currently experience on the Galaxy Watch 4, it's barely any different.

Still not a sports tracking powerhouse

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 sports tracking

We've always felt that Samsung's smartwatches have been okay sports watches and more reliable fitness trackers, and the Galaxy Watch 5 doesn't really alter our opinion on that front.

As a sports watch, you've got Samsung's own native app and also access to third-party apps. That native app certainly looks good, but, performance-wise, it's definitely hit-and-miss and doesn't feel like the most intuitive app to use.

It covers things like walking, running and swimming (pool and open water), with modes also present for indoor workouts like the exercise bike and boxing. Samsung includes a running coach for those looking to make speed and endurance improvements with their running.

There's also some automatic exercise tracking support offered for workouts like walking and running, and there's rep counting as well for some activities like crunches and press-ups.

We did some running, indoor rowing and cardio workouts, finding the experience to all be very familiar. GPS tracking wasn't always super accurate, heart rate tracking was fine for steady-paced workouts and your best bet is to use a third-party app to track your workouts instead of Samsung's own.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 running tracking test

GPS tracking compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (left and center) and Garmin Epix 2 (right)

On outdoor runs against the Garmin Epix 2, distance tracking came up short on all runs - likely due to Garmin's very accurate multiband tracking mode. Metrics like average pace, though, seemed generally consistent, while heart rate average and maximum readings weren't far off a Garmin HRM-Pro chest strap on steady-paced runs.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 heart rate tracking test

Exercise HR compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro (left) and Garmin Epix 2 with chest strap (right)

Post-run data in the Samsung Health app also breaks down advanced running metrics like contact time, flight time and asymmetry, using a simple, color-coded system to indicate whether they were good, great or needing improvement.

You're now also getting an estimated sweat loss reading, generated during runs only and needing heart rate to be measured for 80% of the workout time.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 sweat loss comparison

It also looks at body size, age, gender and workout intensity to deliver those estimates. So, on a 50-minute run, it said we'd lost 890ml of sweat and needed to drink 1,335ml to replace 150% of that loss in moisture and sweat. Handy.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 treadmill tracking comparison

Treadmill tracking compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (left and center) and Garmin Epix 2 (right)

Heading indoors for some treadmill time, you're turning to the accelerometer motion sensors to track the running action. Distance tracking was, again, quite far off our calibrated Garmin Epix 2, while heart rate data was 10bpm higher compared to a chest strap monitor - with a big difference in maximum readings, as well. Those estimated sweat loss readings aren't generated when you run indoors, either.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 rowing machine test

Indoor rowing data compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (left) and Garmin Epix 2 (right)

Moving away from runs, we put the Watch 5 to the indoor rowing test, which, like cheaper smartwatches, doesn't offer activity-specific metrics like stroke counts or average pace. Instead, you'll get data like workout duration and heart rate data, which fell roughly in line with a heart rate monitor chest strap.

Samsung has promised a new real-time recovery mode that kicks into action a few minutes after a cardio workout, though it didn't seem to be in operation for us when we put the Watch 5 to the cardio test.

There is still that odd quirk that seems to persist with Samsung's sports tracking, and that's the inability to recognize when you've accidentally recorded very short workouts - and it doesn't offer a quick way to delete them. It's not a dealbreaker, but that doesn't make it any less annoying.

Flipping over to fitness tracking, this is where Samsung's smartwatch feels more comfortable. It can track elements such as step counts reliably, let you know when you've been inactive, and there's a heart-shaped widget to follow your progress during the day.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 step tracking

Step tracking compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (left) and Oura Ring 3 (right)

Samsung has sought to improve things on the sleep tracking front, as well, adding new sleep coaching features once you've logged enough sleep time to access them.

These same features, like following 4-week plans and being assigned a sleeping animal, have rolled out to the Galaxy Watch 4 already, so this isn't something you're gaining over the older Samsung smartwatch.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 sleep tracking

Sleep tracking compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (left and center) and Oura Ring 3 (right)

Accuracy-wise, we've been wearing the Watch 5 alongside the Oura Ring 3, and found that data (like total sleep duration and actual sleep times) was very similar. Sleep stage breakdowns were roughly in the same ballpark. Overall, it's a solid sleep tracker, and the watch itself is comfortable to wear in bed and doesn't feel bulky.

As we said, our feelings haven't really changed about Samsung's approach to sports and fitness tracking. It's definitely better suited to the latter, and you can get a richer level of sports tracking from rivals like Huawei and Amazfit for less money.

Bringing more of a Fitbit influence into the Wear OS experience might not necessarily improve that, but it might make fitness and sleep tracking more engaging and meaningful.

A powerful health watch

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 blood oxygen

Something Samsung does greatly have in its favor is what it can offer in terms of serious health monitoring. This is a smartwatch that can track heart rate, blood oxygen and stress, and will eventually track temperature when Samsung puts its infrared-based sensor live.

If you own a Samsung smartphone, you also have access to the Health Monitor app to take and record ECG readings, which are used to help detect signs associated with atrial fibrillation. You can also use that app to capture blood pressure data, once you've calibrated the watch with a blood pressure sensor and continue to do so on regular basis..

Those sensors make up Samsung's BioActive sensor setup, which also includes a BIA sensor to additionally analyze body composition like a set of smart scales. These same features appeared on the Watch 4, but Samsung says it's increased the surface area of that sensor on the Watch 5 to deliver improved accuracy.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 heart rate monitoring

Daily HR compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (left) and Garmin Epix 2 (right)

Delving into data like continuous heart rate, we found that continuous heart rate data and resting heart rate insights at time 1-2BPM out from Garmin's reliable tracking, though, on some occasions, resting heart rate felt abnormally low.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 blood oxygen comparison test

Blood oxygen tracking during sleep: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (left) and Oura Ring 3 (right)

The Watch 5 can also continually track blood oxygen levels, and we compared data insights with the Oura Ring 3 during the sleep period and Samsung's smartwatch did suggest blood oxygen levels had dropped at times overnight. On-the-spot readings against a pulse oximeter also indicated lower blood oxygen levels, as well.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 BMI data

BMI data compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (left and centre) and Garmin smart scales (right)

We put the body composition analysis to the test against a set of Garmin smart scales to see how data like weight, body fat and skeletal muscle matched up. You still need to input your current weight to use this feature, and we found measurements like BMI and skeletal muscle mass similar but not identical to readings from a set of scales.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 review

The way you'll use the ECG sensor and blood pressure monitoring remains the same, requiring Samsung's Health Monitor app to access them. You take an ECG reading by placing fingers on the electrodes hidden in the top physical button. After that, it will classify the measurement. We compared readings to a clinical-grade pulse oximeter, and the readings were very accurate on the whole.

Blood pressure monitoring still requires calibration with a cuff-style blood pressure monitor, though, and you'll be notified when that calibration has expired in the Health Monitor app.

Comparing data captured by a Kinetik blood pressure monitor, we found a replication of the experience we had on the Watch 4, whereby taking measurements often takes a number of attempts and SYS and DIA numbers didn't always match up to a blood pressure monitor days after from performing that calibration.

The battery life is still a major issue

The Galaxy Watch 4 and even the Galaxy Watch 3 managed to last for a maximum of a couple of days - and that hasn't changed with the Watch 5. It'll give you a solid day, while the power-saving mode will provide you with that little bit extra without sacrificing all features. The same features, like using GPS and turning the screen to always-on, have a similar drain to what we experienced with its predecessor.

Samsung quotes 40 hours, and that's what we'd say we got in our testing. With a mix of notifications, continuous health and sleep monitoring, GPS-based workouts and taking on-the-spot body composition and heart rate readings, we saw battery drop off to around 30% when using it from around 9am with 100% battery.

The drop-off in the battery life when using features like GPS is similar to what we experienced with the Watch 4. It was a 10% dip for roughly an hour of running, which would suggest about 10 hours of GPS battery life.

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, in comparison, comfortably manages two days and a bit extra, so that is something you're missing out on here with the standard model.

You do have that good power saving mode, though, which does keep a lot of features still in use and doesn't simply leave you with a blank watch face to stare at. Samsung has also switched to a USB-C style charging cable, which is still connected to a small circular cradle and will get you up to 45% battery of a 30-minute charge.