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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Has a premium look and feel
Great rotating bezel approach
Strong AMOLED screen
Incredible battery life
The 46mm model is very large
Bixby is a spotty voice assistant
Not most comfortable for all fitness
Limited app ecosystem
Unique flourishes and premium polish make the Samsung Galaxy Watch a distinctive option for smartwatch buyers.
Samsung had its hands (or wrists) in smartwatches for years before the Apple Watch came along. Since then, instead of trying to match its biggest competitor in style and approach, the South Korean gadget giant went in another direction.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch looks like a traditional, circular wristwatch, but it finds a balance between a classic aesthetic and digital smarts thanks to navigation that smartly straddles the line between both worlds. It's big and chunky, but also stylish and packed with plenty of useful features. Costly, but powerful, the Galaxy Watch could be the premium smartwatch for Android users.
While Samsung's latest Galaxy S10 smartphones boldly push design barriers with their punch-hole displays, the Galaxy Watch—released at the tail end of summer 2018—is more a case of evolution rather than revolution.
At first glance, it's seemingly unchanged from the previous Samsung Gear S3, which itself was largely similar to the Gear S2 before it. There are slight stylistic tweaks, however. For instance, the little rivets around the rotating bezel are much slimmer and sleeker than before and the pattern on the rubber strap is different. And where the back used to be nearly flat, now the heart rate sensor juts out just a smidge, perhaps to improve readings. It doesn't feel any different on the wrist though.
Regardless, aside from its predecessors, there's still nothing quite like the Galaxy Watch on the market today. Sure, there are other smartwatches that keep analog wristwatch styling intact, but Samsung is the only company with a functional rotating bezel that interacts with the screen.
The rotating bezel is a very handy, speedy, and precise way of getting around the Galaxy Watch.
It seemed like an odd concept when first introduced with the Gear S2, but it's actually incredibly clever and useful. As you rotate the bezel left or right, you'll flick through menus that take you through favorite apps and contacts, and notifications. It's a circular interface for a circular watch, and while you can still swipe through menus and use the two physical buttons, the rotating bezel is a very handy, speedy, and precise way of getting around the Galaxy Watch. There's even a satisfying click as you spin it around.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch comes in 42mm and 46mm editions, and we reviewed the larger 46mm edition. Big watches might be in style—although your experience may vary—even so, the larger Galaxy Watch feels a bit overbearing on a large adult male wrist. Unlike the Apple Watch Series 4, which is almost all screen with little else around it, the Galaxy Watch surrounds its screen with the rotating bezel and a thick stainless steel frame that includes the mighty lugs at the top and bottom. It's sturdy and attractive, but also quite large and heavy.
Samsung makes the best smartphone screens around, so it's no surprise that its watch screens are also stellar. The Galaxy Watch has a 1.3-inch Super AMOLED display on the 46mm model, which drops to 1.2 inches on the 42mm edition, both at a 360 x 360 resolution. It's crisp, bright, and colorful.
The 46mm edition comes in Silver while the 42mm version is sold in Midnight Black and Rose Gold variants. All three come with a rubber strap, although Samsung has additional rubber and leather strap styles available for purchase, and it's easy to snap them on and off. The third-party strap market isn't as robust as the Apple Watch's, but there's plenty worth considering. In fact, many are knock-offs of Apple's own designs—at a fraction of the cost, naturally.
Samsung also sells LTE-capable editions of the Galaxy Watch for a bit more money than the standard Bluetooth/Wi-Fi editions. The upside is that the LTE versions can be used entirely on their own for calls, texts, and internet-powered needs, although you'll have to pay for the additional service with your mobile carrier.
Getting your Galaxy Watch up and running isn't very difficult. You'll need your smartphone handy, whether it's an Android phone or iPhone. Download the Galaxy Wearable app from the Play Store or Galaxy Apps on Android, or the Samsung Galaxy Watch app on iOS. From there, you'll complete Bluetooth pairing to wirelessly connect the devices, and then follow the on-screen prompts to complete setup.
Given the sizable price and premium styling, you're right to expect a speedy, capable experience—and thankfully, the Galaxy Watch delivers. Running off Samsung's own Exynos 9110 processor with 768MB RAM on the Bluetooth model and 1.5GB RAM in the LTE edition, the Galaxy Watch delivers a smooth experience throughout. We had no complaints when it came to launching apps or using features.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch has shockingly great battery life. Where some other smartwatches struggle to hit two days, the 46mm model's 472mAh battery delivered almost six full days of everyday use on a single charge. We weren't using GPS, so it was mostly a blend of reading notifications, checking the time, and having the watch automatically recognize walks around the neighborhood, but we still didn't expect it to last as long as it did.
Where some other smartwatches struggle to hit two days, the 46mm model's 472mAh battery delivered almost six full days of everyday use on a single charge.
The 42mm version has a much smaller battery pack, at 270mAh, so we'd be surprised to see it last more than three days with typical use. Even if that is the case, three days of uptime is better than most smartwatches. And with both models, the Galaxy Watch just pops onto the included wireless charging cradle and automatically begins topping up.
While Samsung relies on Android for most of its smartphones, the Galaxy Watch runs on the Tizen operating system. That means it's not tapped into Google's Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) ecosystem and the apps created for those watches. Despite this, the Galaxy Watch interface is attractive and smartly built around both touch and the rotating bezel ring.
The Galaxy Watch hits the familiar smartwatch fundamentals, delivering messages, email, and app notifications from a paired phone, and you can send quick responses by speaking into the watch, tapping emoji, or even typing on the screen itself (which is not ideal, obviously). You can also take calls from your wrist, pay at NFC-equipped terminals with Samsung Pay, and ask Bixby to answer questions and pull up apps. Sadly, Samsung's voice assistant is spotty and slow, sometimes not understanding what you said and often just kicking you to your phone for a result. It's not very handy or useful.
Unfortunately, the Tizen ecosystem is thin for third-party apps, and the Galaxy Watch doesn't have the robust support of the Apple Watch or even Wear OS. You'll find key apps like Spotify, Uber, and MapMyRun, but by and large, a lot of the bigger-name wearable apps from other platforms aren't here, and there are no official Google apps in the mix. The Galaxy Store does have a lot of shady-looking knockoff apps, however.
Given the bulkier design and heft, however, this doesn't feel like a watch we'd actually want to take into a pool or on a longer run.
On the plus side, the Galaxy Watch is overflowing with watch face options. Samsung's built-in faces are pretty diverse and lightly customizable, and there are tens of thousands of additional faces available for download. It's worth a buck or two if you see something really eye-catching.
Of course, the Galaxy Watch is also a fully-fledged fitness tracker that can capture runs, bike rides, hikes, swims, and plenty more. In our experience with walks, runs, and biking, the Galaxy Watch performed admirably. The onboard GPS means you can track without your phone in your pocket. We also liked how tracking automatically kicked in after 10 minutes of walking the dog, encouraging us to keep going a bit more.
Given the bulkier design and heft, however, this doesn't feel like a watch we'd actually want to take into a pool or on a longer run. Samsung's cheaper, simpler Galaxy Watch Active is a better pick for that.
The Galaxy Watch is on the pricier end of smartwatches today, with the 42mm editions selling for $329.99 and the 46mm version at $349.99. That's for the Bluetooth/Wi-Fi edition; the LTE model of each adds $50 to the price tag. That still makes it $70-80 cheaper than the Apple Watch Series 4 when comparing the respective large and small sizes, but you should keep in mind there are cheaper Wear OS alternatives out there. You can also find the older Samsung Gear S3 watch for less cash, if you dig the styling but don't think you'll mind hitting the charger a bit more regularly.
Samsung vs. Apple is a grand battle on the smartphone side of things, and also a pretty compelling match-up when it comes to wearable devices. These are very different smartwatches, however. As noted, the Galaxy Watch straddles the line between digital smarts and analog styling, delivering a chunky smartwatch that can pass as traditional wristwatch.
That's definitely not the case with the Apple Watch Series 4, however, which has a rounded rectangular face and looks much like a shrunken phone than a classic wristwatch. Apple has definitely made the most of this revised form factor. It's slim and perfectly sized, with a smooth interface and excellent performance.
The Apple Watch definitely has some advantages when it comes to heart monitoring and watch face customization, while the Galaxy Watch has many more face designs available and that great rotating bezel. Both watches also work with iPhones, but the Apple Watch won't work with any Android phones. They're both strong watches, but dramatically different enough in style to likely pull you in one direction or the other.
A very strong smartwatch.
There's a lot to like about Samsung's Galaxy Watch, from the traditional styling to the smart rotating bezel, sharp screen, and fantastic battery life. On the flip side, the large 46mm model feels a bit overbearing on even a large wrist, the Bixby voice assistant has issues, and it wouldn't be our watch of choice for serious fitness needs. That said, if you don't use an iPhone, the Galaxy Watch is one of the best smartwatches available for Android users.