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Data shows one of the primary uses for a smartwatch is to track the details of life; including sleep, stress, activity, eating, and focused exercise. The new Samsung Galaxy Watch optimizes life tracking with a user interface that is maximized for the wrist thanks in large part to the rotating bezel.
Long battery life is one of the advertised pillars of the Samsung Galaxy Watch, but getting the watch to last up to the advertised four days requires that you disable one feature that makes this watch stand out from other smartwatches. Enabling the always-on display mode resulted in about a day and a half of battery life over the past week of testing, essentially cutting the effective battery life in half.
Also: Samsung Galaxy Watch: Business professionals will love these four features TechRepublic
The new Galaxy Watch continues with Samsung's top notch design and construction through the use of stainless steel and high quality plastic. When setting the new Galaxy Watch adjacent to my Gear S3 Frontier, the only way I can identify one over the other is the silver versus black stainless steel housing. The bezel is elegant, the buttons have awesome design elements and texture, and from the front things look about the same. The back of the Galaxy Watch has less glass than the Gear S3.
This year, you can choose from three variations of the Galaxy Watch, including a smaller size since that was a complaint of many folks. I personally like bigger watches, the 47mm Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is my current daily watch, so I am tested the larger 46mm model that comes with silver stainless steel and a black silicone band. You can also choose a 42mm midnight black model or a 42mm rose gold model. Various band colors are available for each model too.
Specifications of the Samsung Galaxy Watch include:
The larger Galaxy Watch is only 0.1mm thicker than the Gear S3 Frontier and 1 gram heavier. However, the battery has a 92 mAh higher capacity, which is nearly 25 percent greater than the Gear S3 Frontier. The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier, see our full review, has been my primary smartwatch for nearly two years and the only complaint I had with the hardware was the battery capacity.
With Samsung advertising up to four days of battery life with the WiFi model of the Galaxy Watch, I was looking forward to multiple days of use. After more than a week of use, I can get through one full day and a night of sleep tracking before having to charge the watch up again during the middle of the second day when I have the watch face set to always-on. When the watch face is only activated with a twist or a button press, then 2-4 days is possible, depending on the heart rate settings.
Also: Samsung Galaxy Watch ongoing review: 4 ways it's better
Battery life is HIGHLY dependent on what each of us has enabled or disabled so your battery life experience may vary wildly from my own. There are a lot of settings and options on the Galaxy Watch, some that are buried deeply. For my usage, I wanted to really test the advanced functions that Samsung advertises so I have the always-on display mode turned on, turned on stress level monitoring to always, and also turned on continuous heart rate monitoring so that I could capture REM sleep patterns.
My testing showed a battery reduction of about 2-3 percent per hour for daily wear with a drop of about 12-15 percent per hour for running with offline music playing. During a day with the watch face turn off, battery reduction is more in line with 1 percent per hour.
You may think that REM sleep tracking is on by default since advanced sleep tracking is advertised by Samsung. After three days of tracking my sleep and not seeing any REM zones, I dug in deeper. In order to enable REM sleep tracking, you have to go on the watch and open up Samsung Health. Then scroll down to heart rate and tap on it. Tap the three dots on the right, tap the gear icon for settings, and then scroll up to choose the Always option for monitoring. You should now see REM in your sleep tracking results. However, after two days with this option turned on, one showed no REM while the other showed REM with no deep sleep so I am displeased with the Galaxy Watch ability to track sleep accurately.
The bezel rotates smoothly, finger swipes and taps work well, and the side buttons have excellent response. The OLED display is vivid and some watch faces look stunning. The hardware is stunning and feels much better than the price may indicate.
The larger model also uses a standard 22mm strap configuration so you can purchase replacement bands to match your needs and style, such as the awesome Strap Studio bands I have tested a couple of times over the last two years. The smaller two models use a standard 20mm strap design so you can also find alternative bands for very reasonable prices online or pick up official Samsung bands at a premium price.
One specification that was actually removed from the Galaxy Watch is the MST radio. Samsung stated it was removed to provide a larger capacity battery. I personally agree with the trade-off to provide more battery life, especially since MST is older payment technology and should be phased out anyway. You can still use your Samsung phone to pay with Samsung Pay and MST or use Samsung Pay via NFC with the new Galaxy Watch.
The Galaxy Watch continues to run Tizen (there were rumors of Samsung moving to Android Wear) and it is fully optimized for the round wearable experience. At first I was excited about this, but after using the Galaxy Watch for the past week, I am starting to think Wear OS may have been a better choice. Buttons, screen swipes and taps, and the rotating bezel are all used to navigate around on the watch, but the lack of apps and the quality of the apps that are there leave something to be desired.
The Samsung Galaxy Apps store needs some serious attention. The main featured page is 90 percent watch faces while top apps are basic utilities. With Samsung's market strength it can do a lot better.
There are a number of optional watch faces included on the Galaxy Watch with a ton more available, Samsung says 60,000+, in the Samsung Gear store. Watch faces are one area of the Galaxy Watch that beats all other smartwatches I have ever tested adn honestly people do use their watch for the time a significant portion of the time it is worn.
Also: I went to buy a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and AT&T shrugged
The fitness apps and utilities embedded within Samsung Health are powerful and very useful as well, so if you want a device for fitness tracking and watch faces then the Galaxy Watch may satisfy you. There are 21 new trackable indoor exercises and a total of 39 workouts that can be tracked by the Galaxy Watch.
I went for a couple of runs over the past week with the Galaxy Watch and used the Samsung Health application. Strava is shown on the Samsung site, but it is nowhere to be found on the watch or in the app store. I ran on a known route and the Galaxy Watch tracking was close, 0.2 miles on a 2.75 mile route, for example. There is a ton of data captured and you can export the data manually or to Strava. Long term testing is required since my Gear S3 Frontier has been known to reset randomly during runs.
There are reminders to get up and move that can be enabled and if you end up sitting for long periods of time at your desk then the watch will even prompt you to perform body twists and other exercises to get you moving. I like having these reminders and think the Galaxy Watch could definitely help your health in the long run.
The automatic activity tracking is another area that I enjoy on the Galaxy Watch. I walk about a mile between my office and the train station and usually these walks are never tracked, except for the steps. The Galaxy Watch categorizes these as walk so I can easily see and track the efforts there in Samsung Health.
In the past I have tried counting calories, but it is a lot of work so I usually give up after a week or so. Samsung worked to enhance the Galaxy Watch with the Samsung ecosystem so now you can use Bixby on your phone to get food into the Samsung Health application. This will require more testing over time.
Speaking of Bixby, it has replaced the terrible S Voice function on the Galaxy Watch. Unfortunately, I think Bixby may be even worse than S Voice. It is very slow to respond (I didn't know animations could move around a circle that slowly), rarely understands what is said, and provides basic functionality. I never thought much about a voice assistant on a watch, but Siri is one of the best features of the Apple Watch and I actually miss it after trying to use Bixby on the Galaxy Watch. Give it a try to see if it is as terrible as I have experienced. The response I saw the most was, "I could not find the answer to your question."
A rotation or swipe to the left reveals your notifications and then moving to the right jumps through various customizable widgets you select. Pressing in on the home key, bottom right, takes you to the app launcher that you can easily spin or tap through to launch apps loaded by default and those you install through the Gear app store.
Swiping down from the top reveals the connectivity status and several quick controls. Settings can be managed right from the Galaxy Watch or through the companion Galaxy Wearable, previously named Samsung Gear, application.
The Galaxy Wearable application is available for all Android 5.0 and higher smartphones and the iPhone. The app allows you to fully setup and customize your Galaxy Watch experience. This includes viewing the Galaxy Watch connection status, finding and installing apps and watch faces, managing your notifications that are shared with the Galaxy Watch, sending pictures and music to the Galaxy Watch, and more. The Galaxy Wearable app also then to the Samsung Health application.
Initial setup and pairing with a Galaxy Note 9 was quick and easy with a pop-up appearing on the Note 9 as soon as I turned on the Galaxy Watch.
The 46mm Galaxy Watch is now available for $349.99 and the 42mm variants are $329.99. You can purchase them at Amazon, Best Buy, and Samsung.
The LTE models are coming soon from most carriers, but T-Mobile is selling them now. The LTE version is priced $50 higher at $400 for the 46mm one and $375 for the 42mm models. T-Mobile lets you pay $16/$15 now and $16/$15 per month for 24 months if you don't want to pay for it in full today.
While the battery life has been better than my Gear S3 Frontier, it is not as good as I anticipated. I may try it out for another week with the watch face only turned on with a flip of the wrist. Feedback from other reviewers was that the always-on watch face kills battery life quickly. This is one area that stands apart from the Apple Watch and something I appreciate, but if I can get another full day (or more) out of the watch with it off then maybe that is a trade-off worth exploring.
My stress levels throughout the past week have remained in the 30 percent or lower region so I may also turn off this automatic measure and just resort to manual readings when I feel I should capture the stress level. I am going to leave continuous heart rate monitoring on because I really want to see if the Galaxy Watch can accurately capture my sleep, like my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus does every night. Consistent performance is key to the success of a wearable and Samsung is not quite there yet.
There are a ton of settings and options on the Galaxy Watch and unfortunately some things are buried deeply so there is likely to be many questions from people as they start using the Galaxy Watch and find something is not performing as hoped. Keep digging into the settings and tapping those three dots on the right to fully discover all that is offered on the Galaxy Watch.
The hardware is stunning and I love the look and feel of the 46mm silver Galaxy Watch on my wrist. It is easy to swap out bands and it is very comfortable for me to wear all the time. The watch faces are also fun to change daily and you can spend years trying them all out.
The Galaxy Watch could be improved with the inclusion of Google Assistant, but since it is based on Tizen that just isn't going to happen. The voice assistant is definitely a major weakness of the watch and I'm not sure Bixby can be improved to offer a better experience.