Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: Our updated 2021 test

UPDATED: The Active 2 is getting better with age
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
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The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 smartwatch launched back in 2019, and it's still a hugely significant part of the Galaxy Watch range.

Update: It's since been replaced by the Galaxy Watch 4, which adds more features and returns to Wear OS for a far superior app selection.

Even though the company has since launched the Galaxy Watch 3, the older Active 2 has recently received many of its flagship's best features including ECG, blood pressure monitoring and improved sports tracking features. It's still one of the best smartwatches for Android users, more so than even more recent Wear OS smartwatches.

That's why we've updated our review of the Active 2. After two years, a bunch of new features and a huge drop in price – is the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 actually a better purchase than ever?

Read on to find out.

This review was first published in October 2019. It's been completely overhauled in March 2021 based on a series of new features launched. The star rating has remained unchanged.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: Price and competition

And that makes the Active 2 a seriously interesting proposition. In terms of price, the 40mm model of the Active 2 (with Bluetooth only) is priced at £269, while the larger 44mm model comes in at £269.

That means it has cutting edge health features, unisex sizing and a sport focused design – at a mid-range price. And it's regularly discounted by retailers. At the time of writing the Active 2 44mm is available on Amazon for just £199.99, which is an incredible price for the set of features.

If you want LTE/4G connectivity, that pushes the price up to £399. That's available for both models. There's even an Under Armour edition, just to add to the number of options on offer.

So how does that stack up?

Taking its full price, it's far cheaper than the Galaxy Watch 3 despite offering nearly the same features. It's also cheaper than the ECG-offering Apple Watch Series 6 and Fitbit Sense. It's also a better smartwatch than the Fitbit Versa 3 and Sense, although Samsung Health is no-where near as strong.


Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: Design

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 design

If you want a Samsung smartwatch, but you don't want something that's looks bulky on the wrist, the Active is what you go for. Unlike the first instalment, Samsung decided to offer the Active 2 in 40mm and 44mm sizes.

This matches the Apple Watch Series 6 and SE for size, and it means those with smaller wrists have a choice that should offer a comfy fit.

Whichever size you go for, you're getting a watch with a streamlined design, no big bezel and a softer, circular frame that lives far more discreetly on the wrist.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 Tizen OS menu

It's still got a top notch 1.2-inch AMOLED touchscreen display, which is still one of the best displays you'll find on a smartwatch. It's a touchscreen, but that's aided by the signature rotating bezel, which is used to scroll through menus without having to stab at the small screen with your finger. It was returned to the Active 2 after being omitted from the original Active, and we're big fans.

The case has a slightly more elegant feel to it, while the grill on the side now indicates we have a speaker to play with. The design of the sensor array on the back has changed, too, but we'll get more into why that might be later.

You also get a swappable comfortable sporty silicone strap, which is suitable for getting sweaty. This is significant, because the Galaxy Watch 3 only comes with a leather option despite having a full suite of fitness tracking.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: Fitness tracking

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 fitness tracking

The fitness tracking was a bit of a surprise hit for us on the first Active. It doesn't do anything we haven't already seen on other fitness tracking smartwatches or dedicated fitness trackers. But it's all packaged together in a really nice way that will make you more intrigued to count your steps and generally be on the move more.

Your attention will be immediately drawn to the heart-shaped riff on the Apple Watch rings, which is a swipe away from the main watch screen. The idea is to fill up all three segments of that heart by burning calories, clocking up workout minutes and logging hours you've remained active for during the day.

Is it as engaging as Apple's fitness tracking UI? Maybe not, but it does the same job and it does offer a quick way to check your progress through the day.

The more impressive aspect is what Samsung has done with the times when you become inactive. Like other trackers, it focuses on keeping you moving every hour of the day. If you haven't, it'll tell you by flashing up an animation and prompt a series of short exercises you can do to change that. When you get up after staying inactive for a while, it'll congratulate you on deciding to make a move.

It's all the same good stuff we got on the first Active and we're glad it's still as effective in keeping us active throughout the day, and not just for that lunchtime gym workout.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 steps accuracy

Step tracking compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 (left) and Garmin fitness tracker (right)

As far as accuracy is concerned, we put it up against fitness tracking features on a Garmin watch, and above is a snapshot of the kind of data we received. There was usually around a 100 step difference between the two trackers, which is very good going.

These two trackers are never going to deliver identical numbers, since they use different algorithms to interpret the motion sensors measuring your movement during the day, but there was never anything in the step tracking data that suggested the Active 2 was wildly off the mark for us.

The Samsung's calorie burn data was also reliable, and in line with comparisons with Fitbit and Apple Watch testing.

When you're not moving, the Active 2 is a decent sleep tracker. Sleep monitoring is done automatically, and its ability to do that has come on leaps and bounds from the early days. Like your steps, sleep data is stored inside the Samsung Health phone app. You can view last night's sleep by going to the Samsung Health screen on your watch, too.

However, we imagine you'll be going to the phone app to see how you got on. From there, you see data like Total Sleep Time on a graph, along with aspects like efficiency.

The on-board heart rate monitor can also produce sleep stage data, though occasionally we were met with a message that our watch couldn't get a consistent heart rate reading, so this was usually left blank.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 sleep tracking

Sleep tracking compared: Samsung (left), Garmin (centre) and Withings (right)

We used it against the same Garmin fitness tracker and the Withings Sleep monitor, and, generally, found that the Active 2 produced pretty consistent results with those two other devices.

It served up similar times when we'd fallen asleep and woken up, and it was a similar story for duration. The core sleep tracking numbers looked good, though the Active 2 lacks in offering more actionable insights.

It's still a more complete sleep tracking offering than Apple's in 2021, although watchOS does have third party apps worth playing with. However, it doesn't compare with the experience

While the Galaxy Wearable app is where you can tinker with watch settings and do things like access the app store, you need Samsung Health downloaded too to track your health and fitness progress.

Our thoughts about Samsung Health haven't really changed. On the surface, it looks like a nice app, but using it still feels a bit archaic and finding the data you care about is far less intuitive than, say, in the Fitbit companion app.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: Sports tracking

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 activity ring

When you stick the word 'Active' in your name, you're saying that you're built for getting sweaty with. In the case of this smartwatch, it's got pretty much everything you need to get your through a HIIT workout or your weekend training run.

Built-in GPS, a heart rate monitor, a swim-proof design and swim-tracking. The 40mm version is a better fit for workouts than the Galaxy Watch, in our eyes, and the experience of using it in the gym or on an adventure hasn't dramatically changed. That has its good and bad points.

Read this: Understanding the running stats on your smartwatch

Let's start with the good points. As far the actual sports tracking is concerned, it's really easy to do. Swipe to the workout tracking screen on the watch, find your activity and get tracking.

The real-time metrics are easy to view on the crisp display, you have access to your music controls and you can hit the physical button to stop the session, then hit the Finish to sync it.

The problem comes when you need to review the data later on the watch. Samsung makes it pretty much impossible to locate where that information lies after the initial workout summary. It's there, but you have to work to find it. Workout summaries should be better presented on the Active.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 running accuracy

Run tracking compared: Samsung (left and centre) and Garmin Forerunner 945 (right)

The sample outdoor run data above shows that the Active reported a slightly longer run (0.3 miles longer) than one tracked by the Garmin Forerunner 945 – but well within an acceptable error margin.

For swimming, it recorded a longer workout than the Form Swim Goggles, but measured the same distance. Again, impressive accuracy in the pool.

Another aspect of sports tracking is simply letting the watch detect when you're working out with the automatic exercise recognition. We tried this out with a few rowing machine sessions, and we found it was successful in recognising the activity.

Generally, though, it would add a couple of extra minutes onto the session, and it only records workout duration and calorie information, nothing else.

It's certainly a nice feature to have, and is more useful for when you're out walking, but if you have the chance to manually track, then definitely take that option.

And since the launch, Samsung has brought over features it introduced on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3.

You now get access to advanced running metrics like ground contact balance and vertical oscillation that you'd usually need an additional sensor to generate. It also provides VO2 Max scores to get a better sense of you current level of fitness.

There's just about the right balance in performance and features, that should satisfy most looking for a smartwatch that behaves like a competent sports watch.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: Heart rate accuracy

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 heart rate accuracy

Heart rate tracking compared: Samsung (left and centre) and Polar H10 chest strap monitor (right)

If you look at the back of the Active 2, the makeup of the heart rate monitor looks very different to the one on the first. That's due to the heart-centric features that have now started to roll out on the Active 2.

Right now, the optical sensor is there to offer continuous heart rate monitoring during the day, stress tracking and data from workouts. For daily readings, it was pretty consistent with what we picked up with the heart rate monitor packed into the Forerunner 945.

We also slipped on a Polar H10 heart rate monitor chest strap to see how those resting measurements shaped up, and we were pretty satisfied with what we got here.

It's during workouts, as always, where we were most intrigued to see how the sensor fared. Could it handle things when the intensity went up a notch? The answer to that question is, mostly, yes.

Our way of testing this was to jump on a treadmill with a chest strap paired to a sports watch and go through 30 minutes of running intervals. That way, we could clearly see how the Active 2's sensor handled the sudden drops and spikes, as we slowed down, rested and picked up the pace again.

What we found is that average heart rate and max heart rate readings tended to be 5BPM higher on the Active 2 compared to a chest strap. Looking at the graphs, the wrist-based sensor took a little longer to get back up recover from the rest periods.

Heart rate zones were generally consistent, but, like a lot of heart rate monitors in watches, it's not going to give you the supremely accurate story of your most intense workouts.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: ECG and blood pressure monitoring

Galaxy Watch Active 2 ECG app

Blood pressure monitoring and ECG has just rolled out onto the Active 2, filtering down from the flagship after clearing regulators in the US and Europe. It's still not worldwide, but is rolling out pretty quickly.

This is a massive addition, as it brings the Active 2 into the same conversation as the Apple Watch Series 6 and Fitbit Sense as a health watch – but at a far lower price.

But it's not quite as simple as just slapping the watch on and taking a reading. First, to take advantage of the feature you'll need to have a Samsung smartphone, as it requires the Samsung Health Monitor app.

And then, you will also need a blood pressure cuff to validate the readings, which will have to repeated every month.

Galaxy Watch Active 2 blood pressure

Blood pressure monitoring

The calibration process is pretty straightforward, but it's worth putting some time aside to get everything up and running. After that's done, you can launch the Samsung Health Monitor app on your watch and take reading a bit like you'd take an on the spot heart rate reading.

After calibrating, we took numerous readings with the Active 2 and then with the blood pressure monitor. While data wasn't 100% identical, systolic numbers, diastolic numbers were at most 1-2 out from the cuff monitor.

ECG monitor

That Samsung Health Monitor app is also where you now find the ability to take ECG readings, which has approved in over 30 countries including the US and UK.

Much like the ECG sensor on the Apple Watch, this more accurate method of heart rate monitoring can classify your heart rate and detect signs of the heart rate irregularity atrial fibrillation.

Galaxy Watch Active 2 ECG READING

ECG compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 (left and centre) and Apple Watch Series 6 (right)

After the 30-second reading where you'll need to place your finger over the top physical button on the watch and it will generate a reading. The information is synced to the Samsung Health Monitor app where you can view readings by classification and view trends.

You can also share the data in PDF form. From an accuracy point of view, we compared it to the heart rate monitoring on our blood pressure monitor and the Apple Watch Series 6. There was a maximum of 1bpm difference between the three devices.

Along with ECG and blood pressure monitoring, Samsung has now also delivered fall detection feature that can identify when users have taken a serious fall and potentially set off alerts and alarms. Again, it's a feature that seeks to mirror what the Apple Watch is capable of, but it's also another feature you'll have to wait for.

As a health monitoring device, it's not only matching what Apple can offer, it's also offering more and it's doing it for less.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: Smartwatch features

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 Samsung Pay

We've spoken a lot about the Active 2's health and fitness tracking prowess, but it's a smartwatch at heart, bringing all of the good stuff Samsung has done with its platform and squeezing it all into a smaller frame.

The Active 2 still runs on the company's own Tizen OS, bringing all those smartwatch staples like notifications, music controls and streaming, the ability to download apps, payment support and LTE connectivity – if you have the appropriate model.

Samsung's operating system sits somewhere in between Apple's watchOS and Google's Wear OS. It's not quite as slick as what Apple offers, but it's a big step up from Google's.

It might not have the same number of apps or software to call upon, but it works so much better. If you're an Android phone user, you're getting a better experience paired to a Samsung smartwatch than a Wear OS one.

Galaxy Watch Active 2 apps

Getting to unread notifications is just a swipe away, with a small dot on the main watch face screen used as the indicator for unread ones. It's a nice approach where you're not having that main screen flooded with notifications flying in.

You can respond to notifications with simple default messages, typing out a message with the virtual keyboard or leaving a voice message. Samsung has also brought over the smart reply feature from the Galaxy Watch 3 and the ability to view your chat history. You can now also view images in messages too.

Most of the time, it's just enough to be able to see the notification, scroll down to read the entire message and then dismiss. But you do at least have the option of responding in multiple ways.

Spreading information you care about most across dedicated screens works well, and the returning bezel is great to have back for navigating the circular app drawer.

Custom watch faces

There's a good collection of watch faces on board here, too, letting you keep things simple or fill your time-telling screen with your fitness data or the current weather conditions. If you want more, you'll need to head to the Galaxy Store, which doesn't live on the watch like it does on the Apple Watch or Google's Wear watches.

That's no bad thing though as browsing watch faces and apps is easier to do on a bigger screen. Speaking of apps, it's still a bit of a mixed bag in terms of what you get here. And a fair amount of the apps cost money. We get it, the developers need to make that dough, but it seems like there are more paid for apps here than on other platforms.

Then there's Bixby. Ah, Bixby. Samsung's answer to Siri and Alexa just wasn't very good on the first Active and there's still a debate over how useful it is on a smartwatch. When you keep questions simple, Bixby is more than adept at handling your queries. If you're hoping for something with more context or more of a back and forth, then sadly you're out of luck here.

Apps do remain one of the weaker aspects of Samsung's Tizen OS, but, on the whole, it offers a better experience than Wear and is slowly but surely becoming a decent alternative to Apple's watchOS.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: Battery life

We really didn't like the battery life on the first Active. It was around a day and half – maybe two, at a push, if you put the power saving mode into use.

For the Active 2, there are now of course two models to pick from. The 44mm Active 2 packs in a 340mAh battery, while the 40mm watch we tested carries a smaller 247mAh battery.

In our experience the battery life will max out at two days. And again, you'll need to lean on that power saving mode to make that happen. There's also a Watch Only mode that will push things further, but will inevitably restrict the features you can make use of.

If you're tracking workouts, have the full complement of smartwatch features running and have that screen on nice and bright, 3-4 days seems very unrealistic.

It does feel like there is a slight improvement in its staying power, but not an amount that will dramatically change the way you use the Active 2. It's good enough, but we'd like to see it go longer.

In terms of charging, it's the same little charging puck that the back of the watch will magnetically clip into place to power up. It'll take about 1.5-2 hours to fully charge up from 0-100%. So, not exactly rapid, but pretty much in line with other smartwatches.


Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
By Samsung
The Galaxy Watch Active 2 has received a heap of new features that make it a seriously excellent smartwatch in 2021. Its mix of price, compact sporty build and decent health features put it at the top table of smartwatch options, with plenty of deals available. Samsung Health is still not up to Garmin and Fitbit levels, and the app selection pales in comparison to Apple – but this could be the best pick for Android users.

Hit
  • Still a lovely smartwatch to wear
  • Rotating bezel
  • Feature-packed for the price
  • ECG and blood pressure
Miss
  • Samsung Health lags rivals
  • Battery life short of rivals
  • Could it soon be replaced?