Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 first look: Evolution not revolution

Hands-on with Samsung's very familiar new smartwatch
Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 first look
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Samsung's ability to make an attractive smartwatch has never been in doubt, and it's always matched up well to the Apple Watch and Google's Wear OS army.

So when Samsung switched to Wear OS for the Galaxy Watch 4 last year, it felt like a seismic move.

So the launch of the Galaxy Watch 5 is particularly interesting, to see how Samsung could push the platform forward once again.

As far as what we can tell from our early hands-on time with the Watch 5, we might be waiting a while longer to get those big Wear OS changes. But the Galaxy Watch 5 will be a force to be reckoned with for Android smartphone users.

We got hands on time with the new Galaxy Watch 5 – here's our points of view.

No big design changes

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 screen tech

Putting the Watch 5 side-by-side with the Watch 4 and it really is a case of spot the difference here.

There's 40mm ($299/£269 or $329/£319 with LTE) and 44mm ($329/£289 or $369/£339 with LTE), which are the same size options we got with the 4.

The design language feels the same, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but for anyone hoping for radical changes, prepare to be disappointed. There's still a sleek, metal case with two physical buttons and a typically sharp Samsung AMOLED display front and centre that can be used in an always-on mode.

It's the same size 1.2-inch and 1.4-inch screens as the corresponding Watch 4 models, with the same resolutions, so there's no massive improvements on that front.

You're also getting the same level of waterproofing on both of these watches, so they're fit to go swimming and can be submerged up to 50 metres depth.

The most notable change here is that Samsung has decided to add sapphire crystal on top of those screens to offer added protection against scratches.

Galaxy Watch 4 and 5 side by side

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

Unlike the Watch 4, there's no digital rotating bezel and it's not a huge surprise it's been phased out as a navigation feature as it felt like it held more value when Samsung was using Tizen instead of Wear OS. It's a shame it's gone, but things move on and it means interactions with the Watch 5 are much the same as what you'll find on a typical Wear OS smartwatch.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 thickness

Samsung is offering a nice mix of band options at least, including mesh and the cream silicone band (pictured) with dots of color above the lug connectors and on the buckle adjustment holes. It's going big on personalisation with a bespoke studio that will let you choose from over 1,000 combinations of case size, case color and strap to make the watch feel more unique.

The 44mm version still feels like the nicest size option, and fitted our slender wrist nicely – and could easily be a unisex model. Of course, if size is an issue then the 40mm is available, but there is a big trade-off in terms of usability. It's also smaller than the single case size option you can grab the Watch 5 Pro in.

While it's hardly a truly fashion-forward option, we're fans of the design – and now there's scope to switch up those bands looks, pick from a few case colors and you still get one of the best smartwatch displays in the business.

Where's the big Wear OS changes?

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 wear os 3.5

When you get into the nitty gritty of what the Galaxy Watch 5 can do and swipe through those screens, it's hard to see what's different here.

A Samsung spokesperson told Wareable that from a Wear OS point of view, it's going to feel familiar, and it definitely does.

It features an updated version of Samsung's One UI that lies on top of Google's latest Wear OS 3.5, but the look feels identical to what we got on the Watch 4.

It's still an Android-only smartwatch, and there's no chance of seeing iOS support added.

In terms of the OS, everything lives in the same place, Tiles (widgets) are still rich with information and the route to features like workout tracking remain the same.

Samsung's keen to highlight that you can now access Google Assistant which was missing on the GW4 for most of its lifespan. However, the watches we tested weren't paired up to phones to put the smart assistant to use.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 new workout modes

New sensor tech

Samsung still includes the same BioActive sensor, which means there's optical sensors once again to track heart rate, blood pressure and offer the ability to measure and analyse body composition.

There's still an ECG sensor giving you a smartwatch that can detect signs associated with serious heart condition atrial fibrillation. Apparently that sensor array covers a larger surface area to improve accuracy.

It's now also adding a temperature sensor that's an infrared based one, but curiously the company didn't acknowledge its presence or existence in our briefing, so we don't have a lot of information on how it will be put to use.

Samsung has added a new interval workout mode for runners, and it's delving deeper into recovery by offering real-time recovery tracking, which is provided 2-3 minutes after a cardio workout.

After those workouts it'll recommend fluid intake apparently based on sweat loss data.

Samsung is making a big deal about the new sleep features it's adding to the Watch 5 too, which look to be a lot of the same sleep features added to the Watch 4.

Look forward to deeper analysis into sleep habits, being assigned a sleep animal and the ability to follow month-long programs to help improve that sleep time.

Bigger battery life promises

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 rear view

Samsung says the Watch 5 will offer better battery life than the Watch 4, though will still likely be good for a couple of day's use.

So while there's a bigger battery and a few hours extra use, in real terms it's only really good for a couple of days use.

Both size versions of the Watch 5 will be good for 50 hours with wireless charging supported and USB-C charging available. That brings a new quick charging mode that gets you from 8 hours of battery from 8 minutes of charging.

Galaxy Watch 5: Early verdict

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 First look: Waiting for a Wear OS thrill

Samsung has largely stuck to the same design from the Watch 4 on the Watch 5 – and that's OK. There's a lot to like there and the added sapphire crystal does mean it should mean the screen is more durable.

What's more disappointing is that Samsung doesn't seem to have a great deal to shout about from a software, and particularly a Wear OS, point of view.

It's a year on from debuting on the Watch 4 with de-facto exclusivity on the revamped OS it helped to shape.

With Google's own smartwatch on the way and other Wear OS 3-packing watches set to emerge from the likes of Oppo and Mobvoi before the year is out, is Samsung's smartwatch going to still stand out? It will be tougher - especially with the Pixel Watch landing this Fall.

Right now, the Galaxy Watch 5 doesn't feel like a massive upgrade on the Watch 4. We'll reserve full judgement though when it's on our wrist for a bit longer, and learn how that temperature sensor will be utilized.