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Samsung Galaxy Watch Review: All the Beauty, but Bixby’s Useless

by Justin Herrick | October 20, 2018October 20, 2018 11:30 am PST

It’s the final stretch of the year, and that means new smartwatches are upon us. What should you choose? The decision for many could be the Apple Watch Series 4, but the Galaxy Watch shouldn’t be overlooked in the slightest. Samsung’s put in the time and effort to create a platform that dazzles on your wrist.

The Galaxy Watch, arriving in GPS-only and LTE-enabled configurations, can match any smartwatch on paper. Even in use, it seems like a near-flawless experience. It does exactly what you want — track activity, organize data, and provide feedback.

What you’ll hear consumers argue is that, with the Galaxy Watch, you’re not getting an experience that’s dramatically upgraded over the Gear S3 and the Gear Sport. That’s not true for the new Apple Watch, either. Both companies made a handful of tweaks, but they’re completely meaningful.

We’re going to focus on Samsung’s Galaxy Watch here. The entire experience isn’t all that different from previous Gear-branded models; however, it’s refined and runs as smooth as imaginable. Really, the Galaxy Watch might be the best smartwatch you’re ignoring.

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There’s no doubt Samsung made the Galaxy Watch. It resembles the last two models, so realize that we’re dealing with ‘tock’ year product. But that’s not a negative in any capacity. Whether you’re at a work-related dinner or breaking a sweat at the gym, the smartwatch blends in and stays subtle. It’s been a process to achieve, but Samsung makes attractive smartwatches.

Samsung’s Galaxy Watch looks and feels like a high-end timepiece that just so happens to have some brainpower. As for its sizing, you can get this smartwatch in 42mm and 46mm. The latter is only offered in Silver while Midnight Black and Rose Gold make up the 42mm size.

The materials aren’t cheap, mind you. Samsung uses stainless steel, some plastic, and Corning’s Gorilla Glass DX+. When I accidentally bumped into objects around the house while wearing the Galaxy Watch, it’s construction never exposed a blemish. That’s amazing, frankly.

It also doesn’t feel large and overweight, and that’s because Samsung mastered the art of compact design. Your smartwatch shouldn’t be like a wrist weight, after all.

Between the Galaxy Watch (46mm) and the Gear S3 Classic, the sizes and weights are nearly identical. Samsung gave us the 42mm size for testing, but we did use the larger size during the Unpacked 2018 event and felt the 46mm size was far from challenging. The 42mm size, by the way, seems to be a sweet spot for most wrists.

On the Galaxy Watch, you have that rotating bezel which surrounds the 1.2- or 1.3-inch circular display. The shape and its bezel make this smartwatch less obvious to call out. Maybe you’d like to go without having a dozen people per day calling out the unmissable wrist-based computer.

Seriously, the Apple Watch should also have a circular display. We’re not asking for Apple to include a rotating bezel, but smartwatches should look like actual watches. Until Apple changes its ways, you won’t find a better circular display on a smartwatch than what the Galaxy Watch presents.

That’s also true because Samsung uses a Super AMOLED panel. Samsung’s display-making division can’t be rivaled, and colors on the Galaxy Watch’s display are vibrant. From icons to text to animations, everything just looks spectacular jumping off the screen.

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Any smartwatch will live or die by its software. If you don’t have apps, you can’t expect users to stick around. That’s the Circle of Life for pretty much all consumer technology.

Take the Apple Watch as an example. Despite the boring design that Apple released in 2015, its smartwatch turned out to be successful. Apple created an operating system that’s straightforward and attractive for third-party developers to get behind. You know the Apple Watch has a wealth of apps at the ready.

Samsung’s done the same, with a lesser amount of success. Tizen is running on the Galaxy Watch even though multiple reports suggested otherwise. And, truthfully, we should be thankful for that. The alternative is Google’s Wear OS, and that should be non-starter today.

The software on the Galaxy Watch takes advantage of the rotating bezel as well as gestures. You can turn the bezel to navigate menus and selections or use the almighty finger. It’s a simple approach, and Samsung’s user interface here couldn’t be any easier to commandeer.

Altogether, the interaction between user and smartwatch struck me as intuitive. That, unfortunately, doesn’t make up for the severe lack of decent apps. The Galaxy Apps Store is weak. Since last fall, I thought that would improve but it absolutely has not.

Sure, there are some big-name developers that have apps for the Galaxy Watch. Yet I was left so disappointed. Most come from developers that are unverified and, in some cases, ripping off of popular services. Samsung needs to crack down on this. The situation has gotten worse and makes users hesitant to try additional apps.

Samsung’s core apps, though, are still terrific. Samsung Health and Samsung Pay are shining spots on the Galaxy Watch. Bixby, on the other hand, could not be any more of a mess.

Just recently, Samsung Health got overhauled on Android and iOS. The app has been redesigned and offers a much cleaner layout. Not that the old version was bad, but this is a much-needed makeover that everyone can appreciate.

It enables communication between your smartwatch and your phone; therefore, all data collected and organized on one becomes visible on the other. Personally, I loved accessing my long-distance runs at a glance. The Galaxy Watch was able to show my time, distance, calories burned, speed, heart rate, and route.

The Galaxy Watch might look fancy-ish, but it loves fitness. It can automatically detect a plethora of workouts. And, if I want to manually start another or do a different workout, the on-device Samsung Health hub is just a swipe over from my watch face.

For accuracy, the Galaxy Watch concerned me early on. The smartwatch would stop tracking heart rate mid-run, but I think that might have been because it was waiting for my pace to stabilize and get a truer reading. But the Galaxy Watch also blanked on me in the middle of one run. All of the important data was cut off and I had no idea until I returned home. Ouch, Samsung.

The reliability seems to have changed after Samsung’s latest software update. Aside from that now-gone run and some minor hiccups, the Galaxy Watch holds its pace and never falls down.

I did like the built-in speaker letting me know how my runs were progressing, and you could also use that to play music. Samsung should just make the coaching a little more advanced with real-time feedback rather than an overview of what you’ve accomplished so far.

When it found its stride post-software update, the Galaxy Watch became as good of an activity tracker as I’ve found. Next, we have to hope Samsung fixes Bixby on this smartwatch.

Bixby made its global debut on the Galaxy S8, and ever since we’ve seen the digital assistant appear on additional devices. Samsung has aspirations to make Bixby ubiquitous, but it should’ve never shipped on the Galaxy Watch as such.

The digital assistant opens at a glacial pace, often doesn’t hear what’s been said, and responds slower than molasses running down a pancake. Sometimes Bixby doesn’t bother issuing a response because, well, its lost. Is that a bug? Is that proof of a poor knowledge graphic? Perhaps both, but regardless Bixby should be avoided.

Another problem with Bixby is that, if you’re not requesting information like the weather, it doesn’t do much. When asking for your heart rate, Bixby will sluggishly bounce you to Samsung Health instead of completing the task from its own menu. Please, use your phone instead of Bixby.

Inside, you have a 270mAh (42mm) or 472mAh battery (46mm). Samsung says you’ll get 3-4 days of use on a single charge, but that’s without the always-on display activated. To me, it felt like a 1-2 day estimate is fair. That’s how far I got with the always-on display and default settings.

Samsung should be more realistic and assume most users will want the always-on display serving quick snippets of information. The battery life estimate should go off of that.

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The Galaxy Watch needs to be charged on a daily basis if you do workouts on the regular, and be prepared for when it gets squeezed further if the GPS tracks location for walks/runs. Still, it does get juice from the charging dock in quick fashion.

As the wearables space continues getting dominated by Apple, Samsung also keeps pushing forward. Samsung, which battles its Cupertino-based rival in the mobile industry, hasn’t shied away from rolling out smartwatches. In fact, maybe Samsung started the trend in 2013 with the Galaxy Gear. Now we’re several years in and have stylish, powerful model for Android users to consider.

So it just comes down to who you are and what you have. iPhone owners should probably stick with the Apple Watch, but it’s not like the Galaxy Watch would do them a disservice. Android users, meanwhile, cannot find a better smartwatch than Samsung’s Galaxy Watch.

If you already have a Gear smartwatch, think twice before grabbing the Galaxy Watch. Have a Gear S3 or Gear Sport? Sit this one out. Everyone else, though, should take a long look at Samsung’s flagship wearable. The style is premium but versatile, and you get all the essential features of a smartwatch in high-end form.

The Galaxy Watch was provided by Samsung, and TechnoBuffalo used it for several weeks in various capacities to complete this review.


TechnoBuffalo LLC (dba TechnoBuffalo.com) has affiliate partnerships with various companies. These do not at any time have any influence on the editorial content of TechnoBuffalo. TechnoBuffalo LLC may earn a commission from these links.


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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