Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 review: Best Android smartwatch ever

Watch out, Apple.

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The Galaxy Watch 4 starts at Rs 23,999. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Despite a late start, Apple has single-handedly turned the smartwatch market around from being an enthusiast-only category once, to a must-have that it has come to become today. Its showstopper product, the Apple Watch, however, comes with one major caveat. It only works with the iPhone. In other words, you can’t pair it with ‘any’ Android phone.

This leaves a big chunk of smartphone users with ‘alternatives’ and though, that number is pretty substantial and growing—which is to say, there are many options—none comes close to giving you the kind of cohesive one-stop-shop experience an Apple Watch can. This has led to a general perception that ‘other’ smartwatches are—just—bad.

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Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 series wants to change that status quo. There were never any big red flags with the Galaxy Watch/Gear hardware. Their Tizen software, also, has stood the test of time well enough but it was always lacking on third-party app support—an area where the Apple Watch is just hands-down better. The situation hasn’t got any better with time.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 software

The Galaxy Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic are, in a way, a formal acknowledgment of this as Samsung has finally dropped Tizen and instead, joined hands with Google to bring ‘Wear OS’ to these smartwatches. That entails many things but the most significant update is native support for Google Play Store which means you can download and install many more apps—those you’d probably use—on these smartwatches. YouTube Music is one. Google Maps is another. The list is long. Many more, like Google Assistant, should be added in due course of time.

Not only have these apps been redesigned from ground-up, they’re also optimised better.

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The Galaxy Watch 4 comes with Google Play Store. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

That said, there’s more to Wear OS—this is version 3.0—on these smartwatches than what meets the eye. The Galaxy Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic are still ‘Samsung’ watches both aesthetically speaking and in the way they work. No wonder it’s called ‘Wear OS Powered by Samsung’ on the official website while on the watch(es) itself, it’s described as ‘One UI Watch.’ If anything, the software here pulls you even deeper inside Samsung’s ecosystem and then, it locks you in.

Let’s start with the basics. As is almost always the case with every Samsung wearable, the Galaxy Watch 4 works best with a Samsung phone. These phones usually ship with all the bells and whistles—Galaxy Wearable, Samsung Health, so on and so forth—right out of the gate and pairing is instantaneous, very similar to how an Apple Watch connects to an iPhone.

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There are plenty of watch faces to choose from. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

If you choose to pair the Galaxy Watch 4 with another Android phone, the process is a little more time consuming. You’ll need to install both the apps mentioned above, plus a few additional plug-ins. Some spring cleaning will be also required basis of your use case, since the vast majority of pre-installed apps are Samsung’s.

In either case, you’ll need a Samsung account if you’re serious about using the watch for what its intended purpose is—lots of fitness tracking and collating all the data to give you a more comprehensive overview of your goals and achievements. You’ll also need it for Bixby, which is—like it or not—the default voice assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4, at least for now.

Also Read | Apple Watch Series 7 first impressions: It’s screen time

As any data-privy person would tell you, once you decide to share that data with Samsung—this is opt-in—the company can use it for enabling a lot of things from giving you a more personalised experience to showing you targeted ads. The general thumb rule should be, pick something you trust and stick with it.

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The Galaxy Watch 4 works best with a Samsung phone. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Last but an important thing to note about the Galaxy Watch 4 is that it is the first Samsung watch that doesn’t work with an iPhone. This may also be the only watch with Google software that works ‘exclusively’ with Android phones.

The user interface is largely familiar if you’ve used one of the more recent Galaxy watches. Samsung cracked the code, years ago, and has stuck with it ever since. The whole UI is designed around the watch’s circular form factor and you can control it using touch in case of Galaxy Watch 4 or the rotating bezel in Watch 4 Classic. The classic’s ‘physical’ dial remains as satisfying as ever. The regular Watch 4 tries to mimic that through software but it is a workaround, and works like one.

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Swiping down takes you to quick settings while swiping up brings the app drawer. Swiping right gets you notifications while swiping left opens widgets. The home button is configurable: double press to open any app/open most recent app, press and hold to wake Bixby/power off menu. The back key only supports a single function—go to previous screen/show recent apps—in India for some reason at the time of writing this review. Elsewhere, it can be programmed to open Google Pay/Samsung Pay also.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 hardware, performance

The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic has a 1.4-inch screen and a stainless-steel casing. It comes in two sizes—42mm and 46mm. The Watch 4 has a smaller 1.2-inch display and is made of aluminium. It is available in 40- and 44mm sizes. Regardless of the version, you’re getting a crisp and bright Super AMOLED panel and IP68 water and dust resistance. The design is fairly reminiscent of the past models which is to say, it’s beautiful and functional. Both are compatible with standard 20mm straps.

The core hardware, expectedly, is top-of-the-line with Samsung’s 5nm Exynos W920 chip—dual Cortex-A55 cores, Mali-G68 GPU—which is paired with 1.5GB RAM and 16GB of storage.

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Samsung has added a bioelectric impedance sensor to the Galaxy Watch 4. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Over and above that hardware, which is a step-up over its predecessor, the Google-Samsung ‘unified’ software promises up to 30 percent faster performance and over a day’s worth of battery life with continuous all-day heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking during the night.

The fact that the Galaxy Watch 4 lives up to those claims makes it one of the most exciting smartwatches in the market today. It’s fast, fluid and very responsive. The battery gains are the bigger draw though. It will easily last a full day and then some, for even the most discerning users without having to fiddle around with settings or turning a lot of things off.

Sadly, like a lot of its high-end phones, Samsung’s flagship smartwatch isn’t looking to break any speed barriers when it comes to charging either. It takes almost 2-hours to charge the Galaxy Watch 4 using the bundled magnetic charger. A silver lining is that it supports wireless charging, something you don’t get on the latest Apple Watch Series 7.

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It has over 90 workout modes. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The Galaxy Watch 4 can do your usual heart rate and sleep tracking. It can help keep tabs on your blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) and stress levels. It can count steps and detect and monitor over 90 different kinds of workouts. Two of its other marquee features—ECG and blood pressure measurement—aren’t available in India yet due to regulatory restrictions.

Samsung has added a bioelectric impedance sensor to the Galaxy Watch 4 that allows it to measure body composition. This works similar to a smart scale by sending an electrical signal through your body—when you place your middle and ring fingers on the home and back keys which have embedded electrodes—and then measuring the impedance to estimate metrics like body fat percentage, skeletal muscle, and body water. It’s a neat little trick but one that also requires a lot of patience and hit and trial to get a reading, similar to SpO2.

Again, it must be understood that a smartwatch like the Galaxy Watch 4 is not a diagnostic tool. It’s not a replacement for your tried and tested pulse oximetre for instance. It’s more like a companion device that’s there to motivate you and let you track your body trends over time through Samsung Health or other third-party apps like Strava.

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The Galaxy Watch 4’s accuracy was fairly on point. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

That’s not saying it isn’t useful. It’s just that there will be times when you’d get a reading that’s off. It isn’t advisable for you to rush to your doctor just because your smartwatch recorded a reading below 95 percent (normal oxygen saturation is between 95 to 99 percent for most people).

For what it’s worth, the Galaxy Watch 4’s accuracy was fairly on point most of the time during our testing. We’d definitely take its word over the gazillion other ‘affordable’ real-time OS-based smartwatches that have mushroomed up in the market lately.

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Which brings us to the price. The Galaxy Watch 4 doesn’t come cheap though that’s not to say it’s overpriced. The Bluetooth-only 40mm Galaxy Watch 4 costs Rs 23,999 while its 44mm version will set you back by Rs 26,999. A version with LTE starts at Rs 28,999 (40mm) going all the way to Rs 31,999 (44mm). The Bluetooth-only 42mm Galaxy Watch 4 Classic costs Rs 31,999 while its 46mm version will set you back by Rs 34,999. A version with LTE starts at Rs 36,999 (42mm) going all the way to Rs 39,999 (46mm).

Having said that, Samsung products tend to get a lot of good discounts, so it’s possible you might be able to grab one at a lower price down the line.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 | Should you buy

By working closely with Google, Samsung has been able to fix some of the most gruelling shortcomings of Android smartwatches namely performance, battery life and lack of a compelling app ecosystem. The Galaxy Watch 4 is fast, has good battery life and better-than-we-expected third-party app support making it the best Android smartwatch that you can get in the market today. Heck, it’s the best Android smartwatch ever made.

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The design is beautiful and functional. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

But as good as the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is, it’s also a Samsung watch—in fact, it’s more Samsung than anything Samsung has ever made before. If that was annoying, that’s exactly how you might feel using it if you don’t have a Samsung phone. So, that’s something to keep in mind too.

Pros: Beautiful hardware, Slick performance, Good battery life, Third-party app support is growing, Lots of features, Accurate tracking

Cons: No Google Assistant at launch, Pricey, Tad frustrating for non-Samsung phone users

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