The first thing you’ll have to decide If you’re interested in the Samsung Galaxy Watch is what size to get. Having a small wrist, I initially thought I’d be a candidate for the smaller 42mm model, which comes in midnight black or rose gold and starts at $330 (£279) for the noncellular editions, with LTE models costing $50 more. But after trying on the silver-only 46mm version ($350, £299), I quickly realized I’d made a mistake, and opted for the larger model.
While it’s a little heavier, it fit my wrist comfortably and has some clear benefits: Not only is its screen bigger but it has better battery life. I also preferred the look of its stainless steel silver finish. So, regardless of your wrist size or gender, you should definitely check out the larger Galaxy Watch before locking into a specific size. (All the models are equipped with Samsung’s 1.15GHz Exynos 9110 dual core processor and 4GB of storage, but the noncellular editions have 748MB of RAM while the LTE editions have 1.5GB of RAM).
Those who’ve been following Samsung’s smartwatch efforts over the years will be quick to note that while the company has made a big naming change to its line — this is the Galaxy Watch, not the Gear. But, oddly, you won’t find Google’s Wear OS here: From a design and operational standpoint, these new Galaxy watches aren’t all that different from those earlier Gear models, including last year’s Gear S3 and smaller Gear Sport, which also run Samsung’s own Tizen operating system. In fact, the 46mm Galaxy Watch comes across as a slightly modified take on the Gear 3S Frontier while the 42mm Galaxy Watch seems like a more refined, streamlined Gear Sport.
The biggest changes are on the inside:
Waterproof to 50m or 5 ATM (atmospheres): That’s the same as the Gear Sport, but a nice improvement over the Gear S3’s IP68 rating, which was merely “dunk proof.” The new Galaxy Watch is specifically designed to be swimproof, however, including for salt water and chlorinated water, but you should rinse it after either.
Better battery life ratings: The 46mm models is rated for around 4 days, the 42mm for 3 days (on the non-LTE editions, anyway). More on a battery life below.
Additional exercise and workout options: The new watches track a lot more types of exercises (21 indoor exercises, 39 tracked workouts total). Fitness and sleep tracking is tied into Samsung’s S-Health app but there are also tie-ins to other fitness apps from Under Armour, MapMyRun, Speedo and others. The watch will eventually offer stress-management features — for what that’s worth — using the built-in heart-rate monitor and integrated sensors, but those features aren’t active yet.
I didn’t think the sleep-tracking was altogether accurate (it tended to under report my sleep compared to the Garmin Vivosmart 4 I wore on my other wrist at night). And my colleague Vanessa noticed some inconsistencies with distance and step tracking as compared to the Apple Watch (we’re going to follow up to see which is more accurate). But I thought that the watch performed well overall tracking my workouts and just as importantly, motivating me to exercise more. You can also manually log your water and caffeine intake.
Serious runners will probably prefer Garmin’s Forerunner and Fenix smartwatches for tracking their workouts, but judging from the short three-mile runs I did with the Galaxy Watch, it seemed competent as a running watch after a software update improved GPS performance.
Bixby hits the wrist: Bixby, Samsung’s voice assistant, is on board for the first time. You can issue such voice commands “What’s the weather?” “Start workout” and “Play music.” You can also reply to text messages with your voice (though that feature is not supported on iPhone). It doesn’t work as well as Siri does on the Apple Watch, but it’s an improvement over the underwhelming S-Voice.
Samsung Pay takes a step back: Samsung Pay is easy to set up and works with contactless payment terminals — but like with the Gear Sport, Samsung left off its work-anywhere magnetic secure transmission (MST) technology, so it won’t work at quite as many places as Samsung phones or older Gear S3 watches. Nor does it work with an iPhone.
Obviously, with a name like Galaxy Watch, this is a device that’s optimized for use with Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones. But it does work fine with other Android phones and even iPhones to a degree. The Samsung Gear app is now called Galaxy Wearable on Android and Galaxy Watch on iOS (it was supposed to be called Galaxy Wearable on iOS but for now the app is showing up as Galaxy Watch on my iPhone X).
As much as this move to the Galaxy brand is about Samsung consolidating its mobile devices under its strongest mobile brand, it’s also about giving its smartwatches a fresh start — and a fresh look from consumers — as Apple continues to lead the wearables market as consumers shift from basic fitness trackers to smarter devices.
Where Galaxy Watch beats Apple Watch
When I wrote up my initial impressions of the Galaxy Watch the Apple Watch Series 4 hadn’t been announced yet. With its larger, slimmer design and performance boosts (including better audio and speakerphone capabilities), Scott Stein called the Apple Watch Series 4 “the best overall smartwatch you can currently buy.” However, he didn’t think it was that big a leap over the Apple Watch Series 3 and was “no closer to being a clear must-have device than it was before, unless you value the possible benefits of new health features.”
I tend to agree with his assessment of the Apple Watch Series 4. However, while it indeed may be the best overall smartwatch you can buy, many of the reasons I previously gave for preferring the Galaxy Watch over the Apple Watch still stand.
Design: Round beats square
The obvious difference between Samsung and Apple watches is that Samsung’s have round faces while Apple’s have square ones. Plenty of people love the Apple Watch’s design, including members of my family. Personally, I prefer round and prefer the overall look of these new Galaxy watches to the Apple Watch, which sometimes reminds me of a giant Chiclet.
From a practical standpoint, the other thing worth noting is that unlike Samsung’s watches, Apple’s don’t have a rotating bezel around the screen to act as sort of a guard rail. The Apple Watch’s screen is left completely exposed and is arguably easier ding up despite being made of Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass (while we’re talking Gorilla Glass, the new Galaxy Watches are equipped with “military-grade” Gorilla DX+ glass).
I’m a fan of the rotating bezel, which may give you flashbacks to the original iPod’s scroll wheel. You can also navigate the watch’s interface by swiping the touch screen, flipping through widgets or scrolling through notifications and news items. But the rotating bezel somehow seems more tactile — or perhaps just more watch-like.
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