If Apple and Samsung want to sell more smartwatches to sports, they need to include more buttons.

If Apple and Samsung want to sell more smartwatches to sports, they need to include more buttons.

If Apple and Samsung want to sell more smartwatches to sports, they need to include more buttons.

Recently, Samsung made public the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. At Unpacked, Samsung made it obvious that the Gear S3 Frontier will be their most rugged smartwatch to date, with the goal of luring athletes who regularly compete in extreme conditions. WatchOS 9 will have a plethora of new running stats, which Apple announced at WWDC, fueling speculation that a tough Apple Watch is in the works. It’s obvious that both businesses want to steal customers away from Garmin and Polar, but there’s one more thing that might scuttle their plans: battery life. Touchscreens.

Apple and Samsung’s smartwatches both use touchscreens, for better or worse. That’s adequate for light activity or the normal individual who isn’t going through a wide variety of climates and terrains. Neither of these “Pro” watches is likely to satisfy the demanding needs of the outdoor enthusiast that the manufacturer designed them for.

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is simply a larger, tougher version of the ordinary 40mm Galaxy Watch 5, which I have been testing. They’re genetically identical when it comes to the user interface. My worries are heightened by this. Swiping through displays mid-stride has been difficult on the few runs I’ve taken with the Watch 5 so far. This is because we are now in the month of August, and as the famous Santana song says, dude, it’s a hot one. Due to my perspiring hands, I have to take breaks in order to replenish my fluids. In order to swipe right and press the pause button, I had to stop and wash my hands. It may seem straightforward, but doing so when the humidity is so high that you feel like you’re swimming in soup may be quite the challenge.

Testing with watchOS 9 on my Series 7, I ran across the identical problem. To see all of the new running stats, you have to swipe up or scroll with the digital crown. I’ve had to pause several times so that I could properly swipe through several menus in order to see one of the new statistics. The digital crown wasn’t going to make scrolling any simpler, but at least I expected that.

This is not only an issue during the warmer months. For triathletes, this is also a swimming issue. This becomes even more of a problem if you exercise year-round and find that wearing gloves hinders your performance. No pair of “touchscreen-compatible” gloves has ever worked consistently on my phone, much alone the much tiny screen of my watches.

When using a high-quality sports watch like a Polar or Garmin, this won’t be a problem. This is because rain or mittens won’t prevent you from pressing real buttons. To navigate menus, you won’t even need to glance at the screen after you’ve become accustomed to using one. Some even use a hybrid approach, with both touch and button controls, which is perfect since it allows you to choose the one that works best in any given circumstance.

It is very evident that both Apple and Samsung are aware that athletes place a high value on the length of battery life, the depth of data, and the longevity of their equipment. However, it is less evident if either business has truly thought about why so many triathletes and outdoor lovers would sooner give up tactile controls than a flashy touchscreen.

There is still a great deal about Apple’s tough watch that is unknown to us. The specifics of it have been kept under wraps for a considerable amount of time. However, the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is no longer a well guarded secret. It is already available to the public, and despite the fact that it does have certain features, it does not have the physical controls that so many triathletes have been used to using. Given all of this, it’s a little hard to understand why Samsung decided not to include a rotating bezel on the Pro. (It’s possible that this was a necessary sacrifice to preserve the product’s longevity.) I need to do further testing, and of course, there are a variety of considerations to take into account when deciding whether or not to purchase a multisport GPS watch or a more sophisticated flagship smartwatch. But as of late, whenever I attempt to swipe on my Apple Watch 5 or Series 7 with my sweaty fingers, I often find myself wishing that I had instead been wearing my Garmin.

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