Samsung threw in a bit of everything into the Galaxy Watch and brought us one of the best smartwatch experiences available today.
Samsung announced its successor to the Gear S3 last month, nearly two years after debuting the Gear S3 itself. While the Galaxy Watch doesn't look a whole lot different from the Gear S3, there are still plenty of changes. Starting with its name. Samsung decided to move back to the "Galaxy" branding for its wearables, seeing as the "Galaxy" moniker is much more popular than the "Gear" one, which it used since the Gear S back in 2014. The Galaxy Watch is still boasting Tizen inside, which is a bit of a surprise to some people, given the fact that it is a "Galaxy" smartwatch. It's been two years since the Gear S3 was announced and made official, so what has Samsung been working on? Well, battery life, primarily. But there are some other big changes here on the Galaxy Watch, so let's check it out in our in-depth review.
The Galaxy Watch comes in two sizes - for the first time, from Samsung. There is a 42mm model and then a 46mm model. The two are largely the same, spec-wise, aside from the usual display size and battery capacity. The 42mm sports a 1.2-inch display, while the 46mm has a 1.3-inch display, both of which are 360x360 resolution and are Super AMOLED panels. These are protected by Corning's Gorilla Glass DX+ as well. On the battery capacity, there is a 270mAh and the 46mm has a 472mAh capacity battery. As you can see there are some pretty big differences there, and Samsung claims battery life is three days and four days, respectively.
Samsung is using an unnamed Exynos processor that is a quad-core chipset and clocked at 1.15GHz for these watches. There is also 768MB of RAM, with 4GB of storage (about 1.5GB available out of the box). Only 2.4GHz WiFi is supported here, so that's a/b/g/n and not ac. There is also support for Bluetooth 4.2 along with using GPS and GLONASS for location tracking. Samsung has also filled the Galaxy Watch with a slew of sensors here. There's a heart rate sensor of course, as well as Accelerometer, Barometer, Gyro Sensor, and a Light Sensor.
The straps on the Galaxy Watch are interchangeable, and in the box, you get a silicon strap that will vary based on the color Galaxy Watch you pick up. For the 42mm model, it uses 20mm watch straps, and the 46mm is compatible with 22mm watch straps. So you can replace them with any other watch strap you want.
Setting up the Galaxy Watch is pretty simple, as you might expect. Simply download the Galaxy Wearable app (formerly Samsung Gear) from the Google Play Store. If you have a Samsung smartphone, it should already be pre-installed. From there, you will follow the instructions on the screen to pair it with your phone and get it all setup. It's really quite easy, and only takes a few minutes. Now one of the cooler features here is that you can restore your watch from an earlier watch (so if you have the Gear S3 and you are upgrading to the Galaxy Watch this would come in handy). It will bring back all of your apps, settings, accounts and everything. Making it super simple to switch from an earlier Samsung smartwatch.
The Galaxy Watch really doesn't look a whole lot different from the Gear S3 that was released two years ago, and that's not a big surprise. There's really not a whole lot of design changes you can make with a watch, compared to a smartphone. It still sports the rotating bezel, which makes it super easy to navigate through the OS (it's still pretty surprising that no other smartwatch has done this yet). There are two buttons on the right-hand side of the watch, one for back and the other for home or the apps screen. On the bottom of the watch, you'll find a slew of sensors including the wireless charging sensors. It's definitely nice that Samsung is keeping Qi Wireless charging instead of opting for its own wireless charging standard. And that's really about it for the hardware.
Now the Galaxy Watch is definitely a big watch, and there's no getting around that. Coming from someone that has been wearing the Fitbit Versa for many months, the Galaxy Watch was much bigger and after wearing it for a week and going back to the Versa, I almost forgot I was wearing it. Now the reason for the Galaxy Watch being so big (mostly thick) is for that larger capacity battery. It does have that 472mAh capacity battery, which is the largest that Samsung has included in a smartwatch so far. That's part of what makes this a very big, and thick watch. And if you are one that has a smaller wrist, you'll want to get the 42mm model, or at least check out these smartwatches in-store before purchasing (they are on display at Best Buy in Samsung's display area).
There's really no complaints here about the hardware. The watch casing is metal, while the backside is plastic. The backside being plastic is not a big deal - and also not new. This is for wireless charging, as wireless charging works better through plastic than metal and glass. It also makes the watch a tiny bit lighter, while still keeping it nice and classy. Now the colors that Samsung has chosen this year are also pretty slick. There's the silver model that has a black rotating bezel (this is the model we have) which is only available in the 46mm size. The 42mm size has the black and rose gold colors with matching straps.
Tizen v4.0 is running on the Galaxy Watch, and that should be no surprise, since Samsung has been using Tizen on its smartwatches since it moved to the Gear moniker back in 2014. Tizen has actually come pretty far since then, and actually offers a better user experience than Google's own WearOS. Tizen works pretty well on wearables, it is plenty fluid, and works really well on the Exynos chipset and 768MB of RAM that is included here. Now it does take up a fairly significant amount of space on the Galaxy Watch, but it is comparable to WearOS. However, the good thing here is that watch apps are pretty small in size, so that doesn't make a huge deal. The area where it makes a big deal is when storing music offline on the watch. So keep in mind that you only have about 1.5GB of free space here.
Notifications on Tizen come in pretty timely, though there were a few that came in pretty late, which was surprising. This might be because the phone hadn't been touched for a while and went into a deep sleep - causing notifications to be slower. When you receive messages on the Galaxy Watch, it's pretty easy to reply to them. Samsung has a number of canned responses here, which include simple things like "OK" and such. But you can also use voice commands to reply, or the keyboard. The keyboard isn't a full keyboard, which makes sense as those buttons would be pretty tiny on a 1.3-inch circular display. But instead, you can handwrite letters for your reply. It may sound like it'll take forever to send a message, but after a while it becomes pretty easy to do. A lot of notifications still don't work to well on the wrist. For example, if you get a mention on Twitter, all you can do is open it on your phone. you can't reply to it from your wrist, but you can at least read it.
When you rotate the bezel from left to right, you'll be greeted with a number of widgets that you can set up. These are customizable in the Galaxy Wearable app, and include things like Samsung Health, Weather, Stress measurements, and so much more. There are a ton that you can use here, and it makes it easy to quickly gather information without having to launch an app on your watch to find out how the weather is going to be today.
The software on the Galaxy Watch is pretty good. Tizen has really come a long way since the Gear S days, where it used to be pretty janky and slow. But Samsung has done a good job at optimizing the software - of course, having a wearable-optimized chipset inside likely helps a ton as well. Samsung hasn't forgotten the little things either. If you are using an analog watch face here, you can actually hear the second hand ticking on the watch, to make it sound like a regular, old-fashioned watch. It's not loud, you can actually barely hear it even with no other noise going on in the room. Which is a nice effect, that can be turned off if you don't like that feature. Smartwatches in general can still use a ton of work, but Tizen is likely the best wearable operating system available.
The Galaxy Apps store is where you'll find the apps for the Galaxy Watch. This is no different from previous Samsung smartwatches, but you will find that there aren't all that many apps available. There are a lot of paid apps, which are not official apps of particular services. For example, there is an app to give you Google Maps directions, and it costs $0.99. This is not an official Google app, so it likely won't work as well, which is unfortunate, but that's the state of the app store for Galaxy Watch. There are a few pretty good apps to pick up and download on the watch, like ESPN, MapMyRun, Uber and Spotify. These will need their Android apps to be installed on the connected phone however.
With ESPN, you can check out the latest scores, as well as the latest news on your favorite teams which is neat. MapMyRun is able to track your run, even without your phone with you while you're running. This is where the storing music offline can really come in handy. Uber of course will allow you to call an Uber without pulling out your phone. Now Spotify works off and on. When we had the Galaxy Watch connected to the Google Pixel 2 XL, it had problems connecting to Spotify, telling us our username and password were incorrect (when they weren't), but it didn't have that issue with the Galaxy Note 9. Spotify allows you to remotely control your music from your wrist, and you can also stream music over WiFi from your watch. The latter isn't a feature I used too often, but it was nice that it was there. Spotify on Galaxy Watch could definitely use some help, and it likely will get some updates in the future, since the two companies announced this partnership for future Samsung devices.
Of course, we can't forget about Samsung Pay. That is included on the Galaxy Watch as well. But there is a caveat here. This is Samsung Pay, NFC-only. There is no MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) support here. The thought process, according to Samsung, for leaving it out, was to be able to add in more battery to the watch. And that is likely a good trade-off for many users. You can still use Samsung Pay here, but only on NFC terminals. Simply tap your watch on the terminal, and it'll initiate the payment for you. It's pretty simple, and it means you can be out running, and stop at a gas station for a bottle of water and not need your smartphone or your wallet. Now that is pretty cool, as long as that gas station has a NFC terminal.
The Galaxy Watch, like its other wearables, can also double as a fitness tracker. It is able to track your workouts, calories, steps taken and so much more. This is also a waterproof smartwatch now, and it can also track your swimming. That's a feature that it brought over from the Gear Sport released last year. With Samsung Health, you can track just about everything you can imagine. Including many different workouts that Fitbit, Garmin and even Withings/Nokia Health, don't support on their fitness trackers.
Since this is a Samsung wearable, Bixby is also here, and well it shouldn't be. Bixby almost seems worse on the Galaxy Watch than it does on the Galaxy Note 9, and that's pretty telling because it's pretty bad on the Galaxy Note 9. Doing simple things like asking Bixby how the weather is, sometimes works and sometimes it doesn't. Part of this might be the fact that Bixby isn't great with deciphering you over background noise. That should, hopefully, change in the future though. If there was one sore spot of the Galaxy Watch, it would be Bixby. It's unfortunate, but it's just not ready to be on every single Samsung device just yet.
Battery Life & Connectivity
When it comes to connectivity, the Galaxy Watch had no real issues with staying connected to whichever phone we were using it with. We used it for about four days on the Pixel 2 XL and then about a week on the Galaxy Note 9. When at home, it would connect to our WiFi network and that would help the Galaxy Watch's battery life last even longer which is nice. That's a feature that Samsung added in with the Gear S3, and it's good to see that it is still here.
With battery life, Samsung is touting four days on the 46mm model and three days on the 42mm model. Now we only have the 46mm model, so we can't really talk much on the 42mm version, but we've heard from others that battery life is closer to two days instead of three. On the 46mm Galaxy Watch, the battery would last more than three days. We got to three days and nine hours with about 15-percent left on the Galaxy Watch, which it was estimated as having about eleven hours left. That's pretty close to four days, and since that was at the end of the day, it likely could have made the full four days. That was without turning off any features, so you could likely get it to last even more than four days with battery saver and other things turned off. With the always-on display here, the battery life was basically cut in half. We're talking less than two days. That's expected since the display is always-on, obviously. But still pretty decent, compared to other smartwatches on the market today.
One of the major drawbacks and complaints that a lot of people have about smartwatches, is the fact you need to charge them every day. But that is beginning to change. The Galaxy Watch is able to last more than a day, and more than two days in most circumstances. It's getting close to fitness tracker-level battery life, which is pretty impressive and also a good thing. The trade-off here, though, is having to deal with a much larger smartwatch. Which might be a bigger trade-off to some more than others.
Available in Bluetooth and 4G LTE variants
Two sizes available
Almost four-day battery life
Interchangeable watch straps
Outstanding OLED display
Bixby is still meh
No MST for Samsung Pay, only NFC
Not very comfortable to wear at night
The Galaxy Watch is a very compelling wearable; it seems to effectively check every box out there. From price and functionality to battery life and even product and service compatibility. The Galaxy Watch is compatible with all Android smartphones running Android 5.0 or later, and iPhone 5 or newer models of Apple's iOS handsets. Which is pretty impressive to be quite honest, and its pricing is right in line with the Apple Watch. There are still things that Samsung could improve here, but this might be the best all-around smartwatch that is currently available. Though with Qualcomm announcing a new wearable processor on September 10, that might change before the end of the year.