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Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff
Screen and graphics
Activity and fitness tracking
Bixby is inconsistent
Always on significantly reduces battery life
Samsung's Galaxy Active 2 Smart Watch has a clean, attractive design, a bright, colorful round screen, and a deep well of features that take wearables to some new places. The adherence to Samsung apps is problematic, but overall it's a great mobile companion for notification, workouts, and quick information. Plus, the battery life is amazing.
Samsung Galaxy Active 2 is my favorite Samsung smartwatch to date. It’s also an excellent wearable, overall. From the design to the interface, the graphics, notifications, and activity tracking, the Galaxy Active 2 satisfies and often surpasses expectations. It also compares favorably to my favorite wearable, the Apple Watch Series 5.
It’s hard to put into words the distance Samsung has traveled in the wearable space since its first collection of smartwatch technology. I remember slow, bulky, oddly curved devices with cameras in even odder places that appeared to have been built without human input. However, Samsung’s gift is its ability to quickly wipe the slate clean and start over, sometimes multiple times.
In the case of the Galaxy Watch line, things took a favorable turn when Samsung shifted from Android Wear to its own Tizen mobile OS. Since then, Samsung has refined the Galaxy Watch experience and refined the overall look and feel to near polished perfection with the Galaxy Active line.
Samsung has taken the potentially ill-advised step of raising the price of its newest smartwatch by $80 (it’s now $279 for the 40mm model. My 44mm is $299), but I still think it’s a great buy. By contrast, the cheapest Apple Watch Series 5 is $399.
Samsung didn’t mess with the subtle and smart design it introduced earlier this year. It’s still a solid-feeling disk of black (or silver if you get the pricier LTE model), metal, and glass with just two low-profile buttons.
One of the chief complaints for the original Active is that it did away with the popular, rotating physical bezel on the original and beefier Galaxy Watch. The bezel offered a quick, easy way to carousel through app choices and open apps. I liked it.
On the new Galaxy Active 2, Samsung replicated the look and feel of that physical bezel in software and haptics. It’s not on by default, so you have to pay attention and enable it during setup, but once you do, it works similarly to the physical bezel dial. When I place my finger on the edge of the Active 2 screen and start tracing a circle around the edge, the screen rotates through all my open apps and I feel a gentle pulse from under the screen. Similarly, if I tap the home button once, I get the app carousel and can rotate through their icons and, if I keep running my finger around the screen, it rolls onto the next apps carousel. The bezel also works within apps and settings as an intuitive, touch-based navigational tool.
On the back of the watch is a heart rate monitor, which works well, and, according to Samsung, the watch also has a new ECG monitor similar to what Apple has offered in the Apple Watch since Series 4. However, since it’s not yet enabled, I won’t be crediting Samsung for the addition.
Samsung’s watch band-changing method is simple enough, you just slide a tiny lever on the inside edge of the band, which pulls back one side of the pin, and then tip the band out of the watch. Apple’s slide-in method is a cleaner and less foolproof method.
The 360x360 screen is sharp, bright, responsive, and protected underneath Gorilla Glass. There’s a nice selection of editable watch faces that you can swap by pressing down on the screen. Also, many of the Active 2 system screens are adorable.
Combined, the look and feel is comfortable, elegant, and mostly watch-like. The circular design is familiar, but forces far more cropping than Apple's rectangular Apple Watch Series 5 design.
As with the Apple Watch Series 5, there is the option of an always-on watch screen. Unfortunately, Samsung buries the feature and then warns before you use it that it will “increase battery usage” (notice how they avoid saying, “will decrease battery life”). The always-on face is a lot like the always-on screen on the new Apple Watch Series 5. It reduces your chosen watch face to mostly monochrome, drops some complications, and appears to reduce the update frequency to only what’s necessary for telling the time.
If I have one major complaint regarding the Galaxy Active 2, it’s the apps, or at least Samsung’s app strategy. If you own a Samsung smartphone, you know the company has a whole collection of proprietary apps, many of which replicate those you can get from Google on Android. Samsung includes all those Google apps on its phones, as well. I hate the confusion, but have learned to ignore Samsung’s mail app, for instance, and use Gmail instead. That’s not possible with the Galaxy Active 2; there is no way to install Google Maps, Gmail, or Google Photos on the watch.
In fairness to Samsung, I did get used to their mail app and often found myself scrolling through my mail on the watch.
Samsung pushes the envelope a bit on what you can or should do on a screen of this size with a pair of viewers that bring full Tweets and playable YouTube videos to the display. Tweets suffer the most, with images loading as horizontal half moons and the text cutting off on both sides, YouTube videos play surprisingly well. They look and sound sharp but are again cropped in sometimes ridiculous ways. As I write this, I know I will soon see someone on the train watching full episodes of Cobra Kai on their Active 2 smartwatch.
Samsung’s Galaxy Active 2 is an excellent fitness companion, proactively watching for when I start and stop a workout. There are 13 different workout options on the watch, including running (the included GPS will keep track of your route), ellipticals, and weight machines. It’s also essentially waterproof, so you can wear it for your morning swim, as well.
One day I wore both the Active 2 and Apple Watch Series 5 and marveled at how both watches detected my walking workout at the exact same time. They also both detected me finishing my walk at around the same time.
If anything, Samsung’s watch might be slightly more sensitive. It detected a workout when I was in my backyard gardening. Was it a traditional workout? No. Did I accept it and let it track the full-backyardigan session? You betcha.
I get just as many admonishments to stand up stretch and get moving from the Active 2 as I do for the Apple’s watch, but I have to say, Samsung does it in, at least, a cuter way, with cartoon graphics that invariably make me smile—even if I do not comply and stand up.
The Active 2 does not bother me with breathing reminders and for this I am thankful. It does keep track of activities and instead of Apple’s rings, we get a multi-colored heart, representing Activity, Workout, and Move scores.
I’m not one to sleep with jewelry on and have never worn a sleep tracker but knowing that Samsung includes this ability in the Galaxy Active 2, I kept the watch on through the night. I worried I might wake up in the middle of the night and rip the thing off, but I slept through, barely noticing it. When I woke up, I found that I’d slept almost 7 hours with a 94% efficiency for about 6.5 hours of actual sleep. Of all that snooze time, though, the watch told me only about 30 minutes was what you’d call deep sleep. There also wasn’t a lot of REM sleep. No wonder I don’t dream like I used to.
The Galaxy Active 2 is as smart as you would expect. It delivers all my notifications and manages calls. Even without LTE, the Galaxy Active 2 tethers to your phone and will let you pick up and respond to calls directly from the watch. I’m not one to initiate a call from my watch, but it’s nice to have when you get a call and can’t get to your phone quickly. Audio is loud and clear enough to conduct a full conversation—and look like Dick Tracy in the process.
It has Samsung’s intelligent assistant Bixby built-in, which can answer queries when you say “Hey Bixby.” You can also activate it by double-pressing one of the buttons. In general, Bixby worked inconsistently for me. It's great for setting times, but mostly useless for general interest questions. Honestly, I have enough voice assistants in my life. On the other hand, if I were using only Samsung devices, I’d probably rely on Bixby a whole lot more.
I did like how I could sign into my Spotify account on my phone and have that authentication carry right over to the watch. After that, I was able to use the Galaxy Active 2 to remotely control Spotify music playback on the phone.
The battery life on this smartwatch is nothing short of remarkable. I went three days without charging it. However, when I switched to the always-on screen mode, I made it through a day, but no more.
Ultimately, I enjoyed wearing and using the Samsung Galaxy Active 2. It’s a great Samsung Galaxy Phone companion and has the look and feel of a slightly beefy, though quite elegant analog watch. The screen is colorful, sharp, and more entertaining than it has a right to be. If I lived my life in Android, buying the Samsung Galaxy Active 2 would be a no-brainer.
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