- Solid fitness and sports tracking features
- Slick Tizen OS
- 2 day+ battery life
- Bixby is lousy
- App quality still lacking
- Big battery claims seem optimistic
The Samsung Galaxy Watch is something of a cult hero in the smartwatch world – adored by vast numbers of users, it blends powerful specs with a classic design.
Samsung's offering its watch in two sizes – 42mm and 46mm – 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.
Samsung Galaxy Watch: Design
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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: 4G LTE performance
As we mentioned up top, Samsung, like its main rival Apple, gives you the option to cut the tether from your phone with a 4G LTE edition of its smartwatch. This is something you're able to take advantage of in the UK and US, providing you're willing to pay the extra money per month, and we managed to get our hands on one and test out how it performs.
One of the key factors on our minds during testing was the effect the cellular connectivity would have on battery life - this is, after all, is the headline feature of the Galaxy Watch and one that has the potential to put it ahead of rival watches.
Unfortunately, though, it's impossible not to notice the drain that even relatively light connectivity has on the Galaxy Watch. When testing the device and streaming Spotify over EE's 4G network, the battery drained by around 20% over a 45-minute playlist.
That may not be so bad if you consider that it can easily handle streaming tunes during a morning run or perhaps taking the place of your phone during a commute to work, but after a couple of days of this kind of use, it means those battery claims begin to fall by the wayside.
Now, with that said, battery drain is always a tricky matter to comment on, as heavy use for one person doesn't necessarily translate to the next. What's perhaps more important here is the actual performance, and overall we were impressed with the 4G LTE Galaxy Watch.
We did suffer the odd hiccup when walking through a crowded area or sitting on the train, but nothing that we haven't experienced before when testing headphones and playing through our phone.
And as far as calls go using the Watch, it performed very well. We tested it by both making a call and listening through the built-in speaker, and also by receiving a call through a phone and testing the reception. Even on a street filled with sirens and passersby, the microphone picked up a healthy amount of voice, and the speaker is able to kick out enough sound to let you comfortably have a quick chat with someone.
Naturally, calls are probably best assisted by a pair of headphones, but it's nice to have the option there for when you get an unexpected call and still want to take it on your phone.
Samsung Galaxy Watch: Samsung Galaxy Wear and Samsung Health
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: 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.
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.
Additional testing by Conor Allison. Thank you to EE for providing us with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4G LTE sample used in this review.
How we test