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Samsung Galaxy Watch review

Samsung's new smartwatch is the best option for Android fans right now

The Samsung Galaxy Watch is a smartwatch that will inevitably get compared to the Apple Watch Series 4, the Fitbit Versa and an army of Wear OS watches. Yes, there are other smartwatches out there, but these are the brands and watches that, along with Samsung, are making the biggest noise in this space right now.

So, apart from a name change that makes it now sound more like a direct rival to that other Watch, how is Samsung hoping to reign supreme in the fight for your wrist?

Read this: Best smartwatches in the world right now

For starters, it's now offering its watch in two sizes, with the hope it can appeal to those who love nothing better than having their smartwatch on show, as well as those who prefer something that lives a bit more discreetly.

The emphasis once again is on improved health and fitness skills while retaining Samsung's most impressive features. We're talking about that rotating bezel, battery life that goes beyond what most of the competition can offer and an improving operating system that ties it altogether.

Has Samsung come up trumps with the Galaxy Watch, and is it enough of an upgrade on the Samsung Gear S3 and the Gear Sport to justify spending £279 or £299 on one? We've been living with both model sizes to find out. Here's our verdict.

Samsung Galaxy Watch: Design

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As we've already mentioned, unlike the Gear S3 and the Sport, the Galaxy Watch comes in two sizes. There's the Gear S3-matching 46mm model and a 42mm version, matching the Sport, that's clearly aimed at slimmer wrists. With a rose gold option, as well, this is likely seen in-house as the Galaxy Watch option for women.

The silver version of the Galaxy Watch is only available with the 46mm edition, while the midnight black and rose gold are only available in 42mm. There are no extras as far as software is concerned, so it really boils down to how big or small you want that Galaxy Watch to look on your wrist.

Both the 46mm and 42mm options feel like Samsung has merged design aspects from both the Frontier and Classic S3 models into one watch. Everything suggests that this shouldn't work, but, actually, up close, it's a decent looker. It retains the robust-looking black rotating bezel from the Frontier but marries that with the more luxurious metal casing used on the Gear S3 Classic, and it really looks the part.

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We had the silver 46mm and the 42mm midnight black versions to live with, and we have to say they were often mistaken for the Gear S3. You're unlikely to hear the same about the rose gold Watch, as the colour and finish combo is such a departure from the look of the Gear S3 and the Sport. On the strap front, the 46mm features 22mm ones, with the smaller model going for the more popular 20mm variant. Both are interchangeable, but are as fiddly as changing up a strap on your standard Wear OS smartwatch. It should be effortless, but in reality it's still going to take a few minutes to switch things up.

The most surprising thing about the Galaxy Watch is that despite measuring in with the same 46mm body as the two Gear S3 models, it manages to carry that heft well; this doesn't feel bulky to wear. To be fair, this is no 51mm-sized Garmin Fenix 5, but one of the biggest complaints we had with the Gear S3 was the jump up in size from the Gear S2. Thankfully that jump doesn't feel as dramatic this time around, and kudos to Samsung for making things feel more streamlined.

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As we've detailed consistently, we're big fans of the Samsung rotating bezel, and thankfully it's still present on the Galaxy Watch. That bezel still feels extremely satisfying to move with that heavy click that lets you know you are scrolling through the watch's UI. Something else we pretty much love on Samsung's smartwatches is the display. You have your pick of a 1.3-inch (46mm model) or a 1.2-inch (42mm model) 360x360, AMOLED touchscreen display, and both are some of the best of the business. They're sharp, bright and produce vibrant surroundings for those data screens. You won't have any problem with screen visibility in dark or bright conditions, that's for sure.

We should talk about waterproofing, too, which was first introduced to Samsung's smartwatches on the Gear Sport. All the watch models have been slapped with a 5 ATM waterproof certification, and that means you can take them for a dip up to 50 metres deep. We didn't take them that far – we're not professional divers – but we did take the 42mm Galaxy Watch for several visits to the pool and we're pleased to say it survived to tell the time another day.

All in all, Samsung isn’t reinventing the wheel with the Galaxy Watch's design. It’s evolution instead of a revolution, with a lot of nips and tucks that all add up into a pleasing new design.

Samsung Galaxy Watch: Tizen OS

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Despite rumours that that Samsung was considering dropping its own smartwatch OS for Google's Wear OS, it's all about Tizen again here. And to be honest, why would Samsung make the change? If anything, its own operating system feels more complete than Wear.

Now we're up to version 4.0 of Tizen and at first glance it doesn't look like a lot has changed. Not that it really needed to. The rotating bezel guides you through core elements, such as notifications, recent apps and widgets, while the bottom physical button gets you to that app drawer. It's still a solid performer for taking/making calls, notification support is slick and features like music playback (Spotify app FTW) still impress, too.

It does pay to get accustomed with where things live and we appreciate the scope of settings that are available to tinker with things further. But once you've done that, it's a very easy smartwatch to get along with. Whether it's notifications or fitness tracking, there's nothing clunky about the way this operating system, well, operates.

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One thing Tizen does have in common with Wear OS is a pretty lousy assistant, though. Bixby probably shades it at being the most unhelpful. It's fine handling simple questions about the weather, but when it's time to go slightly more complex, like asking when Manchester United's next game is, it leaves Bixby unable to provide a response. It's slow to respond, too, when it actually does. This is definitely one feature that needs work.

There are a couple of new Tizen features worth highlighting that aim to make the OS more helpful throughout your day. The first new addition is the 'My Day' watch face (pictured below), which happens to be one of the more unique ways to display information.

Rather than using square boxes of information or complications to tell you that you have events coming up, it uses the outer ring of your watch face. A light blue line between hours indicate that you have something coming up at that time. You’ll also get some small text telling you what it is. Click on that line and you’ll get a little pop-up box with more information. It’s a convenient and quick way to see exactly what you’re doing in the next couple of hours and when you’re doing it. The best part is that the watch face switches every six hours, so you’ll always be able to see what’s coming up next.

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The other big feature is getting a quick overview of your day when you wake up in the morning. When you pull your Galaxy Watch off the charger you’ll get a welcome message and a quick look at what you can expect for the rest of the day. You know, things like your calendar events and such. It worked really well, but if you use your Galaxy Watch for sleep tracking you’re not going to see it. It only works when you put the Watch on your charger or don’t look at your Galaxy for the entire night.

As far as Tizen's performance goes, it's slick and quick on both Galaxy Watches. All models are powered by Samsung's own 1.15GHz Exynos 9110 Dual core processor with 4GB of storage to pack your apps, music and more on. The non-LTE versions pack 748MB of RAM compared to the 1.5GB of RAM on the LTE edition. Yes, that does mean there is a Galaxy Watch that can live without your phone, but it's not available just yet.


Samsung Galaxy Watch: Fitness tracking

So, we're going to cover a fair amount in the next couple of sections, and we'll be updating our thoughts on some of the other features that fall under this section at a later date. But we hope we can give you a good flavour of what to expect from the Samsung Galaxy Watch when it's time to hit the gym or go for a walk to the shops.

Fitness tracking

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The Galaxy Watch does, of course, double as a fitness tracker and a pretty good one at that. It'll count steps, floors climbed, estimate calorie burn and provide resting heart rate data. Jump into the dedicated Samsung Health app on the watch and you'll have room to log additional health data like caffeine and water intake and compare step counts with other users.

We put it up against the fitness tracking features on the Garmin Forerunner 935 and Fitbit Versa and didn't see anything in the data to give us cause for concern that it wasn't dishing out reliable tracking data. The two devices were never going to serve up identical data, but it definitely didn't over- or under-report for us, either.

What we were really intrigued about on the Galaxy Watch, though, was how it fared when it came to motivating you to stay active. And in fairness, it does a good job here, too. The automatic activity recognition means it regularly picks up when you're out for a walk and will encourage you to keep up that healthy pace. If you've been stationary for a long time, it won't just tell you that, but it'll also recommend some exercises you can do if you're sitting at your desk and gives daily insights. It's a more well-rounded experience than it has been on previous Samsung smartwatches and if it's something you care about, you're well served here.

Sleep tracking

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Sleep tracking has been present in Samsung smartwatches before, but now it's much more integrated into the Galaxy Watch and viewable through the Samsung Health smartphone app. You can also view recent sleep data on the Watch, too, via the Health app.

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Sleep data compared: Galaxy Watch (42mm) and Garmin Forerunner 935

Our sleep tracking experiences differed between the two Galaxy Watch models. On the 46mm model, it tended to underreport our sleep. On one night, the Galaxy Watch had us on 2 hours and 20 minutes of light sleep, while the Fitbit had us in 3 hours and 26 minutes. The Galaxy Watch also doesn’t break down deep or REM sleep, which you do get on Garmin and Fitbit's wearables. It just has light, restless and motionless.

On the 42mm model, things were slightly better. It tended to deliver elements of sleep data more consistently in comparison with the Garmin wearable. Sleep duration and awake time were generally consistent, although the Galaxy Watch tended to overreport light sleep, for instance. Does the Galaxy Watch offer better sleep tracking than Fitbit? We'd say no, but there is a rich amount of data collated and we're sure it's only going to get better.

Stress tracking

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Apple, Fitbit and Garmin already do it, so Samsung clearly didn't want to be left out offering stress tracking features on the Galaxy Watch. So it'll use the onboard heart rate monitor and its ability to take heart rate variability measurements to give you a stress score. If you are stressed, there is now a guided breathing mode tells you when to inhale and exhale.

Again, it's nothing groundbreaking, but definitely a nice addition and good to see Samsung is looking more into the importance of having a healthy mind, as well as burning off those calories.

Samsung Galaxy Watch: Sports tracking and heart rate accuracy

When you want to go beyond counting steps or monitoring nap time, there's plenty of support for working up a proper sweat. Much of that is driven through Samsung Health, but you do have third party apps available in the Galaxy Apps Store to beef things up on that front. Here's what we made of using the Galaxy Watch to get in shape.

Running

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Running with the Galaxy Watch is definitely an interesting experience and is solid on the whole. That's not to say we didn't encounter a few little niggles, but on the whole we were happy with how it holds up. There's GPS and GLONASS support for tracking and it's pretty nippy at finding a signal so you can get moving. Tracking is done from the Health app, but it's much better to do it by adding a dedicated widget. Doing the former is a frustrating experience, as we were left battling with a screen that was turning itself off as we tried to initiate a tracked session and cost us couple of minutes of tracking as a result.

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Tracking accuracy, thankfully, is pretty strong. As the screens above show, data like average pace, max pace and speed were pretty much identical with the Forerunner 935.

Additional metrics, like cadence, tended to be slightly over what we would expect to see, though. And one issue we did encounter when wearing the Watch alongside something else on our wrist was that it did stop tracking on one occasion. We imagine it won't be a problem for most, but it's something to keep in mind. Overall, though, we think the Watch is going to cater well for most runners.

Swimming

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It's more good stuff in the pool from the Watch, too. It builds on the swim tracking features added in the Gear Sport, giving you a nice layout of real-time data with a little vibrating buzz for a clear indication when you've completed a lap. When it's time to review the data, you can check it on the watch, but there's a far more comprehensive breakdown in the Samsung Health phone app. Here, we could see that data, such as distance, lengths and average pace, were consistent with the Forerunner 935. It was also nice to be able to see a breakdown of lengths detailing the type of stroke and the time of the lap. We're happy to say that as swim tracking smartwatches go, this is probably up there with the Apple Watch.

In the gym

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We were promised 21 new indoor workouts with the Galaxy Watch, and in our experience we found them to be mostly welcome additions in the gym. You're now able to chain together different workouts, letting you seamlessly shift from the likes of pull-ups to lat pulldowns and then to front raises. It isn’t the kind of advanced strength workout tracking we’ve been crying out for from one of the big wearable makers, as it still requires a fair bit of interaction with the watch, but Samsung does an ample job of giving beginners a group of popular exercises to track.

When you do, you’ll either be greeted with a simple screen face clocking the time you’ve spent on one exercise and your heart rate, or it’ll also count your reps. Exercises such as leg raises won’t register any rep counting screens, for example, while lat pulldowns (and generally most exercises involving movement of the watch) will give haptic feedback when you’ve reached your set goal. This can be edited as you wish, and the rep counting itself is as accurate as we’ve tried – even remaining resolute when we tried to fake it out with a few pause-reps and quicker sets.

You’ll also get a skippable minute's rest period in between sets, which is handy for steadying yourself and remaining focused, while the actual rep counting won’t kick in until the Watch registers you’re in a position to perform the same exercise again. Again, this was pretty much bang on in terms of accuracy. Samsung has been generous with software additions in previous generations, and we hope more rep-counting exercises will be added in the future to this promising list.

Heart rate monitor performance

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As is pretty much custom for most smartwatches these days, there's a heart rate monitor on board the Galaxy Watch, and it's designed for a few things. Firstly, when switched on, it can continuously take HR readings, showing you minimum and maximum readings daily. You can then see on the watch how that changes over time to detect trends and see from the resting heart rate data whether your current state of health is improving or maybe getting worse.

Samsung Galaxy Watch review

It can also be used for your workouts to give you a better insight into the intensity of your sessions. But, as has been the case for the majority of wrist based heart rate monitors, it comes a little unstuck for high intensity training, where you're quickly jumping from different heart rate zones in a short space of time. For a steady paced run, it should be fine, but you might feel slightly let down with its performance if you're jumping into a spin class with it.

Samsung Galaxy Watch: Samsung Galaxy Wear and Samsung Health

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There's one app that you need to get your Galaxy Watch paired to your smartphone (iOS or Android), but during that process you'll also need to install two additional plug-ins to get the smartwatch working to its full potential. The main companion app gives you access to downloading more watch faces and apps, and crucially to the settings where you can tinker with notifications, apps, display settings and more.

While you don't need to download Samsung Health for the Galaxy Watch to function, you do need it if you plan to track anything health and fitness related. The app has been through a pretty radical overhaul, making it a more streamlined place to view your data. That streamlining, though, does also have an impact on services that can be connected to Samsung Health. There's now only one supported, and that's Strava. It's a good one to have, but it's sure to disappoint a lot of people that Samsung has decided to take such drastic action. It's a shame, too, because the Health makeover is pretty much a hit other than that, especially with the introduction of new workout programs and a comprehensive amount of data on offer.

Samsung Galaxy Watch (46mm)
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Samsung Galaxy Watch: Battery life

Battery life on the 46mm and 42mm Galaxy Watches invariably differs. On paper, they should still deliver more than an Apple Watch, but not the full 4-5 days you can get from a Fitbit smartwatch.

Let's start with the 46mm model, which is supposed to be able to go for a week based on light usage with 24 hours of GPS battery life. In our estimate, we got about three days out of the Galaxy Watch with normal use. We didn't get anywhere close to that week that Samsung promised. We weren’t exactly using our smartwatch as a powerhouse standalone device, but we were using it – and seven days felt like a pipe dream. We suppose it’s possible to do so when really trimming a lot of the features, but at that point it seems less a smartwatch and more an occasionally smart watch.

Samsung Galaxy Watch (42mm)
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The 42mm Galaxy Watch is meant to manage up to four days, again with low usage. GPS battery life is 17.7 hours. Based on our experience, we'd comfortably get two days, maybe squeezing to three, but four days seemed a hard push. Again, we're sure it's possible, but it probably means being very restrictive with the features you're using on a daily basis. It also mean making use of the power saving mode, which still offers access to some smartwatch features in this reduced power state. Using the GPS invariably impacts on the battery performance and in a marathon just shy of four hours we managed to knock the battery life from 100% down to around 65%. It's extreme testing, but it's an illustration of the drop it can experience when GPS is in play.


Samsung Galaxy Watch
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Whether you pick up the big or small Samsung Galaxy Watch, you're getting a smartwatch that makes a much more compelling argument for Android phone owners than a Wear watch does right now, even if it may not necessarily see iPhone users ditch their Apple Watch just yet. The software is more fully formed than Wear, despite still a little let down by app support, and notifications, fitness and the rotating bezel really help this shine. Throw in Wear- and Apple Watch-beating battery life and a solid design and you've got yourself one of the best smartwatches out there right now.

Hit
  • Solid fitness and sports tracking features
  • Slick Tizen OS
  • 2 day+ battery life
Miss
  • Bixby is lousy
  • App quality still lacking
  • Big battery claims seem optimistic


16 comments

  • Fiwatecs says:

    does galaxy watch have a speaker like gear s3?


  • awefage says:

    Nice design, but too thick, so no thanks.

  • Bas says:

    It looks like a very cool smartwatch, but what about Tizen in comparison to Android Wear? Which one is the most complete OS?

    • Remembered says:

      Wear OS for my money. Tizen's app store is bare bones and frustrating, not many app developers jumping on board to Tizen, so don't expect super clean integration with things like your GPS for directions.

      It sounds like they've beefed up Tizen's fitness tracking, which it REALLY needed. My gear sport didn't even have an option to track Push-Ups in its short exercise list, and almost everything I did started immediately tracking as a generic "Dynamic workout" all the time. Compare this to Wear OS where I started doing push-ups or crunches and Google Fit could track what exercise I was doing, and how many I did (with scary accuracy).

      That said, Tizen's interface is pretty clean, and it supposedly is better optimized for battery life, I'll give 4.0 a short.

    • RKmerica says:

      It seems Samsung is trying to go the route of Amazon with its own island of both hardware and software. I had the S3 before recently selling it and the majority of the available apps only serve purpose to marathon runners and/or electronics reviewers. The only true advantage Samsung proves to hold over Android Wear is the pay area. Samsung uses NFC capable pay (utilizing the same technology as the magnetic strip on debit/credit cards) while Android requires the retailer to be in its list of approved retailers that fulfill Android Pay requirements at the register--no magnetic strip technology stings a bit but it's the trade-off one has to live with.

  • clatrell says:

    My vote is with Tizen, which I find smoother and more logical than WearOS. WearOS has more apps, I guess, but they're mostly useless. You can find everything you need on Tizen, or an easy way to work around it. People will complain about Bixby vs. Google Assistant, but really, how many times a day are you going to talk to your watch? This sounds like a terrific upgrade, even just on the basis of looks.

  • Weebeetje says:

    I own the midnight black version for over two weeks now and have read a lot about heart rate issues and step counting problems on several Samsung communities and fora. I’ve got them too: heart rate is very in-accurate while being active, often the counting stops while exercisingand step counting only starts after a certain time. A lot of people complain about it. You did not have those issues?

    • garyb says:

      I've certainly got those issues too here in the UK, not a great problem but the fact Samsung seem to deny its an issue is a big problem, there are literally 1000s of users on their own forums complaining about this. Rumour has it, there may be a bad batch in the UK but again, no-one tells you anything. That said, its a nice watch

  • MzTeaze says:

    Does this watch work with a chest strap

  • inc says:

    Did you even try the watches on? Because what you say here is very inaccurate. I have two watches for testing purposes too and even-though they are excellent smart-watch they are pretty lousy fitness tracker.

    GPS loading is sometimes slow. Sometimes it takes ten seconds but often it can take minutes. Heart rate is better than with s3, but it still is not that accurate and most of all, it still does flat lines in the measurements (it simply can't keep up and sometimes doesn't measure at all. To hide the fact it does a flat line (instead of just leaving blank space) in the graph - most annoying).
    Stress detection is riddiculous, when I come from run it tells me I am stressed. It is just enough to have the watch a little bit less firm and all of the sudden the stats are way off. And sleep record... well.. lets say that if I would believe what it says I would be probably dead. On s3 it shows way more deep sleep than I really have, on the other hand galaxy watch says that I have like 20 minutes of deep sleep for the whole night...

    • m.sawh says:

      I can assure you that we have tried these watches. Our experience with the GPS was not as frustrating as the experience you had. We tried it in busy environments (in the city) and in rural, countryside areas and had no complaints. We used it alongside the Forerunner 935 as well and the signal pick up wasn't all that different. As for sleep, as we stated in the review we had mixed results in our testing across the two models.

  • palmsolo says:

    FYI, you actually can record and view REM sleep on the Galaxy Watch. This is a new feature when compared to the Galaxy S3/Frontier. You have to go to Heart Rate in Samsung Health, tap the three dot menu on the right on the watch, tap or scroll down to the gear icon and select it, and then choose Always from the Auto HR settings.

    By default, the Galaxy Watch has this setting as Frequent (every 10 minutes), but using the default will not get you REM detection.

    • j.stables says:

      Thanks for the update!

  • susanaskye says:

    So, I sold my Versa to get the Frontier S3. The Samsung health app is a pain by comparison and it counts less steps but as a daily activity tracker seems great. I keep trying to find a reason to upgrade to the galaxy watch, but haven't found a good side by side comparison. Has anyone seen a good side by side of the two? The s3 seems to drop its connection to my 9+ fairly easily, but the battery life with heavy usage is 2 days. The memory is the same. The smaller galaxy is appealing but seems like the battery is actually smaller than the s3. Bixby does not appear to be a great improvement over s voice.. Any other experiences out there? I would love to hear from an s3 user who has upgraded.

    • Weebeetje says:

      I owned a S3 Frontier before I bought....a Fitbit Ionic. Ionic en Versa do have the same OS/hardware [except for the GPS option]. I ‘returned’ to Samsung three weeks ago with the Galaxy. Main reason: hope that Tizen 4.0 improved on the issues the S3 did not perform well on. My conclusion for now: wish I stayed with the Ionic. Although not a smartwatch, more a fitness tracker with smartwatch features, it performs far more better in issues like step/heartrate/stair counting. The connection [bluetooth] is more stable as is GPS. Battery time on the Ionic was three days full functioning, my Galaxy 42” barely reaches 24 hours. All three watches were combined with my Note 8.

      My advice” don’t upgrade now. Wait for the software patches that hopefully come soon to resolve all the malfuntioning issues of the Galaxy. Over here in Holland, a lot of people are doing the same.

  • Brass says:

    After all the reviews that say this is the best smartwatch of the year, I went out and put my credit card down for one. I didn't want or need an extension of my phone on my wrist, I wanted a stand alone watch that I could take out of the city and use for hiking, kayaking, mountain biking and generally being outdoors. The primary "needs" are waterproof, more durable than an Apple watch and has the use of the built in GPS for use of topo maps so I know where I am and don't need to carry an extra handheld GPS. I'm not an adventure seeker so I don't need the super rugged Garmin Fenix or Casio Pro Trek so again, going off the reviews I felt secure that this was the right choice.

    Out of the box, set up was quick and easy with the assistance of the linked phone. Online, there are hundreds if not thousands of watch faces available. Other apps however are still lacking. Sure you can find a stop watch app ( I had a $19 Casio watch with that function in 1983) or some app to help you focus your breathing ( give me the app I need and my breathing will be fine thank you) but sadly no topo map software. I have searched for almost a week now and there is good option out there. There are city navigation map apps and other turn by turn apps but most of those are simply piggy backed off Google maps and require you to have your phone. Those end up running down the battery of both devices until one or the other is dead and you have to resort to magnetizing a pin from your first aid kit so you can drop it on a leaf to float in a puddle and find north, south ( thank you MacGyver) For that type of use, why would I carry my $1000 phone and $400 watch?

    Other functions of the watch are great to give you an extension of the phone you have in your pocket. Your email and text messages are right there on your wrist every minute of the day. Because you weren't connected enough before. The fitness apps aren't really that great in my opinion. They aren't terribly accurate and there are better dedicated tools available. Besides if you're that focused on your health and well being, being disconnect from the electronic world is likely healthier in the first place.

    So after nearly a week, I'll be returning the watch. I don't know what I will end up with but at least now I know that the Galaxy watch isn't the center of my universe.

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