Samsung Galaxy Watch hands-on: A smartwatch that feels very familiar

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The Samsung Gear is dead, long live the Galaxy Watch. Samsung’s new flagship smartwatch has a new name, but a lot about it is actually very familiar. The old – and still great – rotating bezel is still there, but it’s now running Tizen 4.0, which brings the real improvements to the Gear S3 successor.

Samsung promises more workout tracking, automatic sleep tracking, stress tracking as it makes a bigger push with health and fitness. But there are big hardware changes too, specifically in the battery department where the Galaxy Watch should in theory wipe the floor with the competition for staying power.

Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy Watch

The Galaxy Watch costs $329.99 if you go for the smaller 42mm or $349.99 with preorders for the new Samsung smartwatches kicking off on 10 August.

So does the Apple Watch, Fitbit Versa and Wear watch rival make a good first impression? We’ve had a decent amount of playtime with all the new models to find out what’s new and worth getting excited about with the Samsung Galaxy Watch.

Samsung Galaxy Watch: Design

Hands on with Samsung's new Galaxy Watch

The first thing to mention about the Galaxy Watch is that it comes in two sizes: 42mm and 46mm. Next to the 46mm, the 42mm looks downright tiny. Both felt at home on my larger wrist, but there’s no denying that the 46mm Galaxy Watch is a big ol’ thing.

But it’s a big watch that feels surprisingly nice to wear. It carries that heft well, and I was actually somewhat surprised how light it actually is despite its hulking size. To be fair, this is no 51mm-sized Garmin Fenix 5, so it’s not going to completely take over your wrist, but people are certainly going to notice it.

You can expect many of the same design traits associated with the Gear S3 and Gear Sport. Nothing is really going to blow you away in the looks department, but Samsung has made some welcome improvements. A more streamlined approach helps to make things feel slimmer and more svelte. But as I said, this is still very much a Samsung smartwatch that looks and feels very familiar.

One big design difference lies with the rotating bezels on the two models. The 46mm’s bezel is extremely satisfying to move with that heavy click that lets you know you are scrolling through that watch UI. It just doesn’t feel as nice to do on the 42mm model. Granted, it’s probably not going to impact on day-to-day use, but it’s definitely something I noticed having tried it out a few more of the smaller Galaxy Watch models.

Speaking of the 42mm model, that rose gold version is quite a looker. Its rose gold finish is pretty and definitely stands out next to two other colors options. I should mention that the rose gold is the special edition, but the color is the only thing that’s special about it – don’t expect any fancy watch faces or software extras to potentially entice you to opt for this model over the others.

Samsung Galaxy Watch: Features

Hands on with Samsung's new Galaxy Watch

In terms of features, Samsung seems to be aiming to make several quality-of-life improvements through Tizen 4.0. The two most notable ones are sleep tracking and stress tracking.

While I didn’t exactly get a chance to try sleep tracking, I did get a brief glimpse at how stress tracking works. When you open up the app, the Galaxy Watch will instantly use the heart rate sensor and heart rate variability measurements to sense how stressed you are. It can then offer a breathing session to calm you down some. It all sounds very similar to the stress tracking we’ve seen on Fitbit and Apple smartwatches.

I wasn’t particularly stressed, but you can manually start up the guided breathing mode if you feel you need to de-stress. You’ll go through six cycles of inhaling and exhaling, and once you’re done it’ll let you know how stressed you are. In theory, it lets you see how a brief breathing session does have the power to calm you down. Unfortunately, because I wasn’t all that stressed it didn’t show me much of a difference in the readings.

The other big feature I did get to try out was the new My Day watch face. It’s essentially a calendar watch face that uses the outer circle of the watch face to display your events. For instance, if you have a picnic from 1pm to 2pm then you’ll get a thin line on the outside of the watch face moving from 1pm to pm. If you click it, a small square will pop up over the middle of the watch face and give you more information. Every 12 hours, the watch face cycles automatically to show you upcoming events.

Hands on with Samsung's new Galaxy Watch

It’s a neat and potentially handy watch face to have at your disposal. The watch face is also intended to be paired with a daily briefing that’s delivered every morning when you wake up, but I didn’t get a chance to check that out. Samsung told me that it should automatically pop up when you wake up.

There are also 39 workout modes, up from 12 previously. Samsung tells us that it can use things like pace, heart rate and more to detect things as specific as burpees. If you move between burpees, yoga and running, it’ll be able to keep up and switch between them on the fly. However, it sounds like it can only link up a maximum of six workouts together.

Initial verdict

A lot of what’s new with the Galaxy Watch lies in the software, much of which I couldn’t properly put to the test. We’re talking sleep tracking, workout modes and the new daily briefing features. There’s also LTE support – which is reliant on carrier deals being worked out – and NFC payments. But those will have to rely on some real-world usage.

So far, it looks like the Galaxy Watch is a solid improvement on the Gear S3, but doesn’t appear to bring anything groundbreaking to the smartwatch party. The question is, will it be enough to fend off a new Apple Watch and an army of new Wear watches? We look forward to spending some more time with it to find out.

(wareable.com, http://bit.ly/2OnG5su)

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