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Lifewire / Yoona Wagener
Easy to achieve a close fit
App is not really helpful
Watch face is very sensitive to waking
Device heats up when streaming music
Activity tracking seems off
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is a sleek and capable smartwatch with wellness and convenience in mind, but it’s limited when it comes to in-depth and accurate fitness data.
If you think a wearable may be the key to helping you move a bit more, sleep better, and feel less stressed, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is right there to help nudge you in the right direction. It’s a lightweight and sturdy smartwatch that champions general wellness. Along with tracking multisport activities, steps, sleep, and stress levels, it’s a device that can help you stay on top of emails, play music, and even make purchases on the move.
We spent some time with this wearable and explored just how comfortable it is to use every day and how it stacks up as a fitness tracker.
There’s nothing loud about the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While it’s small, streamlined, and lightweight, it’s not boring or unstylish.
It sports a round face that weighs only 0.88 ounces and features a 1.1-inch display that’s bright and crystal-clear, protected by Corning Gorilla Glass. For smartphone users, you’ll feel right at home swiping and performing the same movements you would on your phone to select items and navigate the device.
There’s nothing loud about the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
There are also two buttons on the right side of the face that serve as “Back” and “Home” buttons. It’s easy to figure out what they do with just a little testing. We found using these buttons to be very intuitive and responsive to pressing.
And while it may not look like it, this watch is also quite rugged. It comes with a MIL-STD-810G rating, which means it has military-grade resistance to bumps, drops, water exposure, and some temperature extremes. In fact, it’s safe enough to wear this for swims up to 50 meters deep.
It doesn’t take much to get the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active ready for use. The only charging component is a wireless charger with a charging head and USB cord.
The watch came 41% charged out of the box, so the initial charge to 100% was quite fast and only took about an hour.
Once the watch was fully powered, we downloaded the corresponding app from the App Store (since we tested this device with an iPhone). We were able to pair the watch to our phone in just about a minute and review some basic options, like signing in to a Samsung account, which is required to download apps. After a quick tour of the screen and controls, we were up and running in a matter of minutes.
Of course, adjusting settings and widgets to create a personalized experience took some additional time. We found that the experience was very similar to setting up a smartphone, but with less flexibility and less to overwhelm the screen. Still, learning and tweaking the device is fast with the swipe and touch controls. And as we used it more to track activities, we were better able to determine how we wanted to customize the experience.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is intended for daily use and we found it to be comfortable for a full day of wear. The strap is made of silicone rubber that’s light and flexible and doesn’t suffer from the tendency to pick up lint and dust like many other sport watches with similar bands.
The strap also features a unique fitting mechanism. Instead of securing the band with tabs like many other watches, the Galaxy Watch Active allows you to tuck the strap underneath the band and flush against your wrist, which gives you an especially close fit. This snugness was helpful when running, in addition to the lack of bulk, since there was no bouncing or readjusting required. The only problem is that it can sometimes get a bit too snug, especially toward the later half of the day.
Sleeping with the watch wasn’t uncomfortable and neither was performing some other routine activities like showering or washing dishes. This device is rated safe in water as deep as 50 meters, but our experiences with daily activities involving contact with water—and soapy water at that—never negatively impacted the device. It also stood up to drops on a hardwood floor, from three to five feet up. We never saw a scratch or an issue with functionality.
For folks who like to move and receive reminders and encouragement, the Galaxy Watch Active will scratch that itch. The default setting initiates messages after an hour of inactivity and offers suggestions for stretching exercises. There are also workout profiles for a range of exercises, even something as simple as squats, which can provide just that extra incentive to knock out a few sets and get away from sitting at your desk.
Certain activities are automatically tracked, like running and walking, but we were a bit disappointed in the logged results. On one 1.5-mile run, the watch detected a run of only 0.88 miles. Then, when we were just short of another mile, the watch detected that we’d run 1.25 miles. We compared the results to our Garmin watch and noticed that the Galaxy Watch Active recorded the pace and time elapsed as two minutes slower than our Garmin.
Another drawback with relying on the watch to automatically detect and record these kinds of workouts is that no heart rate or GPS location are logged.
Even when we did initiate a running workout by selecting it, we were disappointed with the inconsistencies. Over a 4.5-mile run, while the distance recorded was within range, the heart rate was much higher than our Garmin watch with a built-in heart-rate monitor, and the pace was also about 30 seconds slower. This might be because the GPS and heart rate readings seemed spotty at times during the run, but this was also a bit disheartening to see and detracts from one of the central functionalities of this device.
For people who want motivational reminders and the ability to record multiple sports and activities, this watch may do the trick. But for the more serious runner and perhaps swimmer, too, the level of accuracy and the ability to access data on a granular level are a bit lacking.
Samsung says that this battery could last for up to 45 hours, and we found that to be the case. It could even go longer if we weren’t using the watch for activities like streaming playlists from the Spotify app, which drains the battery significantly. The device warmed up when using it this way, which made wearing it slightly uncomfortable.
Another instance in which we found the battery to drain faster was when we switched the watch to “Always On” mode. This was best on runs, when the normal way to wake the watch (raising our wrist) did not register as well, and because sunlight made visibility difficult at times.
Recharging the device when it was completely drained took about two hours every time, which meant we spent little down-time waiting for it to be usable again.
Like other Samsung smartwatches, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active runs on the Tizen operating system. As a result, the number of apps in the Galaxy Store does tend to be limited, but Spotify comes preloaded on the device. We were able to quickly pair our account and download a playlist to listen to offline while on a run or just out and about. Downloading the playlist was relatively fast and extremely convenient to use on the go.
Another general wellness feature we liked was the sleep-tracking feature, which took no work to set up. We liked being able to view how much of the sleep cycle was light versus deep and even the calorie burn. The big question mark was the efficiency rating—the app doesn’t provide much of an explanation for how the device reached this score.
The stress rating was also insightful and based on spikes in heart rate, and the built-in breathing exercise widget is a nice way to build in a little meditation even for those in a time crunch.
The integrated Samsung Bixby voice assistant was helpful for basic commands like checking the weather, setting a reminder, or starting a running workout. There was a little lag and sometimes Bixby didn’t understand what we said, but for uncomplicated tasks, it was nice to avoid a click of a button or touch of the screen.
There are also some features that will only benefit users with an Android device, including email, text messaging, and SOS call settings. It’s also possible, if you download an appropriate app, to log payment information in the device, but we were unable to experiment with that in our testing.
While we did feel like we had a relatively well-rounded experience with the software and appreciate the iOS compatibility, the full experience seems tailored to those with Android and Samsung devices.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active retails for $199.99, which isn’t a budget price, but also isn’t exhorbitant considering what this device is capable of. Some of the most popular smartwatches easily exceed $200 yet have the same feature set or fall behind what the Galaxy Watch Active offers.
Compared to the Apple Watch, the Galaxy Watch Active is a worthy competitor and a bargain.
The Fitbit Versa, for example, which is similarly priced, offers payment functionality and is much more focused on fitness activities, but lacks the general smartwatch features like email, phone, and text capability. And compared to the Apple Watch, which starts at $399, the Galaxy Watch Active is both a worthy competitor and a bargain.
When stacked against the Apple Watch Series 4, the Galaxy Watch Active keeps up in many ways and falls a little short in others.
Both watches share the same water resistance rating and offer similar approaches to all-day wellness monitoring and activity tracking. The Galaxy Watch Active’s 360 Super AMOLED display is crisp, but it’s significantly smaller than the larger 1.57-inch display on the Apple Watch (that larger screen is significantly heavier at up 1.69 ounces).
One thing the Galaxy Watch Active offers out of the box that the Apple Watch does not is automatic sleep monitoring. But the Apple Watch Series 4 is available with cellular, making it possible to leave a smartphone behind without a hitch. There are also more apps available for the Apple Watch, which is something that’s lacking for the Galaxy Watch Active at this point.
Explore what else is out there by perusing our guides to the best smartwatches for women, best Samsung smartwatches, and best Android smartwatches.
A good general wellness device, but not recommended for serious athletes.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is an attractive mix of fitness tracking and smartwatch capabilities, but it may not be the best match for anyone who wants to drill down into their workout data. We appreciate that iOS smartphone owners can use this device, but all signs point to Android users and casual fitness fans as the groups who would have the best time with this wearable.