Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 REVIEW
It’s a handsome watch and fitness tracker combined that packs in a wealth of features. PAT PILCHER takes Samsung’s Watch 3 for a road test.
Samsung’s Galaxy Watch is one of the most user-friendly smartwatches around. Their latest offering – the Galaxy Watch 3 – oozes style. And as you’d expect from Sammy, has oodles of features. Unsurprisingly, Samsung is gunning after Apple whose Watch is one of the biggest sellers to date.
The Galaxy Watch 3 sits at the top of Samsung’s smartwatch line-up. While its more affordable siblings, the Galaxy Active and Fit, are designed as affordable fitness trackers, Samsung is aiming at the smartwatch market with the Galaxy Watch 3. Not only is it larger, but it also has an elegant and traditional watch look. Best of all, it comes with Samsung’s trademark rotating bezel.
The Galaxy Watch 3 looks as dressy as the Active but is also a tad more streamlined and slightly sportier when compared to earlier Galaxy Watch models. It comes in either 45mm or 41mm sizes, which are marginally smaller than the 46mm and 42mm versions from last year. The 45mm mystic bronze version I tested isn’t tiny, but the rotating bezel’s lack of a gear toothed finish somehow made it seem smaller on my wrist. From a practical perspective, it never got in the way of shirts/jackets, and It was sufficiently comfortable that I often forgot I was wearing it.
The standout feature is its rotating bezel, which, as mentioned earlier, doesn’t dominate the watch as it did in earlier models. Giving it a quick twist allows you to check notifications and select apps to run. Turning it is smooth with a slight click at set intervals for tactile feedback. The rotating bezel is instantly intuitive and compliments the Galaxy Watch 3’s touchscreen perfectly.
My review unit’s 1.4-inch, 360 x 360 AMOLED display is gorgeous (the 41mm version has a 1.2-inch display which offers the same resolution). The screen is vivid, crisp and bright and is easily readable in broad daylight. As with earlier models, an always-on display option is there so you don’t have to feel like a complete tool shaking your wrist to wake up the watch.
A curious addition is what Samsung calls Goodnight Mode, in which the UI is decluttered to a bare-bones digital watch-face during night hours. The thinking behind this is that it can help minimise distractions before bed. While you can check the time, you won’t get notifications. Goodnight mode can be tweaked to suit your needs.
If the watch looks great, its design has an extra touch of sophistication thanks to its leather strap. It uses a standard 22mm pin fitting so that it can be swapped for any standard watch strap should you feel the urge to change things up later. With so many other smartwatch makers opting for cheap and nasty silicon, the use of leather is a nice touch.
Navigation-wise, there are two button studs on the watch’s right-hand side. One acts as a back button while the other can be customised to launch apps such as Samsung Pay. Spinning the watch around reveals an optical heart rate sensor and contacts for a small charging cradle that magnetically attaches onto the watch.
On the waterproofing front, Samsung says the Galaxy Watch 3 is 5ATM rated, so it’s okay to wear in the shower or during a swim. In fact, it’s Samsung claims that it’s submersible for up to 50 metres. I’m not sure what the effect of water would be on the leather strap, however.
As with previous models, the Galaxy Watch 3 uses Samsung’s Tizen OS. It’ll connect with both Android and Apple phones, but you get more functionality with Android. The watch is also available as an e-sim LTE version. With it, you can access nifty stuff such as streaming Spotify, messaging and calls without a paired phone. As handy as that sounds, however, there is a catch: You’ll need to pay for an additional mobile plan, and battery life takes a hit too.
Using the rotating bezel, touchscreen and buttons to navigate and drive the watch is hyper-intuitive. Even if you’ve never owned a Galaxy Watch before, you’ll find using it doesn’t involve a steep learning curve at all.
Helping things along is excellent notifications support. You get the option of haptic feedback and audio notifications for alerts to incoming text messages, instant messages, email and so on. A nice update is the ability to see images in incoming messages. I was pleasantly surprised by how well this worked on the small display.
On the apps front, Tizen has historically copped a bit of flack. There’s a good range of pre-installed apps and a surprising number of other apps available via the Galaxy store. That said, having reviewed my share of Wear OS gear, Apple Watches and others, I’ve long since concluded that there are only a few watch apps I’d use regularly.
Speaking of apps you can’t or won’t use, these include Samsung Pay and Bixby (Samsung’s smart assistant). It appears ANZ bank doesn’t support Samsung Pay in NZ, and Bixby still feels half-formed compared Google’s Assistant. (Is it just me or is a smart assistant on a watch bit of a solution looking for a problem?)
There are useful apps, however. I lost count of the number of times I caught myself appreciating the sheer utility of Outlook on the watch. Its built-in music player allows you to use a chunk of its 8GB to hold tracks for playback using paired Bluetooth earphones/buds. The Spotify app is also nicely implemented and works as it should (Garmin, are you listening?) The other big win is the sheer number of watch-faces available, nearly all of which felt slick and very polished.
On the fitness tracking front, not much is missing. The Galaxy Watch 3 does all the basics, such as tracking steps, sleep, stress levels and heart rate monitoring. Using its array of sensors, it’ll detect activities and record them. Its sleep tracking is impressive. Using the Samsung Health phone app, you can check how your sleep has been going. It’ll tell you REM sleep, total sleep time, sleep scores and average wake up times. Rotating the bezel clockwise you’ll eventually end up on the workout screen. It has a tonne of activities that can be manually selected (such as running, cycling, swimming and a bunch of gym-based activities and even hiking). Each will track a different set of real-time metrics.
For stress tracking, the watch uses its heart rate sensor. Samsung says that approval to enable its built-in ECG is imminent. It should allow for near medical-grade heart rate tracking and for the watch to detect heart arrhythmias. Swimming activity tracking is there too. You can (via the Samsung Health app) choose a basic or target-based swim (you’ll need to select a pool size so it can count lengths). The watch will track the distance you’ve swum, your average pace, the duration of your swim, the number of lengths and your heart rate.
Last but by no means least in the fitness department is the ability to measure blood oxygen levels. Given the current Covid-19 situation, knowing this can be quite reassuring should you for instance catch a cold but have concerns that it could be the evil virus.
Samsung says that the Galaxy Watch 3 can last 4 to 5 days with light use. In testing, this proved to be the case. With more substantial use, its battery ran for 1 to 2 days (your mileage will vary depending on what apps you most frequently use). While the Galaxy Watch3 has the edge over the Apple Watch for battery life it doesn’t quite match Huawei’s GT watch. Part and parcel of this is the 340mAh battery on the 45mm watch and the smaller 247mAh one baked into the 41mm model.
Still, it’s one of the smartest and capable on-wrist doodah available right now. With its highly intuitive bezel-driven interface and elegant design, you have a great smartwatch that also happens to be a decent fitness tracker.
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