Smartwatches

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: A smartwatch champ

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 ...
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 runs Samsung's own Tizen software
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 runs Samsung's own Tizen software
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The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 runs Samsung's own Tizen software
1/4
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 runs Samsung's own Tizen software
App support could be better, but all the main bases are covered
2/4
App support could be better, but all the main bases are covered
You've got a wide selection of watch faces to pick from
3/4
You've got a wide selection of watch faces to pick from
Three color options are available: black, silver (shown here) and pink
4/4
Three color options are available: black, silver (shown here) and pink
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In between the Apple Watch and Wear OS is the Galaxy Watch series, Samsung's wearable companions to its phones. The Watch Active 2 is the most recent of these smartwatches to launch, and we've been wearing it for several days to see if it's worth a place on your wrist.

At a glance:

  • One of the best smartwatches you can strap to your wrist
  • Excellent display, battery life, and overall build quality
  • Can track your location, heart rate, activity and sleep
  • You're mostly stuck with the apps Samsung has provided

In terms of features and functionality, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 does everything you would want a smartwatch to do, just about. It tracks your steps and exercise, it shows notifications from your phone, and it tells the time. It's even available with LTE, if you want to make calls with it, though we had the standard edition for our review.

The watch can measure your heart rate and monitor your sleep, and offers full IP68 protection against dust and water, so you can take it swimming with you too. There's also onboard GPS, which means if you want to get one of those route maps for your daily jog, you don't have to take your phone along.

You can connect the Watch Active 2 to both Android and iOS phones, though the way that iPhones are locked down by Apple means you don't get the same sort of depth in the interactions from your wrist (with text messages, for example). It's hard to recommend anything other than an Apple Watch as a smartwatch to go with the iPhone.

All of the watch's various sensors and data-collecting features were accurate enough, as far as we could tell, though any consumer wearable like this is always going to make a few approximations. We tested its step counting, sleep tracking and heart rate reading against a couple of other devices, and the statistics were similar across the board.

You've got a wide selection of watch faces to pick from
You've got a wide selection of watch faces to pick from

One area where the Watch Active 2 is lacking, like its predecessors, is app support – though to be fair this is a problem for Wear OS and even the mighty Apple Watch too. App makers just aren't that keen to make standalone experiences for the wrist, which means you're mostly left with what Samsung has made. There are apps for Uber, Spotify and Strava though, which covers a few bases.

That Spotify app is worth mentioning. You can actually sync playlists for listening without your phone (through Bluetooth headphones, obviously), as long as you're a premium Spotify subscriber. It's a feature you don't get on Wear OS or the Apple Watch.

It's a better story with the watch faces. You get dozens to pick from straight away, with many more available on the web through portals like Facer. Many of them can be customized in terms of colors and layout too, so you'll have no problems changing up the look of your watch's interface if you find it's become a little stale.

Samsung has done a decent job with the health and fitness functions. You can track a total of 39 different activities very easily, and getting tracking enabled or digging into your stats is all easily done. On the downside, an ECG (electrocardiogram) feature was promised at launch, and it still hasn't been rolled out.

The One UI interface Samsung has put on top of the Tizen operating system is smart and intuitive, and you're not going to spend very long wondering how to do something or how to get to the app that you need. It's a breeze to navigate around really, which is what you want when you're trying to operate it on a bus or during a run.

Performance is fine, with no noticeable lag or bugginess when scrolling through menus or opening up apps. This is actually fitted with the same processor as the original Watch Active, but it's still fast enough to blast through all of the tasks you're going to want to do from your wrist.

App support could be better, but all the main bases are covered
App support could be better, but all the main bases are covered

As for the design, we rather like it. You've got two face sizes to pick from, 40 mm and 44 mm, and the watch manages to look understated and modern without being boring. The digital touchscreen bezel is a nice touch, which means you can swipe round the edges of the screen to navigate menus and apps instead of always tapping on the display itself. Rubber and leather are your strap choices, though any 20-mm-wide strap can be fitted.

It feels light on the wrist too, even after several hours of normal wear, or an hour of intense exercise. We found the 1.35-inch screen clear, crisp and bright, and battery life was impressive too – the wearable would typically manage two full days between charges, so if you forget to charge it one night, it's not a disaster. It might even last you a weekend.

In the end, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 has a lot more entries in the positive column than in the negative column. It's stylish, it's comfortable to wear, it's got plenty of useful functions to offer, and it syncs seamlessly with a connected smartphone.

More apps would be welcome, but all the essentials are covered, and you've got more than enough watch faces and customization options to pick from if you fancy a change. We do occasionally miss Google Assistant and Siri – Bixby isn't really much of a rival at the moment – but again it's hardly a dealbreaker.

In short, it's one of the best smartwatches on the market right now, especially if you already use a Samsung phone and are already heavily invested in apps like Samsung Health. You can buy the Galaxy Watch Active 2 now for US$249.99 (40 mm) or $269.99 (44 mm), and black, silver and pink are your color options.

Product page: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

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1 comment
Anne Ominous
Garmin is one brand that has opened up to 3rd-party apps. I was a bit leery of paying as much as I did for my Vivoactive 3 when they were new, but the longer I've had it, the more I've appreciated it.

I can connect my heart-rate chest band at the gym (they're more accurate than the built-in sensors), and using 3rd-party apps, control my my music from my wrist while I work out, which is very nice. I can follow my route on my walks or runs using Open Street Maps right on my wrist. I can also use it to record pictures and videos on my phone, track barometric pressure, elevation, and compass heading at the same time, keep a to-do list on my wrist, and much more.

It is not flawless, but I am very happy with it. I would not want to go back to a watch that does not allow 3rd-party apps.