Samsung Galaxy Watch 5: Beautifully Imperfect
Samsung’s latest smartwatch is beautifully designed but somewhat hampered by its limited battery charge, writes PAT PILCHER.
Attending a Samsung product launch is like being Charlie at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Samsung (a high-tech Willy Wonka if there ever was one!) launches shiny new treats, each with cool new bells and whistles to test. Sammy showcased their latest smartwatch at this year’s launch, the Galaxy Watch 5. Excitement levels at the launch event were palpable, only exceeded when the 40mm review unit arrived at Witchdoctor towers for a brief too-short two-week tryout.
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So, was my excitement justified? A realistic answer would be yes and no. The Galaxy Watch 5 is a gorgeous-looking piece of hardware, as you’d expect from Samsung. While the new Galaxy Watch sounds exciting, much of it isn’t all that new. It’s available at the same 40mm and 44mm models, along with a Pro version.
At a glance, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the 40mm model apart from last year’s version. It also sports many of the same gubbins under the hood. It has the same Exynos W920 CPU, 1.5GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, GPS, optional LTE, NFC, and is rated to 5ATM of water resistance. I guess it’s a case of If it ain’t broken, why fix it?
Its top side button acts as a bioactive sensor (it can track body composition and acts as an ECG) and has been tweaked. Still, on the hardware front, little else is new besides an infrared temperature sensor that is non-functional until it’s enabled via a future software update. The sensor is expected to perform much like that in Huawei and Fitbit watches and to mostly be used with sleep tracking. The kicker is that much of the bioactive sensor functionality is limited if you don’t own a Samsung phone. Sigh.
One of the coolest Galaxy Watch features has long been the ability to allow wearers to respond to messages with a typed response using a small (but surprisingly usable) watch-screen keyboard. In addition to smartwatch keyboards, you can react with (again surprisingly useful) voice input. There’s also handwriting recognition. It all feels very like James Bond.
The Galaxy Watch 5 has a sapphire crystal glass front, which gives it greater durability. Being a Wear OS device, there are oodles of third-party watch faces to display on its gorgeous AMOLED display. Google Assistant is available on your wrist, as are Google Pay and Maps. The selection of available apps is also significantly bigger than was the case with Tizen in earlier models. Still, the move to Wear OS does come with trade-offs.
The most noticeable trade-off for die-hard Galaxy watch fans will be the lack of a rotating bezel. Samsung has replaced it with a virtual touch screen bezel that works by sliding your finger around the edge of the watch face to scroll through menus. Why Samsung decided to kill off the rotating bezel and replace it with a touch bezel so fussy that I gave up using it is baffling. In my opinion, it’s a bad move. That said, being Wear OS powered, the Galaxy Watch 5 works fine with swipes, taps, etc. Still, the rotating bezel was a point of difference that was not only fun but also unique to the Galaxy Watch. In some ways, the Wear OS interface overlaid with a Samsung skin feels far more intuitive. Still, I really liked the rotating bezel’s physical control.
The other trade-off is battery life. While Samsung has increased its battery size with the Galaxy Watch 5, its short battery life limits its usefulness. I found that when I had it set up with its always-on display going, enabled “OK Google”, and had GPS on, I got just under a day’s use. I had to charge it as I went to bed, making its sleep tracking functionality useless. With the AOD, the Google wake word disabled, it had just shy of 40% charge in the evening, but I needed to charge it first thing in the morning. It was never near Samsung’s claims of 40+ hours of battery life. The review unit didn’t have LTE and was the smaller 40mm version.
Samsung has, over the years, been steadily optimising the fitness tracking capabilities of the Galaxy watch range. With the Galaxy Watch 5, you get accurate heart rate tracking. It also did a sterling job of automatically detecting and tracking when I was on a walk. Usefully, sleep tracking gives oodles of sleep-related feedback, but it took me a week before these started to kick in, and given the short loan period, it’s impossible to say how accurate this was.
While the Galaxy Watch 5 is the best Wear OS smartwatch choice, all of its third-party apps don’t count for much when its battery life is measured in hours, not days. That, plus the limited functionality on offer for non-Samsung phone users, stops what was an otherwise beautifully designed smartwatch from scoring a perfect 10 out of 10.