Samsung Galaxy Watch v Galaxy Watch Active: Smartwatch shoot-out

We've lived with both, here are the big differences
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The Galaxy Watch and the Watch Active are comfortably two of the best smartwatches Samsung has given us in recent years.

We tested the Galaxy Watch first, and found it to be a great option for Android phone owners. The Galaxy Watch Active is the latest to get the Wareable review treatment and similarly we were impressed by the more affordable Samsung smartwatch, which still packs a features punch.

Verdicts: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active review | Galaxy Watch review

So you've got two Samsung smartwatches that do the business, but which one do you choose and what do you gain or lose by paying more or less? Now that we've had time to get to know both, we can help make that decision picking between the two a little easer.

Got any questions about either smartwatch? Hit us up in the comments section below.

Samsung Galaxy Watch v Watch Active: Design

Samsung Galaxy Watch v Galaxy Watch Active: Smartwatch shoot-out

From the picture above it's clear to see that these two smartwatches have very different looks. On the one side you have the Galaxy Watch, which comes in 42mm and 46mm sizes (that's the 46mm version in the picture). The 46mm Galaxy Watch takes design cues from Samsung's Gear S3 Frontier smartwatch, so think something that's has a more outdoor watch feel to it.

The smaller 42mm Galaxy Watch adopts a more elegant approach and is the only version available in that popular rose gold look. Both feature a rotating bezel that can be twisted to navigate through menus, heart rate monitors around the back and interchangeable bands.

Then you've got the Galaxy Watch Active, which features a 40mm design, so it's significantly smaller than both Galaxy Watch models, with a more streamlined look. That does inevitably mean it carries a smaller battery than the pricier Samsung smartwatches, but still finds room for a heart rate monitor and supports interchangeable bands too. If you've got skinny wrists or don't like big, brash watches, this is the one for you.

Read this: Best Samsung Galaxy Watch bands

Something you don't get on the Active is the rotating bezel. It's a great feature and it's surprising to see it dropped. If you've used a Samsung smartwatch with that twisty bezel before, you'll miss it. It's a good fit for Samsung's watches and while you can get by without it, you'll likely be disappointed it's not there.

Samsung Galaxy Watch v Galaxy Watch Active: Smartwatch shoot-out

If you care about waterproofing, then you're well catered for here whatever watch you go for. They both carry the same waterproof certification that makes them fit for the pool. That does also mean you get swim tracking, which was first introduced on the Gear Sport. We've been in the pool with both and we definitely preferred swimming with the smaller Active. It's lighter to wear in the water with accuracy on a par with a more dedicated sports watch.

Read this: Best Samsung Galaxy Watch Active bands

In the screen department, Samsung does not disappoint whether you go Galaxy Watch or Galaxy Watch Active. Yes, the one on the Active is smaller, but it's still a gorgeous AMOLED touchscreen display. If you want a bigger AMOLED display to get your hands on, go for the Galaxy Watch, but you'll be well served here whichever one you choose.

Samsung Galaxy Watch v Watch Active: Fitness features

Samsung Galaxy Watch v Galaxy Watch Active: Smartwatch shoot-out

If your number one priority is using one of these smartwatches to stay in shape, the good news is that you're essentially getting the same fitness-focused features across both Samsung watches.

Both have built-in GPS, a heart rate monitor, the same indoor and outdoor tracking sensors and the swim tracking we've already mentioned. You also get Samsung's 24/7 tracking including sleep monitoring, stress tracking and inactive reminders. These reminders go one step further than those Fitbit and Garmin offer by suggesting simple exercises you can perform. The device will then track those exercises until you've completed them.

Performance of these fitness features across the board work well. We had a good experience tracking outdoor runs with the zippy GPS, and swim tracking is strong too. We found the Galaxy Watch Active performed better for heart rate accuracy in our high intensity tests, while resting heart rate data for continuous tracking was reliable on both watches.

One feature you don't get on the Galaxy Watch is the new blood pressure monitoring support that comes on the Active. However, we haven't been able to test that feature properly yet.

If we had to pick one watch to hit the gym with or generally use to work out, the smaller, lighter Active would be the one for us. It performed better in our tests and the fitness tracking features felt better integrated.

Samsung Galaxy Watch v Watch Active: Smartwatch features

Samsung Galaxy Watch v Galaxy Watch Active: Smartwatch shoot-out

These are smartwatches, of course, and while fitness is the focus on both, you also want them to nail the basics. Both run on the latest version of Samsung's Tizen operating system and will work with Android phones and iPhones. The experience across those two phone platforms will differ, and these are watches that are better suited to Android phones.

You'll get actionable notifications, Samsung Pay and onboard storage for music including Spotify. The Galaxy Watch is offered in an LTE variant for a more standalone experience, which you don't get with the Active. Bixby, Samsung's smart assistant, is there too, but to be honest it's not very good on either watch.

Dealing with notifications is much better on the Galaxy Watch simply because you have more screen to play with. Viewing and swiping through those notifications is an identical experience. You have the same app store at your disposal, which serves up some major apps but also a fair few pricey watch faces too. The rotating bezel on the Galaxy Watch is our preferred way to navigate, but on the whole the experience is very similar across both watches.

Samsung Galaxy Watch v Watch Active: Battery life and price

Before we get into price, let's talk about the other important numbers – how many days of life you'll get between charges. If you care about battery life, the Galaxy Watch (in either size) is the one to go for. Whether you go big or small, they both offer more than the maximum two days the Active can manage. In our experience that two days is achieved when putting the battery saver mode to use.

Charging periods take roughly the same amount of time, so going from 0-100% battery will take a couple of hours. The Galaxy adopts the same charging cradle as the Gear S3 smartwatch, so you can rest it in and also use it as a little bedside clock. The Active uses a disc-shaped charger that magnetically snaps onto the back of the watch.

In terms of pricing, the Active is the cheapest. It costs , which is around cheaper than the Galaxy Watch. The 42mm Galaxy Watch comes in at jumping up to for the bigger 46mm version. So there's a big price difference here.

Samsung Galaxy Watch v Watch Active: Verdict

So, do you go Galaxy Watch or Watch Active? Which one is the better smartwatch? If we're pressed to choose, we'd opt for the smaller (and cheaper) Galaxy Watch Active. While it does lack that great rotating bezel, the bigger battery life and the option of LTE, it still does a lot of the same things for less money.

Understandably though, the slimmer, lighter, more basic design will not be to everyone's taste. So if you like your watches big and rugged, you'll be better served by the Galaxy Watch. Bottom line, these are two great smartwatches, but if you want our take, it's the Active for us.

How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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