Samsung's best smartwatch to date, offering a good balance of sports and smartwatch functionality.
- Smart design
- Rotating bezel is a great interaction method
- Great array of fitness sensors
- Bright and sharp display
- Offline Spotify support
- Lack of apps
- Bixby is a poor assistant
- Limited Samsung Pay support
- Review Price: £279
- AMOLED panel
- 5 ATM water-resistance
- Exynos dual-core CPU
- Tizen OS
- 1.5GB RAM
What is the Samsung Galaxy Watch?
The Galaxy Watch is Samsung’s new flagship smartwatch, announced alongside the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. While it does away with the longstanding ‘Gear’ moniker, now bringing it more in line with the company’s smartphone branding, the Galaxy Watch doesn’t really offer a huge departure from previous models.
Many of my favourite features return, including the rotating bezel – Samsung’s answer to the the Apple Watch‘s Digital Crown. Packed inside you’ll find the specifications last seen in the Samsung Gear Sport, such as built-in GPS, a heart rate monitor for fitness tracking, plus NFC for Samsung Pay.
The big changes are that the Galaxy Watch is now available in a choice of two sizes, accommodating different wrists and tastes. Samsung’s S Voice assistant has been replaced with Bixby, again pulling the Galaxy Watch in line with the Galaxy smartphones.
Related: Best smartwatch 2018
Samsung Galaxy Watch – Design and screen
As mentioned, the Samsung Galaxy Watch is available in either 42mm (£279) or 46mm (£299) models. The differing physical sizes result in differences in display size: 1.2-inch for the 42mm vs 1.3-inch for the 46mm. Both models feature the same 360 x 360 AMOLED display, so you’ll get fractionally lower pixel density in the larger model, but this isn’t something you’ll really notice.
The display remains sharp and bright, and is easily read outdoors – even if Samsung doesn’t make any bold Apple-like claims of 1000 nits on the new Apple Watch models.
The display is once again surrounded by the rotating bezel seen on all of Samsung’s recent circular smartwatches. I’ve always found this to be an elegant solution to the problem of your fingers obstructing a small display when swiping around menus. It’s a similar approach to the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown, but even more tactile thanks to the physical clicks of the magnets as it rotates. The sensation is a bit like cracking open a safe.
Related: Apple Watch 4
The screen is flanked by a menu and back button with a microphone in-between. The other side is home to a small speaker that allows Bixby to read out information. With specific watch faces that feature a moving second hand, you’ll also hear the distinct ticking of the hand rotating – an oddly delightful discovery when I was lying down in bed one night.
Flip the watch over and there’s an optical heart rate monitor that can take readings throughout the day. Like the Gear Sport, the Galaxy Watch is rated to 5-ATM, so you’re safe to take it down to depths of 50 metres. Even if you’re not a swimmer, just being able to wear it in the shower is a real bonus. If you’re using it to keep tabs on your activity throughout the day, any time you take a tracker off is an opportunity to forget to put it back on.
Of the two sizes, I was sent the smaller, 42mm model for review – which is a better fit for my wrist. The 42mm model’s design is reminiscent of the Galaxy Sport I reviewed previously, meaning its 49g weight (without the strap) and 12.7mm thickness is significantly less cumbersome compared to the Gear S3 previously.
The Midnight Black model is also far more understated than the very sports-centric design of the Galaxy Sport paired with vibrant blue strap. A Rose Gold finish is also available in the 42mm size, while Silver is an option for 46mm models.
Both models have interchangeable standard straps, so you can easily swap these out for something that better fits your taste. I found the black silicone band that comes as standard had a habit of picking up dirt and lint easily, leaving the unit looking especially grubby after exercise.
Samsung Galaxy Watch – Performance and apps
Inside the Galaxy Watch is an Exynos 9110 dual-core processor clocked at 1.15GHz, paired with 768MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage. That’s a modest processor speed boost compared to the Gear Sport, but it isn’t something you’ll notice considering the Gear Sport was no slouch.
Earlier rumours of Samsung returning to Google’s stable and launching a Wear OS-powered smartwatch were off the mark, so Tizen makes a return yet again. In truth, the overall OS experience feels identical to that of the Gear Sport. It’s an OS built to take advantage of that rotating bezel, so quick twists let you swap between interfaces with ease, with all the information you need generally placed where you want it by default or through customisation.
Widgets can be dragged and dropped as you like them. So, if you prioritise the weather or your music controls then you can place these closer to the home watch face by rotating right. All of your notifications are available by rotating left, and can all be cleared with one tap to avoid overload. You’re also able to respond to incoming messages, both SMS and WhatsApp, either through voice, pre-canned messages or an on-screen keyboard.
Apps are laid out in a clock-like fashion, with you rotating the bezel to select them or simply using the touchscreen. But apps remain Tizen’s Achilles’ heel. There simply aren’t enough of them next to Apple’s watchOS or Google’s Wear OS. When developers are already de-prioritising app development for both of these prevalent operating systems, there isn’t much hope for Tizen.
My most-used smartwatch apps in recent months have been home automation-related, and these are absent. There’s even a dearth of navigation apps – my other primary use for a smartwatch. Scroll through the Galaxy Apps store and it’s just third=party options, many of which have low review scores for functionality.
Bixby as a voice assistant is a moderate improvement over S Voice, but it still isn’t particularly great. It’s remains slow to respond, often complaining it doesn’t have a Wi-Fi connection even though it should have. It’s also poor at responding to the natural-language questions you’d expect it to get right.
It at least manages the basics such as setting an alarm. Although even then I had to be specific and ask for ‘an alarm in 20 minutes’ to ensure I didn’t burn my dinner. Asking for a ’20-minute timer’ meant having to install the separate Timer app, which was confusing and frustrating.
Samsung Pay takes care of your contactless payments – but with so many banks yet to get onboard, including mine, it remains a frustration.
As with the Gear Sport, the redeeming factor for the Galaxy Watch is its Spotify support. Samsung’s Tizen devices remain one of the few that support Spotify offline playback, so you can make use of your 4GB of internal storage to download your favourite music (if you’re a Spotify subscriber, that is). You’re then free to pair Bluetooth headphones and leave your phone at home, or in the locker, if you’re wanting accompanying tunes for your workout.
Samsung Galaxy Watch – Fitness tracking and workouts
The Galaxy Watch really follows the blueprint of the Gear Sport when it comes to activity tracking – and that’s no bad thing. Inside, it features the same GPS and GLONASS support of the Sport, working alongside the optical heart rate monitor, accelerometer and barometer.
Between all of the data captured across these sensors, the Galaxy Watch manages to be pretty informed when it comes to your activity through the day and night. And its strength is in how it uses this data to motivate you through helpful prompts, pats you on the back when you achieve your targets, and its automated recording of your activity.
Set out on a walk and after 10 minutes it will by default start recording your walk as an activity, tallying up the steps on the display and prompting you to maintain your healthy pace. I was testing the Galaxy Watch whilst on holiday, where I happened to be spending a lot of time walking anyway. The little vibrations on my wrist did really make me want to carry on once the 10-minute marker has automatically kicked in.
The barometer keeps tabs of the flights of stairs you climb, and the watch will set you a floor target in the way you would a step goal. Receiving a notification to say that the previous day set a new record was surprisingly rewarding. For anyone who’s tempted to not walk up the escalator or to use the lift, it’s a great way to make you want to take those stairs instead.
Other small victories include getting to bed on time and waking up at the right time, alongside the usual medals for distance and pace for outdoor workouts.
Samsung is using the heart rate monitor to take stress level readings throughout the day now, too, similar to Apple and Fitbit’s implementations. That means there are guided breathing exercises designed to help relieve stress. Admittedly, I still don’t really find these particularly useful.
The sleep tracking isn’t as in-depth as I’d like it to be, especially compared to the Huawei TalkBand B5 I was wearing simultaneously. Fitbit and Huawei both provide greater detail and insight into your sleep quality, as well as offering tips on how to improve your sleep.
Take the Galaxy Watch out for a run and it performs as well as the Gear Sport. You get the right amount of information available on the display, as well as spoken metrics from the speaker to make you aware of your progress. Distance and heart rate measurements were around what I expected.
There’s a whole range of other workouts available on the Galaxy Watch, with the number now bolstered to 39. There’s everything from lunges to deadlifts available. Anything with pronounced movement of the watch can track reps; otherwise, you just get duration and heart rate data as you progress through your workout. You can now add additional exercises to the same workout – again, similar to the Apple Watch – but the process is still a little too involved, and I still found myself having to correct rep counts on certain exercises.
Samsung Galaxy Watch – Battery life and charging
The other difference between the 42mm and 46mm models is the battery size. The former has a 270mAh battery compared with a 476mAh battery in the larger model. That’s a pretty big difference. As such, Samsung rates the 46mm model for 7 days, versus 4 days for the 42mm model.
In reality, the 42mm model would just about see you through three days with the always-on display mode turned off. With this function enabled, it was south of 2.5 days. That’s without any use of GPS, which also quickly depletes the battery. Throw in some Bluetooth music and you’ll want to be charging on a nightly basis.
Overall, it’s a similar experience to the Gear Sport. As such, some moderately careful battery management might be in order depending on your usage.
Handily, the same magnetic charging stand props up the watch up as a bedside clock and connects through micro-USB.
Why buy the Samsung Galaxy Watch?
The Galaxy Watch is the most accomplished Samsung smartwatch to date, between its elegant and comfortable design, array of sensors that make it great for sports and activity tracking, and general smartwatch conveniences.
Apps remain a shortcoming, even if the great Spotify implementation still sets Tizen apart. But nowadays, the lack of apps can be levelled at other rivals, too, so it’s starting to become less of an issue over which to penalise Tizen – provided you know what you’re getting.
Overall, the Galaxy Watch gets the core features right at a price point that makes it good value. If you’re after a sporty smartwatch that’s a little more understated, it’s much-improved over the Gear Sport.
Samsung’s best smartwatch to date, offering a good balance of sports and smartwatch functionality.