After Samsung has for several years focused on the lesser known operating system Tizen for its smartwatches, things have changed. The Korean electronics giant has listened to the criticism (which was primarily about the lack of apps and a limited ecosystem) and entered into a partnership with Google.
The search engine giant recently launched a new smartwatch platform, Wear OS, and although the new Galaxy Watch 4 we are testing adheres to the same interface and most of the Tizen features we know from previous models, such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, it is Wear OS and Google’s ecosystem that makes it tick below the surface.
In this way, Samsung hopes to make its smartwatches – such as the Galaxy Watch 4 – attractive to even more users, which is necessary if the Koreans are to be able to take market share from the dominant Apple Watch.
Google Wear OS makes Galaxy Watch better
There is every reason to approve that decision. Galaxy Watch Active 2, which is the latest Samsung watch we have had on the test bench, had an severely limited selection of apps, and with Google’s Wear OS, the Galaxy Watch 4 has not only gained access to a larger number of apps in Google Play. Google’s own apps and services – such as Google Maps, Google Fit and Google Assistant – are now also part of the package.
Combined with the many training functions we know and appreciate from its predecessors – e.g. supported by a large number of training types on running, swimming and weight training, but also more unusual types such as rock climbing, pilates, stretching and even yoga – and new health features, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is close to being as good an all-round smartwatch as Apple Watch.
For Galaxy Watch 4, like previous Samsung models, it can monitor your sleep. The watch now also comes with i.a. ECG and blood pressure measurement, something Apple Watch was previously alone about. And then the watch together with your Galaxy mobile can monitor – and record (!) – your snoring. Which is crucial for sleep quality.
Two steps forward – and one back
But even though Samsung is taking two steps forward with its new smartwatch, the company is also taking a step back. The predecessor worked with Apple’s iPhone, but now the Galaxy Watch 4 requires that you use an Android mobile if you want to sync with the mobile.
Full support for all new health features also requires that you have the Samsung Health Monitor app installed on your mobile, and this is only possible on Samsung’s own mobiles. Ergo, the Galaxy Watch 4 is actually a product that only makes sense to use as part of a larger ecosystem of Samsung products.
In other words, you need to read this test with different glasses, depending on whether you have a Samsung Galaxy mobile or not. If the answer is no, then stop reading now. The bottom line is that the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is not for you then.
If you can answer yes to the question, you should read on. There are a few other things you should know about your (maybe) upcoming smartwatch.
Breathing Apple Watch down the neck
The cheapest Galaxy Watch 4 costs just over half the price of the cheapest Apple Watch Series 6. And the built-in memory has grown from 4 to 16 gigabytes since the prvious version.
In other words, you really get a lot of smartwatches for the money.
The new smartwatch is available as its predecessor in the two usual sizes 40 mm and 44 mm in diameter (we are testing the “men’s version” at 44 mm). The screen has also been given the same size – namely 1.4″- but the resolution has increased from 360 x 360 pixels to 450 x 450. As the small S-AMOLED screen is also exceptionally bright, you end up with an extremely sharp and crystal clear screen, the like of which we have actually not seen before on any other smartwatch.
But what does that mean for battery life, you might ask? Well, with “always active” on, you get about a day’s battery life out of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4. About the same as with the Apple Watch Series 6. So at that point, the two smartwatches are almost the same.
Also at another point, Samsung is now breathing down Apple’s neck. When we tested the Galaxy Watch Active 2, we criticized that the movement you have to make with the wrist to make the screen turn on, to great annoyance only worked about every other time. But now it works flawlessly, and Samsung has also increased its usability by adding more ways to activate the screen.
Last but not least, the Galaxy Watch 4 now comes in two versions, one of which supports eSIM. Then you can go for a run and e.g. receive calls and SMSs and have access to e.g. training data in the cloud and music streaming without having to bring your mobile.
Promises too much
Samsung also promises that the Galaxy Watch 4 can take blood pressure and measure body composition in the same way as smart bathroom scales do (ie bone mass, fat mass, body fluid, BMI, etc.).
The former is probably a slightly bold promise. True enough, the Galaxy Watch 4 can measure blood pressure, but only after being calibrated with a cuff-based blood pressure monitor, which is a device one must buy at the pharmacy.
The snoring registration also only works if you also have your mobile phone lying next to the bed, but you can not install apps on the watch via the Galaxy Wearable app. You can change the order and settings for some watch apps, but the installation itself only works via Google Play on the watch itself, which to say the least is not particularly practical.
Despite the small annoyances, the Galaxy Watch 4 is the best smartwatch from Samsung to date. But as already mentioned, you should stay away if you do not have a Galaxy mobile, because then the functionality is a bit too limited.