Let me first preface this by saying I have plenty of patience and time (pun intended) for Wear OS. The issue is that it often leaves you wanting more. Tizen on most Samsung smartwatches though is arguably miles better. Which is why when I had the opportunity to for a quick Samsung Galaxy Watch Active hands-on — emphasis on the quick — I jumped at the chance.
I have very little point of reference for what to expect with any Samsung Galaxy watch, as I’ve almost exclusively used Wear OS-powered hardware. So even a brief flirtation with the new Active at the Unpacked 2019 was surprisingly eye-opening.
I think if you are thinking of purchasing a new Galaxy handset, this is the no brainer smartwatch choice. It also has me thinking: how it will play with non-Galaxy devices? I’m already wondering if this could be the best smartwatch out there for Android users.
What’s even more surprising, is that I jumped to that conclusion after only spending around 15 to 20 minutes with the thing. The full review clearly can’t come soon enough.
Design & Hardware
I hadn’t tried or used a smartwatch with a rotating, usable crown or bezel before, so instantly the removal of this from the Galaxy Watch Active is something I can’t complain about. To me, the design is almost spot on or perfect. I don’t like a square or oddly shaped crown and it has to have minimal interruptions, extrusions or edges.
The Galaxy Watch Active has little to no edges. It’s smooth like a pebble and although I feel the buttons are a little recessed, it’s a beautifully minimal smartwatch and one that I would happily queue in line for — almosts typically English of me.
I can’t say that the strap was comfortable to fit initially, as tucking under your wrist does cause you to pinch your skin a little bit. Once fitted, however, it’s snug and incredibly comfortable. I do wear my Ticwatch C2 daily and I have to admit that it was way more comfortable on my wrist than even my favorite smartwatch.
Another excellent inclusion is that of wireless charging. The Galaxy Watch Active can even be charged via the Wireless Powershare feature that is included in the new Galaxy S10 models too. That instantly makes the Galaxy Active the ultimate companion and feeling part of a more cohesive ecosystem as a result.
There has been a slight battery downgrade to a 230mAh capacity, which is likely due to a slightly smaller design than with previous models. I’m hoping that the dual-core Samsung Exynos 9110 and 768MB of RAM will help ensure that this is a decent power-sipping smartwatch. That said, it’s impossible to get any gauge within a launch event environment on how a battery will hold up in the real world.
Software & Performance
The software that will ship with the Galaxy Watch Active is the very latest version of Tizen. Despite very little experience of using Tizen before, I must admit that I felt right at home during my limited hands-on time with the smartwatch.
It works much as it has in the past, with a spinning wheel of apps at the outside of the display. There doesn’t appear to be a massive amount of third-party apps to choose from but the in-built options work flawlessly from the get-go.
I understand that many who had grown accustomed to the rotating bezel will be disappointed, but for someone like me who has never really used a Samsung smartwatch, the exclusion doesn’t at all feel like a dealbreaker. The lack of rotating bezel does mean though that display smears and fingerprints will no doubt be an issue. I would say keep a cleaning cloth with you but a quick wipe on a soft t-shirt should be more than enough to remove those fingerprints.
With Active in the name, you would expect this Galaxy watch to have some solid fitness tracking features, and you’d be right to assume. There are 39 fitness routines that can be tracked with the ability to add you own should it not already be in the watch database. There is even a blood pressure monitor — but time constraints meant I was unable to give this a test at the launch event. The fitness and GPS tracking will no doubt be interesting to thoroughly test drive.
Tizen most definitely runs smoothly on the test devices that were laid out at the Unpacked 2019 launch event. It will be interesting to see how it fairs when paired with a non-Samsung device and then with non-S10 devices. Naturally, it plays well with the S10 line and should be seen as the obvious companion if you are looking to upgrade both your smartwatch and smartphone.
This is going to be a superb smartwatch in my opinion. It feels like a premium option that will really complement the entire Samsung Galaxy S10 line and might even tempt those who are a little frustrated with Wear OS.
For me, the entire hardware package is almost perfect. I like a small, round timepiece that is inconspicuous and without fanfare in the design department. Essentially my dream is a plain Braun watch with the ability to see my notifications and reply to the odd text or email. The Tizen-powered Galaxy Watch Active isn’t that, but it’s the closest to what I’m looking for at this point in time.
The pricing too makes the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active a real standout smartwatch. Starting at just $199.99, this seems like a great alternative to my own current favorite the Ticwatch C2 — which is also priced at $199.99.
More from Unpacked 2019:
- Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e hands-on: A solid Android tablet with almost zero real competitors [Video]
- Samsung Galaxy S10e hands-on: Most definitely taking aim at the iPhone XR [Video]