Samsung’s Take on a Budget Fitness Tracker
If Apple has one notable competitor in the general smartwatch marketplace, it’s Samsung. The company has managed to sidestep the flaws of Google’s Wear OS by bringing in their own, largely impressive operating system, and that makes them an impressive contender in the market. But with competitors like Fitbit and Garmin in the field, fitness trackers are a significantly more crowded playing field. The Galaxy Watch Active is Samsung’s latest entry, but how does it hold up? Read on to find out.
The traditional Galaxy was a smartwatch with some weight to it, and the rotating bezel made navigation a breeze. This is changed with the Active, for better and worse. The smaller size is a revelation, sure to fit comfortably on most wrists and look good in the process. It takes the less is better approach to design that’s so prevalent in smartwatches today – employing a simple strap and plain face that lets the screen itself do the talking. It’s undoubtedly quality build, and it looks good, but it may be hard to distinguish as a Galaxy product in a market with such similar sensibilities.
But the fact that it’s so lightweight is well suited to its mission statement as a sports and fitness watch. In fact, it’s less than half the weight of the regular Galaxy and manages to trim off almost a quarter of the size. Detachable straps available in four peppy colors allow you to add your own sense of aesthetics to it. The screen itself is bright, colorful and responsive – and while the lack of the bezel is a significant loss in terms of ease of navigation, it’s still pretty easy to work your way through the important menus.
The Active may be smaller and more stripped down than the mainline and pricier flagship Galaxy, it still bears the same beating heart. If it’s good enough for the Galaxy, it should be more than enough to handle the more limited feature set of the Active. The dual-core Exynos 9110 processor is generally powerful and can clock in at 1.15GHz. It’s all-around respectable, and definitely a step up from the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100. 740 MB of RAM further adds some pep to its step. There’s little to no lag when loading up apps, but the storage is a bit on the limited side. Despite having 4 GB built in, the core software takes up over half that.
Without a bezel, you’ll be interacting with the Active exclusively through the touchscreen, but the Tizen operating system that Samsung’s watches run on is pretty tight and intuitive. Notifications are always available with a context sensitive tap, and you can also customize the widgets to suit your particular needs. It’s still playing catch-up with the Wear OS and WatchOS interfaces, but it’s making impressive strides. The ability to swipe through different screens allows you to have easy access to a pretty diverse selection of apps despite the relatively small face.
Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant may not have the mainstream credibility of Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant, but he may just be the company’s MVP. While you won’t be able to replace the touchscreen interface with voice activation for everything, Bixby’s ability to recognize commands is actually pretty sophisticated. It can effectively distinguish between a variety of apps even when they serve similar functions and utilize identical commands, and its ability to parse context from language is pretty impressive. Chances are that you’ll rarely have to find yourself rephrasing a command just to get Bixby to do what you want.
Apps and Functions
If you don’t come to the Active expecting the deep bench of apps and features you’d find in the mainline Galaxy, you shouldn’t be disappointed. There’s no doubt that this is a streamlined approach to the smart watch, but it offers a generally healthy selection of options, especially given its affordable price point.
The focus here is on fitness features, and Samsung’s unimaginatively named Health app remains one of the most well designed interfaces of its type, particularly where cardio and stress management is concerned. The auto detection for cardio tracking, initiated by changes to the pedometer, rarely misses a beat and tracks a decent number of different metrics. Samsung’s stress management tracking is high-quality, especially considering it’s a component that many of its competitors overlook. By evaluating fluctuations in your heart rate monitoring, it can provide you with a pretty accurate assessment of your mental health over the course of a week. Blood pressure monitoring is also a welcome addition.
As far as the more standard features are concerned, the Active is pretty par for the course. Text notifications are responsive but not especially interactive, and there are the usual suspects: weather, exercise-specific tracking metrics, the ability to stream music from your phone. Third party apps are being folded into the Galaxy ecosystem at a steady pace. The app store still hasn’t caught up to Apple or Google, but it’s rapidly filling out. Popular options like Uber, Spotify, and My Run are all available, but you may need to be discerning with what you download due to the relatively small storage capacity.
One distinct advantage of the Active’s smaller size and smaller power usage footprint is its battery. Samsung boasts a battery life of 45 hours. The stated battery life from the manufacturer is often inconsistent, but the Active generally seems to match that promise in the real world. The 45 hours battery life can be expected with relatively consistent usage, but you may be able to get another 20 or 30 hours out of it if you don’t find yourself actively using apps all that often. The Galaxy Active comes with a dedicated charging pad, so getting the watch juiced up is a pretty painless process.
The Galaxy is a great smartwatch. Fortunately, Samsung has taken what’s worked about it and performed some smart editing for the sake of this budget-friendly alternative. Everything from the battery life to the overall design are clearly built with the practical needs of the consumer in mind. And while it’s a little light on features when compared to high-end competitors, it offers a significant amount of value for its asking price.