Samsung Galaxy Watch hands-on: A smartwatch that feels very familiar

The Samsung Gear is dead, long live the Galaxy Watch. Samsung’s new flagship smartwatch has a new name, but a lot about it is actually very familiar. The old – and still great – rotating bezel is still there, but it’s now running Tizen 4.0, which brings the real improvements to the Gear S3 successor.

Samsung promises more workout tracking, automatic sleep tracking and stress tracking as it makes a bigger push with health and fitness. But there are big hardware changes, too – specifically in the battery department, where the Galaxy Watch should in theory wipe the floor with the competition for staying power.

Read this: Best Samsung smartwatch for you

The Galaxy Watch costs $329.99 if you go for the smaller 42mm version, or $349.99 for the 46mm model, with preorders for the new Samsung smartwatches kicking off on 10 August.

So does the Apple Watch, Fitbit Versa and Wear watch rival make a good first impression? We’ve had a decent amount of playtime with all the new models to find out what’s new and worth getting excited about with the Samsung Galaxy Watch.

Samsung Galaxy Watch: Design

The first thing we need to mention is that, unlike the Gear S3 and the Sport, the Galaxy Watch comes in two sizes. There’s the Gear S3-matching 46mm model and a 42mm version, matching the Sport, that’s clearly aimed at slimmer wrists. With a rose gold option, as well, this is likely seen in-house as the Galaxy Watch option for women.

As far as attractiveness is concerned, it feels that with the 46mm option Samsung has merged design aspects from both the Frontier and Classic S3 models into one watch. Everything suggests that this shouldn’t work, but, actually, up close, it’s a decent looker. It retains the more robust-looking black rotating bezel from the Frontier but marries that with the more luxurious metal casing used on the Gear S3 Classic and it really looks the part.

The most surprising thing here is that despite measuring in with the same 46mm body as the two Gear S3 models, it definitely carries that heft well and doesn’t feel as bulky to wear. To be fair, this is no 51mm-sized Garmin Fenix 5, but one of our biggest complaints we had with the Gear S3 was the jump up in size from the Gear S2. Thankfully that jump in size doesn’t feel as dramatic this time around and that’s kudos to Samsung for making things feel more streamlined.

Samsung Galaxy Watch hands-on: A smartwatch that feels very familiar

The 42mm model will definitely have its fans, particularly in the new rose gold option, which seems to have become a standard finish option for all tech companies to offer whether it’s on phones or smartwatches. It’s sleek looking watch but the finish is the only thing that’s different about it. Don’t expect any fancy watch faces or software extras to potentially entice you to opt for this model over the others.

We are big fans of that rotating bezel, and thankfully that’s still present on the Galaxy Watch. That being said, using those rotating bezels feels a little different on the two models. The 46mm’s bezel is extremely satisfying to move with that heavy click that lets you know you are scrolling through that watch UI. It just doesn’t feel as nice to do on the 42mm model. Granted, it’s probably not going to impact on day-to-day use, but it’s definitely something I noticed having tried it out a few more of the smaller Galaxy Watch models.

It’s worth mentioning, too, that like the Gear Sport, the Galaxy Watch is is primed for the pool and does offer swim tracking too having been slapped with a 5ATM (up to 50 metres) waterproof certification.

Samsung Galaxy Watch: Features

The real headline changes with the Galaxy Watch lie within the software and with the additions that have been made in Tizen 4.0. At first glance, the UI and homescreens don’t look all that different, but given that Samsung did a really job on how you navigate its smartwatches, there wasn’t really a need to make wholesale changes on that front.

What we do get is improvements to its ability to better tracking your health and fitness. First up is sleep tracking, which is something even Apple doesn’t offer out of the box. This time it’s done automatically providing data of you sleep time on the watch and in Samsung Health.

It’s also making a push into mindfulness, mirroring what both Apple and Fitbit have done with their wearables. So it’ll use the onboard heart rate monitor and the ability to take heart rate variability measurements to give you a stress score. If you are stressed, there is now a guided breathing mode tells you when to inhale and exhale. Again, it’s nothing groundbreaking, but definitely a nice addition and good to see Samsung is looking more into the importance of having a healthy mind, as well as burning off those calories.

Samsung Galaxy Watch hands-on: A smartwatch that feels very familiar

Speaking of sweating it out, Samsung has sought to improve the support for working out with its watch. It’s done that by adding more workout modes, which is up to 39 from the 12 that featured on the Sport. These are still accessed from the Health app on the watch and it appears that these additional workouts are geared more towards gym work. So a quick browse shows workout modes for weigh-based workouts like arm curls and the bench press. We’ve already seen rep-counting on Samsung smartwatches previously, so it’ll be interesting to see how well the Galaxy Watch fares tracking more strength-based workouts.

With automatic exercise recognition on board, Samsung tells us that if you move between burpees, yoga and running, it’ll be able to keep up and switch between them on the fly. However, it sounds like it can only link up a maximum of six workouts together.

Battery life is worth talking about here, too. Samsung says the 46mm Galaxy Watch can go for a week based on light usage while the 42mm model will muster up around 4 days, again in low usage. When you factor in GPS, the 46mm Watch should give you 24 hours GPS battery life and the 42mm Watch serves up 17.7 hours in GPS mode. That’s a decent showing if you’re expecting to spend a fair amount of time getting in shape outdoors.

Hands on with Samsung's new Galaxy Watch

But the software changes are not just all about health and fitness. A new ‘My Day’ watch face wants to help you keep track of your day’s events. It’s essentially a calendar watch face that uses the outer circle of the watch face to display your events. For instance, if you have a picnic from 1pm to 2pm, you’ll notice a thin line on the outside of the watch face moving from 1pm to pm. If you click it, a small square will pop up over the middle of the watch face and give you more information. Every 12 hours, the watch face cycles automatically to show you upcoming events.

It’s a neat and potentially handy watch face to have at your disposal. It’s also intended to be paired with a daily briefing that’s delivered every morning when you wake up, but I didn’t get a chance to check that out. Samsung told me that it should automatically pop up when you wake up.

Initial verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Watch has brought us two new sizes and revamped designs, but a lot of what is going to make a difference on a day-to-day basis lies in the software. Finding out how useful that new My Day watch face is at organising your day, whether sleep monitoring delivers useful insights or whether those new workout modes actually make a difference in the gym – that’s the real test here.

We also need to find whether they really deliver on those bigger battery life claims, particularly in the case of the 46mm model’s week-long battery. There’s also LTE support – which is reliant on carrier deals being worked out – and NFC payments. But those will have to rely on some real-world usage.

So far, it looks like the Galaxy Watch is a solid improvement on the Gear S3, but doesn’t appear to bring anything groundbreaking to the smartwatch party. The question is, will it be enough to fend off a new Apple Watch and an army of new Wear watches? We look forward to spending some more time with it to find out.

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