Samsung Galaxy Watch Active review: Affordably priced with plenty of features

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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active offers plenty of smartwatch and fitness features at a great price for anyone looking to combine both in one device.

9.3/10 rating

Fitness trackers and smartwatches can be seen almost everywhere you look these days. Samsung has a few different variations and it’s been a couple of years since I last reviewed one of their offerings. Our Galaxy Watch Active review takes a look a smartwatch with plenty of fitness features and an affordable price point.

Specifications

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active has the following features and specifications:

  • Track your way to real results: Automatically detects up to six exercises, while tracking up to 39 more, right from your wrist.
  • Resolve to rest better: Helps you analyze your sleep patterns and encourages you to wind down to keep you refreshed and at your best.
  • Sends you real-time alerts if ever detecting a high or low heart rate, so you can be more proactive about your heart health.
  • Expand your Galaxy: Sync with your phone to stream your playlist, get notifications and more, right on your wrist.
  • Thin. Light. Durable: A thin, lightweight and durable swim-ready design comes in a variety of colors and interchangeable bands.
  • Lasts for days: Go non-stop with a long-lasting battery that lasts for days on a single charge.
  • Display: 1.1″ (40mm) AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass crystal case and aluminum case material
  • Resolution: 360×360
  • Processor: 1.15GHz Exynos 9110
  • Memory: 0.75GB RAM + 4GB storage (1.5GB available)
  • Durability: 5ATM IP68 water-resistance, MIL-STD-810G
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth v4.2, NFC, GPS, Glonass, Galileo
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Barometer, Gyro Sensor, HR Sensor, Light Sensor
  • Battery Life: 30mAh (up to 45 hours), wireless charging
  • Compatibility: Android and iOS
  • Dimensions: 39.5 x 39.5 x 10.5mm
  • Weight: 25g without strap

What’s in the box

  • Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
  • Standard Strap
  • Extra Large Strap
  • Wireless Charger
  • Quick Reference Guide
  • Samsung Terms & Conditions
What's included with the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
What’s included with the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active.

Design

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active looks like a fairly traditional watch with its round display and casing. Our review unit came in the stylish Rose Gold colour — yes I rocked it hard for the past few months — which nicely frames the 40mm (1.1″) display screen. When looking at the watch face on, just a hint of the Rose Gold aluminum casing can be seen around the screen.

The casing itself is thicker than a typical watch, although not overly. With a thickness of 10.5mm (0.41″), the case is also rounded with a nice polished finish. On the bottom and top of the casing are a pair of lugs for the straps. Finally, there are two buttons on the right side of the casing: back on the upper right and home/power on the lower right.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active has two buttons on the right side
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active has two buttons on the right side.

The back of the watch is pretty simple. In the glossy black center is where you’ll find the heart rate sensor. The outer circle of the back is a matte black finish. Here you can also see the easy release pin for the straps, making it simple to swap out for a different size or colour.

The strap itself is 20mm wide and is made of fluoroelastomer, which feels like a cross between a super flexible silicone and rubber. Given the watch comes with standard and extra large bands off the bat, it should fit most users with no issues at all. The one side of the strap has a bunch of holes for the clasp. The aluminum clasp on the other strap is, of course, finished in the same colour as the case. In addition, the strap with the clasp has a rounded rectangular slot just above the clasp. When fastening the watch around your wrist, once you’ve placed the other end through the clasp, you then feed it through the slot and under the clasp strap. In other words, the excess strap is hidden under the other strap and against your skin. At first this felt a bit weird but after wearing it for a bit I enjoyed not having to fiddle with loops or having it snag on things accidentally.

If Rose Gold isn’t your colour of choice, the Galaxy Watch Active also comes in black, blue, and silver. You can also purchase a variety of different colour and style straps to go with it as well for further customization.

As far as comfort is concerned, even though I have larger wrists, I did find the 40mm case size more than adequate. Being slightly smaller, it does weigh a bit less than some larger watches and I didn’t ever find it to be uncomfortable while wearing it during the day or at night.

Display

The display is definitely smaller than some other watches out there but even so, it’s plenty big given how the watch works. The 1.1″ (40mm) display does have a bit of a bezel around it, roughly 1/4-inch in size. I did find that, depending on the watch face used, it detracts a bit and it’d be nice to have a smartwatch display that goes almost to the edge, or at least cover the bezel with the same colour as the watch casing itself for a cleaner look.

Various watch faces are available for the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
Various watch faces are available for the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active.

At any rate, the display is definitely vivid and crisp, as one can expect from Samsung’s AMOLED displays. I had no issues viewing the contents of the screen whether in bright sunlight or darkened rooms at night.

The screen is super responsive as well. Left, right, and down swiping actions registered quickly. Long pressing worked as intended as well, the odd times I did use it.

Setup

For the most part, setting up and using the Galaxy Watch Active is pretty easy. Setting it up can be a bit of a convoluted process, especially if you are using a non-Galaxy smartphone. For our testing, we paired the watch with the Google Pixel 3 instead. While setup was straightforward, you do have to install at least three apps, four if you include Samsung Health for viewing fitness data on your device.

First off, you’ll need the Galaxy Wearables app from the Google Play Store. Once that’s installed on your smartphone, you’ll be prompted to install the Watch Active Plugin and the Samsung Accessory Service when you go to add a new device. Once that is done, it is pretty straightforward to pair the watch to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Finally, once you’ve paired the watch you’ll be asked if you want to install Samsung Health, which you likely will want to for easier fitness tracking reporting.

While setup was pretty easy, and I get that I am using a non-Samsung Galaxy smartphone, I’m not sure why the Watch Active Plugin and Accessory Service can’t just be included as part of the Galaxy Wearables app.

One thing to note, you can only have the Galaxy Watch Active setup with one device. If you try to add it to another device, it will reset and wipe out your data on the watch. If you are getting a new phone or resetting your existing one, you’ll want to use the Backup and Restore option in the Galaxy Wearables app to backup your watch and restore the data on it once you’ve connected it to another device.

Ease of Use

Using the watch is quite easy and, like any touchscreen smartwatch, uses swiping and long presses in combination with the home and back buttons. The basic navigation functions include:

  • Tap: Lightly tap the screen to launch an app, select a menu item, or press a button.
  • Double-tap: Lightly tap an image twice to zoom in and out.
  • Touch and hold: Touch and hold items to access edit mode or view available options.
  • Swipe: Lightly drag your finger vertically or horizontally across the screen to view panels.
  • Drag: Touch and hold an item, and then move it to a new location.

For the most part, you’ll be using swipe actions to navigate around the watch. Swiping right will display your notifications while swiping left will all you to scroll through your pinned app widgets. Swiping down will allow you to access quick settings including night mode, Bluetooth headphones, vibration settings, do not disturb, find my phone, remaining battery life, Bluetooth/Wi-Fi status, and more.

Various watch faces are available for the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
Various watch faces are available for the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active.

Long pressing will allow you to remove or move a widget, as well as change the clock face when on the main screen. At any time, pressing the back button will go to the previous app while pressing the home button will return you to your home clock face screen. You can also take screenshots of your current screen, although it is a bit tricky. In order to do so, press the power button and as soon as you feel a small vibration, swipe right on the screen to take the screenshot and save it in the Gallery.

Finally, you can turn your watch on or off by holding down the home/power button until it boots up or shuts down.

Responding to texts or messages is pretty easy as well and there are three ways to do this: typing, emojis, or voice. While typing and emojis both work fine, I found the voice input to be the fastest and easiest way to respond. It definitely feels a bit Dick Tracy (if you’re old enough to remember) and quickly became my favourite way to respond to messages when I looked at them on the watch. As far as the typing option is concerned, you can enable predictive text as well as handwriting to make things a bit easier.

One app I do want to touch on here is Spotify. If you are a Spotify Premium user, not only can you pair your account with the watch through your phone or Wi-Fi, but you can also download tracks to the Galaxy Watch Active. When on Wi-Fi or downloaded to the watch, you can listen to Spotify directly from it through a Bluetooth headset or earbuds. When you press play on the Spotify app, it automatically looks for and initiates the pairing process for headphones. This actually makes working out even easier as you don’t have to worry about carrying or tucking your phone away somewhere while you work out.

Spotify download option screen on the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
Spotify download option screen on the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active.

There are plenty of other things you can do as well, like initiating a phone call from your watch which will then dial and launch the phone app on your phone. All in all, once you’ve played with it for awhile, the Galaxy Watch Active is pretty straightforward and easy to use. The User Guide is also well laid out and simple to follow should you be after a specific feature.

Software

Tizen

Unlike other Android watches which run Google’s Wear OS, Samsung continues to use their own Tizen OS on their watches. The Galaxy Watch Active ships with Tizen 4.0. To be honest, there are a lot of similarities between the two, especially the gesture swiping and whatnot, and I had no problems or issues with Tizen 4.0 on the smartwatch.

As previously mentioned, the included apps like weather, Spotify, and Samsung Health worked just fine on the watch and I had no issues with any of them. The watch also supports Samsung Pay and Bixby but we didn’t test either of those out.

Even though the Galaxy Watch Active comes with 4GB of storage, 2.5GB is taken up by the operating system. This leaves 1.5GB for other apps or your music which, to be honest, I never even came close to filling.

Galaxy Wearables

As for the smartphone side, the Galaxy Wearables app is pretty straightforward as well. Once installed to your Android device (the Galaxy Watch Active is also compatible with iOS devices), it allows you to connect to your watch, update apps on your watch, adjust your watch settings, and more. While most of these settings can be changed on the watch itself as well, it is much easier to do it on a larger screen.

Samsung Health

I won’t get to deep into the Samsung Health app as it’s not required on your smartphone to track your fitness from day to day, but it definitely helps. The app gives you an easy overview of daily, weekly, and monthly activity, allows you to manually enter things like coffee and water consumption, and more. It’s pretty straightforward and easy to use, not to mention customizable to show only what you want on the home screen of the app.

Ecosystem

The Galaxy Watch Active uses the Galaxy Store for additional apps and watch faces. For the most part, I did look around for other watch faces to use and there were plenty of those. I also browsed through the games and app sections and there seemed to be more than enough free and paid games and apps to satisfy most users needs.

Performance

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is smooth and snappy when switching from screen to screen. For the most part, I found the fitness features to be fairly accurate, especially when it comes to step tracking, workouts, sleep tracking, and heart rate. The tracker can also autodetect certain workout types and it seemed to peg my cycling rides accurately with no issues.

The stress monitor was a little hit or miss as sometimes it indicated high stress when I wasn’t doing much of anything or feeling stressed at all.

The apps I had installed all worked great as well, including weather, Spotify, and Samsung Health. It was pretty wicked being able to download Spotify playlists (Spotify Premium account required) and use the watch and a Bluetooth headset without having to bring my phone along.

Being water-resistant to 5ATM (50 meters), the Galaxy Watch Active is great for the pool as well. Samsung added a Water Lock mode as well, enabling you to temporarily lock the touchscreen interface to prevent it from waking or navigating due to the water.

Theatre mode allows you to silence your watch easily while in a movie while Do Not Disturb mode disables all notifications. Finally, Goodnight mode lets you get a good night sleep by turning the screen off and disabling alerts while enabled.

Battery Life

During our testing, wearing the Galaxy Watch Active around the clock with mostly default settings, I easily averaged around two full days of battery before I had to recharge. I soon got into the habit of recharging it after dinner on the second day so usually got close to 48 hours out of it.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active charges wirelessly
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active charges wirelessly.

When it is low on battery, it took about a couple hours to fully recharge using the included wireless charger.

While it’d be nice to get even more battery life out of a smartwatch, it’s nice not to have to charge it every day. Given the screen and features of the watch, a couple of days is pretty reasonable. Of course, there are things you can do to increase battery life like turning off some of the auto-monitoring features and enabling battery saver mode.

Price/Value

With an MSRP of US$199.99, the Galaxy Watch Active is definitely on the affordable side when it comes to smartwatches with fitness tracking capabilities. Given both the smartwatch and integrated fitness tracking features, as well as performance and battery life, this smartwatch offers great value for the price.

Wrap-up

Smartwatches and fitness trackers run the gamut in design, functionality, and price. Fortunately, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active offers enough smartwatch and fitness features at a great price for anyone looking to combine both in one device.

*We were sent a sample of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active for the purposes of this review. In some of our articles and especially in our reviews, you will find Amazon or other affiliate links. Running a website does take money, along with time. Any purchases you make through these links often result in a small amount being earned for the site and/or our writers.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active

US$199.99
9.3

Design

9.0/10

Display

9.5/10

Setup

9.0/10

Ease of Use

10.0/10

Software

9.0/10

Ecosystem

9.0/10

Performance

9.5/10

Battery Life

9.0/10

Price/Value

9.5/10

Nailed it

  • Fairly traditional design
  • Comfortable fit
  • Bright, crisp AMOLED screen
  • Two-day battery life
  • Decent fitness tracking options and accuracy
  • Onboard storage for music/Spotify integration
  • 5ATM (50m) water-resistances
  • Onboard GPS
  • Various colour options available
  • Includes standard and extra large band

Needs work

  • Requires multiple apps to be installed on certain smartphones in order to pair
  • Some apps only work if associated app installed on smartphone
  • Some apps only show last message sent by same person

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