Galaxy Watch 4 review: welcome to Samsung’s garden

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic are the first watches in a very long time built on a platform that can provide Android users with a reliable smartwatch. I’ve tested both in a week and it’s the best smartwatch I’ve ever used with a Samsung phone. These watches are running Google’s new Wear OS 3 instead of the Samsung Tizen OS, but they are Samsung watches. This means that the interface, apps, NFC payment system, health tracking and assistant are all powered by Samsung’s Galaxy ecosystem, not Google. After waiting forever for Google, Fossil, Mobvoi, and the rest of the Wear OS ecosystem to work with smartwatches, Samsung took a swipe and created something cool. However, this is only possible if you are using a Samsung mobile phone. Good Stuff Snappy interface Improved third-party app support Extended health tracking Bad Stuff Pinned to Samsung ecosystem Bixby Samsung’s privacy policy should be clearer. Good Stuff Rotating Bezel Improved Third-Party App Support Extended Health Tracking Bad Stuff Pinned to Samsung Ecosystem Bixby Samsung’s privacy policy should be clearer. Hardware and Wear OS 3 Google announced in May that it had entered into a partnership with Samsung to essentially merge Google’s own Wear OS platform with Samsung’s Tizen platform. Google provided the base operating system, and Samsung provided much improved hardware and a number of new watchface options. The real benefit of this partnership is that the new Galaxy watches avoid the issues that plague Wear OS and Tizen. Unlike Wear OS watches of the past, the Galaxy Watch 4 and 4 Classic feel really fast and last all day without the annoying battery saver mode. And unlike Tizen watches, you can actually use Google Maps, and support from third-party apps will be re-enabled with new versions of Strava, Spotify, and more. The watch hardware of both models is very similar to Samsung’s previous smartwatches, which is a good thing overall. Both have circular OLED watchfaces that can be set to stay on all the time. It’s not overly large and has a decent fit and finish. They’re not as well made as the Apple Watch, but they’re close. Also, the 40mm plain aluminum Galaxy Watch starts at a very reasonable $249.99. With a rotating bezel and slightly thicker stainless steel construction, the Watch 4 Classic starts at $349.99 for the 42mm model. Both watches can be increased to a larger size or you can pay more by adding LTE. All sizes use standard 20mm straps. The watch’s core interface is a bit of Google’s Wear OS with a bit of Samsung’s Tizen-inspired One UI. Swipe up for apps, right for notifications, down for quick settings, and left for Tiles. Tiles are essentially quick-swipe info widgets and are one of my favorite recent additions to Wear OS. The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic has a rotating bezel. The regular Galaxy Watch 4 has a touch-sensitive bezel, which is annoying. Samsung’s watches are known for having a rotating bezel that makes scrolling much faster. On a regular Galaxy Watch 4, it’s the touch-sensitive area around the screen, which is quite annoying. I gave up on it and found myself swiping on the screen most of the time. On the Watch 4 Classic, you get the physical bezel with a few satisfying clicks as you move between screens and listings. That’s great. If you like the classic style, it might be worth the extra $100 in itself. The default watchface is also really nice. It’s a good mix of fun (a bear pointing at the notification indicator) and useful (a complication that doesn’t overwhelm the screen but still provides a lot of information density). Press and hold to toggle. It has a lot of stuff built in, and it’s much better than what we’ve seen on most Wear OS watches in the last few years. If you prefer, you can install a custom watchface from the Google Play Store or use an app like Facer or Pujie Black to build your own. Each watch has two buttons. You can bring the top home or double-click to quickly switch to the previously used app. At the bottom, you’ll see a swipeable view of your recently used apps. Also, each button has a different hard-coded function when pressed. From then on, Samsung began to take over. Galaxy Watch 4 Classic (top left) and Galaxy Watch 4 (bottom right). Press and hold the button at the bottom of the Samsung Ecosystem to go to Samsung Pay. Press and hold the top button to go to Samsung’s Bixby digital assistant. As far as I can tell, these options are immutable and it’s unclear whether Samsung will be able to use the Google Assistant instead of Bixby. The Galaxy Watch works with all Android phones, but it’s actually made for Samsung phones. Most of the apps pre-installed on the Galaxy Watch 4 are provided by Samsung. Functionally, Samsung Pay works well. Bixby, not really. Much better than the bottom of the barrel plate, but still can’t do basic things like setting up multiple alarms. It’s rather responsive, sometimes taking an inexplicably 2-3 seconds to start listening. Also, Bixby is not aware that Google Maps is pre-installed on your watch. You can’t ask Bixby for directions. Most of the default apps on the Galaxy Watch 4 are Samsung apps. From calendars to calculators, from contacts to weather, it’s definitely Samsung’s system. It is integrated with Samsung’s Galaxy Buds headphone automatic switching system and is designed to automatically copy certain settings from your Samsung phone. Some of these apps are replaceable, but many are not. You can use your Galaxy Watch 4 on any Android phone, but you’ll need to install several Samsung apps to get the full experience. You need Samsung’s wearable app to set up, Samsung account to use Bixby, Samsung Pay to use payments, and Samsung Health for powerful health tracking. In short, if you don’t have a Samsung phone, I don’t think this is a good watch for you. By the way, it won’t work on iPhones that Google and Samsung have touched on in the past. The Galaxy Watch 4 has a sensor that measures body fat percentage. Samsung Health The biggest hardware upgrade on the Galaxy Watch 4 and 4 Classic compared to previous Samsung watches has to do with health. Samsung put a sensor on the back of the watch. Of course, you can calculate the typical pulse rate and the number of steps. It supports 95 kinds of exercise tracking function. Like the Apple Watch, it can perform ECG to confirm atrial fibrillation and blood oxygenation detection. And as with the Apple Watch and other wearables that have these features, these features should not be used as diagnostic tools. If I hadn’t been aware that these sensors were unreliable, I would often have gotten inaccurate readings enough to worry about my heart and lung health. Outside the US, Samsung provides the blood pressure feature. Samsung has also added a bioelectrical impedance sensor designed to measure body fat. It works in a similar way to traditional consumer smart scales, sending electrical signals through the body and measuring impedance. Because fat has a lower water content compared to muscle, it helps your watch estimate your body fat percentage. As Nicole Westman explained, this is a better metric than BMI, but like other wearables, it’s not a diagnostic tool. However, if you are interested in your own quantified statistics and know how to put these health figures into the appropriate context, tracking trends over time can be useful. This introduces Samsung Health, a tool we will use to track trends over time. (Technically, ECG is measured by an app called Samsung Health Monitor, which stores data locally on your watch unless you choose to send the data to your phone.) Samsung Health’s privacy policy isn’t all that reassuring . Samsung is said to be able to obtain data such as heart rate, body fat, glucose, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, menstrual cycle-related information, and sleep-related information. I contacted Samsung and a spokesperson was convinced that all this information was encrypted end-to-end and could only be accessed by Samsung if they chose to share it. But if there are too many, and accidentally opt-in, Samsung can use anything from creating custom workouts to improving apps to marketing promotions. The Galaxy Watch 4 has extensive health tracking features, but it works best with Samsung Health. The biometric sensor on the back of the Galaxy Watch 4. It’s better to explain that Apple doesn’t have access to health data. I don’t have a key. I trust Samsung more than many other companies, but wow, I have to explain their privacy and encryption policies much better. At a minimum, Samsung provides a “Clear All Personal Data Collected by Samsung” button in Settings. As fitness and health tracking becomes more important, especially in wearables, we all need to better understand the pros and cons. The temptation to treat them as medical devices is real, but they aren’t prepared for that. The temptation to click “I agree” on every privacy and data dialog that pops up is also real. And finally, locking is a reality. Your aspirations for data portability, data privacy, and each company’s incentives to lock you in their systems are a jumbled mess. Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 isn’t the only one raising these issues, but it’s worth thinking about. Whether you use Samsung Health, Apple Health, Google Fit, or Fitbit, you may find yourself in a position to want to continue using that platform without your knowledge because it’s where your data resides. However, if you want to use Samsung Health, the features and functions are surprisingly powerful. It has tracking capabilities for all kinds of different metrics. You can set your watch to track sleep, including blood oxygenation. You can choose to use the phone on your bedroom table to listen to your snoring to sync with your sleep data. In my tests, the Watch 4’s accuracy was pretty good. Matched Apple Watch and Garmin’s readings of heart rate across multiple bike rides. However, for distance measurements via GPS, there was a difference of about 5%. You can then sync that data to Strava, but it lacks integration with other third-party apps compared to Apple Health. Galaxy Watch 4 Classic with a fun bear themed watch face. I really enjoyed using my Galaxy Watch 4. I was so happy to be able to pair this capable and capable smartwatch with my Android phone. But what made it a great experience was using the Galaxy Watch 4 with a Samsung phone. If you are a Samsung user, the Galaxy Watch 4 is a great smartwatch. Otherwise, the Galaxy Watch 4 plunges you into Samsung’s ecosystem. Samsung’s ecosystem is often better than being acknowledged, but it has its limits. Just like the Apple Watch keeps people on iPhones, Samsung’s watches keep people on Samsung phones (or at least install Samsung software and use Samsung services on Android phones). If you’d like to use a Samsung-agnostic Wear OS 3 smartwatch, here’s what we can tell you. Wear OS 3 smartwatches from other manufacturers are not available. The long-awaited good smartwatch for Android users is finally here. But only for some of us. Photo: Dieter Bohn / The Verge

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