Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 review: a truly great smartwatch

Samsung cements its place as the watch for Android users
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
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The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is s much-needed upgrade to the company's flagship smartwatch, and it's big on both style and features.

The follow-up to 2018's Samsung Galaxy Watch, it also the Watch Active 2, which struck a sweet spot in terms of design and features.

The Galaxy Watch 3 aims to bring a big dose of health monitoring features to those looking enviously at the Apple Watch, along with a serious dose of style.

It will pique the interests of Android users looking for a premium smartwatch with serious health credentials that simply can't use the Apple Watch, and iPhone users put off by the Series 5's square design. That's a sizeable market to aim at.

But it's not aimed at those looking for a cheaper Apple Watch alternative. At $399 for the 41mm Galaxy Watch 3, and $429.99 for the bigger 45mm, Samsung is going head-to-head with Apple.

We've been living with the Galaxy Watch 3 to see if Samsung has managed to make one of the best smartwatches even better.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 specs at a glance

  • 41mm/45mm
  • Tizen OS
  • LTE versions available
  • 1.2-inch/1.4-inch display
  • 360 x 360 Super AMOLED
  • 247mAh/340mAh
  • Exynos 9110 Dual core 1.15 GHz
  • ECG
  • Blood pressure
  • SpO2
  • Sleep tracking
  • Heart/rate VO2 max
  • Fall detection

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3: Design and bezel

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 showing rotating bezel and watch face

With the previous Galaxy Watch, Samsung had drawn a clear line in terms of distinguishing its most expensive smartwatch from its cheaper, sportier sibling.

It went bigger on size, aimed to offer classier, more traditional watch styling and that now signature rotating bezel stood more prominently around the display.

With the Watch 3, it feels like it's tried to tone things down, but not necessarily for the worse. It still has that feel of a dressier watch than the Active 2, but it feels like it's been inspired by the more streamlined look of the sportier Samsung smartwatch.

That starts with the size options that are now available. You've got your pick of 45mm or 41mm case sizes, which is a drop down from the 46mm and 42mm options you can pick the Galaxy Watch up in. The Active 2 is available in 40mm and 44mm case sizes.

The 45mm mystic black, stainless steel version we had to test still feels a little big for our liking, though the more muted look of the rotating bezel gives it the feel of something that sits smaller on the wrist.

There's no real big surprises to find that it measures in lighter and slimmer than its predecessor in both size options, though shaving off weight and size was a given.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 Tizen menu screen and features

Let's talk about that bezel though. While Samsung decided to ditch it for the Active and then brought back in a different form on the Active 2, it's back in all of its physical goodness on the Watch 3.

While it doesn't dominate the look of the watch like it did previously, it remains the standout design feature that Samsung has brought to the table and it still works great.

Whether you're twisting it to check notifications or scrolling through your stream of post-workout data, it's a great feature to have accompany that touchscreen display.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3: Screen and band

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 sporty watch face

That display is still a beaut as well. On the 45mm Watch 3 you'll find a 1.4-inch, 360 x 360 resolution AMOLED display and a 1.2-inch one on the 41mm model offering the same resolution.

That's the same quality display found on the Galaxy Watch and it remains a bright, colourful and vibrant place to glance at.

There is an always-on display option and a useful Goodnight mode when it's time to go to sleep. Though it should do a better job of reminding you to turn that off when it's time to wake up.

It does a nicer job of displaying images like album cover art or YouTube thumbnails, but in its main job to be a place you can view indoors and outdoors in more challenging light, it passes the test.

Samsung partners up the Watch 3 with a leather band that is the 22mm kind for the larger Galaxy Watch 3. It's a good quality band and thankfully very easy to remove and replace with something sportier when it's time to exercise with it.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 stitched black leather strap

It's a bit disappointing to find that Samsung doesn't include that additional sportier strap though, when you consider the price and the kind of feature set it offers for tracking exercise.

We ended up having to delve into our box of wearables to borrow one from another smartwatch to put its sports tracking powers to the test.

To complete the way you can navigate the watch, there's still two physical buttons on the right hand side that are ways to quickly launch features like Samsung Pay or jump into the app drawer.

Around the back is where you'll find its optical heart rate monitor while you can expect to find a familiar puck-style charging cradle in the box that magnetically clips to the back of the watch.

Nothing has changed on the waterproofing front with Samsung offering the same 5ATM rating that makes it safe for a shower or going for a swim (pool and open water) up to 50 metres depth. Just make sure you take that leather strap off first.

While some might argue the changes feel small, we definitely welcome the more refined look of the rotating bezel and the drop down in size.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3: Smartwatch features

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 quick responses

Samsung's latest watch runs on its Tizen OS, which is compatible with Android and iPhones but is clearly a better fit for the former. You have the option to pick up either size with LTE if you want to make use of features like music streaming and messaging sans smartphone. That obviously comes at an extra cost.

One annoying aspect that remains with this smartwatch is that you'll need to download two apps and a few plugins to get it set up and to make the most of the health and fitness features.

We'd like to issue a plea to Samsung to just put this all in one app. We primarily used it with an Android phone and once that overdrawn pairing setup is completed, syncing data and using features like notifications worked without issue.

There doesn't seem to be any real wholesale changes as far as how Tizen works and what you'll find in those companion apps. You can use the bezel or touchscreen to glide through the different screen widgets and everything seems to live in the same place just like it did on the last Watch.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 notification

In terms of those core smartwatch features, notifications support still works well and messaging has now been elevated by the ability to let you see images in messages sent and they feel well optimised on the display.

You still have Samsung Pay and there is of course Bixby, the smart assistant that still has a lot of growing up and maturing to do.

Smart assistants on watches aren't altogether that well integrated across the board, but Samsung's still feels like it needs some work in terms of its usefulness. It still feels very limited.

You do still get a built-in music player letting you take advantage of a portion of the 8GB of storage available to transfer over you own music. That also applies to supported music streaming services that does still include Spotify.

The Spotify app works well on Samsung's smartwatches and is a step up in terms off the way it offers offline playlist support in comparison to similar support on Garmin's watches.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 music playback

We do of course need to talk about apps, which remains a bit of sore spot for Samsung's Tizen platform. You can access its storefront from the watch or from your phone.

The native apps already preinstalled offer a decent array including Spotify, Microsoft Outlook, a handy voice recorder and calendar.

To fill in the gaps though, you usually need to make an app purchase for the some features you'd find are free on other smartwatch platforms like Apple's watchOS and Google's Wear OS.

We can't talk about smartwatch features and not talk about watch faces, and Samsung does a good job here.

You've got a rich mix of digital and analogue options, some with great animations and most with room to fit in data complications like step counts, sleep, heart rate, UV index or current temperature.

There are more faces to be found in the app store though you'll have to put some work in to find some good ones.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3: Fitness and sports tracking features

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 sports tracking profiles

With the Watch 3, you're getting something that promises to be your fitness tracker, sports watch and health monitoring all in one.

Let's start with fitness tracking where you'll be able to do the basics like count steps, track sleep, monitor stress levels, turn on continuous heart rate monitoring and keep track of your stress. There's the heart-shaped activity tracking widget to view daily progress and it also inherits the more useful idle alerts Samsung introduced on the Active. So instead of just telling you you've been inactive, it will recommend exercise to get moving again. It's up there with one of our favourite features.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 step tracking compared

Step tracking compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 (left) and Garmin fitness tracker (right)

In terms of accuracy, we've been wearing it alongside a Garmin fitness tracker and we found it tended to give us roughly the same daily step counts and distance covered.

When it comes to sleep tracking, you can see most recent sleep data on the watch and then delve into Samsung Health to see information such as sleep breakdown including REM sleep, total sleep time, sleep scores, average wake up times.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 sleep tracking compared

Sleep tracking compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 (left) and Garmin fitness tracker (right)

We put it up against the same Garmin fitness tracker and the screenshots above will give you a snapshot of the kind of data we tended to see for a night's sleep. Total sleep time tended to be within 30 minutes to an hour of the Garmin, though sleep breakdown tended to suggest a shorter sleep time. Sleep breakdown also seemed to serve up some questionable numbers. Particularly REM and deep sleep data.

When you're ready to track more than a walk down the shops, Samsung equips the Galaxy Watch 3 with everything you get on the Galaxy Watch and Watch Active 2 with a few notable additions.

All the key sensors are in play here. That includes accelerometer, barometer and gyroscope sensors. There's built-in GPS and support for Glonass, Beidou, Galileo and satellite systems. You can bring the heart rate monitor into play to measure effort levels as well. There's no ANT+ connectivity support, which limits pairing it up with additional sensors however.

The best way we found to get tracking was to rotate the bezel to the right to find the workout screen. From here you can track core sports like running, cycling, swimming and delve deeper for gym-based activities and outdoor pursuits like hiking. Again, it varies what kind of real-time metrics you can expect to see and core sports are certainly better catered for.

Run tracking

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 run tracking data

Run tracking compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 (left and centre) and Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar (right)

We spent a fair amount of time running with the Galaxy Watch 3 and we'd still say this watch is built for the kind of runner that might do a few runs a week as opposed to marathon training with it.

There's also still some work do in terms of execution of the tracking experience on the watch. By that, we mean better connecting Samsung Health, fitness tracking and viewing your data in a really intuitive way.

There are some additional settings to toy with before you session, like adding up to six data fields, setting a target goal based on time or distance and you can customise those workout screens. It's best to deal with those settings before you get running as well as Samsung gives you little time to make adjustments once the countdown gets going.

The experience on the watch during a run is generally good. If you pick up the pace, it's a bit more fiddly to use the bezel to skip through workout screens, but generally it's a nice screen to absorb data.

Above is a sample of run that involved a mix of road and off road running. What it shows is what we found in general. For shorter distances, it's usually pretty reliable for things like distance, pace and cadence. As soon as you crank up the miles, the differences in things like pacing and distance covered seem to creep in.

Heart rate accuracy

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 the heart rate sensor

Samsung does of course include an optical heart rate monitor that's used to power continuous heart rate monitoring, stress tracking and for better measuring effort levels during exercise.

In the last Galaxy Watch it fell into the bracket that many wrist based sensors fall into. It was good for on the spot measurements and general exercise, but as soon as you cranked up the intensity it struggled for accuracy.

We'd say the same applies to the heart rate sensor on the Galaxy Watch 3.

Jump into the Samsung Health app on the watch and continuous heart rate readings felt very reliable. You can view your week of readings to get a sense of whether that resting heart rate has remained consistent or has unexpectedly spiked or dropped.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 heart rate data compared

Heart rate from easy run: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 (left) and Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar (right)

For stress tracking, Samsung is using heart rate variability measurements to generate those readings. In our experience though, taking measurements didn't display any data on the watch or inside of the Samsung Health app.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 running data

High intensity HR test: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 (left) and Polar H9 chest strap (right)

When it comes to exercise, we took it for some steady running and average BPM readings was usually 1-2bpm out from a Polar H9 chest strap.

For maximum heart rate readings though, it tended to be 4-5 bpm out. That's enough to put you in another heart rate zone.

For some more focused, high intensity intervals, it struggled to keep up with the chest strap and as anticipated, posted a higher maximum heart rate reading. Sadly, you can't pair it up with external heart chest straps to rectify this.

If you're serious about your exercise and hope you can rely on that heart rate data being reliable, you might be left a little disappointed.

Advanced running metrics

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 running metrics including asymmetry

One big new feature is the advanced running metrics. If you care about running technique and form, Samsung says it will now serve up insights such as ground contact time, flight time and vertical oscillation. Sports watches require an additional sensor like a chest strap or foot pod sensor to generate similar metrics.

On the watch, this is represented by a screen that displays your asymmetry. There's currently no way to display the additional metrics on offer. Those metrics are asymmetry, contact time, flight time, regularity, vertical oscillation and stiffness.

In real time, that asymmetry screen adjusts from saying you're doing good or bad as you progress through your run. Post run, you can see those additional metrics in the Samsung Health app along with a host of very complicated looking graphs.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 running form and dynamics

Advanced running metrics compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 (left and centre) and Garmin Running Dynamics Pod (right)

Samsung does a good job of explaining what all of these metrics mean and even offers exercises to address weaknesses. The question is though, are these metrics actually reliable? We put it against Garmin's Running Dynamics Pod and found perhaps not.

We've taken a sample of running metrics that are available both on the Galaxy Watch 3 and Garmin's pod. The average vertical oscillation score was lower on the Samsung as was the average ground contact time. We've come to rely on Garmin's wearable for reliable advanced running metrics, and it looks like Samsung comes up a bit short.

Swim tracking

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 swimming tracking

Swim tracking compared: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 (left and middle) and Form Swim Goggles (right)

Swimming with Samsung's smartwatches on the whole has been a solid enough experience in the past. The drop in size definitely makes it a much nicer watch to take for a dip and thankfully data on the whole seemed reliable too.

Before you get moving, you can go for a basic or target-based swim and pick the pool size. There's support for up to six data fields and data includes average pace, distance, duration, number of lengths and heart rate. The guide frequency can be adjusted here too, which will send a vibration to the wrist to update you on progress.

To test accuracy, we put it up against Form's Swim Goggles in a 25m indoor pool, which we found to be the most accurate swim tracker. It managed to capture the same distance, average pace and number of lengths.

When you're done with your swim, Samsung employs a similar water ejection system that you find on the Apple Watch, which is a little louder to do, but hopefully does the job to keep those components protected.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3: Health features

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 the SpO2 sensor

Samsung doesn't want limit its appeal or onboard sensors just to people who want want better data for their bootcamp sessions or sleep time. It's also ramping up the ability to offer more serious health monitoring feature.

This started on the Watch Active when it promised the ability to measure blood pressure from the wrist. On the Active 2, it added an ECG sensor to match Apple and Withings in bringing medical grade-like heart rate monitoring.

On the Galaxy Watch 3, both those features make the cut as well as the ability to measure blood oxygen levels via the on trend SpO2 sensor. The problem is, most people won't be able to make use of these features just yet.

The blood pressure monitoring, which requires calibrating with a dedicated blood pressure monitor requires the necessary Samsung Health app support currently only available in Korea.

It's a similar story for ECG where it's only be turned on in Korea also. Samsung has said ECG has received FDA clearance, so it might not be too long before it can start rolling out to other territories.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 review

SpO2 compared: iHealth Air pulse oximeter (left) and Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 (right)

Something you can try out is taking blood oxygen measurements though as Samsung clearly explains, it's a feature tied to fitness and wellness over detecting signs of a serious medical condition.

While readings seemed to match up with a pulse oximeter, we often found it challenging to get a reading on the first measurement attempt.

We lay the blame partly on the leather strap not being that suitable to getting a tight fit.

When these features are turned on for everyone, Samsung really will have a serious health monitoring device on its hands and on your wrist.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3: Battery life

Samsung made big claims about the original Galaxy Watch being able to last for a few days short of a week. That claim was based on light usage.

For anyone that used it for more than light usage it tended to last a couple of days. So, while it might have the slight edge over an Apple Watch, it still can't match what you can get from a Fitbit or Garmin smartwatch.

With the Galaxy Watch 3, it looks like more of the same with no mention of claimed battery life from Samsung this time. We do know that the capacity of the batteries mirror what you'll find on the small and large Galaxy Watch Active 2 models.

That's a 340mAh battery on the 45mm Watch 3 and a smaller 247mAh one on the 41mm model. You also have the a Watch mode to push things further but also restrict what you can actually use.

Based in our testing with the 45mm model, we say you're probably going to get two days out of it, but if you use power hugging features, it will be closer to a 1.5 days.

It's clear that if you're using features like GPS, continuous heart rate monitoring, cranking the screen brightness up and animated watch faces, the drain is noticeable.

An hour's running using GPS knocked around 15-20% off the battery. Charging time feels a little on the laboured side too, usually taking a couple of hours to get from 0-100%. How it could do with some fast charging on board here.

It's disappointing that Samsung hasn't managed to make improvements in this department, especially when the likes of Huawei, Fitbit and Amazfit are managing to optimise those power hungry features, so they don't noticeable dent the time it lasts between charges.




Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
By Samsung
The improved design, added software features and promise of serious health monitoring make it a little easier to deal with the underwhelming battery life. However, anyone buying the Galaxy Watch 3 will have to accept that ECG and blood pressure have not been turned on and there's no ETA. But in terms of style and features it's the best smartwatch for Android users and it a great alternative to the Apple Watch too.

Hit
  • Smaller, lighter design
  • Packed with features
  • Good fitness tracker
  • Bezel control is still great to have
Miss
  • Health features not turned on
  • Battery life not fantastic
  • Some iffy heart rate data
  • Leather strap only included