Thursday, 21 Mar 2019

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active vs. Apple Watch Series 4: rival wearables compared

Samsung officially announced several new wearables this week, but it’s the Galaxy Watch Active, the company’s newest smartwatch, that stands out from the pack. While the hardware may not be as premium as the Apple Watch 4, it’s still in direct competition to the watchOS wearable, and will be immediately attractive to users who want a smartwatch that works with their Android phone.

If you’re looking for your first smartwatch, or are interested in how these smartwatches compare, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve looked at the two in terms of sizing, specs, and software. And don’t forget pricing, because that’s also important when shopping for a new wearable.

Do you want your smartwatch to work on a cellular network? Go Apple.

The Apple Watch 4 comes in Wi-Fi / GPS and cellular variants, whereas Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active only comes in one Wi-Fi / NFC / GPS model. Samsung’s Watch Active preorder page doesn’t feature a cellular option — unlike last year’s Galaxy Watch, which did — so it’s uncertain whether the Korean tech giant is avoiding cellular smartwatches altogether, or plans to release an always-connected wearable at a later date.

Do you want a large, high-resolution display? It’s complicated.

Apple’s smartwatches win handily in the display category: the Watch Active offers a 1.1-inch screen, while Apple’s 40mm watch has a 1.57-inch display and the 44mm wearable has an even bigger 1.78-inch display.

On the other hand, the Watch Active’s 360 x 360 OLED display isn’t too far off from the 40mm’s 324 x 394 resolution screen, but pales in comparison to the 44mm Apple Watch’s 368 x 448 resolution.

But specs don’t really tell the story. Apple’s screens have been tested outdoors and in the elements, so real-world usage will be the only way to judge if the Watch Active’s screen can compete with the Apple Watch Series 4’s revered displays.

Do you want a small or a large smartwatch? This is important.

The Galaxy Watch Active only comes in one size: a 1.1-inch circular OLED display encased in an aluminum body that measures 1.55 x 1.55 x 0.41 inches and weighs 0.88 ounces. Compared to the weight of Samsung’s last wearable, the 1.73-ounce Galaxy Watch, the new Watch Active is noticeably lighter, with a screen that’s only 0.1-inch smaller.

But how does Samsung’s new wearable compare to Apple’s? The smaller Apple Watch Series 4 measures 1.57 x 1.49 x 0.42 inches and weighs 1.40 ounces, while the larger model’s dimensions clock in at 1.73 x 1.49 x 0.42 inches and weighs 1.69 ounces. Consequently, the Watch Active is lighter than both of Apple’s wearables — the 0.88-ounce watch is a featherweight compared to the heavier Apple smartwatches.

Do you want to track your physical fitness? You’re in luck either way.

Specs aside, there are software-based reasons why the Galaxy Watch Active could be a compelling wearable for future wearers.

Like the Apple Watch 4, the Galaxy Watch Active supports fitness monitoring, It covers more than 39 activities, including rowing, cycling, running, martial arts, walking, among others. The Watch Active has been certified to 5ATM water resistance (which is approximately 50 meters, about the same as the Apple Watch). So either device lets you go swimming and build up a sweat without worry.

Taking a cue from last year’s Galaxy Watch, the new Galaxy Watch Active also supports sleep tracking out of the box (the Apple Watch 4 does not), but it’ll take a formal review to figure out if Samsung has improved its previously mediocre sleep tracking feature this time around.

By giving more insight into your sleeping patterns, rather than just monitoring your sleep cycle and displaying your sleep cycle results the following morning, the Galaxy Watch Active could be a compelling tool for tracking sleep.

Want more than one way to keep your watch charged? Get the Active.

While I think it might be odd to set a Galaxy S10 facedown on a table, then place a Watch Active on top of it, I have to admit it’s pretty cool that you can use this odd stacking exercise to charge your watch with your phone. In fact, the Galaxy Watch Active’s versatility at wireless charging may be a feature that Apple Watch wearers will come to envy.

In terms of battery capacity, the Watch Active has a small, 230mAh battery. It’s hard to imagine Samsung would put a smaller battery in one of its wearables than it did last year, but it has; the Galaxy Watch had a 270mAh battery. Yet the Watch Active’s product page claims 45 hours of usage on a single charge, compared to Apple’s 18 hours for the Watch Series 4 (although our testing exceeded the company’s battery claims last year).

To make the Watch Active’s battery life situation even more confusing, it uses the same Exynos 9110 processor as last year’s Galaxy Watch. Hopefully, Samsung has made some battery-saving optimizations to extend usage times, because last year’s Galaxy wearable didn’t come close to Samsung’s battery life claims of three to four days of battery life.

Do you want an easy-to-navigate interface? Choose wisely.

The Galaxy Watch Active runs Samsung’s Tizen 2.0 operating system, like last year’s Galaxy Watch. This time around, Samsung has removed the rotating bezel, one of the primary navigational methods used in last year’s watch. It was a feature that was both intuitive and efficient for scrolling through longer menus (and I’m not the biggest fan of endless scrolling and swiping to begin with).

This year, in order to operate the Watch Active, you’ll need to rely on its 1.1-inch screen, two side navigational buttons, Bixby voice commands, and wrist gestures. Apple’s wearable, in comparison, has an intuitive digital crown that can be used to quickly navigate the watchOS interface, on top of touch control, voice commands using Siri, and wrist gestures.

Do you want a less expensive smartwatch? Pick Samsung’s.

Samsung’s product page lists the Galaxy Watch Active at $199; the watch is set to be released on March 8th in the United States. Compared to the Wi-Fi-only 40mm and 44mm Apple Watch models ($399 and $429, respectively), you could have two Watch Active wearables for the price of one new Apple Watch.

The Watch Active also comes in four colors (silver, black, rose gold, and green), one more color than the Apple Watch (which comes in gold, space gray, or silver). Plus, Samsung is throwing in a complimentary wireless charging pad as a bonus for those who preorder between February 21st and March 7th.

Should you buy a new wearable? That’s still up for debate.

The Apple Watch Series 4 has already been proven to be one of the best — if not the best — smartwatches ever released, and was rapidly adopted by Apple fans and newcomers alike. Samsung has an uphill battle on its hands (or wrists, in this case) with the Watch Active — the watch has less navigational options, leans toward the sporty lifestyle rather than luxury, and needs to deliver on its promises of longer battery life and better sleep tracking, among other things.

But not all is grim for Samsung’s upcoming smartwatch. The Watch Active has more color options for its case, is half the cost of an Apple Watch, has an impressive list of trackable physical activities, and can be charged wirelessly by a Galaxy S10-series smartphone.

If you’re still undecided, stay tuned for our upcoming full review of the Galaxy Watch Active.

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