(Pocket-lint) - For a good number of years, Samsung has been building smartwatches designed to work well with Android phones.
In the beginning, those adopted Google's first version of its wearable platform, but, like so many other tech manufacturers, it opted to go it alone in the end, and built its own called Tizen. Now, it's switched back again.
The latest Galaxy Watch isn't just about the new software experience, however. It's also loaded with lots of high-end components to ensure it performs well in every regard.
So does this all add up to a market-leading experience?
Whether you're looking for an all-singing, all-dancing smartwatch or just a smart-looking fitness tracker, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 series does it all. These watches are slimmer and more powerful than their predecessors - and more affordable, too. It's quite the showcase for how far Wear OS has come in a short period of time.
That doesn't mean it's a perfect watch, though. The regular model is quite dull-looking, with its flat, featureless design, and the lack of iPhone compatibility means it's really only for Android users - but it's the most complete package in terms of features that we've seen yet.
As it stands, the Galaxy Watch 4 is probably the best smartwatch for Android users now. It's got pretty much everything you could ask for. Whether you need customisable watch faces, great fitness tracking, interactive notifications, wrist-based payments or music, this Samsung does all of it. And does it well.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4
- Accurate and very useful fitness tracking
- Two-day battery
- Water resistance
- Convenient wireless charging
- Fluid and customisable interface
- Standard model design is quite plain
- Touch interface not always intuitive
- Feels more like Tizen than Wear OS
Still the best smartwatch for Android users
In 2021, Google and Samsung announced a partnership that was supposed to shape the future of Google's Wear OS smartwatch platform. By combining the best bits of Samsung's Tizen platform and the best bits from Google's Wear OS, and rolling it out across a multitude of smartwatches, the idea was to have something that competed on experience with the Apple Watch.
While it's certainly true that Wear OS 3 is the best effort yet, there is a limitation: not many other manufacturers have rolled it out yet, and that makes the Galaxy Watch 4 stand apart from the likes of Fossil Group's offerings from its Skagen, Fossil and Michael Kors brands (among others).
When it comes to the interactive, customisable elements, then, it's got those. But you also get access to convenient and widely-supported contactless payments, third party music playlists on your wrist and a plethora of fitness tracking apps. It's got everything, really. It's the fullest experience you'll get on a watch that works with Android phones currently.
This feature-rich experience does come at the cost of battery life, however. So if what matters most to you is good fitness tracking and health data, it might be worth looking at the likes of Huawei or Garmin's most recent offerings. With those, you can often get days, even weeks, of usage on a full battery. You just lose out on some of the more lifestyle-oriented features, fluid animations and the interactivity of notifications.
Watch 4 vs Classic: What's different?
- Watch 4 from £249/€269 / Classic from £349/€369
- Watch 4: 40mm & 44mm / Classic: 42mm & 46mm
- Watch 4: Aluminium / Classic: Stainless steel
- Classic adds rotational bezel control
- Same features & sensors in both
The Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic are fundamentally the same from a capability point of view: whichever you pick there's no difference to power, to sensors, or to tracking options in any regard.
Instead, it's all about the materials, finish, style and size. The Watch 4 (embedded in the gallery below) is more sporty, with an aluminium case and sweat-proof band.
The Watch 4 Classic (embedded below) is, you guessed it, more 'classic'. It features a stainless steel case, more traditional strap fastening, a rotational bezel dial control (which lacks in the sportier watch), and the two case sizes are a little larger.
Those differences inevitably bring price variances, with the Classic commanding a higher asking price than the sportier Watch 4. This will depend on which size you choose and whether it's Bluetooth only or eSIM 4G capable.
Design and Display
- 1.2-inch or 1.4-inch colour AMOLED display
- Touchscreen and two physical buttons
- IP68 + 5ATM water resistance
Samsung's standard Galaxy Watch 4 is quite a plain-looking device, at least when compared to traditional watches or even the Watch 4 Classic (which has a much nicer looking bezel).
The case is made using a form of aluminium and features a subtle angled chamfered edge around the completely flat, round glass on top of the display. There are two buttons on the right side and you can customise what they do (to an extent).
The top button, with the red accent, is the 'home' button that takes you back to the watch face with a single click. A long-press defaults to opening Samsung's Bixby assistant, but can be used as a power menu launcher instead. Double-clicking takes you to your last app, or you can programme it to do any number of other functions, like launching a timer.
Long-pressing the bottom button launches Samsung Pay by default, enabling contactless wrist payments. Otherwise, it's a 'back' button. Confusingly, neither of the buttons is defaulted to launching into a workout. Instead, you need to swipe on the touchscreen to get to that option.
The strap is a simple affair, but it's one that we really like. Similar to Apple's standard silicone bands, it loops in underneath itself, so you don't get any part of it sticking out or flapping about.
Wearing it day-in and day-out is comfortable. It's a lightweight watch, with the silicone strap fitting snugly around the wrist. Despite being a 44mm case, we didn't find that it seemed all that large. Smaller wrists might find it dominates a little though.
The underside of the watch looks very similar to other recent watches, with the optical sensors surrounded by shiny, reflective panels. It's not flat, but its curve is subtle enough that it can be rested on the back of a phone to charge, but, by default, it snaps magnetically onto its own charging cradle.
As for the screen, that's bright, colourful and completely round. Ideal for the colourful and interactive interface that's loaded onto the watch.
A new Wear OS era?
- Compatible with Android only
- Wear OS "powered by Samsung"
There's no denying that Google's Wear OS has had its share of issues. Mainly, it was lacking any decent built-in fitness tracking. It also lacked properly customisable watch faces. That's changed with the new version of Wear OS on Samsung's latest watch, though.
In a lot of ways though, it feels a lot more like a 'Googlified' version of Samsung's previous Tizen platform than a new version of Wear OS. Samsung's influence is heavy.
Being a Samsung watch, it defaults to Samsung Health for its fitness and wellness tracking. But because it's Wear OS, you also have the option to download third-party apps from the Play Store - like Strava or Google Fit, or whichever takes your fancy. It also defaults to Samsung Pay rather than GPay for contactless payments.
The one feature that really ups the experience is being able to customise the installed watch faces. There's far more granular control over the elements that make up the design. You can choose the index style, change the complications (there are dozens to choose from), plus change the accent colours and hand styles. In this regard, Samsung's effort virtually matches the Apple Watch.
You do get the choice to enable an always-on display, too, so if you want to see the time all the time then you can. That will drain the battery a little more though.
When messages come through, whether in SMS form or through a messaging app like Telegram or WhatsApp, you can reply to it from your screen using a selection of quick replies, or using your voice, or even typing on a little fiddly keyboard on the screen. The last of those is a great way to get flustered, and often, it makes more sense just to open the app on your phone.
The one thing you will notice coming from older Wear OS watches is how different the interface is. For instance, swiping up from the bottom of the screen reveals the app grid, which we think will divide opinions. Still, we're fans of the new arrangement. It's quicker to find the app you're looking for than the old style method of having to scroll through a long list of icons and text.
Swiping down from the watch face reveals the quick settings shade (as it does with most smartwatches) while swiping right to left gets you to widgets. (and there are a lot more of them than what is usual for Wear OS). The main widgets, however, are the daily activity tracker which shows your progress 'rings' in a heart shape, steps, calories burned, and active time.
To get to notifications - now that swiping up has been changed - you have to swipe from left to right. It's similar to how Samsung has done it for a while, and seems a consistent method among other manufacturers with their own interfaces too. That means there's no Google Discover screen anymore. At least not on Samsung's flavour of Wear OS.
Despite the changes for anyone coming from older Wear OS versions, it doesn't take at all long to get used to it. And if you're coming from older Samsung watches, it'll feel very familiar. There's just a little more meat on the bones this time around.
Battery and performance
- Exynos W920 processor
- 1.5GB RAM and 16GB storage
- 247mAh or 361mAh battery
- Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi and NFC
- LTE on a specific model
In our daily testing of the 44mm Galaxy Watch 4, we found the battery would comfortably make it through two days on a full charge. Sometimes a little more. It's worth noting this is with the always-on display switched off. It's also worth noting this is the larger model of the two sizes and features a considerably larger battery capacity. You may struggle to get the same results if you opt for the 40mm model.
Regardless, it never gave us the battery anxiety we'd experience on some previous Wear OS watch models. Two days per charge is comfortable, which it could live up to even if we used it to track sleep at night.
Its standard method for refilling is a magnetic disc that easily snaps onto the back of the watch, but if you want then you can use your phone's reverse wireless charging feature to charge it (well, if you have a phone with that feature). As an example, we were able to charge the Watch 4 off the back of our Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Fitness and health tracking
- Heart rate and motion sensors
- ECG and body composition measuring
- GPS, Glonass, Beidou, Galileo
- Fitness plans and workouts
- Sleep and stress tracking
When it comes to tracking your daily movements, sleep, workouts and overall health, the Watch 4 is very accomplished. It has all the sensors you need, and more that you don't, but they are nice to have.
For overall health and movement, it has the usual tracking capabilities. It can measure how much you move during the day and - like any good fitness tracker - incentivises you by offering 'visual rings' to close, almost like a mini-game that you'll need to use your body to complete.
These are for steps, calories burned and active time. Each time you close one, you get a colourful and vibrant animation to tell you so. If you sit still for too long it'll also encourage you to get up and do some stretches or squats.
Samsung is attempting to be more holistic in its approach to health by offering more advanced sensors for heart health. As you'd expect, the Watch 4 will track your heart rate throughout the day, measuring your averages. But - like Apple Watch - it has a built-in ECG feature designed to look out for irregularities that could indicate health issues. With the right accessories, you can even get it to measure your blood pressure.
It's no replacement for going to the doctor and getting yourself checked out properly, but it's a useful feature that could help spot the signs of something that you do need to be investigated.
What is an interesting feature is the new body measurement tool. So rather than just use the app to ask you how much you weigh and how tall you are, it also has a feature that measures your body composition. By launching the feature and then holding your middle and ring fingers on the buttons it sends a signal through your body and attempts to work out how much fat, water and muscle you are made up of.
Of course, again, a wrist-worn device this small isn't likely to be super accurate, but we did find it to be consistent. We measured a few times and the results were similar each time. So chances are, if you're working to decrease the amount of body fat you have or increase your muscle mass, the watch will be able to pick up on improvements.
Samsung's holistic approach even spreads to sleep and stress tracking. You can wear it at night to track the quality of your sleep. Sadly though, we found it about as accurate as most other wrist-worn sleep trackers. If you're still - either in bed watching a movie or reading - it might track that as sleep, even though you're not asleep. This leads to quite badly skewed results.
Its strength, we think, is actually as a workout tracking watch. Or more specifically, as a running watch. For that, it's superb.
We tested it on a number of different running sessions alongside our trusty Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire and found it was pretty much bang-on with that. In one quite long 80-minute session it measured almost exactly the same distance using its GPS sensor as the Fenix did. It was within 10 metres. On a session over 10km, that's pretty impressive.
Comparing cadence, the average was two to three steps per minute of the Garmin, and it was a similar story with heart rate. That, also, was about two to three beats per minute different. Elevation, likewise, was a metre or two out. And this was the same on all the run sessions we wore it on. It compared well enough to the Fenix that we'd have no problem recommending the Samsung as a smartwatch for runners.
It even adopts some of the more experimental running features from the previous generation Galaxy Watch model. As well as your usual pace, distance, cadence, and so on, the watch tracks what it calls "advanced running metrics". These include things like asymmetry - to make sure you're not landing heavier on one foot than the other - contact time, flight time, regularity, vertical movement and stiffness. All of these to help you improve your running form to become a more efficient runner and reduce the chance of injury.
It's hard to tell how accurate it is compared to using shoe-based sensors, but it's still an interesting set of metrics to have, especially if you feel yourself aching after a run more than usual. You can check those metrics and see, perhaps, whether you were bouncing up and down too much, or landing too heavily on one foot.
While experienced runners might find that all they need is to track and log data, others might not know where to start and Samsung Health has those people covered too. The 'Fitness' section of the Samsung Health app has a load of video guides and training plans to choose from. So whether you want to find a quick workout to improve your core strength or start a 5K training plan, you can do it.
Whether you're looking for an all-singing, all-dancing smartwatch or just a smart-looking tracker, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 series seemingly does it all. These watches are slimmer, more powerful and more affordable than their predecessors, giving Android phone users a compelling option to consider. It's quite the showcase for how far Wear OS has come in a short period of time.