There’s been a lot of disappointment with Wear OS over the years, but with the Galaxy Watch 4, Samsung and Google seem to finally be turning the tide. The colourful new UI is a joy to use, and dusty Wear OS facets like Tiles and Google Maps have been given a major facelift with super-fast speed to boot. Only time will tell if Wear OS 3 attracts the level of third-party attention that Google is hoping for, but the software couldn’t have asked for a better starting point than in the Galaxy Watch 4.
- Wear OS at its finest
- The digital bezel works like a charm
- Flat, minimalist design is stunning
- Gorgeous collection of original watch faces
- Still a lot of features yet to come
- Doesn’t work with iPhone
- Bixby is a mess
- Software:Wear OS finally gets a big update
- Size:Multiple size and style options, including a 4G variation
- Specs:Samsung’s latest 5nm Exynos wearable chip
The Galaxy Watch 4 is finally here, acting less as an update to last year’s Samsung wearable and more as the first in a long line of next-generation smartwatches.
Very few tech products this year have garnered quite the same level of anticipation as the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4.
Despite being another numbered iteration in Samsung’s mainline wearable line, the Galaxy Watch 4 is entirely unique for being the first smartwatch anywhere to feature Wear OS by Samsung – an entirely revamped operating system co-developed between Samsung and Google.
Given that, at the time of writing, there’s still no official word on when we might see more watches sporting the same UI (also known as Wear OS 3), the Galaxy Watch 4 stands alone as the proof of concept for what this update can do – and it has the task of being a good smartwatch in its own right. That’s more than any typical wearable has to face when it hits the market.
After spending a good deal of time with the Galaxy Watch 4, it’s clear that the gamble has paid off.
Design and screen
- A revival of the ‘Active’ range in all but name
- Revised watch strap sits closer to the chassis
- The screen now lies completely flat
In years gone by, Samsung has seen fit to release its smartwatches in two forms – the first being a more traditionally themed timepiece and the other being designed around fitness, with the ‘Active’ moniker attached. The only exception to this rule was last year’s Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, and while Samsung has returned to its previous system, there are a few key changes to note.
The standard Galaxy Watch 4 is the ‘Active’ model in all but name, while the traditional stylings are more closely felt in the pricier Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. The Watch 4’s adherence to a fitness-first approach can be felt immediately in its minimalist design. Not only is the watch lightweight at just 26g without the strap, but the strap itself is made with a silicone style material that’s easy on the wrist when you’re working out.
It’s worth pointing out that Samsung has tweaked the implementation of the watch strap so that it now curves to sit more snugly against the body of the watch. While it’s definitely an aesthetic change for the better, it does mean that standard watch straps are no longer compatible like how they were with the Galaxy Watch 3 – something worth bearing in mind if you were planning to bring over a favourite strap.
Returning to the chassis, it’s clear that Samsung has taken a leaf out of Apple’s book for the Galaxy Watch 4. Gone are the softer edges and slightly curved screen of previous iterations, replaced by sharper angles and a display that lies completely flat. I was sceptical about this change at first but I’ve really come to appreciate just how stylish the Galaxy Watch 4 is. This feels like a truly modern smartwatch.
Helping to cement that concept is the Super AMOLED screen and I haven’t seen a smartwatch yet that can compete with the vibrancy found here. On occasion, I’ve found myself simply admiring various watch faces because of how colourful they appear on the Galaxy Watch 4.
Just as with previous Galaxy Watches, the Watch 4 has two push buttons flanking the right-hand side which protrude ever so slightly from the main chassis. For a bit of added flare however, the button on the upper-right has a red coating on its sides, alluding to greater functionality that I’ll touch upon later.
Features and performance
- Wear OS 3 feels like a huge improvement
- The new Exynos chipset has greatly improved app loading
- Digital bezel feels like the future of smartwatch design
Here it is, the big question – after all the hype and expectation, what is the new Wear OS actually like? I am more than happy to report that the revamp is a huge success, but there is a caveat.
Courtesy of the new 5nm Exynos W920 chipset, almost everything on the Galaxy Watch 4, from menu navigation to interacting with apps, is fast and fluid. It all feels very similar to using Wear OS on Snapdragon Wear 4100 powered smartwatches, except this time the OS feels far more confident in its execution and style.
Tiles, for example, have long been a means of quick access to certain watch apps but the system has largely been ignored by Google and third-party developers alike. This time around it’s populated by Google and Samsung’s own apps, with third-party integration from apps such as Calm and Adidas Running. Even the app library has been tweaked to feature large, colourful icons. It’s a far more inviting experience that had me eager to search through its menus for the first time in many years.
Some of the most popular Wear OS apps have also been updated, such as Google Maps. It’s now a lot easier to see where you’re going as the in-app map design is thankfully less cluttered to give you a better understanding of your surroundings. For the first time ever, you can now use Google Pay on a Galaxy Watch, but Samsung Pay is still available if you prefer.
What helps general navigation is the return of the digital rotating bezel. Last seen on the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, this feature replicates the sensation of the physical rotating bezel of the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic by using haptic feedback as you glide your finger across the outer rim of the display. Having grown so accustomed to using rotating crowns, I wasn’t sure how effective a digital replica could be, but the rotating bezel is so intuitive that any scepticism melted away in seconds. In fact, it works so well that I’m now wondering why more manufacturers haven’t jumped on the feature already.
There is a caveat to all of these improvements that is particularly important if you’re weighing up buying the Galaxy Watch 4 against future Wear OS 3 powered smartwatches, and it’s that we don’t yet know how much of this is down to Samsung’s exclusive One UI overlay. Of course, this is hardly an issue from Samsung’s point of view, but for consumers, it’s worth being aware of.
Despite all this praise, the Galaxy Watch 4 hasn’t nailed every aspect of its user experience. I don’t think anyone will be too surprised when I say that Bixby is still terrible. The ability to swap to Google Assistant is coming down the pipeline but for now it’s Bixby or nothing (and in most situations I’d settle for the latter). The YouTube Music Wear OS app has also yet to appear, meaning that throughout the testing process, I was unable to enjoy listening to music offline directly from the watch. Spotify offline support is coming too, but again it’s not here quite yet.
Sleep tracking returns from previous Galaxy Watches, and while Samsung’s done a great job at laying out the details behind your sleep score and the meaning behind each sleep stage, the accompanying Samsung Health app falls short of giving you tangible advice on how to improve your sleep quality – something that’s easily available on cheaper wearables.
While it’s likely to affect only a small group of people, it is worth pointing out that Samsung has removed iOS support for the Galaxy Watch 4. Even Android users aren’t completely off the hook from some of Samsung’s more questionable decisions, as various features such as the ECG test, blood pressure monitoring, alarm sync and the camera controller, are unable to work with non-Samsung phones – this is worth bearing in mind when deciding if the watch is right for you.
- The BioActive sensor is surprisingly accurate
- Reminders to move come with helpful suggestions for stretching
- Google Fit now available via Wear OS
Fitness has rarely been a side-thought for Samsung and the Galaxy Watch 4 continues this trend, but for the first time, the company has moved more assertedly into the realm of health tracking with the addition of the new BioActive sensor.
In laymen’s terms, this BioActive sensor compiles multiple sensors into one unit, with the ability to collect your heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and even perform an ECG test. What makes it stand out however is the new Body Composition feature, which conducts a more complete analysis of your health by looking at your body fat, skeletal muscle, body water, BMI and BMR (basal metabolic rate).
To conduct this scan, the Galaxy Watch 4 also makes use of hidden sensors in its two push buttons, as you hold your opposite middle and ring fingers to them whilst keeping your arms away from your body. I was curious to see just how accurate a smartwatch could be in determining all of those metrics, but as it turns out, the Galaxy Watch 4 exceeded my expectations.
For instance, when compared with the results from the Withings Body Cardio, the Galaxy Watch 4 was spot on with my BMI count and surprisingly close with my body water levels. The only issue is that at the start of each Body Composition reading, the Galaxy Watch 4 asks you to manually input your most recent weight count, so it’s not a complete replacement for a set of scales. Still, this technology shows a great deal of promise and I’m interested to see how it’ll be expanded upon in the future.
As for fitness tracking, the Galaxy Watch 4 is another winner for Samsung, but this time there’s a few new upgrades to note. The most obvious addition, as part of the move to Wear OS, is that you can now run all of your fitness tracking through Google Fit if you so please. Given just how much Samsung Health is baked into the UI of the Galaxy Watch 4 however, I found it much easier to just stick with Samsung as the default.
Besides, there’s isn’t much to leave you wanting if you go down the Samsung Health route as there’s still a solid amount of workouts to choose from. With an IP68 rating, the Galaxy Watch 4 is also ready to go for a stint in the pool. The only thing that struck me as odd was the inclusion of specific exercises amongst the list of tracked workouts – maybe there’s a niche out there for quick 2-minute arm curls that I’m unaware of.
What I really appreciated however were the move reminders that occurred whenever I’d been sat down too long. Much like with the Honor Watch ES, these reminders come with a selection of brief stretches and movements to get the blood flowing, all of which helped me to feel a lot more limber than usual at the end of a working day.
When it came time to really break a sweat, the Galaxy Watch 4 more than held its own in the realm of GPS and heart rate tracking. For the former, I was sometimes able to establish a connection within just 5-10 seconds, while the latter came impressively close to the results produced by an accompanying Myzone Switch chest strap.
For example, a stint on the cycling machine drew a peak HR of 166BPM and an average of 127BPM. At the same time, the Galaxy Watch 4 detected an impressively close 166BPM high and a 126BPM average. Further testing continued to prove that this accuracy wasn’t a fluke.
- Easily outpaces the Apple Watch
- It’s possible to hit 2-days of use in certain conditions
Having grown accustomed to the marathon battery life of wearables like the Coros Vertix and Withings ScanWatch, Samsung’s claim of a 40-hour battery life for the Galaxy Watch 4 doesn’t seem like a lot, but in comparison to the Apple Watch 6, it’s a huge boon.
With a total of three workouts tracked, a steady flow of notifications and sleep tracking, I was able to get through 31 hours of use before the Watch 4 got down to 7%. For a fully blown smartwatch, that’s quite an achievement, and I have no doubt that some users could probably get through a full two-days of use under certain conditions.
Toggling the always-on display (but this time with no tracked workouts), the battery fell to 48% after 15-hours of use. I can’t imagine a scenario where anyone would be racing for the power outlet at the end of just one day with the Galaxy Watch 4, but there are still power-saving options available if you’re in a bind.
Luckily however, charging on the Galaxy Watch 4 is a somewhat fast-paced affair, so a quick top up can go a long way. With 10% battery in the tank, it took one hour and 33 minutes to get back to 100%. This isn’t too bad, and I was able to get to 75% from just an hour at the power outlet, which would be more than enough for most people to get through the day.
Should you buy it?
If you want the best Apple Watch alternative: Samsung and Google have knocked it out of the park with the Galaxy Watch 4, setting a new bar for Android users.
If you’re set with Apple: The Galaxy Watch 4 has zero functionality with Apple’s ecosystem, so if you’re an iPhone user then it’s better to steer clear.
It’s taken a long time to get here, but we finally have a Wear OS smartwatch that can go toe-to-toe with the Apple Watch. With its sleek design, fast speeds, vibrant AMOLED display and robust collection of fitness and health tracking features, Samsung has created the ultimate smartwatch for Android users.
With several features yet to appear at the time of testing, including the upcoming YouTube Music Wear OS app and Google Assistant functionality, there’s still room for improvement in the Galaxy Watch 4, but at least the Android crowd finally has a wearable that won’t leave them pining for Apple’s tech.
How we test
We thoroughly test every smartwatch we review. We use industry standard testing to compare features properly and we use the watch as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Worn as our main smartwatch during the testing period
Heart rate data compared against dedicated heart rate devices
Side-by-side GPS comparison with our best scoring smartwatches
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No, the Galaxy Watch 4 now runs Google’s Wear OS platform
There is no iPhone support for the Galaxy Watch 4
Yes, the Galaxy Watch 4 now runs both Google Pay and Samsung Pay