We compare the two wearable kingpins in all the essential areas
Joker and Batman. Coke and Pepsi. Samsung and Apple. These two companies can’t seem to stop duking it out for the hearts, minds and money of consumers.
And no surprise, both Samsung and Apple are looking to dominate your wrist again over the coming holiday season. The former has its newly announced Galaxy Watch, a rebranding of its smartwatch to bring it more in line with its mobile devices, while Apple is fresh from unveiling the Series 4.
But which smartwatch is better? Is it worth following the crowd with the Apple Watch, or does the Galaxy Watch open up a new world of possibilities? Let’s find out.
Apple and Samsung have very different approaches when it comes to smartwatches. Apple’s got a square-ish design, heavily borrowing from the original iPhone. Samsung, on the other hand, wants its watch to look more like a traditional, circular timepiece.
The Apple Watch Series 4 comes in two materials, aluminum and stainless steel, and in two all-new sizes: 40mm and 44mm. There’s also three colours, including space gray, gold and silver, plus the Nike+ and Hermes editions of the Watch return to give you a bit more flair, if you so choose.
Basically, you’re going to be able to buy an Apple Watch that suits your taste – as long as your taste fits into Jony Ive’s vision of a watch. Samsung has some options with the Galaxy Watch, but there aren’t quite as many.
There are two sizes – 42mm and 46mm – making the Galaxy Watch a more obvious choice if you want a larger smartwatch. On the flip side, if you’ve got slimmer wrists then the Apple Watch’s smaller size may make more sense here. The Galaxy Watch is also much heavier, coming in at 49g for the 42mm and 63g for the 46mm. The 40mm standard Apple Watch clocks in at 30.1g, with the 44mm Apple Watch being 36.7g and bumping p to 39.8g and 47.9g if you opt for the stainless steel.
The Galaxy Watch also comes in three colours, but options are a bit more limited. In the 42mm, you can choose between rose gold and black, but if you want 46mm you’ve only got the silver option. With the Apple Watch, each size is available in each colour.
Let’s not forget the army of bands Apple has also made to complement the Apple Watch. You could go mad collecting new bands each season, as Apple refreshes them to keep up with the latest trends, and ones you potentially own from previous generations still fit the Series 4. Samsung has band options, too, with its 20mm and 22mm interchangeable straps – so you can pretty much use any strap you’d like.
Apple and Samsung have similar – yet different – ideas about how to control your smartwatch. Apple has leaned on its Digital Crown, which you spin around to scroll through menus. It’s simple and works well, getting a haptic upgrade for the Series 4, but there’s just something extremely satisfying about using Samsung’s rotating bezel to navigate the display. Samsung has also done a good job building Tizen to take full advantage of the rotating bezel, making it feel deeply baked into the experience and not just a nice extra.
As for the screens, both performed admirably in our testing. Both of Samsung’s options come with a Super AMOLED display measuring at 360 x 360 pixels, and also have an option to remain always-on. Apple, in contrast, doesn’t let you keep the screen lit up around the clock, though it’s screen has been greatly improved for the Series 4. Not only is now bigger, and rounder, but the LTPO OLED Retina, Force Touch display also comes in at 324 x 394 for the 40mm version and 368 x 448 pixels for the 44mm version.
They’re both waterproof for swimming, and both have NFC for payments and GPS for navigation. The Galaxy Watch does come with 4GB storage for music while the Apple quadruples it, jumping to 16GB.
The Apple Watch may be the more universal and sleeker design, appealing to the most people possible and working at some level for nearly everyone, but Samsung has the appeal of actually looking like a watch, even if it will be a bit too big for many. That counts for something.
The Apple Watch and Galaxy Watch are both well built to be used standalone, should you opt to purchase the cellular versions. As previously mentioned, you’ve got storage for music, NFC for payments and GPS for navigation.
Add in cellular for phone calls and messaging and you’ll be able to leave your phone at home while you head out for a run or a session at the gym.
As for music, that’s where these two devices diverge. Apple naturally has Apple Music as the premier streaming choice here. You’ll be able to stream music to your heart’s (read: data cap’s) content. On the Galaxy Watch, you’ve got Spotify as your number one option. Seeing as how Apple Music and Spotify are two of the biggest and most popular streaming services out there, you’re not truly losing either way.
If you are a big Spotify fan, you will have to switch over to Apple Music for the Apple Watch and vice versa if you’re an Apple Music subscriber going for the Galaxy Watch.
More importantly, if you’re an Android phone user, the Galaxy Watch is your only choice. While the Apple Watch only works with iPhones, the Galaxy Watch pairs with pretty much any device. However, in our testing we’ve found that the Samsung Health app for iOS does hang up more than it does on Android and that notifications were slow to sync, which isn’t the case on Android. If you’ve got a Samsung phone, the Galaxy Watch will play even better. Little things, like clicking a setting on your Galaxy Watch and having that menu open on your phone automatically, make for a better experience.
Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are both here and both work well. Samsung nixed MST, which let you use contactless payments at any credit card reader on the Gear S3, in favour of space. That means that both payment systems work roughly the same.
In terms of apps, Apple’s ecosystem is far more mature, though. Samsung has Spotify, but Apple has a much larger army of apps. It also plays nice with iPhone, which might be a differentiator if you prefer to live in Apple’s walled garden.
In terms of watch faces, both companies are looking to separate themselves from the pack. Samsung’s new My Day face is quite interesting, letting you see what events you’ve got coming up with a quick glance. Apple, on the other hand, has its ever-popular Modular watch face and the useful Siri watch face to keep you in the loop.
Samsung’s watch will also greet you in the morning with an overview of the day once you pull it off the charger. This doesn’t necessarily work as well if you’ve been wearing the Galaxy Watch to sleep (more on that later), but it’s cute.
Apple’s Watch has had all the bases covered, but with the Galaxy Watch Samsung has closed in enough. Things are enough of a wash here that your choice of smartphone will likely make the choice for you.
Health and fitness tracking
The Apple Watch’s great strength in health and fitness is the catalogue of apps it has at its disposal. From Nike to Strava, if there’s an app to measure or track your fitness, there’s a good chance it’s in the App Store and ready for your wrist. Samsung does have the Under Armour suite and Strava as well, but the breadth of options on watchOS dwarfs Samsung.
While Apple has given some more love to its Workout app with watchOS 5, adding things like linking workouts and automatic detection, it’s still not as good as competitors like Samsung.
Samsung’s got some good workout detection, which can tell if you’re walking along and automatically record it. You can also link up workouts should you be moving between them.
Samsung has also upped the workout modes for the Galaxy Watch, moving up to 39 from 12. A lot of these new workout modes are geared towards weight training, something the Apple Watch still doesn’t fully support. There’s also rep counting on the Galaxy Watch.
But while Samsung might have a slight edge in its native fitness support, Apple has blown the competition out of the water with the industry-first electrical heart rate sensor – something which allows for ECG readings. This is still a feature we’re yet to test, since Apple’s ECG app is coming later this year, but the plan is for it to take your pulse and pick up on conditions such as atrial fibrillation.
And we suspect this kind of health tracking will be built upon in the near future, with features like fall detection, low heart rate notifications also coming through the Series 4. Don’t forget, the join the likes of resting heart rate and elevated heart rate notifications introduced through watchOS 4 and the Series 3.
Samsung’s health exploits, meanwhile, go about as far basic stress tracking. The Galaxy Watch can use its heart rate monitor to check how you’re feeling and put you on a scale, recommending a breathing exercise to calm down if you’re stressed, but that’s about it. The Apple Watch competes with this through the Breathe app, but it doesn’t explicitly tell you whether you’re stressed out or not.
Also, while Apple will remind you to move around every hour, Samsung will recommend a workout to do every hour that you can accept or deny. It’s a nice little extra push that gives you some variation other than walking around in circles for a couple of minutes.
And finally, the big advantage the Galaxy Watch has over the Apple Watch is that it can do sleep tracking – still. While it doesn’t break down light, deep and REM sleep, it does tell you whether you’re restless or not. That’s better than the Apple Watch, which doesn’t officially support sleep tracking.
Apple has taken a slow and steady approach to building the Watch’s health and fitness powers. It’s done a good job, and a legion of third-party apps make it a strong fitness choice. Samsung also covers off quite a few bases in this realm, and offers some features, like sleep, that are more important to the everyday user, but Apple’s ability to detect serious health conditions – with clearance from the FDA – is a massive step for wearables, and one that will almost certainly save lives.
This is one area where there’s no contest. The Apple Watch will get you through a day no problem, and if you’re lucky and conservative with use you may be able to make it to the end of the second day.
However, the 46mm Galaxy Watch can get you through a week with light usage – which likely means curbing notifications and not working out much. With normal usage, you should see at least three days – that’s what we’ve seen in our tests.
The 42mm Galaxy Watch will get you through four days with light usage, and a couple of days with normal usage. That’s a fairly significant difference based on size, and it gives the 46mm Galaxy Watch the edge if battery life is the most important thing you look for in a wearable.
This battery life means that Samsung can embark on sleep tracking, as we mentioned above, something the Apple Watch can’t really do because you still need to charge it nightly.
The Apple Watch Series 4 starts at $399 for the 40mm non-LTE version and $429 for the non-LTE 44mm version. That rises an extra $100 if you opt for cellular, and further still if you want the stainless steel finish.
The 42mm Galaxy Watch, meanwhile, is $329 in the US, and more affordable in the UK, coming in £279. The 46mm version is $349 in the US and £299 in the UK.
Additional bands start at $29 for the Galaxy Watch, while Apple Watch bands, on the other hand, start at $49. There’s no word on pricing for the Galaxy Watch LTE versions yet, while with the Apple Watch we know they’re a $50 premium.
Overall, you’re winning on price when it comes to the Galaxy Watch, especially if you’re in the UK.
There’s a lot to like about the Galaxy Watch. It’s got automatic workout tracking, good battery life and the company has made strides to make it better as an assistant.
But, pound for pound, the Apple Watch Series 4 represents the most complete and advanced smartwatch experience available, and there’s something to be said for its polish. If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, and you’ve got an iPhone and are looking for a smartwatch, there really is no better option than Apple’s own.
That decision is already made for you if you’ve got a Samsung or Android phone, but with things like better battery life and sleep tracking, the Galaxy Watch will have its fans, despite Apple’s lure.
Whichever path you choose to wander down, you’re getting two of the best smartwatches on the market right now.