I always find myself with a crease in my brow and a sense of missed opportunity after putting a Samsung wristwatch through its paces. No, it’s not because they’re terrible, hideous, or annoying to wear. In reality, the reverse is true. Samsung’s smartwatches, including the $279.99 Galaxy Watch 5, are currently the finest that money can buy for Android users. This might change, though, once the Google Pixel Watch is released. The Apple Watch would be old news if Samsung would only tweak one or two items on their smartwatches. Although I had hoped to be able to say that Samsung had finally nailed it, the Watch 5 is much the same as its predecessors.
This is not a metaphor, believe me. There aren’t many differences between the Watch 5 and the Galaxy Watch 4. Both 40mm and 44mm versions are available. Only the strap colors have changed, but else it’s the same. With all the smartwatches I’ve tested over the years, the only way I could tell the difference between my review copies of Watch 4 and 5 was by the color of the straps.
The Exynos W920 engine, 1.5GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, contactless payments, GPS, optional LTE, and 5ATM of water resistance are all carried over from the Watch 4. The significantly upgraded 3-in-1 BioActive sensor has the same health monitoring capabilities as its predecessor, including heart rate monitoring, electrocardiogram (ECG), and body composition measurement. A new infrared temperature sensor is the sole piece of hardware you’ll be receiving. For the record, it hasn’t really accomplished anything just yet. Samsung said at Unpacked that the addition of the sensor was made so that third-party developers could experiment with building new health features, not because it would increase the accuracy of sleep monitoring. It also uses Samsung’s Wear OS, which is the operating system (aka Wear OS 3 running a Samsung skin). The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, which launches on the same day as the Watch 5, is where you’ll find fresh style options and nifty capabilities like turn-by-turn navigation.
Those little improvements Samsung made are likely to go unnoticed by the general public. Because their batteries are significantly bigger, the 40mm and 44mm watches are little heavier, at about the weight of a cent. Its back is curved for improved skin contact and precision. The comfort of the watch on your wrist is unaffected by the rounded back. YouTuber DC Rainmaker discovered that, with the sensor bump included, the phone is really closer to 13mm in thickness than Samsung states. In all honesty however, you probably won’t even notice. Similarly, the sapphire crystal glass of the Watch 5 is far more long-lasting. Awesome, but only if you’re a klutz, an explorer, or a klutzy adventurer.
Obviously, there are also new watchface alternatives. Some will draw your attention. Some may not. I like that it is now possible to add difficulties to the blobby number face. The new purple dragon face appeals to me, since I am now obsessed with purple gadgets and the Chinese zodiac sign of the dragon. But if you don’t like a new (or old) watchface, you won’t use it and won’t even know it’s there.
The Watch 5 is the epitome of an incremental upgrade, but I would be derelict if I didn’t point out two necessary enhancements.
The most noticeable difference is that you no longer have to tolerate Bixby. The on-watch Google Assistant was a hazy promise when the Galaxy Watch 4 debuted in August 2017, but it has now come. After unboxing and charging the Watch 5, the first thing I did was download Google Assistant and reprogram the Home button to open it instead of Bixby. I then downloaded Google Wallet, Strava, Spotify, Calm, and many more popular applications. This immediately improved my experience, since I was no longer bound to Samsung Health, Samsung Pay, Bixby, or Samsung SmartThings. (However, the Galaxy Wearable app is non-negotiable.) I can use Strava to log my runs, Google Assistant to handle my smart home, and Google Wallet to pay for my prescriptions at the pharmacy. The Watch 5 is less obviously a Samsung wristwatch than the Watch 4.
So we’re clear: if you’re using a Samsung phone, the Watch 5 is still the superior option. The electrocardiogram (ECG) capability is exclusive to Samsung devices, and you’d need at least six more applications to have the same health and fitness benefits as Samsung Health on a phone that doesn’t run Android. When you long-press the back button, you’ll be sent directly to Samsung Pay, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to change this so that Google Wallet is opened instead. The Watch 5, when coupled with a Galaxy phone that supports dual SIMs, may use both phone numbers thanks to One UI Watch 4.5, Samsung’s watch interface on top of Watch OS. However, the Play Store is my oyster if I want to give the finger to Bixby or install a handful of applications in favor of Samsung Health. It’s far from perfect, but it’s an improvement over the previous two years.
As for One UI Watch 4.5 specifically, the user interface has been revamped to include several additional accessibility options. High-contrast typefaces, color filters, color correction, and the option to disable animations or blur effects are just a few of the new features aimed at improving readability. The volume in each ear may be changed independently using the Bluetooth headphones’ settings. (However, this is not permitted during phone conversations.) One other feature that Samsung has included is the option to customize the tap length and prevent accidental taps.
I can’t say how well these accessibility features function in practice since I am a hearing, able-bodied person. Although the 40mm Watch 5’s readability was already good, the new upgrades made reading much easier. Having been born with eyesight that is less than optimal, my optometrist told me, “sometimes you have to settle for good enough” when I picked up my most recent pair of glasses. Additionally, my wrists are rather little. As a reviewer, it drives me crazy that I have to decide between a tiny, wearable watch and a massive, easy-to-read one. There’s nothing I can do about the fact that I have poor eyesight and disproportionately large wrists, but switching to a high-contrast font and applying a color filter have made such a huge difference, it’s almost funny. I hope that other smartwatch manufacturers take note of Samsung’s efforts to improve readability, since wearables still have a long way to go.
Samsung’s new keyboard inputs make text entry simpler on phones with smaller displays. Dictation, handwriting, and swipe-to-type features have been added. However, your results may vary. Using dictation or handwriting was helpful, but swiping to text on a 40mm screen is inefficient.
I can’t help but believe Samsung fumbled the ball when it comes to the touch bezel and battery life, despite these significant enhancements.
The touch bezel emulates a real bezel by allowing you to browse through menus by dragging your finger over the display’s border. It was finicky on the Watch 4, but with the Watch 5 it nearly seems worse. I definitely recall getting the hang of it on the Watch 4, but this year I one again failed to do so. The Watch 4 Classic was my go-to device for testing out new features throughout the last year, so it’s been a while. If I swiped too rapidly, the tiles would fly past quicker than my cat chasing for a second helping of food. If I moved too slowly, nothing would register. In addition, it was much too simple for my finger to slide off the edge or outside the touch bezel region.
Technically speaking, the Watch 5 has no need for the touch bezel. Wear OS 3 may have a portion of Tizen’s DNA, but the circular menus lack the whimsy that Tizen offered. Wear OS 3 is readily navigable with just directional swipes. Taps and swipes also did not register as well on the Watch 5. However, I ascribe this to my fingers being more perspiring than normal due to the current heat wave.
I’ll be the first to confess that the reason I’m so disappointed is because I’ve always been a dedicated member of Team Rotating Bezel. I’m not opposed to using touchscreens or swiping my finger over the screen to navigate options. It makes some actions, like as scrolling through alerts or zooming in on a map, considerably simpler and easier to understand. However, there is a time and a place for tactile controls. They are not only easily accessible, but they are also fantastic for athletes who compete outside since they are not affected by sweaty hands or gloves. In the case of Samsung, the actual rotating bezel was an iconic calling card that not only brought to mind the original Gear range but also distinguished it from every other circular wristwatch available on the market. In addition to that, the rotating bezel is a lot of fun to use. The design of modern electronic devices is all too willing to offer up inventiveness on the altar of streamlined simplicity.
Because the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is still available as a middle-of-the-road option between the Watch 5 and the Watch Pro, Samsung claims that the physical bezel has not truly been removed from any of its watches. However, this further muddles my thoughts. You’re… going to charge more for the physical bezel, which has older sensors, and has a shorter battery life than the more recent entry-level watch? That math doesn’t add up.
Users’ frustration with the Watch 4’s battery life prompted Samsung to prioritize battery improvement with the Watch 5. While I was never able to get the Watch 4 to last more than 20 hours at a time, reader reports over the last year have varied widely, from far under 20 hours to almost 40. For a flagship smartwatch, I don’t believe a battery life of 24 hours is a deal breaker. Many of you have wondered whether or not the Watch 5’s battery life warrants the price increase, so I thought I’d share the results of my weeklong experiment with the device’s power management.
Constant screen on (AOD) use, “Hey Google” wake phrase for Google Assistant, 60 minutes of GPS use without my phone, and no music streaming all add up to a heavy use day. The day began at a perfect 100% and by 5pm it had dropped to a mere 9%. I had to plug in for half an hour before leaving home, and I was only able to get to 38%. Battery life dropped to 2% after being worn overnight.
AOD off, “Hey Google” on, and 30 minutes of GPS activity without my phone while streaming music from an offline playlist to my headphones equaled a medium-use day. Twenty-one percent of the battery was used up during my half-hour run, and at the end of the day, I had just 55 percent remaining.
AOD and Hey Google were turned off, and I went for a 50-minute GPS run without any music. I did a lot of lounging and sleeping today. I started the day with 85% battery life, but by the conclusion of my run, I was down to 45%.
Although battery life estimates are very context- and preference-dependent, on seven days of heavy use, I never came close to Samsung’s cited 40-50 hour estimate. I had to charge it every day despite having turned off all the power-hungry options, reducing sync, and disabling alerts. What’s more, I didn’t even get the LTE update! For this reason, I anticipate the bigger 44mm model to function better than its smaller counterpart due to its larger battery.
It’s a plus that the charging time for the Watch 5 is shorter. (In addition, the charger may now be connected to a USB-C wall adapter!) You will still need around two hours to get from zero to one hundred percent, but a half hour will bring you anywhere between thirty and forty percent. You should be able to go home safely or get through one night of sleep tracking with that amount of electricity.
The Apple Watch 5 is an option that is good but not perfect when it comes to monitoring your health and fitness. During the preceding week, I went for a total of five runs and six walks, and the Apple Watch Series 7 kept track of my heart rate and distance just as accurately as it had before. The automated pedestrian detection that Samsung provides is also still among the finest. If you and your pals like a healthy dose of healthy competition, the Samsung Health app isn’t the best option, but I’ve seen far worse. The monitoring of Samsung users’ sleep has reached its highest level of sophistication yet, although the results are still inconsistent. You can obtain in-depth sleep coaching, but in order to gain a single insight, you need seven full days’ worth of data that is qualified for analysis. Since I’ve just begun obtaining tips, I’m not yet in a position to comment on how effectively this function performs over the long run. When I’ve finished reviewing the Watch 5 Pro, I’ll have a better understanding. (Long lead periods are advantageous when it comes to the collection of health data, but they are not always beneficial when writing product evaluations.) When it comes to different phases of sleep, notably REM sleep, my Oura Ring and the Eight Sleep Pod 2 Pro Cover provided significantly different results. This was especially the case. However, I’m not going to let it stress me out too much. The majority of the information on your sleep stages should be taken with a grain of salt. The fact that the Watch 5 could tell when I was asleep and when I was awake is much more significant than the fact that it was able to do so like Santa Claus.
Samsung’s blood oxygen readings didn’t wow me as much. According to the Samsung Health app, my “minimum” blood oxygen saturation was between 80% and 88% almost every night. A normal range is defined as 95%-100%, while the lowest acceptable range for people with moderate to severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is 88%-92%. (COPD). If the number is over 80%, medical attention is required. I’ve tried so many different sleep trackers that I know they don’t provide an accurate representation of my blood oxygen levels when I’m asleep. Since I am a side sleeper and have had previous success with Garmin watches, I believe this to be the case here. However, the lack of context provided by a graph or explanatory text next to the alarming figure in Samsung’s presentation may lead to unwarranted concern. You have to tap for more details, and even then the graph doesn’t do a great job of representing the data. Concern among Fitbit users about a faulty SpO2 graph is illustrative of the need of clear data display and user training. We can only hope that Samsung will fix this in a future software release.
Despite my complaints, I still think this is the finest Android wristwatch on the market right now, especially for those who value a high quality app store, extensive third-party integration, comprehensive health monitoring, and casual fitness tracking. The base price is $30 more than its predecessor, but that’s to be expected in today’s economically unstable climate. The Galaxy Watch 5 is reasonably priced, with the 40mm model costing $279.99 and the 44mm model costing $309.99. (For a fee of $50 extra, you can have LTE connectivity.) Samsung is not gouging customers since the Apple Watch SE has a comparable base price and set of features. Meanwhile, the Watch 5 outperforms the $329.95 Fitbit Sense, the $299 Fossil Gen 6, and the $299.99 Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra GPS thanks to its superior hardware and software.
If you already own a Watch 4, I wouldn’t recommend upgrading to a newer model unless you find an incredible sale or are able to take advantage of a trade-in offer. You already have what makes the Watch 5 amazing on your wrist, and the upgrades to the battery aren’t sufficient enough to make up for it. If you have a Samsung phone and have been keeping your Galaxy Watch Active or Active 2, the situation is quite different. You’ve never had a watch with a physical bezel, so you won’t even miss it by the time you upgrade to the Watch 5, and Samsung is likely to stop providing support for these devices very soon. The Watch 5 will also provide a better experience overall. Owners of the Watch 3 and Watch 4 Classic should wait patiently to see whether Samsung comes to the realization that it made a mistake by not producing a Watch 5 Classic.
You should hold off on upgrading your phone if you are not currently using a Samsung model. The Apple Watch 5 is now the greatest model available to purchase, but that might change in the next several weeks. This coming autumn will see the arrival of Google’s Pixel Watch. Because Qualcomm is at last getting its act together with the Snapdragon W5 Plus platform, it is possible that Wear OS 3 watches may soon get a processor that is even more powerful than the one that powers the Watch 5. The next-generation of Fossil’s smartwatches may very probably be powered by this processor. And if you’d prefer to take your time and see how everything shakes out, there are certain Wear OS 2 watches that will be eligible for an optional upgrade to Wear OS 3 before the year is up. You folks who use Android are soon to have more alternatives for smartwatches available to you than you ever have had before. There are no plans to discontinue the Galaxy Watch 5. Why are we in such a hurry?