When it comes to smartwatches, Apple has been the dominant player year-after-year. And for good reason. Apple’s iPhone users are yet to find a better smartwatch companion, both for tracking fitness activities and functioning as a useful addition to the phone. But one player that has consistently tried to take on the Apple Watch is Samsung with a series of wearables.
Samsung’s latest attempt is the Galaxy Watch Active, which has been made available in India. The Galaxy Watch Active sports a much sleeker design compared to the previous Galaxy Watches. Here’s our review of the Galaxy Watch Active.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active review
I like that the Galaxy Watch Active is lighter and sleeker. My pet peeve is bulky smartwatches. I don’t want a pink strap or a rose gold bezel, some of us just want a watch that doesn’t look like we stole it from someone else.
I don’t miss the top rotating bezel, which was a staple feature on previous Samsung watches and added more weight to the watch. The Galaxy Watch Active has a home button, which can be used to power on/off, restart the watch and also access the menu for all the apps. On top is a back button. The display is touch-enabled and useful for navigating the watch.
What I don’t like about the Galaxy Watch Active is the plasticky strap. I fear this might not be suited for those with very sensitive skin as on some days when I wore the watch a little too tight, there was definite redness on my wrist. The Galaxy Watch Active works with both Android and iOS and I used the watch with the iPhone XS, which is my primary device.
The Galaxy Watch Active works well as a smartwatch in terms of delivering notifications and letting you dismiss them quickly. When it comes to Gmail, WhatsApp messages, you can read them, but to reply to messages you have to go back to the main device. The watch is quick to respond to your touch and there’s no lag either.
You can receive calls on the device, but they have to be taken or dismissed on the connected device itself, so there are limitations here. An Apple Watch lets you take calls on the watch itself. I also found that typing on the Samsung watch is not easy at all. At one point I had to type in my WiFi password into the watch, and the interface is not really user-friendly or smooth. Samsung should consider tweaking this, or adding features which will make typing easier.
The Galaxy Watch Active has a lot to offer in the fitness department. I found it accurate for steps tracking, in fact, it was more conservative than my regular Apple Watch 3. I even had the confidence to ditch my Apple Watch during a work trip, and stick with this device as the primary one to track steps for the day.
Samsung has introduced a lot more modes in the Galaxy Watch Active that will appeal to gym-goers. There are modes for counting your Squats, Arm Curls, Leg Extensions, and you can decide the number of sets as well as the number of reps you plan to do when in the gym.
This will be useful for those who are regulars to gym and need to track their exercise regime. This is something the Apple Watch does not have and I would say Samsung gets it right. I found it accurate when it came to tracking squats and arm curls. What is annoying is that if you are switching between a number of exercises in quick succession you will have to keep changing the modes for more accurate tracking.
The Galaxy Watch Active also comes with auto-detection for some activities, though I’m not sure it is entirely accurate. At times it would think I was out for a walk, when I just barely moved around. In the gym, it auto-detected that I was doing a workout and I could not get the watch to stop that session so that I could set one of the more dedicated modes.
One activity where I found the Galaxy Active on shakier ground was swimming. For the first six laps it was accurate, but then the Watch Active just jumped to 8 and then 12 laps all of a sudden. In total, the Watch showed 16 laps, when there was no way I was close to that number.
In another swim session which was in a 25 m pool, the watch was almost accurate, though in the end, it added one extra length. Based on my usage, while the watch accurately detected the stroke and the duration of the session, the lap count was a problem.
The Galaxy Watch Active also comes with Stress tracking and breathing exercises, which should help those of you facing a tough week at work. For access to the Calm meditation exercises you will need a Samsung phone and beyond the 7-day trial period, Calm is not free.
The watch detected Medium level of stress on one particular occasion, which I highly doubt. But the breathing exercises are a good reminder to get some sanity back in case you are feeling very stressed out. The heart-track tracker is also accurate for the most part.
What didn’t impress me was the Galaxy Watch Active’s battery life. With intense workouts you will get a day-and-a-half worth of battery life, which is not ideal. This was with continuous heart-rate monitoring on. The Galaxy Watch Active also takes more than two hours to charge.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active also comes with blood pressure monitoring, but this is still under research and only works if you have a Galaxy S10 series or Note 9 device, so it is limited in that sense. The app for this has to be downloaded separately on Android.
Coming to the Samsung Health App, I noticed that it shows steps data from all previous fitness trackers from the company. On some days, the app reflected zero steps, which was odd and confusing. I realised this was because the Galaxy Watch Active does not appear as an option when I’m tapping on the Steps data screen to look at the trend. I had to set the option to All Steps in order for data from Galaxy Watch Active to show in the trends. Check out the screenshots below to see what I’m talking about.
The zero step count was appearing because the app keeps reflecting data from older trackers, which I’m not using. A quick Google search showed I was not the only one facing this problem. It appears that in order to erase these past trackers from my Samsung Health app’s history, I have to delete all data and reset the app. This can be confusing for a user, especially if they have owned several Galaxy trackers in the past.
For me, the software still remains an issue on the Galaxy Watches. The experience is nowhere as smooth or seamless an Apple Watch, which is a challenge for Samsung.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active Verdict
The Galaxy Watch Active is appealing when you consider some key factors: The device is light, the steps and fitness tracking are very comprehensive, though the auto-detection feature could be better. The swim tracking could be better, and the battery life and overall software are the big negatives here. At Rs 19,990, Galaxy Watch Active is not exactly affordable. Still, for someone who needs a good smartwatch to track their fitness, this is a good alternative in the world of Fitbit and Apple Watch.