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Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Review
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 gets full access to Google’s app store and comes with Samsung’s best Health & Fitness sensors that rival in scope those on the Apple Watch 6.
With music, contactless payments and health features galore, the Galaxy Watch4 becomes the best ever Wear OS watch but the problem is that the Health & Fitness goodies won’t fully work for you unless you have a modern Samsung Galaxy smartphone (Android 8).
For once, the price of the Galaxy Watch 4 is about right for high-end tech but why oh why are the case and strap bland, cheap & tacky?
Must Read: Detailed Apple Watch 7 Review
Here’s a summary review and for those of you who have much more time, scroll down for many more detailed insights with a fitness focus…use the table of contents to skip to sections that interest you.
Disclaimer: I bought this myself. I have no media ties with Samsung. Any purchases you make from the links in this Samsung Galaxy Watch4 Review supports the work here. Enjoy!
Watch4 Verdict: Smartphone compatability issues and fitness sensor accuracy let down an otherwise great smartwatch.
Price - 90%
Apparent Accuracy - 75%
Build Quality & Design - 80%
Features, Including App - 95%
Openness & Compatability - 60%
The disappointing and clunky setup process is a one-off annoyance and soon forgotten if you are using Wear OS 3 for the first time.
You will quickly be wowed by the display on the Galaxy Watch 4 which is bright, colourful and vibrant – seriously impressive. More than that, the individual screens are generally beautifully designed for every interaction.
After only a relatively small learning curve, you will be flicking from screen to screen with wanton abandon…Watch4 is intuitive and easy to use. Indeed, the touchscreen works very well despite a few minor annoyances.
The smaller, 40mm model fits comfily on my wrist but the strap is poor and cheap and the watch case design is so bland that it would look identical on a $40 Chinese rip-off.
Perhaps the biggest selling point is Google’s app store. From Strava, Runtastic and Nike Run Club through to Spotify, YouTube Music and Google Maps there will be an app for your heart’s every desire. But what there won’t be is Google Assistant; at least for now (kinda), you will have to make do with Samsung’s inferior Bixby and that meant that I couldn’t always easily control my Google smart home devices.
During Covid, those of us with smartwatches relished the ease of payment from the wrist which trumps paying by smartphone. The Galaxy Watch 4 gives you the choice of Samsung Pay or Google Pay which should accept any of your payment cards. Bitcoin and PayPal too?…not yet!
The Watch 4 is sensortastic. Obviously, you get heart rate in your workouts…I mean…obviously! But you also get sensors for these measurements; continuous stress via HRV, blood pressure, ECG/EKG, SpO2 blood oxygen, snoring, sleep, GPS/GNSS, a barometer and a compass. That sensor package matches or beats all other smartwatches including the Apple Watch 6. HOWEVER the blood pressure and ECG don’t work on older Galaxy smartphones – they will only work with newer Galaxy smartphones. If we then turn to SpO2 you will find that to be useless unless you are ill and then the accuracy of the GPS is ‘meh’ and the accuracy of the heart rate during exercise is super-meh.
So Watch4 might have all the state-ot-the-art sensor types….but, so what? Can you actually use them all accurately?
I’m concerned about the battery life. If you want to enable the always-on display and then crank up the brightness you will gobble through the battery. I could easily use 20% of the battery with one hour of GPS-enabled running and with the brightness increased from the default. So if you are looking for 3-day battery life you can forget about it. A realistic expectation is that you can have notifications, 60 minutes of daily GPS usage and be able to track your sleep before a morning re-charge. ie a battery life of somewhere between one and two days. That means you effectively WILL have to fully charge the Galaxy Watch4 once daily or you will probably be able to get away with a couple of top-ups instead. That’s fine…if you are sufficiently organised.
Finally, the best experience is from the expansion of Google’s ’tiles’ which now allow up to 15 custom screens. Tiles are either information screens or launch screens for apps and you can easily flick between them from the main watch face. In my opinion, this one feature vastly increases the usability of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and it certainly trumps the Apple Watch in that frequently-used aspect of a smartwatch.
Recommendation: If you just bought a new Galaxy phone, then definitely buy the Watch4 as its smartwatch companion. However, I recommend a new strap or the more expensive Classic version as the base model is a little too cheap and cheerful for my liking. If you plan anything but casual fitness usage I would also buy a dedicated sports watch from Garmin or Polar just to use for your sport.
- Full range of fitness sensors including blood pressure and snore detection – market-leading
- Access to all Wear OS apps on Google’s awesome Play Store
- Speedy & smooth to use – best ever
- Beautiful screen and the interface has great images and animations – better than Apple
OK so here is a more detailed look at the Galaxy Watch4 with a particular emphasis on aspects that affect fitness & sports. Amongst many other things, I look at GPS accuracy and the sports app tiles.
What’s New? Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 vs Watch 3
The Galaxy Watch4 is a wholly different piece of kit with upgrades to several hardware components (oHR) and the software totally changed, although the OneUI interface will seem familiar to existing Samsung devotees. Despite those differences, you will feel the Watch4 to be a natural step forwards if you chose to upgrade. I would be tempted to upgrade for superior hardware and access to Google’s apps.
Samsung Galaxy Watch4 vs Watch 4 Classic – What’s is the difference?
The Classic model is more expensive and slightly larger; it has a higher quality case/strap plus a bezel that physically rotates to control some screen actions.
Screen sizes and overall abilities are otherwise identical
Samsung Galaxy Watch4 vs Apple Watch Series 6
These two watches accompany specific phone models and there are ZERO smartphones where you could have a choice of running either watch. The comparison is still worth making. The Apple Watch 6 is the King of smartwatches, does the Watch4 steal the crown?
- Price & Value: Samsung wins
- Hardware Quality: Apple Wins with a better case and strap although, with Gorilla DX+ glass, the Samsung touchscreen is tougher than the ‘soft’ screen on the aluminium case Apple Watches. Apple’s health and fitness sensors are superior and more precise.
- Choice of apps – Apple edges it. They both have a similar choice
- Aesthetics & Interface – Samsung wins with a better physical screen and a more modern-looking interface. The Apple interface is superbly functional but, in my opinion, it’s both a little outdated and a little naive in its aesthetic design.
- User Experience – Apple wins. The Apple experience just ‘feels’ more thought-through, with every fine point of detail just slightly better. Apple seems ‘finished’ whereas Samsung is great but a blank screen here, a missed connection there and a glitch somewhere else just make you think it’ll be better in 6 months time.
Sports & Fitness Usage
The Samsung Watch4 is pitched as a fitness smartwatch.
It’s worth considering if you want a 24×7 smartwatch to complement your smartphone. If you more rigorously exercise up to 5 hours a week then you are probably the sort of person Samsung targets. If you are a 10 hour a week runner the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 on review here is not the best choice for you.
Health & General Fitness
Samsung’s Galaxy Watch4 comes with a whole host of health features including ECG support, 24×7 HR monitoring, sleep & snoring monitoring, body mass index & composition, blood pressure & Blood oxygen/SpO2. Their brand new optical sensor combines some of the older sensor’s abilities and adds body composition for the first time to give you an idea of the amount of muscle, fat and water in your body. The measurements are relatively easy to take and, hopefully, there will be some consistency to them over time so you can check how your diets and trips to the gym are affecting your body. The readings I had were plausible but different to the same data from my Garmin Index S2 scales.
All your health data is synced to the Samsung Health app on your smartphone and your basic exercises go there too. There are minimal ways to get your exercise data out of there, although I believe Strava can be linked or you can use a subscription service like fitnesssyncer.com to move the data for you.
For casual fitness users all that’s great but limited.
To benefit from other fitness-based experiences you will be best advised to use apps made specifically for the purpose. Like these…
The Best 3rd Party Samsung Sports Apps
There are some great 3rd party sports apps that should be able to do most of what you need across the full range of sports. If you are thinking of any kind of social activities then consider which platforms your friends use. It’s very unlikely they will all use Samsung/Android phones so I’m not entirely sure why Samsung develops these features!
- Running Focussed – Nike Run Club and adidas Runtastic. There is no free Couch to 5K type app that I could find for the Watch4…grrr
- Swimming Focussed – Swim.com
- Sports Navigation – Komoot and Ride with GPS. Google Maps too for ‘normal’ navigation.
- Cycling Focussed – Strava and Ride with GPS
- Sports Social – Strava for connecting with other people in sport and challenges
- Meditation & Sleep – Calm
- Strength & Conditioning – Fitbod
- Special Sports Features – Sporty Go and Ghost Racer offer BLE sports sensor support and data export (the former should soon work with STRYD – detailed review here)
- Music Apps – Spotify, YouTube Music,
Some of those are apps that huge numbers of people use.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 – Maps & Navigating
Google Maps is the best of its kind on any platform and offers comprehensive and useful mapping features and navigation. It’s superior to what Apple offers and it works well on the Galaxy Watch4.
Turn-by-turn (TBT) directions are shown on your Watch4, you can see a lower resolution map too but that’s perhaps less useful other than to give you some context on what’s coming.
The images above also show the Komoot app where you can follow predetermined routes, I only seemed to be able to get TBT on the watch and the Komoot app also assumed you had your smartphone with you and displayed the map there. The Ride with GPS (RwGPS) app is similar to Komoot, with RwGPS more popular in the USA and UK and Komoot more popular in Europe.
Samsung Galaxy 4 Review – Contactless Payments via NFC
As we move towards a cashless society, the ability to make payments from the wrist is perfect for convenience and security. Once I had set up a passcode I managed to use Google Pay easily enough, although Samsung is keener to get you to use Samsung Pay and you can press and hold the bottom right bottom to make payments that way!
Google Pay on my smartphone does accept Store Loyalty cards and passes but I couldn’t get those on the watch.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 – Music
YouTube Music and Spotify both work and I had no issues playing back to my Jabra Elite 85t earbuds and casting audio to my Google home speakers. Overall features on those apps were basic,
Streaming is possible with the LTE version of the watch and offline listening is possible when you run without a phone.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Review – Weather
The pre-canned weather app is nice enough or you can go to town and get the My Radar app and watch the weather fronts coming.
Sensor Accuracy – GPS, HR, SpO2, Stress and Body Composition
The Samsung Galaxy Watch4 has a fine array of sensors that claim to measure most things that are broadly possible with the current generation of wearable tech. All the data is well presented on the watch and sometimes it’s presented excellently. Is it correct though? Let’s see.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Review of GPS/GNSS Accuracy
I had some difficulties here. The A-GPS sometimes took MANY minutes to get an initial fix yet sometimes it took one or two seconds. I saw this screen far more often than I would like when using the Strava app…
Further issues occur when you have other sports apps running on the watch. My understanding was that it was not possible to have 2 sports apps open on Wear OS but it seems that you can (but shouldn’t) and when you do the data is plain wrong. On these occasions, the saved data is rubbish eg I had long 10 mile runs that only grabbed a handful of location points #CompleteFail.
When I did manage to get a proper track I would say it was just about acceptable but really not good. Samsung will probably be able to improve this over time but they should have started that process 6 months ago.
Even in easy reception conditions, the Samsung Watch4 frequently struggled with both running and cycling. Here you can very clearly see the Samsung is frequently wrong by up to 10m on this suburban run
Despite usually being the worst on test, that wasn’t always the case. Here the Garmin in RED is worst when there are some trees and high nearby fences were involved
Yet the row of low trees along this avenue caused problems for the Samsung in RED.
Samsung’s accuracy was OK when cycling where reception conditions are easier. However, its performance was still the worst on test and there are periodic moments of madness…like this.
And again, like this
Accuracy can be improved with the Samsung Health app by enabling High Accuracy
Samsung Health > Running Icon > Workout > Running > Location – High Accuracy
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Review of Optical HR Accuracy
I’m a bad candidate for optical HR which often doesn’t work well on me during exercise. And that was the case for my tests of the Watch4. In fact, I only managed to get one (!) good HR track for running…and it was GREAT! The good track is shown in the first of these three images and the second image is the best track I got from cycling. The third image shows the hit and miss nature of it all. All other tracks were poor and from over 15 hours of workouts.
Even though my experience with HR was poor it really is quite possible that you will get good results, indeed other reviewers report better data. You have to decide whether or not you trust their testing and objectivity!
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Review of Elevation Accuracy
Surprisingly this was pretty accurate…not that anyone buying a Watch4 will ever want accurate elevation! Although the same sensor IS used to determine when you have climbed flights of stairs.
Other Sensor Accuracy
I devoted more time to GPS and HR sensor accuracy so, for now, here are some quick thoughts on the accuracy of the other health-related sensors.
Sensor accuracy is a very mixed bag on the Galaxy Watch4. It’s all VERY well presented but I’m not entirely convinced about the numbers all of the time.
I had some issues with my ANT+ BP sensor and so haven’t got comparison data yet. The Samsung sensor requires periodic calibration against a trusted source.
I found the blood oxygen readings to always be plausible and usually 99-100% and always over 97%. You MUST follow the correct procedure to take an accurate reading.
The stress readings will come from HRV and my comparator data for that is excellent, the Samsung data doesn’t match and tried to give feedback from day 1 which is meaningless without having a personal baseline to compare to.
When it comes to sleep accuracy, even if I enabled the ‘I’m going to bed now‘ mode and turned it off when I got up 7 hours later it would say I had 3 hours sleep. Bizarre. I suspect it interprets a nighttime visit to the toilet as me getting up. This is strange as Samsung’s auto-detection of exercise is good…better than the Apple Watch.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Review – Market Commentary
Google appeared to hand Wear OS on a plate to Samsung in return for the credibility given to Wear OS by Samsung’s support. Samsung had the opportunity to snuff out future Fossil and Fitbit watches as well as kicking the Apple Watch. But instead, the Galaxy Watch4 is so restricted in the smartphones it fully supports that it becomes relegated to either a first-time watch purchase from an existing Galaxy smartphone owner or an upgrade from an earlier Galaxy Watch.
It’s a great fitness watch. Wear OS 3 is a generally good operating system and I love Samsung’s One UI interface to Wear OS.
Google-Fitbit must be laughing. Well, if the performance of their (likely) SnapDragon processor can match Samsung’s proprietary one they will be laughing. Bugs can be sorted, marketing mistakes pre-empted, price-points can be comfortably confirmed and we know that Fitbit (Sense) already has a plethora of sensors to rival those on offer here from Samsung. This makes the upcoming arrival of high-end Fitbit watches mouth-watering, to say the least. And Fitbits will work on ANY recent Android smartphone.
I’m unsure if the decision to remove support for Wear OS 3 on Apple’s iOS is commercially significant in the near term. Clearly, the key platform for Wear OS 3 is Android, it’s just that support on iOS gave Apple Watch users a round watch option and probably annoyed Apple Execs at the same time.
With Samsung and Google/Fitbit effectively agreeing on Wear OS 3 for the way ahead this sets up their potential merger a few years down the line for the eventual battle that will be Google vs Apple. Of course, an impasse will ensue as each does its best to maximise profits from either side of its effective smartphone duopoly. At least the Google/Samsung side is a bit more open to 3rd party involvement.
Samsung Galaxy Watch4 Specifications
The Galaxy Watch 4 specifications are excellent and I’ve highlighted in bold some particularly good aspects.
|Samsung Galaxy Watch4 Specifications|
|Dimensions||44.4 x 43.3 x 9.8 mm (1.75 x 1.70 x 0.39 in)|
|Screen Size||44mm size, 1.4″ display, 40mm size, 1.2″ display|
|Battery Capacity||44mm size, 361 mAh battery, 40mm size, 247 mAh battery|
|Weight||30.3 g (44mm), 25.9 g (40mm) (1.06 oz)|
|Build||Glass front, aluminium frame|
|ECG/EKG||Yes, certified, selected Galaxy phone models only|
|BPM||Yes, selected Galaxy phone models only|
|Resolution||450 x 450px or 396 x 396px (330 ppi density)|
|Protection||Corning Gorilla Glass DX+|
|OS||Google Wear OS 3, Samsung One UI Watch 3|
|Compatability||Officially Android 6 or higher, not iOS, feature availability varies by Galaxy phone model. Samsung Health is only supported on Android 8 and newer|
|CPU||Exynos W920 (5nm) Dual Core 1.18GHz|
|Internal||16GB 1.5GB RAM|
|WLAN||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, dual-band|
|Bluetooth||5.0 (smartphone), A2DP (headset profiles), LE (low energy sensors)
|GPS||Yes, with A-GPS (slow), GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, BDS|
|NFC||Yes (Contactless Payments)
|Sensors||Accelerometer, Barometer, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Light Sensor, Optical Heart Rate Sensor, Electrical heart sensor, Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis Sensor|
|Type||Li-Ion 361 mAh, non-removable|
|Charging||Qi wireless charging or with USB puck (provided)|
|Announced||2021, August 11|
|Status||Available now. Released 2021, August 27|
|Colours||Black, Pink Gold, Silver, Green|
|Price||from £265, € 265, $ 212|
Samsung Galaxy Watch4 Case Overview
The rear of the case looks nice! But the strap is cheap and the aluminium case is bland.
Battery Issues & Battery life
A magnetic, USB charging puck is provided and QI charging is also supported although I believe it is only with Samsung-supplied QI chargers.
The out-of-the-box power settings can just about eke out two full days from one charge, even on the smaller 40mm version that I bought. If you merely use it as a watch it will last longer. However, one hour of GPS usage from an outdoor run will reduce the battery by 10-20% depending on how bright the screen is set.
You can have ‘always-on’ screen mode enabled and you can crank up the screen brightness to MAX and add a 1-minute screen timeout which obviously uses more battery. The ‘always’ on-screen mode is similar to the Apple Watch where, yes it’s on, but the last screen you were looking at is obscured. You can tap the screen or turn your wrist and the always-on mode just means that the screen you really want to see appears quickly.
Realistically you can either charge fully once a day or do two top-up charges a day.
Buy Samsung Galaxy Watch4 – Price, Availability and Competition
The Samsung Galaxy Watch4 is widely available now (Australia September 10th) and prices should stick close to rrp in 2021 and progressively fall thereafter until September 2022 when there might be a replacement model.
There are 8 Watch 4 models reflecting 2 size options, 2 LTE options, a sport vs classic option and it looks like the USA has some other case material options. These are the launch prices on Amazon and the links click through to include any discount offered:
Watch4 Classic with rotating bezel is more expensive and has a larger CASE but the screen sizes are the same as the sportier model:
You might also consider the excellent but more expensive Suunto 7, or the similarly priced Huawei Watch 3. The TicWatch Pro 3 is a tad cheaper but all of these have older technology inside and the Suunto 7 runs an older version of Wear OS which probably won’t be upgradeable.
Must Read: Suunto 7 Detailed Review
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Review – Opinion
This is a great ‘techie’ package, full of great Samsung features from the moment you open the box. When you add in your favourite apps from the Google Play Store you will have something oozing potential on your wrist. You’ll probably also have a smile on your face as the price was good.
As you start to use the Watch4 you will love the vivid screen, love the carefully created faces and love most of the flow from one screen to the next. I’ve always liked Wear OS but have to admit that Samsung’s new interface looks superior to what has come before and to what Apple offers.
You may well find that the insights you get into your health are not quite right. I was not convinced about the accuracy of the health sensors and certainly not convinced about the accuracy of the sports sensors. That said, sensors in need of tweaking is par for the course for new smartwatches, almost certainly Samsung will improve them over the coming months. Once that’s done and once the few niggles with the interface and setup are smoothed out, the Galaxy Watch4 could take away the title of ‘best smartwatch’ from the Apple Watch 6…but not yet.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch4 is DEFINITELY better on new Samsung phones...so don’t buy the Watch4 unless you have one. We should very soon see some new tech from Fitbit running the same great software as this Samsung Watch, so owners of other Android watches just need to hold their fire for a few weeks more!
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