The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is Samsung's best smartwatch yet. And it's all the better for taking a fitness-focused approach to smartwatches instead of being more of a "jack of all trades" device.
Most smartwatches, in fact all smartwatches, have some sort of fitness features. Only a handful though are geared primarily towards health and wellness. The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is one of those.
Yes, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 offers more than just fitness stuff. It can be used as a Spotify controller for example. That doesn't take away from the fact that it's more of a fitness watch than anything else. It's even in the name. Galaxy Watch "Active" 2.
As someone who prefers a wearable that is more fitness related than something that aims to be a smart tool with loads of smartphone-like features, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 grabbed my attention better than most smartwatches. Should it grab yours though?
That all depends on what you look for in a smartwatch. If you're looking for one at all. In this review, i'll go over my experience with the watch and discuss some of its best points. As well as one or two not so good points that are worth knowing before you buy.
In short though, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a fantastic smartwatch and is absolutely worth buying if you're in the market for this type of tech.
The Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a stunning watch without being flashy
Design is usually my favorite part about tech. Not because I value it over function, but because I simply love the work that goes into the design details.
And the design details of the Galaxy Watch Active 2 are not to be overlooked. It's just a really nice looking, yet simplistically designed wearable. There's no rotating bezel, no loud design elements like large crown buttons or excessive branding.
In fact, there's no branding that's visible at all when you're not looking at the underside of the watch. You won't find the Samsung name on the upward-facing part of the band, on the watch case, or even on the display bezel or top side of the tang buckle.
The only place you can see the Samsung name is on the underside of the tang buckle that's hidden during wear, and on the back of the watch case. As a comparison, watches like the Emporio Armani Connected Smartwatch 3 have the Emporio Armani logo imprinted on the band.
And the Honor Magic Watch 2 has the Honor brand etched into the top side of the tang buckle. There's nothing wrong with this design approach. I just prefer as little branding as possible. Those who are buying the product know what sort of product it is.
And the addition of such details on areas like the end of the watch band or the tang buckle just seem pointless and unnecessary since usually only the wearer will ever see those design details.
Beyond the lack of branding, Samsung's attention to detail and craftsmanship for design shows tenfold. Instead of stamping its name on the watch unnecessarily, effort was put into other areas of design. Such as the brushed metal on the back button.
Or the glossy bevel paired with the matte finish of the home button. This somewhat muted design plays very well to the understated look of the watch and to me, feels like a very elegant and sleek design that should be appreciated.
If you want a great looking smartwatch, look no further.
The battery is no slouch
Though I wasn't wearing this watch every single day and using it as much as possible every day i did wear it, I still tried to leave it off the charger as much as I could.
I wanted to emulate how long the battery would last for how I would personally use the watch. And that oftentimes includes just placing it on my desk at the end of a day where I was wearing it.
I had it off the charger for days at one point and it was still 72-percent battery life when I checked it again. This was with average use over the past weekend and including a few walks, some Spotify controller use to manage song playback from my phone, and mild notification interaction.
I wasn't interacting with the screen every minute of every day, but I did use the watch consistently, and the battery held up without needing a charge every single night. Which, is more than I can say for any Wear OS watch I've ever used.
Typically I'd get two to three days max out of a Wear OS smartwatch even if left off the charger at the end of the day. So when it comes to battery life the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is fairly impressive. I can't say for sure that it has the best battery life of any smartwatch on the market.
What I can say is that it is pretty damn good. Good enough that most people can probably forget about charging it for a few days without fear that it won't still work at the end of that time. That's a trait that you should want in a watch like this.
Because we all likely have enough to recharge when the day is done. There's no reason to add another device to potentially forget about plugging in every night.
The touch bezel feature doesn't work right away
The touch bezel is probably one of the more stand-out features of this watch. And it doesn't work right away. That sounds bad, and I did list this as a con. Which I personally feel is warranted.
Let me explain though. Out of the features the Galaxy Watch Active 2 has to offer, the touch bezel is one that grabs attention. It's the evolution of the rotating bezel of the Gear S3.
Upon opening the box and powering the watch up for the first time, I immediately realized the touch bezel wasn't working.
For a little while I figured that it simply didn't work. That's because I was under the impression that it was supposed to be enabled by default though and that you couldn't actually turn it off. It's not though, and you can. Samsung designed it to be turned off from the start. And the user has to enable it if they want to use it.
I felt this made it a little more cumbersome to use, and that Samsung should have enabled it by default instead. To give it more spotlight from the get go. Even though that's not the route that Samsung took, finding the feature toggle isn't too hard.
If you navigate to settings you'll find it quickly under the Advanced menu, and once you turn it on, it's great. It makes navigating the watch UI so much easier than before.
So no, the touch bezel doesn't work out of the box. And to me that's a downside. But, enabling the functionality is easy enough and you'll never want to turn it back off. One of Samsung's best traits when it comes the UI design for its watches is the round menu.
The apps, and all other features once you open the main drawer of options straddle the display's edge. This makes using the touch bezel a natural-feeling navigation method. Once you get used to where exactly the bezel's touch sensors are, using it is very seamless.
It might seem like a simple thing. But the touch bezel is one of the best parts about this watch. It helps to prevent moving through the watch UI from feeling clunky.
It's comfortable enough to wear to sleep
I've never been one to wear my smartwatches for very long. Usually I'll keep them on for a few hours but rarely would I wear them for longer than five.
That's simply because a lot of them have felt uncomfortable to me beyond that point. I would end up needing to take them off for at least an hour to give my wrists a rest. That hasn't really been the case with the Galaxy Watch Active 2.
It's comfortable enough that I could wear it while I sleep and forget it was really there. I could also wear it all day without having any discomfort at all.
That's a very important factor for a smartwatch, especially one as rooted in health and fitness as this one. As it was designed to be worn daily by its users. Although I tend to skip a day or two now and then, I did wear it a lot and I could wear it until later in the evenings.
Much of this is helped by the band that the watch comes with. So if swapped out, how comfortable it is could change.
It isn't just about the band though. The underside of the watch has a nice curve to it that conforms to the changing surface shape of your wrist as you move it around naturally.
Instead of being entirely flat, Samsung designed it so only the part with the sensor is flat. The edges of the underside of the case though have a slight curve. I found this to be less obstructing for anytime I was resting my hand flat on the palm.
A good example of this is push-ups. With other smartwatches, this would result in discomfort at the joint because of the edges of the watch case being shoved against my skin.
At no point during wear did this ever happen with the Galaxy Watch Active 2 though. Comfort is essential so you can wear it longer, which allows the watch to do its job.
It does it's job and it does it well. All because I was able to wear it all day without it feeling uncomfortable.
Performance is great, just as you'd expect it to be
Not all smartwatches perform well. Some are sluggish and hangups or jittery animations are highly visible. This doesn't make those watches unusable, but it doesn't make for the best experience either.
That isn't a problem for the Galaxy Watch Active 2. Performance is great, just as you would expect it to be. Moving from menu to menu happens in a nice fluid motion and that makes using the watch more enjoyable.
More to the point, it makes using the watch as easy as possible. Because instead of dealing with slow or laggy response times from your touch interaction, you're already moving on to your next interaction.
Seamless interaction with the watch functions is paramount to utilizing the watch to its full potential. And to it providing you with the necessary tools and features that a device like this should.
The good performance does have something to do with the hardware components inside the watch. But it's more about the software that Samsung is using to run the operating system on it. This is Samsung's best iteration of the OS on its watches yet.
That doesn't mean there's no room for improvement. There's always room for improvement. However, I found it challenging to find any areas where I would personally want Samsung to improve on the software experience with this watch.
Samsung has done a good job with how the software works, and it shows.
Most functions work pretty well, calls included
Though the watch doesn't have LTE on it, I was able to place calls from the watch thanks to its integrated mic and speaker. Calls also worked surprisingly well.
The speaker may not be the best, meaning speakerphone on the watch is likely not as good as it would be from your phone. But then again, speakerphone call quality isn't the best all around even on phones.
That said, calls seemed pretty clear and I generally didn't have much trouble (if any) hearing people. The same can't be said for people on the receiving end of my calls entirely, but overall the quality wasn't bad.
In most cases there was little to no interference from background audio. Aside from the voice calls, the other features worked with varying levels of success. For instance the heart rate sensor worked as you would probably expect from any wearable at this stage in the market.
Which is to say pretty well. The heart rate sensor can also be used to measure your stress levels. And you can set it up to measure them automatically every ten minutes or so. You can also manually hit the measure button and check on the spot if you're so inclined.
I found this to work ok, but not as well as simply measuring your heart rate. I would be met with an alert that it didn't work most times after trying to measure my stress levels. While other times it was fine.
Case in point, it seems to work more consistently when you leave it to measure your stress on its own, rather than manually telling the watch to do so.
There are other useful features to make note of too. Such as the double tap on the home button to launch certain functions. At default it's set to just open up Bixby. However, you can adjust this to launch other functions too.
A few examples include opening recent apps, creating a reminder, opening the music, or launching the find my phone feature. The list is actually pretty large, so there's some great versatility with this button. Of course a single tap will just take you back to the home screen.
Easily swap out the band for a more styled look
When you initially pick your color for the watch, you will have a specific band that comes with it. It'll be the silicone one in the matching color of the case.
Samsung offers alternative bands though just in case you want one for different situations. You might find that the silicone band is just fine for most things. But, perhaps you want something that looks a little more sleek and professional for work or nights out.
Because the watch has swappable bands, you can pick from a range of different colors and band materials, like leather. The bands are also a standard 20mm, so really any 20mm band should work if you find one you like on Amazon or elsewhere.
Overall this particular detail is nothing new, but it's still nice to see that the option hasn't gone away. Leaving users stuck with whatever band comes with the watch.
Is this worth the purchase?
In a single word. Yes. Those in the market for a smartwatch definitely should consider the Galaxy Watch Active 2. In fact, it's the only smartwatch you should buy. Out of any that I've tried recently, which includes a few new Wear OS watches, and older watches from one to three years ago, this has been the best.
It looks great, functions even better, and it's not terribly expensive. It's also not reliant on a Samsung phone which is great for anyone who likes this watch but prefers a phone from a different brand.
Unless you specifically want something that runs on Wear OS or a different wearable operating system, don't count this one out. There's a lot to love here.