The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active ($349) promises connectivity and fitness tracking in a stylish and streamlined frame, but does it live up to its predecessor?
The first thing I noticed when I turned on the Galaxy Watch Active is the gorgeous AMOLED screen.
This 1.1-inch touchscreen is bright and clear with deep blacks and saturated colours that stand out even in sunlight.
The round 40mm aluminium minimalist case is attractive different to other fitness smartwatches that mirror the Apple Watch.
It is slim enough to be worn easily under long sleeves and is so lightweight I often forgot I was wearing it until I got a notification.
Samsung has done away with the rotating bezel, instead, wearers can navigate through the watch via touch and two buttons.
Holding down the top button (back button) also activates Samsung Pay, and holding down the bottom button (homescreen button) turns the smartwatch on/off.
Swipe left on the touchscreen will reveal all your notifications and to the right will open up all the integrated apps which can be adjusted to your preference on the watch itself.
There are numerous watchfaces to choose from, and can be easily swapped out on the watch – no fiddling around with the app — simply by pressing and holding down on the watchface.
Some watchfaces even have extra built-in features.
The “Breathe” watchface has shortcuts to a breathing exercise to relax and “Activity Sparkles” goes green when you are active and yellow if you’ve been inactive for too long.
I found “Breathe” beautiful so switched between that watchface and “Activity Dashboard” which features a workout shortcut so you can begin a workout without scrolling through features.
The unit I was sent to review is the silver face with silver strap, not a colour I would have chosen for myself.
I thought that the silicone strap would get grubby from daily use and exercise.
However, despite weeks of use during workouts, in the rain, in the shower, it looks as if it has never been used – it’s also the first silicone strap that didn’t irritate my skin after extended use.
The Galaxy Watch Active is the perfect accompaniment to a Samsung Galaxy S9 or S10.
As I do not use either of those smartphones, I had to install various different apps in order to avail of all (or rather most) of the features.
In addition to the standard tracking found on most fitness smartwatches – steps, calories, sleep tracking etc. — the Watch Active can apparently track blood pressure.
The blood pressure tracking is still in its beta phase available through a collaborative opt-in study with the University of California, San Francisco on Samsung Galaxy S9 and S10 smartphones.
Nevertheless, the smartwatch tracks everything else easily and was fairly accurate at autodetecting workouts.
If I walked for longer than ten minutes it would count that as a workout and log it into my daily active minutes.
When on a hike, I noticed that the watch kept buzzing every few minutes and realised that it kept stopping and starting my walking workout as I paused to climb – clever, but drains the battery.
When launching a workout, I would advise that users wait for the smartwatch to log their heart rate (see the image below).
It sometimes took up to three minutes for this to actually register, to be fair this could have been an issue with my review unit.
When in a workout the smartwatch logs the duration, heart rate, and calories burned and can be paused by hitting the back button.
Samsung is also focusing on stress relief with this watch. As it measures your heart rate it calculates how it varies throughout the day.
If it detects that you are stressed it will prompt you to do a breathing exercise and if one isn’t enough, it will suggest another until you are deemed calm.
Unlike other smartwatches, this watch doesn’t put a major focus on steps.
Instead, users are encouraged to complete a daily goal of 30 mins workout, burn 300 calories, and move hourly for eight hours. If completed, wearers get a lovely heart sent to them.
Like most other fitness-centric smartwatches, the Galaxy Watch active reminds you to get up and move if you haven’t in a while.
However, it’s not always feasible to go for a walk when you have an article to finish, so it actually gives users the option to some torso twists or arm raises.
Connectivity is also a big thing with this watch, all emails, texts, calls, messages can be seen and responded to via the smartwatch.
The Watch Active is also integrated with Samsung’s virtual assistant Bixby, who I found surprisingly helpful.
Once activated via wake phrase “Hey Bixby” it easily sent messages with the apps I specified and started workouts easily.
Contactless payment was a new experience for me but worked seamlessly.
Of course, it requires Samsung Pay app which I downloaded and set up a card etc. But that was pretty much straightforward.
To activate contactless pay, simply hold down the top button and enter your pin and your card will show up. Hold your watch over the contactless payment receiver and wait for the vibrate.
Thanks to all the features and the dual-core Exynos 9110 CPU, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active does not deliver on battery life.
I had to charge it daily, sometimes twice daily, even with a dimmed display, blocking notifications, and enabling “Goodnight mode” (which stops the screen from waking up when you turn your wrist in your sleep).
Surprisingly it doesn’t include a timer or stopwatch for workouts, you need to download that from the Samsung App store which features apps which aren’t always compatible with all Android phones or come at a price.
It also lacks period tracking which I found very helpful on the Fitbit Versa Lite Edition.
All stats are available to view on the smartwatch itself and can be viewed in the companion app Samsung Health. Which is equally easy to navigate.
The Watch Active is basically a slimmed down version of the flagship Samsung Galaxy Watch retaining many of the smart tracking features as well as GPS, cashless payments, and more.
It manages to squeeze an impressive number of features into a slim and lightweight frame sacrificing battery life in the process.
You can’t get past the face that smartwatch will work best with a high-end Samsung smartphone.
If you have a Samsung S9 or S10, then this is definitely the smartwatch for you. If you are using a Huawei or lower-end Samsung then perhaps Fitbit may be a better fit.
However, I thoroughly enjoyed using the smartwatch, found it easy to navigate with a gorgeous screen.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is available online and in-store from Samsung Australia, JB Hi-Fi, and most leading Australian retailers for an RRP of $349.