The best non-Apple smartwatch has long been Samsung’s Galaxy Watch series, thanks to its comprehensive health and fitness tracking, intuitive interface and comfortable, pleasant design. For a product that’s so mature, it’s hard to imagine what else Samsung can improve upon, which might explain why the Galaxy Watch 5 is very similar to its predecessor. It even costs the same $280 to start.
Most of the changes here aren’t immediately visible, like a more durable build, an inactive temperature sensor and better battery life. Samsung also introduced a new Pro model for $450 that comes in a 45mm titanium case, uses a stronger screen and has a large 590mAh battery, promising a runtime of up to 80 hours. Still, the fact that the tweaks are small doesn’t mean the Galaxy Watch 5 can’t still be the best smartwatch around for Android users.
- Clean design Comprehensive health and activity tracking Durable build
- Battery life is short with always on display Parts of interface can be hard to read
- Durable build Relatively longer battery life Solid fitness and wellness tracking
Like I said, the Galaxy Watch 5 looks just like its predecessor, and comes in the same 40mm and 44mm sizes as before. Both are a few grams (or less than a quarter ounce) heavier than the previous generation, but it’s barely noticeable. The lack of change isn’t a bad thing — the Galaxy Watch’s round face and minimalist design make it look more like a conventional timepiece than the Apple Watch.
My 40mm review unit has a silver case, though black and pink gold are also available, while the 44mm model is available in silver, black or sapphire. I also received a comfortable silicon purple strap, which is more inoffensive than lust-inducingly pretty. If you want something nicer, you can easily swap out the bands.
It’s not immediately obvious, but Samsung used a more durable Sapphire Crystal glass for the Watch 5’s screen. I have yet to destroy a smartwatch even during my wilder gym sessions, but I was grateful for the reinforced materials during a workout recently. I had forgotten about the Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro on my wrists, and flipped a pair of 26-pound kettlebell onto the back of my arms. Thankfully, neither device was scratched, and I continued to rack the weights as I powered through two more sets. To be fair, I’ve also done this same exercise with the Apple Watch and haven’t damaged it either.
Like its predecessors, the Watch 5 is also rated IP68, 5 ATM and MIL-STD-810H for durability (water, dust and pressure resistance). I wore it swimming recently, and though it wasn’t as accurate as the Apple Watch at tracking laps, it at least survived. Those who liked Samsung’s bezel-based navigation will appreciate the touch-sensitive ring framing the screen that you can use to scroll through the Wear OS interface, as well as the mild haptic feedback as you whizz past apps. I still prefer a physical rotating bezel, but I get that not everyone wants the added bulk.
One of the main differences Samsung brought to the Watch 5 is the refined curvature of its underside. This is meant to keep the watch in contact with more of your wrist so its sensors can deliver more reliable readings. Unfortunately, I found this kind of uncomfortable. Both the Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro would leave round indentation marks on my wrist after I removed them, no matter how much I adjusted the fit.
This was only mildly annoying, and I put up with it because I thought I was getting more reliable scans in return. But I realized that the Galaxy Watch 5 was consistently giving me almost exactly the same readings as the Apple Watch Series 7 that I wore on my other wrist, and the latter never felt as tight. Another reviewer I spoke to said they found the Watch 5 very comfortable, though, so this might be a matter of personal preference.
Sleep-tracking and coaching
This also applies to wearing a watch to bed — some people don’t mind it, others hate it. I belong in the latter camp, but still wore the Galaxy Watch and Apple Watch to bed to compare their sleep-tracking tools. As I’ve said before, Apple’s system is atrocious. You have to either set a bedtime or enable your Sleep focus before the device can tell you’re asleep. Even then, it doesn’t really actually know if you’re awake or passed out. Samsung can figure it out all on its own.
One night, I wore both watches to bed, making sure to note the time right before I flipped over and closed my eyes. The Galaxy Watch 5 accurately noted that I fell asleep around 1:30am and woke up at 4am, while Apple simply told me I got a full night’s rest from 11pm to 9am.
I could go on about how infuriating it is that Apple can’t figure out something that Fitbit and Samsung managed to years ago, but this isn’t a watchOS review. The Galaxy Watch 5, like Fitbit’s watches, will also use your heart rate information to gauge what sleep zones you hit and tell you how much time you’ve spent in REM, Deep or Light sleep. Meanwhile, that feature is slated to arrive with the upcoming watchOS 9.
Sleep-tracking isn’t new to the Galaxy Watch 5, but Samsung did add a sleep coaching tool that’s meant to guide you towards better rest. However, it requires 5 weeknights and 2 weekend nights of data before any tips are generated, and I haven’t logged that many hours yet. Plus, my data would be skewed anyway — any time I wear any accessory to bed, I sleep horribly. This might be an insightful feature, I just can’t tell you right now.
Another thing I can’t evaluate at the moment is whether the skin temperature sensor that Samsung introduced on the Galaxy Watch 5 will be useful, since it’s not currently doing anything. There are plenty of potentially useful applications for that data, though, so it’ll be interesting to see what the company is able to do with this.