Samsung Galaxy Watch Active rating: great hardware abandoned due to irregular tracking

Samsung makes some of the best smart watches in the area, but they are usually large, bulky and aggressively styled. The Galaxy Watch Active is just as well equipped as other Samsung wearables, but exchanges the rugged aesthetics for a more modest style. It also comes at a noticeably smaller price. The Galaxy Watch Active delivers almost everything you would get in a larger, more expensive watch for a price that most of us can actually justify.

However, there are a number of things you should know before you decide to buy one – such as the fact that activity tracking is now waste. Let's dive straight to our Samsung Galaxy Watch Active review.

About this Samsung Galaxy Watch Active review: I use the Galaxy Watch Active for two weeks. It runs One UI version 1.0 on Tizen OS version and software version R500XXU1BSB7, linked to a Pixel 3 via Bluetooth.

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The big picture

The Galaxy Watch Active is not the first step from Samsung to the fitness smartwatch category: the original Gear Sport arrived almost a year and a half ago. Although the Galaxy Watch Active can easily be considered as Gear Sport 2, Samsung instead positions it as the sporty version of its recent Galaxy Watch range.

Given the price of $ 199, the Galaxy Watch Active has been placed alongside a number of excellent fitness trackers. Samsung's goal is clearly to harass part of that target market with a comparably priced smartwatch that does a little more than your average fitness tracker. It is also a competitively priced option for regular smartwatch buyers who do not like the usual bulky designs or who have slimmer wrists. Unfortunately for Samsung, while the watch may do more than your average fitness tracker, it certainly doesn't keep up with the activity.

Design and display

  • 40mm watch case (only one size)
  • 1.1-inch AMOLED display (360 x 360 pixels)
  • 20 mm silicone watch strap (including two sizes)
  • Black, silver, rose gold, green

Although the case of the Galaxy Watch Active 40 mm is only marginally smaller than the 42 mm version of the Galaxy Watch, the difference in bulk is noticeable. In addition to the difference in style, the Watch Active is also much lighter with only 25 grams compared to the 49 grams of the smaller Galaxy Watch. If you have ever tried to practice with a normal-sized smartwatch, you know that this is a big plus.

The lightness and smallness of the Galaxy Watch Active mean that it is much less likely to get in the way of your training. The near-flush buttons ensure that they do not get stuck while training or digging in the back of your wrist when your shoulder presses or loads squats.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active thickness on wrist and button detail

Despite its small size, the Galaxy Watch Active is robust enough to survive an active lifestyle. The small round display is covered with a layer of Gorilla Glass 3 (but no Corning DX +). It is water resistant to 5ATM and meets the MIL-STD-810G. I dropped it on the first day and couldn't see where it hit the ground, nor did it scratch during a few weeks of use. Activities during this period included swimming, cycling, running, gymnastics training and yoga on top of daily wear and various skirmishes on screen commands.

The screen is great: lively and clear, a necessity on a screen of this size. I found that the automatic brightness responds reasonably quickly, but unless you look directly at the watch, the glare tends to obscure the screen. Keep this in mind if, for example, you tend to receive notifications or follow activities while cycling. It's great to run when you can raise your arm to your face, but this is not always possible during activities that you may want to follow.

Samsung Galaxy watch Active format comparison with Gear S3 Frontier and Huawei Watch GT

If you come from a portable, larger screen, remember that the 1.1-inch screen might be a bit pokey. For reference, the 28 mm screen of the Galaxy Watch Active is half an inch smaller in diameter than the larger Galaxy Watch and offers only 72 percent of the display area. The lack of a rotating edge here is noticeable, because this means that you have to swipe and tap along the small UI elements.

There is a microphone on the watch, but no speaker, so while you can answer or initiate calls, you need a paired telephone to actually hear your conversation partner. Similarly, you can launch Bixby queries via the watch, but only receive text responses unless you have paired a pair of wireless headphones (I would suggest maximizing the volume on the watch and controlling only your headphones) . Bixby is great for general voice surveys such as the weather, but is only really useful if you also have a Samsung Galaxy smartphone (because that is where the power of Bixby lies).

The silicone watchband with which the Galaxy Watch Active is delivered, is perfectly usable and closes with a traditional watch case. The surplus belt hides under the belt to keep it out of the way. I love this clamping mechanism and a neat approach to the remaining belt. There is a whole range of optional tires that you can exchange thanks to the standard 20 mm tire sorting. There is also a longer strap (the bit with the holes in it) in the box if you have larger wrists.

SmartWatch functions

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active fast settings

Watch Active has a lot to offer in terms of function set and customization in a typical Samsung way. It comes with a decent selection of dials to choose from, and more can be downloaded from the Galaxy Store (note: it runs Tizen 4.0, not Wear OS, which is fine for me). All dials can be adjusted as desired, so that you can change colors, backgrounds and UI elements at your own discretion.

The two buttons on the side of the Watch Active are simple: the top button takes you one step back and the bottom calls the app carousel. By default, a double press on the bottom button folds Bixby, but as with most other things on this watch, it can be adjusted. I set it up to display the world clock, but you can turn it into a shortcut for almost anything on the Galaxy Watch Active.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active app selector

Swipe right in the user interface to access your notifications, which can be expanded beyond the overview view by tapping on it. If you do this, you can also respond with emoji, a small T-9 keyboard, voice dictation, or short canned answers such as & # 39; en route & # 39; and & # 39; I'll talk to you later & # 39 ;. I found reports on the Watch Active system super reliable and fast, and responding to them, even from such a small portable device, was just as good a good experience as might be expected.

Swiping to the left goes through reasonably standard customizable screens, including an activity dashboard, recent apps, heart rate monitor, calendar, contacts, weather, and music controls. There are also a number of Samsung Health screens that you can add here, including shortcuts to your favorite activity tracking, fitness challenges, scoreboards, sleep data, weight management and caffeine monitoring and water intake.

If you swipe down somewhere in the user interface, you'll see the quick settings, including:

  • Goodnight mode
  • Bluetooth shortcut
  • Silent / vibrate button
  • Do not disturb mode
  • Display always visible
  • Screen brightness
  • Theater mode
  • settings
  • Energy saving mode
  • Flight mode
  • Water lock mode
  • Wifi
  • GPS
  • Battery shortcut
  • Find my phone

I won't go into all of these options because you can see what they all do with their name. Suffice it to say that the Galaxy Watch Active certainly does not have the feeling that it has too few functions, except perhaps an LTE variant or a larger version. Everything on the watch also feels completely baked, with no glitchy or half-assed experience that you might be used to on Wear OS. Navigating through long lists is certainly not as easy as with a rotating ring, but the basic functions of the software and smartwatch on the Watch Active are quite solid.

The Watch Active has NFC, so that you can use Samsung Pay on newer contactless terminals, but Samsung has removed the MST chip that you will find in something larger such as the Gear S3 Frontier, so you cannot use the Galaxy Watch Active on older magnetic strip terminals. This may not make much difference depending on where you live, but keep in mind that Samsung Pay on Watch Active does not have the same general support as on your Samsung phone.

Monitoring of fitness and health

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active watch face 1

  • Blood pressure monitoring
  • Auto-detect fitness tracking (seven activities)
  • Fitness tracking started by user (39 activities)
  • Sleep tracking system
  • Heart rate measurement
  • Stress monitoring
  • built-in GPS

Ironically, the only area in which the Galaxy Watch Active does not score high scores is keeping track of health and fitness. The arrival of blood pressure monitoring to a regular and affordable smartwatch was big news, especially considering that the only other option now is the $ 499 Omron HeartGuide. The problem is that the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active does not really live up to the promise (at least). It is important to note that it has not been approved by the FDA, such as the Omron HeartGuide.

Blood pressure monitoring on the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active works via an associated app that you must install separately, called My BP Lab, developed in collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

The app is not great. It is unstable, crashes regularly and if the reviews in the Play Store are to be believed, even accurate blood pressure measurements are not taken (I unfortunately did not have access to a blood pressure monitor for comparison). The My BP Lab app only works with the Samsung Galaxy S9 / S9 Plus, S10 and S10 Plus and the Note 9 and is currently available as a beta version once you sign up in the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany and Singapore. It is also worth noting that there is a good chance that the app will never be installed on all Watch Active models beforehand.

Reconsider purchasing the Galaxy Watch Active if blood pressure monitoring is what you are looking for.

If blood pressure measurement is the reason you want to use the Galaxy Watch Active, I would advise you to reconsider this. I contacted Samsung to ask if there are any plans for a Samsung Health-based solution instead of My BP Lab, but I don't get a response yet. Over time, blood pressure monitoring can become an integral part of the otherwise impressive fitness arsenal of the Galaxy Watch, but for now it is a difficult attempt.

The rest of the health tracking on the Galaxy Watch Active is … up for discussion. I found that the number of steps usually corresponded to other wearables that I handled fairly well, but it did not always address what Samsung Health said (even after fresh sync) or what my phone's pedometer reported via Google Fit. Admittedly, when all your gadgets report different results, it is not easy to record the blame for this, so I cannot say that this is definitely doing Samsung something wrong – at least with regard to counting steps.

Samsung Galaxy watch Active sensors

Heart rate measurement was another problem, with Watch Active occasionally yielding significantly different results than other wearables that I own. If you compare it with the Huawei Watch GT, it was often away. While typing this with both watches on both wrists, I get a 60bpm reading on the Watch Active and 77bpm on the Huawei Watch GT – that's a huge difference of more than 25 percent.

Although it is possible that the Watch GT reports too much, its value remains stable and varies in the way you would expect. The Galaxy Watch Active, on the other hand, fluctuates constantly, with a resting frequency that can change quickly at 15-20 rpm, while doing the same. Because of these erratic changes, I am confident that it is the culprit here. Too low or too high a heart rate report is a real cause for concern, especially with a fitness tracker where accurate heart rate measurement is essential for activity target zones.

Following floors on the Watch Active is horrible. I live in a two-story house, and as I write this, I know I've been up and down the stairs at least twelve times, and yet the Galaxy Watch Active says I've only done one floor all day. The automatic tracking of activities comes about reliably while walking or running, but the results it records are not yet there. The Watch Active can automatically detect seven exercises with a further 39 that can be followed by starting them manually.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active stress monitoring

Sleep tracking is equally problematic. The Watch Active does not always seem to know the difference between chilling on the couch and actually falling asleep. So you will get occasional sleep tracking, which says a two-hour sleep followed by a couple of hours of waking and then a longer night's sleep, when you actually only watched a movie before you got up and did other things before bed. Once your sleep has been registered with Samsung Health, you cannot edit it.

Do not miss it: Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch Series 4: what is suitable for you?

I could go on with several other health detection sounds, but I am sure the point is clear. As it looks now, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is an excellent piece of hardware that is suppressed by poor tracking calibration. The good news about this is that this can probably be fixed with a software update, but I recommend that you wait until this happens before you invest in this watch. We will update this review if and when these issues are addressed.

Samsung Health app

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active cup screen

The Samsung Health app is a huge, expansive app with more angles and holes for the obsessed data than you can put a stop to. I will not go into this in detail because it is simply too large to do justice, but rest assured, you can hide many hours in all the data that it stores. As mentioned above, much of that data is of dubious accuracy, so don't invest too much in what it tells you.

If you are already familiar with Samsung Health, you are well aware of where you need to be, how you can get the best out of it and how you can best set the various options. If you have never used the Samsung fitness app, however, you expect a bit of a learning curve when you find your way in the many menus, options and settings.

At startup you have to install a staggering series of apps: the Galaxy Wearable app, the Galaxy Watch active plug-in, Samsung Accessory Service and then Samsung Health and Samsung Pay if you don't have one yet.

With the Wearable app you can control everything on the watch with your phone and you can also transfer music and images to it. The app can also be used to set up an SOS transmission to share your location with selected contacts in an emergency by quickly pressing the bottom button three times.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active: Specs

Samsung Galaxy watch active
show 1.1-inch full-color always-on display
360 x 360 resolution
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Memory 768 MB RAM
4 GB storage space
connectivity Bluetooth 4.2
Wi-Fi b / g / n
sensors accelerometer
Ambient light
processor Dual-core Samsung Exynos 9110
1.15 GHz
Battery 230mAh
Wireless charging based on WPC
Durability 5ATM + IP68
compatibility Samsung Galaxy, Android 5.0 or higher with more than 1.5 GB RAM

iPhone: iPhone 5 and higher, iOS 9.0 or higher

Software Tizen-based portable operating system 4.0
Dimensions and weight Case: 40 mm
39.5 x 39.5 x 10.5 mm

Belt: 20 mm

colors silver, black, rose gold, sea green

Samsung Galaxy watch active: performance and battery life

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active sparkle

  • Samsung Exynos 9100
  • 4GB internal storage
  • 0.75 GB RAM
  • 230 mAh battery

The Watch Active performs well and I had no noticeable problems with delays, stuttering or crashes, causing the plug-in to crash when I tried to sync music (probably because of the Android Q developer preview and not the watch). Speaking of music, if you want to load your own tunes into the internal storage of the Watch Active, note that about half of them will already be used out of the box.

The battery of the Galaxy Watch is small, but it is only slightly smaller than the small Galaxy Watch. Samsung promises a battery life of 45 hours, which is probably true if you switch off almost everything. If you regularly keep track of activities (as I would assume you would), you can get through one day. If you stream music that will be less than a day, use GPS and it's half a day – you get it.

I found that daily use was fairly standard with an average mix of notifications, music, tracking of activities and interactions with notifications. This is neither better nor worse than most other smartwatches, but for a watch specifically designed for an active lifestyle, a better battery life would have been appreciated.

Perhaps even worse is the extremely slow loading via the included wireless puck. Instead of using pogo pins, Samsung chose to charge wirelessly here. It is painfully slow. The 230 mAh battery takes almost two hours to charge, which is a terribly long time for a watch that you might want to drip quickly before you pull out a run. You can charge it wirelessly on the go with the new S10 family, but it takes even longer to charge it.

Samsung Galaxy watch active: prices and final thoughts

Samsung Galaxy watch Active visibility outside 2

The Galaxy Watch Active is priced competitively for $ 199. Regarding the hardware performance, it is there, without the batteries and charging problems just mentioned. However, where the Galaxy Watch Active falls down, following the condition of placing non-buying areas is square. Fortunately, this is something that Samsung can absolutely fix and hopefully will do soon. I have had a great experience with other Samsung wearables in the past, so I know that Samsung can do well.

Despite the name & # 39; Active & # 39 ;, you should not purchase the Galaxy Watch Active if you need accurate fitness or health monitoring.

If the actual data recorded by Watch Active is not the reason why you buy it, go ahead – it's probably a good investment (especially since there are already so many open box discounts due to the number of returns that retailers see) .

If you want a wearable for notifications, music, something to move around or relax, and tell you the time, then yes, the Galaxy Watch Active is great. But add blood pressure measurement, sleep monitoring, heart rate monitoring, step or floor count to that list of needs and the Watch Active is just not a good buy at the moment.

Looking for an alternative? The Fitbit Ionic has a similar set of functions, a price point and is not bad for fitness tracking. The Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music is also a great GPS-running smartwatch.

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