Samsung Galaxy Watch Active review: a fitness-focussed smartwatch with little to no flaws

Galaxy Watch Active 1

It is evident that Samsung is trying to consolidate all of its smart consumer devices portfolios under the “Samsung Galaxy” branding in 2019. The upgrade to the Gear Sport is now called Samsung Galaxy Watch Active. The idea here is to create a fitness-focused alternative to the chunkier Galaxy Watch. And, at least after my usage, I am convinced that Samsung has made an excellent Smartwatch that is one of the best, if not the best, alternatives to the Apple Watch. Especially, if you are an Android user. 

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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active: design and fit

The Galaxy Watch Active’s design has an understated elegance that is minimalistic and classy. I mean, this design language might not work for people who want more pomp and flash but it definitely works for both active and regular lifestyles. The Watch Active is small, lightweight, and I didn’t realize that I was wearing it at all. Which makes sleep tracking a breeze. 

What I particularly like about the Galaxy Watch Active are the 20mm straps. The soft silicone straps you get with the watch are super comfortable to wear and you also get a longer strap in the box in case the default one is too small for your wrist. Moreover, you can easily change the strap with any aftermarket replacement of your choice. That’s not it if you don’t like the plain black color, there are a couple of other color options as well.

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The round casing is made of aluminum, which is what makes it lighter than other watches. My only concern is that it comes in a single size. The 40mm dial is a little tiny for my big hand but for most regular people it shouldn’t be a problem. This is clearly a one-size-fits-all product. Anyway, the casing is also pretty slim unlike some of the bulkier smartwatches and this could be partly due to the fact that the Galaxy Watch Active has a smaller 230mAh battery compared to the Galaxy Watch’s 270mAh on the 42mm variant and a massive 472mAh unit inside the bigger 46mm variant. 

Also read: Honor Watch Magic review: a fitness band aspiring to be a smartwatch

On the underside of the watch sits the heart-rate sensor and the wireless charging coil inside the chassis. Yes, you can charge the watch on any Qi-compatible charger. This is definitely an advantage. 

On the right side of the watch, you have two buttons – one that is slightly more raised. The bottom button is technically the Home button. Pressing it from any widget screen or notifications screen brings you to the clock face. But, when you hit the button at the clock face, it opens up the app’s dial. Now, the button on the top is the back button, which can be used to go one page back within apps. Rather easy to understand and use, in my opinion. 

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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active: display

The Galaxy Watch Active’s 1.1-inch AMOLED display is crisp, bright, and colorful. The deep blacks blend with the black bezels around the display and it just looks very stunning. Viewing outdoors is no problem and you cannot really see any color shift either. You really cannot get a better display on a smartwatch. Also, despite the fact that the display is smaller, you can rest assured that touching and swiping through the software UI is not really a problem even for my pudgy fingers. 

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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active: software

Talking about software, the Galaxy Watch Active runs on Samsung’s homegrown Tizen-based Wearable OS 4.0. Now, the software UI has been tailor-made for round dials. But the lack of a physical rotating dial on the Galaxy Watch Active means that you have to rely on a combination of touches and swipes to navigate through the OS. This is not ideal because the rotating dial on the Galaxy Watch and the Gear S3 Frontier is extremely cool for navigation. 

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Anyway, coming back to Tizen. The layout of the software is super simple and intuitive:

  1. Swipe left from the watch face to view notifications. Keep swiping to view individual notifications from different apps. 
  2. Swipe right from the watch face to view all the widgets. 
  3. Swipe down from the top to bring down the notifications panel. 
  4. Long press the display to change the watch face.

However, there is one thing that annoyed me to no end. When you are changing the complications in the clock face, you cannot swipe down to go back to the previous option. You can only cycle through all the options to get to your desired one. I am guessing that is because the software is made for rotating dials and the engineers didn’t think it through. 

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Talking about clock faces, the default options itself are so good that you do not need more options. I absolutely love Fit Future and Pop Analog watch faces. You can download more from the Galaxy Store by the way. 

By the way, there is no eSIM variant of this watch so you will have to rely on your phone for calls. You can respond to text notifications with predefined responses or your own using the T9 keyboard.

Furthermore, you can use the watch standalone for listening to music using a pair of Bluetooth headphones because you do get internal storage. And, of course, you can stream music using Spotify as well. I can’t tell you how cool is that really. 

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Where there is Samsung, Bixby follows suit. Obviously, you get Bixby on the Galaxy Watch Active and I actually ended up using it to track my workouts. Works fairly well, if I must say so. 

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active: fitness features

Since the Watch has the word “Active” in its name, you and I both know that it is made for fitness features. And, Samsung goes the full hog here. You can track up to 90 workouts and there is automatic workout-tracking as well. Obviously, all the 90 workouts don’t show up on the watch. That said, you can easily connect it to the Samsung Health app to access the workout activity of your choice. 

Also read: Fitbit Inspire HR review: I was inspired enough to workout everyday

As far as step counting goes, the Galaxy Watch Active is definitely not as accurate as a Fitbit or a Garmin product, but it is not too far off either. There’s also auto-workout tracking and the Watch did automatically track my Table Tennis sessions as a dynamic workout. But guess what? It is so overzealous that it ended up tracking my everyday scooter ride to work as cycling. Which is why I had to switch it off. I’ve been using the Fitbit Versa Lite on the side and the auto workout tracking is far more refined on that. 

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By the way, the Watch is also 5ATM-rated, which immediately indicates that you can take it out for your swimming sessions as well. Apart from this, the watch can also track your stress levels. I don’t know how it does it but I found that it worked fairly well. On days when I was stressed, the Galaxy Watch Active actually showed that I was stressed. And a small breathing exercise later, my stress levels immediately dropped. 

Finally, you can also use the Galaxy Watch Active for sleep tracking which works really well and gives you detailed stats of your how you slept through the night. This feature is not available even on the Apple Watch so as to save battery life. 

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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active: performance and battery life

As far as the performance of the Exynos 9110 SoC is concerned, it is fairly fast with a few stutters once in a blue moon. Nothing to worry about really. However, the 230mAh battery inside the Galaxy Watch Active can last about a day and a half max if you pull in notifications from a few frequently-used apps. You can definitely increase the battery life by not pulling in notifications, but that defeats the purpose of a smartwatch. 

By the way, it takes around an hour and 30 minutes to charge from 0 to 100 entirely using the bundled wireless cradle. Which I think is definitely a long time. 

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Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active?

For its asking price of Rs 19,990, the Galaxy Watch Active is a very good deal. Good smartwatches don’t come cheap. Now, the biggest competition for the Galaxy Watch Active comes from its own family. Last year’s Gear S3 Frontier is similar in terms of features and costs the same as well. So, if you want a beefier, bulkier watch the Gear S3 Frontier and this year’s Galaxy Watch should fit the bill. Moreover, it doesn’t hurt that both the watches come with a rotating dial for easier navigation of the UI. 

The Fitbit Versa with its square dial is better suited for an active lifestyle. Thanks mainly to the excellent step tracking and auto-exercise recognition. I do like the design of the Galaxy Watch better, though. It does look more like a traditional watch with a round dial instead of a pocket computer. Compared to the rather boxy and ugly Iconic, Versa’s design is far more palatable. 

All in all, the Galaxy Watch Active is easily one of the best, if not the best, smartwatches to buy for your Android phone. 

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?