I didn't spend a ton of time with the original Watch Active, which was the launch device for Samsung's freshest iteration of its Tizen wearable software with a fitness focus, but I was immediately reminded of how great Samsung's software is on the Watch Active 2. This latest version has big, bold and easy-to-read interface elements, useful widgets, great animations and generally great functionality.
The included watch faces offer a ton of variety, from classic to modern and simple to informative, and each one can be customized dozens of different ways. Wearables skew toward fitness so much nowadays that it makes sense for Samsung to make sure its software reflects that, but it's important to note that all of the typical "smartwatch" capabilities are here. Samsung's interface of widgets still gives you access to weather, calendar, contacts, tasks, music controls and more, and then you can go deeper with full app capabilities.
Should you buy the Galaxy Watch Active 2?
It also has a microphone and speaker for Bluetooth phone calls, notifications, and alarms. With customizable watch faces, widgets and notification settings, you can make the Watch Active 2 as capable or simple as you want. It may take a little time for configuration, but it really can be your watch for your needs. If you just want a watch face and some fitness functions, with no notifications, you can do that; or if you want to go all out, it can be a proper little wrist computer. The 1. The capacitive bezel is far better than a crown or just swiping, but not as good as the physical dial.
Since the Gear S2, the core underpinning of the Samsung smartwatch experience has been its rotating bezel for quickly moving through the circular interface, and it was baffling to see it missing from the Watch Active because it is far-and-away the best smartwatch interaction paradigm. The Active 2 now has a capacitive take on the rotating bezel, where you slide your finger along the edge of the screen glass to perform the exact same function. Much to my surprise it wasn't even turned on by default, but once I enabled it I was incredibly happy with how well it worked.
The interface moves exactly as far as you'd expect with the movement of your finger, and the haptic feedback with each "click" of the bezel is a nice touch. It really takes getting used to compared to the physical bezel, and the capacitive version obviously makes your finger obscure more of the screen while you use it, but this is still easily better than swiping across the middle of the display for every interaction. You can use every single feature the Watch Active 2 has to offer and still get two days of battery life.
The only issue with the capacitive bezel is that it's effectively useless for interaction during activities.
One of the many things I appreciated about the old physical bezel was the ability to quickly jog it a precise number of times to move through the interface even when walking, running or at the gym, and even with sweaty hands. The capacitive bezel is good and extremely precise, but it requires precise input from your hand as well, and you can't do that well enough while on the move. With all of its capabilities, the Galaxy Watch Active has battery life fitting a smartwatch rather than a fitness band.
Keeping automatic workout tracking, GPS, frequent heart rate monitoring and always-on display turned on aka, everything the Watch Active 2 was good for two days of battery life. That's really good for everything you're getting, and frankly the Watch Active 2 is a bit too big to comfortably wear to bed anyway so I'm guessing most people will simply charge it at night.
If you're going to take advantage of sleep tracking, you'll have no issue keeping the watch charged using quick minute top-ups while you're going through your morning routine. You can turn off always-on display and get at least another half-day of battery life, and tweak a few other settings to push past the three-day mark if you need to.
The review has been updated to reflect the latest performance after these updates. GPS tracking isn't as consistent as a phone, which hardcore runners and bikers will find endlessly bothersome. Running outdoors, it was well within the usual margin of error in terms of distance and pace. It was also consistent from run to run, although I found Strava's auto-pause and auto-resume which are off by default to be really bad and not worth turning on after regularly having large chunks of distance missed after taking a break as short as 10 seconds waiting to cross a street.
The problem is that the activity tracking is way off and is in desperate need of re-tuning before this watch becomes a contender. If you're after a fully-featured smartwatch that's not too chunky or expensive and you're happy to wait for Samsung to recalibrate its tracking, the Galaxy Watch Active might be for you. Just be sure you know the lay of the land where fitness tracking and blood pressure monitoring is concerned if that's why you're buying it.
Its battery life is also a little less than stellar, taking too long to charge and not being sufficiently long-lasting for a truly active wearer. Samsung makes some of the best smartwatches around, but they tend to be big, bulky and aggressively styled. The Galaxy Watch Active is just as well equipped as other Samsung wearables but trades the rugged aesthetic for a more demure style. It also comes at a noticeably smaller price. There are, however, a couple of things you need to know before you decide to buy one — like the fact its activity tracking is trash right now.
While the Galaxy Watch Active could easily be considered a Gear Sport 2, Samsung is instead positioning it as the sporty version of its recent Galaxy Watch range.
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Despite its diminutive size, the Galaxy Watch Active is plenty rugged enough to survive an active lifestyle. Activities during this time included swimming, cycling, running, gym workouts and yoga on top of daily wear and tear and several keyboard commando skirmishes. The screen is great: vibrant and crisp, a necessity on a display this size.
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Keep this in mind if you tend to glance at notifications or activity tracking while cycling, for example. The silicon watch strap the Galaxy Watch Active comes with is perfectly serviceable and closes with a traditional watch buckle. The excess strap tucks underneath the strap to keep it out of the way.
I like this clasping mechanism and tidy approach to the leftover strap. In typical Samsung fashion, the Watch Active has plenty to offer in terms of feature set and customization. It comes with a decent selection of watch faces to choose from, and more can be downloaded from the Galaxy Store note: it runs Tizen 4. All watch faces can be customized to your liking, so you can change colors, backgrounds and UI elements as you see fit.
The two buttons on the side of the Watch Active are straightforward: the top one takes you back a step and the bottom summons the app carousel. By default, a double press of the bottom button fires up Bixby, but as with most other things on this watch, it can be customized. I set it to display the world clock but you can change it to a shortcut for pretty much anything on the Galaxy Watch Active.
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