For the lack of any persistent (and genuine) competition, the premium smartwatch choice for Android phone users whittles down to largely the Samsung Galaxy Watch series. It is really a grand total of one. At least till Google rolls the Pixel Watch into town? It is therefore no surprise that the efforts with the Galaxy Watch 5 are more iterative than anything else.
There are essentially two takes, and four variants of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5, you’d have to choose from. For starters, the dial and therefore screen size difference. The smaller 40mm watch has a 1.2-inch display while the (definitely very comfortable) 44mm has a 1.4-inch screen size. This then spawns into the connectivity differences.
You may want to keep in mind though, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 doesn’t work with the Apple iPhone, at least for now – in our experience, the watch remains undetected by the Galaxy Watch series companion app that’s available for iOS, for the want of some additional plug-ins which aren’t there.
The Galaxy Watch 5 in 40mm size with Bluetooth costs around ₹27,999 while the same size with LTE connectivity has a sticker price of ₹32,999. If you’d prefer the slightly larger of two, the 40mm with LTE costs around ₹32,999 while the 44mm option with LTE connectivity has a sticker price of ₹35,999. That means you have a lot of options, within a band of about ₹8,000.
Wear OS: Have Samsung and Google’s efforts paid off?
The Galaxy Watch 5 and indeed the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro run the Wear OS 3 operating system for smartwatches, which is the result of Samsung working closely with Google to draw out the contours of the software at different stages of development. The responsiveness, and improved navigation, are positives if you’re expecting the hardware and software to work better together.
No longer do you have to test your patience with Bixby, instead there’s Google Assistant that can be configured – you’ll need to download and configure that, mind you. There’s still some way to go to match Apple’s WatchOS, particularly with the need to make the software less(er) of a learning curve.
For instance, the Wear OS doesn’t always detect compatible watch apps from the ones installed on your phone. It should do so automatically, but doesn’t, leaving you with a manual task to install Spotify and YouTube Music, for instance.
Apple Watch has a useful Noise app, which warns the wearer in case they’ve been exposed to loud ambient noise for a fair amount of time and not realised the potential damage to the ears. Samsung or Google still haven’t made one for the Galaxy Watch 5 series. Not a big miss, but it’s the little things that add up eventually.
Like the unshackling of Bixby, there’s also less ecosystem resistance since the Galaxy Watch 5 is not as reliant on Samsung’s own apps. There are Google’s apps or third-party options that you can very well choose from. The choice has been widened.
Yet, there is little doubt Google and Samsung’s efforts have made a big difference. No longer is the smartwatch ecosystem for Android phone users as far behind the Apple Watch, as it was perhaps at the beginning of last year. Overall improvements are profound, and refinements aren’t ignored purely for the sake of new features. The next focus area has to be the app ecosystem, which for something related to Android, is perplexingly limited.
How different does product evolution really need to be?
Look at the similarities between the Galaxy Watch 5 and its predecessor, the Galaxy Watch 4. The same dial size options are here too – 44mm and 40mm. So is the Armor Aluminum material. The processor, the Exynos W920, has been carried forward. Though that isn’t at all a shortcoming. The rest of the spec sheet looks similar too – 1.5GB RAM, 16GB internal storage. But these similarities tell only half the tale.
It should help that Samsung has kept the Galaxy Watch 5 series well differentiated from the more expensive Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, which has a slightly larger 45mm dial size. But we digress.
Of displays and touches: Not everything needs to be complex
Irrespective of whichever dial you choose, displays in both are the Super AMOLED type. In fact, the Galaxy Watch 4’s Corning Gorilla Glass with DX has been replaced with a (at least that’s the claim) more robust Sapphire Crystal display. It looks and feels the same as the Galaxy Watch 4, as far as brightness (indoors and outdoors) is concerned.
There is a definite sense that Samsung has not upped the game with the touch bezels. They weren’t the easiest to get the hang of earlier too (the ones on the Galaxy Watch 4 did require some effort till you got used to them), but for some reason, the learnings from last year’s watch aren’t at all paying off with the Galaxy Watch 5. We are struggling to get these to work effectively – it’s a case of being too sensitive and completely unresponsive, in the space of two successive attempts.
For most intents and purposes, you would be happier (and it’ll be quicker too, with less hair pulling) simply using the touchscreen. Perhaps, that’s how God intended us to use smartwatches. It’s all traditional swipes and taps.
Samsung has added multiple keyboard inputs – swipe to type, handwriting and voice dictation. The caveat here is, handwriting isn’t likely to be very comfortable on the smaller of the two watches, if 40mm is the size you pick.
Health: More metrics than you may be expecting
The health and fitness suite remains quite detailed, as before, though there aren’t significant changes this time around. It seems more a case of consolidating because Samsung’s efforts have been well past just step counting and heart rate monitoring, for a while now. Sleep tracking data is extensive, if you are comfortable sleeping while wearing a watch – awake, deep sleep, light sleep and REM data is logged.
The Samsung BioActive sensor is an umbrella for the Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis sensor, Electrical Heart sensor (ECG), and Optical Heart Rate sensor. The data handshake means detailed metrics for you to look at, including body fat percentage and skeletal muscle weight. This sort of intricate detailing is still quite rare in smartwatches.
One observation we have is the blood oxygen data often reflects the data readings on the lower side. In fact, while reviewing the Galaxy Watch 5, we have seen readings as low as 87% saturation. At the same time, the Apple Watch tells us there is nothing to panic, with a 99% blood oxygen saturation level. This could very well be a sensor optimization flaw, which could be fixed with a software update.
Battery: Lesser anxiety, than before
Battery life must improve within the family, and the positive update is, it has. It’s a step forward. The Galaxy Watch 5 lasts around 30 hours on a charge, not something the predecessor could manage even if you tried every trick in the book. Not Garmin-esque yet (those watches calculate battery life in days and weeks, not hours), but this is certainly not something we really can complain about. Whether or not the Galaxy Watch 5 is worth upgrading to from the Galaxy Watch 4 purely for battery life, it isn’t really that simple.
A new smartphone benchmark for Android phones?
While it is an iterative step forward, and not much has changed with the overall personality either, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 is still positioning itself to be the most desirable smartwatch for Android phone users, at least this side of the more elaborate offering (and more expensive too) which the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is.
Battery life has been given a needed upgrade, though the incrementality elsewhere does leave us with the feeling of incompleteness. Of what it could have been. But strictly, this watch didn’t need to do much differently. The biggest factor, which will need your attentiveness for a while, would undoubtedly be the touch bezel controls. Maybe, just maybe, you’d get the hang of those sooner.
The Google Pixel Watch is expected soon and may have a say in the matter of the best smartwatch geared for Android phones. Whether that makes it to India, is another matter. Till then, this really is as good as it gets.