(Pocket-lint) - Wait, what, where's the Galaxy Watch 2? There isn't one, with Samsung's follow-up Apple Watch rival going straight to '3' for its second-generation device. The reason, we speculate, is that - after releasing the original Galaxy Watch in 2018 and no a direct follow-up the year after - the Watch Active 2 appeared in 2019, so to keep things neater it makes sense to try and avoid any number-based confusion.

Whatever the reason for the name, the Watch is now here and the important thing is how well it performs and whether or not it's worth your money. Read on to find out why the second-gen Galaxy Watch is a serious competitor for the 'best smartwatch' crown. 

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Design: What's New?

  • Smaller, thinner, lighter than original
  • IP68 water and dustproof / MIL-STD-810G
  • Sizes: 41mm (£399/€429), 45mm (£419/€459)

Samsung has gone a little smaller for the Watch 3: it's available in 41mm and 45mm options (the original was 42mm and 46mm) thanks to a new, smaller bezel and increase in display size. It has two physical buttons on the right side, on either end of a long protrusion from the case, which ensures that you don't accidentally press the buttons when you bend your hand back. 

Whichever size you choose you're going to get a watch that looks classy and stylish. But this watch is also tested to withstand harsh conditions such as being submerged in water - it's IP68 rated and capable of surviving in depths to 5 metres.

The leather strap it ships with isn't the most amazing in our opinion, but the black leather contrasting with a light stitching on the black model does have a classic look.

It's quite a flat strap though, so you're not getting that lovely-looking strap with the rounded bulge that appears in all the marketing images (a tad misleading there, Samsung). It's quite a stiff leather too - and we've found even after a couple of weeks wearing it everyday, it's still not quite soft and does creak a little under wrist movement.

Still, that aside, the Glaxy Watch 3 is one of the better looking smartwatches around. Plus the rotating bezel not only gives it that 'proper watch' look - what with its fine index printed around the inside - it also means you have an intuitive method of controlling the interface on the screen. 

Display: It's All Round

  • Size: 1.2-inch (41mm model) / 1.4-inch (45mm model)
  • Resolution: 360 x 360 pixels
  • Rotating bezel control
  • Round display

Back when wearables first appeared as that hot new thing, there was the 'flat tyre' black band across the bottom of many displays. Not so with this Samsung - the Watch 3 has a fully round display, and very nice it is indeed.

There's not heaps of resolution, but that's typical for any wearable, so the watch faces and apps look suitably sharp. The smaller device gets the smaller screen, of course, meaning it's an even higher pixel density - but that won't matter when you're just glancing at notifications and fitness information briefly.

It's an AMOLED based panel which means it's nice and bright, with vivid colours and deep blacks. It also means that it's relatively easy to read even when outside in daylight. Saying that, it doesn't have that look of content floating on the surface like you'll get with the Apple Watch screen, as the display panel itself is visibly removed from the glass exterior. 

That said, the Galaxy Watch 3's refresh rate is fast enough so that animations look relatively smooth, although not quite as fluid and sharp as you might get on a modern, fifth-generation Fossil Wear OS smartwatch. That's not all that important though, given that the times you're looking at it are generally just quick glances for information. Whether that be to tell the time, observe notifications or see your workout data. 

Interface and controls

  • Tizen OS
  • Supports message replies with Android phones
  • Notifications on the wrist

Samsung's interface is quite basic in its styling. In fact, not a huge amount seems to have changed since the first Galaxy Watch launched. The operating system is based on Samsung's own Tizen OS and anyone who's used any previous Galaxy Watch or Gear S device will be instantly familiar with it. 

Swiping the screen from right to left - or rotating the bezel clockwise - takes you through the full-screen widgets. These can be chosen manually and ordered by personal preference. So if you want a daily fitness overview, or weather widget, or one for tracking how many cups of water you drink, you can have one. 

Before we go into a couple of criticisms, it's worth making clear: the combination of using the touchscreen and rotating bezel makes it a really intuitive system for selecting and launching the basic elements of the interface. But the choice of buttons and controls confuses things a tiny bit. 

The general apps list or carousel is accessed by pressing the bottom right button from the watch face, then you simply tap the screen once you've selected the app you want to launch. It sounds simple and that part of it is, but we've found some elements to be a little counter-intuitive. 

Partly, we think it's down to the combination of touchscreen, a rotating crown and two physical buttons. And, sadly, neither of those single buttons is a 'select' button. The top one is a back button, which - depending on the app - seems to either take you back one step within the app or take you right back to the watch face. It's not always easy to tell which it's going to do (a bit like the back button in Android at times). The bottom button is the 'home' button or the 'apps' button, which always takes you back to the home watch face when you're in an app. 

In our mind, it'd be much better having one button as a 'select' or 'start' button and the other as a back/home button. Of course, you can use the touchscreen to select, but it'd be nice to have the option to use a physical button to perform that action, just to avoid the constant switching between using the buttons and using the touchscreen. Because, confusingly, the top button is the 'start/pause' button once you've launched a workout function and want to track a running/cycling/walking session. 

Music conundrum

The other thing is that often third-party music apps don't feel as integrated into the system as the default ones. Say you want to listen to music while you're running - when you go to launch a run, you can rotate to the music screen as part of the running session interface, except it doesn't talk to the third-party app you're using to listen to music. 

In our case, using Tidal or Spotify on the watch itself, that was irksome. So we had to go to the app, launch the music, make sure we pressed the 'home' button and not the 'back' button to ensure we didn't stop the music playing, then go to the workout app, start the run and head off. That's a workaround, as the music then keeps running in the background. 

However, when in the running activity app, rotating to the music screen within the workout app during a run, it didn't seem to know Tidal was playing in the background (unless the watch detecting the connected phone playing music in range, and then it'd go to try and control that app instead).

So if we wanted to control the app on the watch by skipping tracks or pausing the music, we then had to exit the exercise app, go back to Tidal/Spotify, pause and then go back through to the workout app. Which might be fine if the apps loaded quickly, but they don't. 

Often during exercise the music would also just stop playing after a couple of songs, or - on one occasion - the Bluetooth connection with our headphones just stopped sending audio, even though the earphones were showing as connected.

On the whole, the entire music experience less than optimal. 

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The other thing worth noting about the interface - while we're on the subject of running - is that if you launch into a run, it immediately starts to countdown before it's locked on to its GPS location, so if you want to make sure your GPS is locked on before you head off, the only way to do it is to tap the run settings icon at the bottom of the screen. 

Away from third-party apps, however, the basic top layer interface is one of the simplest out there - in a good way. Rotating clockwise gets you to widgets, while rotating the bezel the opposite way gets you to your notifications, which are split by app and complete with a logo showing clearly which app that notification is from. 

When you receive a message - even from a third-party app - you can read that in full and reply using voice dictation, emoji, doodle, handwriting recognition or typing on a tiny keyboard. In short: whatever your preference for wrist-based message construction, the Galaxy Watch has it. If you pair it with an iPhone, that's sadly not available, but we don't anticipate many iPhone users would opt for the Samsung Watch 3 given that it doesn't tie-in as easily with Apple's ecosystem.

As well as answering notifications and messages, you can use the watch as a handsfree speaker for phone calls. It'll automatically show an interface on the watch as soon as you receive a call, allowing you to answer or reject a call on the watch. It's convenient if you're not near your phone. 

There's also Samsung Pay for mobile payments when you're in a pinch and need to pay for something using contactless technology and your phone or wallet aren't on you. It is worth noting - in the UK at least - that the setup process didn't want to allow letters to be input into the postal code field, and only accepts five numerical digits, so we replaced the letters with '0' and that worked for us (an Americanisation bug, ultimately). Once loaded though, it's easy to activate by long-pressing the 'back' button. 

Daily fitness tracking

  • Steps, calories burned, exercise minutes, and stand targets
  • SpO2 and all-day heart-rate tracking (HR)
  • Automatic sleep tracking
  • Fall detection

It's become commonplace for smartwatches to offer the basics when it comes to fitness tracking. It is, after all, anecdotally the reason most people opt for a smart connected wrist watch over a traditional mechanical device. And to its credit, Samsung wearables have been offering reliable everyday tracking for some time. In that regard, the Galaxy Watch 3 gets all the basics right. 

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You get all-day heart-rate monitoring and step-tracking, as well as the now-standard 'standing' metric which measures how many of your daily hours you stand. It's something the Apple Watch offers, except Samsung Health's goal for you is just 9 standing hours, rather than the more lofty 12-hour goal from its competitor. To clarify, that's not standing for 9 hours a day - it's standing for a minute, in 9 individual hour-long periods, sssentially making sure you're not sat down for more than an hour at a time. 

If you are sat motionless for a chunk of time, you get a friendly reminder to get up and walk or do some stretching. It's actually quite a useful feature. Because, unlike some other smartwatches, you can choose to do a stretch or exercise depending on which you feel like doing, rather than just getting up for the sake of getting up. Whether that be torso rotations or other exercises. 

Where the Galaxy Watch 3 performs well in terms of accuracy - at least in our testing - is in sleep tracking. It automatically detects when we go to bed, and the next day offers up a pretty comprehensive view of our sleep performance. It did this accurately every night that we tested it. On mornings when we woke up feeling groggy the score was low and the time it had us going to bed and waking up was accurate. It didn't seem to rely on any preset ideas of when our bedtime was, unlike some other watches. 

It breaks down the usual cycles of sleep: light, deep, REM and - of course - awake. With the right balance of those and a long enough sleep time, you get a high overall score and - in our experience - those high sleep scores seem to accurately represent our feelings. You get a score out of 100 and on most nights - thanks to inconsistent sleeping, all down to too many evenings of Netflix bingeing - ours was around the 30-40 mark. On the odd occasion where we had a proper rest overnight, the score was much closer to 80-90. 

Accomplished running watch

  • GPS, HR and VO2 Max measured
  • Advanced posture/style metrics added

In previous years, Samsung's approach to tracking running on its watches has been much the same as any other fitness-focused smartwatch. You get GPS and HR sensors for tracking your route and your heart rate, as well as motion sensors for detecting your steps, which is data then used to calculate your cadence (steps per minute) and stride length. With the Galaxy Watch 3, those sensors are being used to do much more in-depth calculations. 

We've now got VO2Max as well, bringing its feature list up to the standards set by the likes of Apple, Garmin and Huawei. Then there's some even more fancy use of the motion sensor hardware, which measures more advanced running data. 

Samsung's Watch 3 has a new selection of running charts within its health app which tell you about your running style and efficiency. This measures things like the contact time when your feet hit the surface, as well as your stiffness and how much you bounce up and down vertically. The theory being that if you become aware of parts of your style that make your running less efficient, like landing too heavy, or bouncing up and down too much, or having really stiff movement, you can work on it and develop and better style. 

In our particular instance, it was a stiffness that seemed to be our biggest issue, as most of our other metrics were good. And that's something we were already aware of. Once you tune out of a run, you often forget to be aware of how you're moving your arms and legs, and so tense up. We found that our stiffness was mostly an issue based on going up hills, which are hard to avoid on the mountainous coast of north Wales. 

On the whole, while the data is impressive and it tracked consistently, it's hard to know exactly how accurate it is. For the kind of data being measured, we feel a better approach would be having sensors on both of your shoes rather than one single device on one side of your body. Still, it offers some interesting data to look through after a run. 

Performance and battery

  • Battery: 247mAh  (41mm model) / 340mAh (45mm model)
  • Wireless charging disc 
  • 1GB RAM

Apart from the odd aforementioned niggles with the interface the Galaxy Watch 3 is a really solid performer. GPS tracking during our runs was consistent with tracking that we've done using other watches over the past 12-18 months. As were daily HR readings and data from workouts. 

For the most part, the watch launches apps relatively quickly when you select one. The only troubled apps in our usage were third-party music apps like Spotify and Tidal which - away from the listening to music while running issues - were generally just slow to load and unreliable. To the point where, if you're excited about a watch that finally supports your music service of choice, you may want to adjust your expectations. 

Then there's the overall battery performance. It's fine, not market-leading, but that's a compromise you come to expect from any modern OLED-screen-based smartwatch. In our testing we were never able to get the watch to last a full two days, because we were wanting to track our sleep patterns with it, which meant taking it off for an hour or two at a time and charging it while working. 

For most people heading to a place of work we feel that you will probably just need to give up on the idea of tracking your sleep every night and just charging the watch at night instead. You might make it to the end of the work shift on the second day, but if our experience with it is typical, it won't get you much further than that. 

It's worth noting that we did track exercise roughly five times a week, and so that does drain the battery quicker, but still, we've found it's probably reasonable to expect about 36 hours from a full charge when connected to a smartphone that gets multiple notifications in a day. Which is about the current standard, so is fine, so long as you know what to expect.

Verdict

The Galaxy Watch 3 takes the original 2018 Samsung wearable and refines it, bringing a smaller and lighter smart device that looks much like a real watch in a well-designed package.

For the most part, it's a fantastic watch. If you want a wearable that'll give you nice interactions with your Android phone notifications, easy contactless payments, and in-depth fitness and running data all in a convenient package, it's hard to see a better alternative. On that side of things, Samsung has nailed it. 

Our only real complaint about the watch is music performance and, to some degree, the multitude of controls being a little busy. Using it to try and listen to our Spotify/Tidal playlists while out running was a frustratingly inconsistent experience. Plus, the battery life isn't all that hot, and it's not the cheapest smartwatch around. 

Those reservations aside though, the Galaxy Watch 3 is up there among the best smartwatches for Android users right now.

Also consider

Skagen Falster 3

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Wear OS has benefitted from better hardware in recent years, and one of the best performing Android watches is the minimalist Skagen. It's fluid in operation, convenient to use, and has all the features you could need in a smartwatch. It doesn't compare on fitness features, however. 

Huawei Watch GT 2

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Huawei's crop of watches are some of the most cost-effective fitness trackers out there. You don't get a full smartwatch experience, but they're great for every activity and workout tracking. Plus the battery lasts pretty much forever. 

Writing by Cam Bunton and Mike Lowe.