A great alternative for Androiders and iPhoners alike?
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active review
While it’s only been less than a year since the Samsung Galaxy Active Watch launched in March 2019, it’s already been succeeded by the Active 2. But the question begs, is the Samsung Galaxy Active Watch still a great option for most in 2020?
Let’s take a closer look at its highs and lows.
How much does the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active cost?
You can currently snag a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active for around $349 from the official Samsung AU store as well as via most major retailers including Amazon Australia, JB Hi-Fi, Bing Lee and Harvey Norman.
It was released together with the Samsung Galaxy s10 in March 2019. Its successor, the Samsung Galaxy Active 2, was released just 6 months later on 27 September 2019. If you’re interested to find out how the Active 2 fared, check out our Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 Review.
The big question is, is the smartwatch worth its $300 price tag or would you be better off putting your money on an Apple Watch, Fitbit or a different alternative altogether?
Setting up your Galaxy Active smartwatch with your phone is a slightly frustrating process. Particularly for iPhone users, the device pairing process sometimes won’t work on the first go. If you need help setting up your Galaxy Active, head to our troubleshooting section.
And if you’re not sure whether your smartwatch is malfunctioning or if your pain points are simply due to the fact that some features just aren’t iOS compatible, we’ve called out all the Galaxy Watch Active features that won’t work with iPhones below too.
What we loved about the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
- Reasonable price for top-notch design
- Round watch face
- Comfortable fit
- Customisation options
- Range of colourways and watch straps
Reasonable price for top-notch design
You can get a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active for around $340 (with Black Friday deals, I scored one for just $280). Around that price range, you could get an Apple Watch Series 3 instead (without e-SIM compatibility) for about $319 or a Fitbit Versa 2 for $287.
So, what makes the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active better than other smartwatches at a similar price? To put it simply, the Galaxy Watch Active scores big time for its sleek user experience complemented by its great aesthetic appeal.
If you typically get overwhelmed by the sheer number of settings that need tweaking before your device can run the way you like it, it’s safe to say that most people will be happy with how smoothly the Galaxy Active operates without you lifting so much as a finger. I found wearing the Galaxy Watch Active super comfortable throughout the day. I wouldn’t even notice its presence strapped onto my wrist and I had no problems wearing it while sleeping on do not disturb mode.
The level of automation programmed into the watch ecosystem also impressed me — I didn’t need to fiddle with any elaborate settings buried in its system preferences to start receiving helpful notifications: including reminders to move after nearly an hour of inactivity when I’d been sitting at my desk for awhile and tracking exercises after 10 minutes of continued activity (the watch was better at detecting walking and running, but couldn’t auto-detect more compound movements like when I was gymming in sets or spinning on an indoor bike).
Round vs square face
If you need only one reason to pick the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, there’s one word for you: design. As an ex-Fitbit user, I was sick of wearing the brand on my sleeve — it’s probably just my contrarian tendencies and all, but Fitbit just wasn’t cool enough to cut it for me. And while I am an Apple fan, I draw the line at the Apple Watch: its large, square-faced design made me feel like an excited kid wearing a Ben 10 gizmo (sorry not sorry).
When it comes down to fit, the Galaxy Active Watch, which only comes in 40mm, was perfect for my smaller wrists. Those with larger hands though may find the watch face a tad small, particularly if you’re after the whole “man-sized” look. It was also a little difficult to key in passwords or reply to messages on the little T9 keyboard, which reminded me of my old 2000s Nokia phone. If this seriously bothers you above all else, consider checking out the Active 2 which comes in 40 and 44mm, or the Galaxy Watch for 42 and 46mm sizes.
For those obsessed about creating the perfect personalised display for you, the Galaxy Active has plenty to offer. The smartwatch has quite an elaborate array of customisation options: you can choose to download or purchase a watch face from over 300 designs available from third-party developers via the Samsung Store.
If that’s not enough for you, you can customise your watch face (by using your own photos and choosing your own colour scheme and design), while diehards can potentially even make their own design from scratch by using Galaxy Watch Designer, Samsung’s free-to-download beta Developer software that was released in November 2019.
Colourways and watch straps
There are four colourways to choose from: silver, black, rose gold and green. My friend and I both got the Galaxy Watch Active but I chose the rose gold and she had the black. Personally, the rose gold looked the best by far and I received many compliments on it, while the black was simple and minimalist. Your only consideration should be what colour you want your watch face to be, as you can easily change the watch straps.
One of the great features of the Galaxy Watch Active is the personalisation you can access. If you’re willing to spend a little more, there are plenty of different watch strap colours and types to pick from. You can purchase them either from the official Samsung store or from retailers including eBay, Amazon or even Etsy for more customised designs.
Drawbacks of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
- 1.5 day battery life
- Limited functionality for iPhone users
- Third party apps are hit and miss
The biggest drawback of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is definitely its battery life. While Samsung claims on its website that the watch has an estimated battery life of 45 hours (dependent on personal usage patterns), it’d be a stretch to say that the watch lasted an entire 24 hours.
With the watch on full charge before bed, the battery would be down to 10% by the evening of the next day — and this is with minimal usage throughout the day. The only way the Galaxy Watch Active could last over 2 days is when I kept it on power saving mode the entire time (and even then, it would realistically only last for 1.5 days).
Limited functionality for iPhone users
My second biggest pain point was discovering there were quite a few features that just aren’t compatible with Apple. To my frustration, there appeared to be no clear information about was and wasn’t compatible. While these functions aren’t deal-breakers for me, many Apple fans swear there’s no other way than the Apple way.
So, before you’re bogged down with a device that doesn't do what you want, here are all the features I’ve tested that don’t work with an iPhone:
- Samsung Pay
- Replying texts and messages (e.g. Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram notifications)
- Browsing Twitter
- Google Translate app
Third party apps are hit and miss
As well as an absurd number and variety of custom watch faces available to suit different styles, there are a wide range of third party apps you can download for free via the Samsung Galaxy Store. These span from third-party developed translators to a decent range of health, calorie counting and run apps including Strava, MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal and Endomondo, and even a web browser widget.
One downside though is that you can’t access the official apps for platforms including YouTube, Twitter and Google Translate (these aren’t currently supported on Tizen OS, the software Samsung wearables run on). It is possible to find third-party clients for Youtube, but so far, I haven’t managed to find the Twitter or Google Translate watch viewers.
The search interface of the Samsung Galaxy Store is a bit clunky and hard to navigate via your Galaxy Watch. This is not as problematic for Android users who can easily browse via their smartphone, but Apple users won’t be able to access the Store any other way.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active vs Apple Watch
Two watches frequently pitted against each other are the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active and the Apple Watch Series 3. Though they are both older models (released in March 2019 and September 2017 respectively), they are potentially great steals at a more affordable price range.
Here's a quick snapshot of how the smartwatches live up to each other:
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
Apple Watch Series 3
Fitbit Versa 2
Tap and Pay
Heart rate monitoring
Yes ($469 model)
The main difference between the two ultimately comes down to design and the level of importance you place on brand value. For someone who owns an iPhone and swears by her Macbook 12-inch, it has actually been refreshing to find a non-Apple smartwatch solution that works for me. If you’re a true Applephile, there’d be no hesitation about splurging on the latest Apple Watch Series 5. But if you’re like me, I was sold right from the start on the round, gorgeously minimalist watch face design of the Galaxy Watch Active and its array of alternative watch face customisation options.
If you’re not particularly brand loyal or brand-conscious, or you just don’t particularly care about how your watch looks as long as it does the job well, you would probably be better off opting for a cheaper smartwatch such as the Fitbit Versa 2.
For those who aren’t interested at all in replying to texts and receiving calls from your watch, and don’t care about whether you go phone-free or not, realistically a pure fitness tracker might even suit your needs better. If you’re only concerned about monitoring your step count, heart rate and calorie expenditure for example, the Fitbit Charge 3 could be a much cheaper and simpler option for you.
What features need WiFi?
- Streaming Spotify (unless you download music manually from your computer to your watch)
- Watching YouTube videos
- Browsing the web
- Accessing the Samsung Galaxy Store
- Downloading apps
What features are exclusive to Samsung Galaxy 10+, Note 10+ and more selective Samsung phones?
- Galaxy S10 Wireless PowerShare
- Camera Controller
- “My Style” QR Code
- Wirelessly stream music directly from Galaxy Buds
Is my device compatible with the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active?
Here's a checklist of all the compatible devices:
- All Samsung smartphones
- Non-Samsung Android smartphones running Android OS 5.0 and above with at least RAM 1.5GB
- iPhones running at least iOS 9.0 and iPhone 5 or above
You won't be able to access the exclusive features mentioned above unless you have one of the following, Samsung-only compatible models:
- Samsung Galaxy S10, S10+, S10e and S10 5G
- Samsung Note 10, Note10+, Note10 5G and Note10+ 5G
- Samsung Fold and Fold 5G