In a little over two weeks with the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, I’ve had to charge it just a handful of times — and I’ve never once had to run to a charging port because I was almost out of juice.
I went to Las Vegas for a quick-turnaround trip last week and completely forgot my charger. It wasn’t an issue at all, because the Watch Active had so much juice that I didn’t realize I needed a charge until I was a day out from coming home.
And the times I have needed a charger? No proprietary headaches at all. I just tossed the Watch Active on the same wireless charger I use for my smartphone, waited a bit, and was all set to go.
Ahh, the convenience and ease of use that $200 can buy you when a new kid arrives on the smartwatch block. Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active arrives as a game-changer, delivering everything you need in an everyday fitness-focused smartwatch at a price that won’t burn a hole in your wallet. It’s almost half the price as the celebrated Apple Watch ($385), but still delivers a wealth of fitness features and, perhaps best of all, functions like a champ when you’re in the gym.
Design is both a performance strong point and an aesthetic weakness. Quite simply, this is the most visually bland of Samsung’s watches, and it’s far less elegant than last year’s terrific Galaxy Watch. The black unit I tested was essentially a tiny black circle on my wrist, with a black band. You can fully customize the bands, but simplicity seems at the root of the overall design.
The rotating bezel that’s been a trademark of Samsung’s smartwatches for the last half-decade is also gone, and you’ll miss it when you’re scrolling and even navigating. You don’t understand the brilliance of the rotating bezel until it’s gone; this was always a strong advantage over the Apple Watch and even FitBit’s line. Still, you can get over this quickly, and the Watch Active handles just as easily overall as an Apple Watch, which has long been bezel-less. Finger-flicking navigation is snappy, and the commands are intuitive. Again, the bezel was great, but the current navigation is on par with everything else on the market, and well-executed.
Samsung removes the bezel and simplifies the design with the best of intentions, though, and you’ll see this when you hit the gym. The greatest challenge of smartwatches has long been durability when you’re training; companies aim to get you wearing their watches as fitness trackers, but what happens when kettlebell meets watch face? It’s usually not pretty.
The Watch Active, however, is meant to be durable, and it’s meant to create a smaller, less damage-inviting target. It’s also tremendously light; it feels even lighter on my wrist than my go-to workout smartwatch. And with a lower price point than many devices, if you do damage this baby, you won’t feel quite as bad as you would if you crushed the Galaxy Watch, for example, or an Apple Watch.
The Watch Active also handles its fitness-tracking responsibilities terrifically well. The unit sits flush on your wrist, leading to accurate, consistent heart rate readings. Samsung’s come a long way in this department overall, but it was nice to see the readings here sticking relatively close to those on my WHOOP.
The Watch Active can also automatically detect a handful of fitness activities, tracking them without you even pressing a button. The Apple Watch and several FitBit models can also do this, but Samsung’s tracking seemed to pick up my activities a hair earlier (not that this timing really matters). I’d still like to see Samsung continue to expand the breadth of fitness activities that it can detect and give deeper metrics, because nobody in fitness is doing that with, say, that hallowed CrossFit activity, the cardio row. But the Watch Active still handles well.
Sleep and activity tracking are relayed to the Samsung Health app on your smartphone, and Samsung’s quietly been beefing this up over the last several years. By and large, it offers most of the things you’d expect in a fitness app, and it plays nicely with the Watch Active’s auto-detecting of your workouts.
If you’re well-versed in fitness you’ll find that Samsung Health delivers a lot of directly useful information that you can assess at a glance, while still retaining the “fun” frills that other rival fitness apps have.
Samsung also lets you take a stress test via the Watch Active and offers integration with Calm to help you meditate, an incredibly useful feature in today’s tech-obsessed, go-go society. The Calm integration works smoothly and fluidly with only one significant downside: The Watch Active can’t really stand alone with the feature. It works off your phone, with the Watch Active permitting only pausing and playing.
Still, the Watch Active works well, and it delivers fluid performance in other ways, too, integrating easily with key third-party apps like Spotify. I paired it with last year’s Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and communication between the two devices was swift, with apps opening on the Note quickly.
The lone disappointment is that Samsung still requires your phone to drive a great many apps: It would be nice to respond to Instagram DMs with some quick keystrokes. Samsung also limits the upside of Samsung Pay by loading this watch only with NFC (and not the MST tech that works on almost any credit card machine), so if you’re an Apple Pay fan, it’s hard to make the transition here. Lastly, there are audio limitations on this watch, so you won’t be taking calls here, Dick Tracy-style.
Still, given the price point and the quality of the other things packed into the Galaxy Watch Active, it’s hard to really complain about these things. For $200, you get meditation chops, and a simple-looking watch that won’t look bad on a Friday night — or create a problem for you in the gym.