Thu. Jul 11th, 2024

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

If you’re hoping for a “this changes everything” moment from the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, a deep exhale after years of pent-up frustration, this isn’t it. It’s not the electric shock that’s going to revive the dying patient. It’s not even the much-needed coat of paint after years of neglect.

But it is the next best thing: the coming together of two capable but flawed parties trying in earnest to solve an intractable problem.

We’re obviously talking about Wear OS 3, which is the long-awaited culmination of Google’s protracted attempt to fish its wearables platform out of the bowl, belly-up since it began to flounder in 2016 or so. But we’re also talking about Samsung’s wearable line, which hasn’t changed much since the original Galaxy Watch debuted in 2018.

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When Google and Samsung co-announced their partnership in May, the former yielded some control of its OS to the Korean company, and the latter committed to replacing Tizen with Wear OS on all future smartwatches. Still, it wasn’t clear whether it would yield positive results for the entire industry or just, well, Samsung.

And while the writing is still on the wall about the halo effect of Wear OS 3 for Google’s existing partners, Samsung’s smartwatches do benefit from some Google touches, though not as much as you think, while ultimately delivering the best Android smartwatch experience you can find today.

Aluminum

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

Bottom line: The cheaper of the two Galaxy Watch models this year, the Galaxy Watch 4 has everything you want from a fitness smartwatch but lacks the stainless steel heft and rotating bezel of the more expensive Watch 4 Classic. But if you want the green colorway, which is lovely, the Watch 4 is your only option.

The Good

  • Accessible price
  • Excellent performance and battery life
  • Comprehensive health tracking features
  • Wear OS 3 offers access to Google services
  • Included band is comfortable

The Bad

  • Capacitive gesture navigation is finicky
  • Occasional tension between Samsung and Google services

Stainless steel

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic

Bottom line: The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is the true flagship of the Samsung wearable lineup this year with a stainless steel build and rotating bezel, plus all the great performance, health tracking, and longevity of the Galaxy Watch 4.

The Good

  • Excellent performance
  • Comprehensive health tracking features
  • Wear OS 3 offers access to Google services
  • Included band is comfortable

The Bad

  • Occasional tension between Samsung and Google services

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Price and availability

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Announced on August 11 and released August 27, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and 4 Classic are available starting at $250 and $350, respectively, from Samsung.com and several popular retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart. Since launch, prices have adjusted some, and both watches can be found for $30 less at Amazon and Best Buy.

While both units come in different sizes — 40mm and 44mm for the Watch 4, 42mm and 46mm for the Watch 4 Classic — in person, the extra 2mm on the Classic is obtained through the rotating bezel, which, along with its stainless steel construction, is the primary design differentiator over the cheaper Watch 4.

If you’re buying the larger version of the aluminum Watch 4, do yourself a favor and get the green one.

Made of lighter aluminum, the Watch 4 comes in four colors: Pink Gold (40mm only), Silver, Black, and Green (44mm only). The Watch 4 Classic is limited to the more muted Silver or Black options in both sizes.

The Galaxy Watch 4 comes in some great color choices, including the new Maison Kitsuné edition for $400 and the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic Thome Browne edition priced at $800.

While smaller sizes start at $250 and $350, upgrading to the larger options adds $30 — $280 and $380 — while including LTE capabilities adds yet another $50 on top of that. The most expensive model, the 46mm Watch 4 Classic with LTE, sets you back $430.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Hardware and design

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Given Samsung’s iterative approach to hardware design over the past few years, it’s no surprise that the Watch 4 looks like the Watch 2 Active and the Watch 4 Classic looks like the Watch 3. The names might be confusing, but there’s a continuity here that I appreciate.

I reviewed the larger versions of both watches, and each of them comes with 20mm sport bands made of fluoroelastomer, a synthesized rubber that’s generally comfortable and doesn’t irritate the skin. (For some reason, the Classic comes with a ridged sport band with a traditional watch clasp, while the cheaper Watch 4 comes with a straighter band that terminates in the kind of loop clasp Apple popularized with the Apple Watch.) The good news is that, unlike the Apple Watch, the lugs support any quick-release watch strap, and I got to work replacing the sport band on the Classic with a lovely blue leather band from an old Victorinox I still wear from time to time.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 vs. Watch 4 Classic Specifications

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic
Size 44.4 x 43.3 x 9.8mm
40.4 x 39.3 x 9.8mm
45.5 x 45.5 x 11.0mm
41.5 x 41.5 x 11.2mm
Weight 30.3g (44mm)
25.9g (40mm)
52g (44mm)
46.5g (40mm)
Display Super AMOLED 1.4-inch (330ppi)
Super AMOLED 1.2-inch (330ppi)
Super AMOLED 1.4-inch (330ppi)
Super AMOLED 1.2-inch (330ppi)
Material Aluminum case Stainless steel case
Operating System Wear OS Powered by Samsung Wear OS Powered by Samsung
Processor Exynos W920 (5nm) Exynos W920 (5nm)
Memory 1.5GB RAM
16GB storage
1.5GB RAM
16GB storage
Battery 361mAh
247mAh
361mAh
247mAh
Sensors Accelerometer
Barometer
Gyro
Geomagnetic
Light
BioActive Sensor (heart rate)
ECG
BIA
Accelerometer
Barometer
Gyro
Geomagnetic
Light
BioActive Sensor (heart rate)
ECG
BIA
Connectivity LTE
Bluetooth 5.0
Wi-Fi
NFC
GPS
LTE
Bluetooth 5.0
Wi-Fi
NFC
GPS
Durability 5ATM
IP68
MIL-STD-810G
5ATM
IP68
MIL-STD-810G
Colors Green
Black
Silver
Pink Gold
Black
Silver
Band size 20mm
20mm
20mm
20mm

.

The protruding lugs look fantastic paired with a traditional band, but the fact that they curve down and inwards puts a pretty sizeable gap between the watch’s side and your wrist, a necessary sleight of hand to ensure the watch’s bulbous 3-in-1 health sensor makes solid contact with your wrist.

The digital crown has its virtues, but there’s still nothing like using Samsung’s rotating bezel to navigate around Wear OS.

If you can spring for the more expensive Classic model, go for it. While the stainless steel makes it a bit heavier than the Watch 4’s aluminum, the tradeoff is worth it for the rotating bezel; there just isn’t anything else like it. I love a good rotating crown, but there’s something just so satisfying about whizzing through notifications, tiles, and menus without tapping the display at all. The Watch 4 uses a hack of sorts, one that debuted on the Watch 2 Active, to emulate the same thing — it dedicates a portion of the OLED display’s edge for gesture navigation — but it’s finicky and can still block content.

The OLED display on each watch is, as usual, pretty great — Samsung doesn’t mess around in this regard. But I was kind of surprised to see that, in addition to making each panel slightly brighter, which improves direct sunlight visibility, both sizes are sharper than their predecessors. In fact, the larger Watch 4 and 4 Classic, which share the same 1.4-inch panels, are nearly twice as sharp as the Watch 3 and Watch 2 Active, which translates into more legible text at smaller sizes and less aliasing around images.

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

The side of each watch has two buttons that pull triple duty depending on the situation. A single press of the top button always goes home; the same action on the bottom button returns to the previous screen (which is often home because most apps aren’t that deep). Holding the top button activates Bixby or the power menu; holding the bottom always brings up Samsung Pay.

Samsung also improved the haptics in the Galaxy Watch 4 series, but they’re still not as good as the Apple Watch.

Each button also has electrodes that pair with the BioActive sensor to pulse mild electrical signals through your body to produce ECG or BIA readings, which is why at least compared to the Galaxy Watch 3, they look more utilitarian than the traditional chronometer style of last year’s watch.

I’m also impressed by the haptic motor inside the Watch 4 this year. Samsung’s previous smartwatches were known for buzzy and sloppy vibrations, but Samsung’s included a higher-quality linear motor on the Watch 4 that, while not used nearly as well utilized as on the Apple Watch, is much easier to endure buzzing against your wrist dozens of times a day.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Software and performance

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

I think there are two primary things people want to know about the Galaxy Watch 4 and, separately, about Wear OS 3: does Samsung’s watch platform benefit from its transition to Wear OS, and is Wear OS as a whole considerably better than it used to be?

The first I can answer confidently: yes. Samsung has tried to recreate as much of its Tizen-based UI flow as possible, so existing users won’t feel alienated while benefiting from access to the Play Store and some general Wear OS niceties. Notifications still live on the far left of the navigation, with older ones accruing further and further from the main watch face. The quick settings menu still lives at the top, and app “tiles” comprise the real estate to the right of the home screen, just as they did on Tizen. The main functional difference between Tizen and Wear OS 3 is the inclusion of a launcher at the bottom of the workflow, an app cloud very similar to the Apple Watch, and every bit as frustrating to use.

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

I encourage you not to overthink Wear OS on the Galaxy Watch; as I said initially, this isn’t the massive reinvention many people wanted or were expecting. Instead, it is very much Samsung’s existing wearable experience with access to Google’s apps and the admittedly limited selection of Wear OS apps on the Play Store. You also gain better notifications than on Tizen, since Wear OS is so closely tied to Android’s core notification framework, but the real upgrades are being able to open Google Maps for turn-by-turn navigation or use Google Keep to check off groceries from a shopping list as you wander through the chips aisle (I see you, and I support your decisions).

Don’t overthink Wear OS on the Galaxy Watch; it feels very much like Tizen but with access to Google apps and services.

You also get, or at least will get when they’re released, updated versions of Spotify, Strava, Calm, and others that either didn’t exist on Samsung’s existing platform or were severely underdeveloped. Samsung is betting that developers are more likely to build a decent Wear OS companion app because it’s an extension of an existing Android experience, and Google is hoping (praying) that more developers will be willing to build those apps because millions of Samsung phone owners will be wearing Wear OS watches. We’ll see how it will all play out soon enough.

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Galaxy Watch 4 owners also benefit from a feature Google recently added to Wear OS called Tiles. Think of Tiles as widgets that live to the right of the watch face providing quick access to information or app actions, checking the weather, starting a timer, or beginning a workout without having to open an app. While the Tile API is still in alpha and isn’t available to all developers, Google said during its recent developer conference that it’s working with dozens of companies to build Tiles into their Wear OS apps. It’s honestly one of the best additions to the platform (though it’s also being backported to Wear OS 2).

Another welcome feature of Wear OS is custom watch faces. While the ones included on the Watch 4 are quite lovely and varied, you can download apps like Facer, which lets you pay for premium options from artists and designers, or Pujie Black, where you can design your own.

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

And while this is very much a Samsung-first experience right now, it appears that the company is not blocking potential long-term customization, at least in certain areas. For example, it already acknowledged that Google Assistant would soon be an option to replace Bixby as the default voice assistant. Hidden deep in the settings is the ability to install a custom launcher, much like you can on your phone. You’ll also be able to select a new default health services provider, too, which could mean turning…

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