Samsung Galaxy Watch
A BOLD NEW NAME WITH A FEW NEW FEATURES
THE SAMSUNG GALAXY Watch is one of the most refined smartwatches you can buy, with an aesthetically pleasing design, cohesive user interface and, importantly, four-day battery life.
The Galaxy Watch looks and feels like a high-end wrist watch, with a circular stainless steel case and decorative bezel. It’s both stylish and functional because, like the previous Gear S3, the bezel rotates to cycle through its various on-screen menus. This is the most satisfying way to navigate a smartwatch. Your fingers won’t cover up the watch’s small, hard-to-accurately-target touchscreen (an issue with any smartwatch), and it’s an idea exclusive to Samsung’s newer watches, which runs Tizen software rather than Google’s Wear OS.
Battery life is exceptional. The larger 46mm Galaxy Watch lasted a solid four days with normal use, during which we checked messages, fetched constant notifications, tracked workouts, played Spotify, and talked to Bixby, Samsung’s mostly terrible AI. Samsung says the smaller 42mm Galaxy Watch lasts three days.
The big difference between the Galaxy Watch and the Gear S3, besides an extra day of battery, is that it’s more fitness-focused, thanks to additional sensors and a revamped Samsung Health app. It autodetects six of (an expanded) 39 exercises – and still helpfully nudges you when you’re too sedentary, and it has a fairly accurate sleep tracker. It’s also now waterproof down to 50 meters, matching the Gear S3 Sport 5ATM rating in a more adult design.
The Galaxy Watch does inherit problems from previous Gear watches, however – and what’s bad is almost all software-related. Samsung’s core apps are polished, sure, but the Galaxy Apps store lacks critical third-party apps, notably Google Maps, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. The Bixby voice assistant is here, but it’s no better than S Voice at understanding us, and Samsung Pay doesn’t use Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) despite the fact the Gear S3 did.
SIGHT FOR S4 EYES
The Samsung Galaxy Watch is very much the Samsung Gear S4 that never was. It’s an iterative update, one that adds fitness software, new sensors, and extra waterproofing to everything we liked in the Gear S3 Classic and Gear S3 Frontier a year and a half ago.
It’s a big, but sophisticated-looking smartwatch in two sizes that ends up being great to wear for notifications and exercise. We’d opt for the 46mm watch over the 42mm for the better battery life and bigger screen.
The 1.3-inch Super AMOLED screen (1.2-inch on the 42mm watch) is bright and colour-rich. It’s easy to see everything, even during an outdoor run, thanks to adaptive brightness settings. And its smart use of blacks, especially in the background, burns fewer pixels on the 320 x 320 resolution. The one downside is that the screen is slow to update when it’s woken – the time and steps show old figures for half a second.
The ornate and functional rotating bezel has a third characteristic: it makes the Samsung Galaxy Watch durable. There’s protection here for
the screen, with military-grade durability and Corning Gorilla Glass DX+ that prevents the display from getting scratched, according to Samsung.
Two physical buttons adorn the Galaxy Watch, and while they’re on the right side of the case, Samsung has wisely offset them from the usual center location, which means they’re not prone to accidental presses against your bent wrist as on other smartwatches.
FITS AND NIGGLES
The Samsung Galaxy Watch puts more emphasis on fitness, with new auto-tracked workouts. Cycling, elliptical trainer, and rowing join returning auto-tracked exercises walking, running, and dynamic workout for a total of six exercises that you don’t need to worry about activating ahead of time.
That doesn’t mean you should rely on the watch to trigger every exercise, or their close variants. We took the Galaxy Watch downhill mountain-biking and, to our dismay (but not total shock), it didn’t auto-track that exercise under cycling or anything else.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch has polished software – it just doesn’t have enough to it. And that’s our biggest complaint about this smartwatch. Shift through the menus with the rotating bezel, the colourful, creative-looking widgets stand out as being easy to read, yet informative.
If there’s one thing Samsung gets right, it’s creating a well-laid-out operating system; if there’s one thing the company gets wrong, it’s consistently failing to lure app developers to its platform. It’s also an extra step to download ‘Gear’ apps (yes, they’re still named this in the phone app and the Galaxy Apps store). Apps on your phone don’t automatically show up on your watch.
Bixby, Samsung’s unlikable voice assistant on its phones is no better than S Voice on the Gear S3, to the point where we missed Google Assistant.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch works best with Samsung phones, which come with the Gear app already loaded up. But it works with other new and old Android phones, too – they just need to run Android 5.0 or later. We also tested our Galaxy Watch out with a third device – an iPhone X. The iPhone 5 and above are compatible with the smartwatch (running iOS 9 or newer), but with more ‘read’ than ‘write’ functionality. You can read iMessage notifications, but you can’t reply to them and you can’t initiate any communications – there’s no email, phone call, or messaging app. We also had to open the Samsung Gear app every once in a while on the iPhone to keep the connection active, otherwise the watch would go into Standalone mode.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch feels like the smartwatch of right now instead of tomorrow. Its onboard software is impressive, and shows up nicely on its big circular display. It’s impressive for quickly glancing at notifications and tracking your fitness goals, all on what could be mistaken for a conventional wrist watch. While it works well on other Androids and satisfactorily on the iPhone, we got the best experience with this watch when it was paired with our Note 9.