- Refreshed lineup with better tracking, battery life
- Tizen OS still a niche play; doesn’t support many apps yet
IT’S been almost two years since I reviewed a smartwatch, as the last one that I did was the Samsung Gear Sport. Since then, Samsung has introduced many other models including the Galaxy Watch in 2018, the Galaxy Watch Active (March 2019) and Galaxy Watch Active2 (September 2019).
The Watch Active2 is its latest iteration and the design is much simpler looking and what I would describe as less sporty. It comes in two versions – the 44mm or 40mm diameter, which is the unit I am reviewing.
The global version of the Watch Active2 supports LTE but this is unfortunately, not available in Malaysia. The Watch Active2 retails for US$338 (RM1,399) for the 44mm version, whilst the 40mm version retails for US$314 (RM1,299).
Design and build
Over on the right side of the watch are two buttons – one on the 2 o’clock position, which is used as a back button; the other on the 4 o’clock position, used as a home key and on/off key. At the back of the watch is the heart rate sensor, which comprises eight photodiodes for more accurate readings.
The Watch Active2 weighs in at 37g for the stainless steel model and 26g for the aluminium model. It sports a super AMOLED (360 x 360) colour display wrapped with Corning Gorilla Glass. It has a 247mAH battery and 768MB RAM and 4GB Internal memory.
It can be submerged to 5 atm or about 50 meters during a swim, is IP68 certified and based on Samsung’s proprietary Tizen Based Wearable OS 4.0. The lugs on the watch measure 22mm, which is the standard measurement.
I did find the leather straps that came with the unit a tad stiff, so I switched them out for my own silicone-based straps which I found to be much more comfortable in daily use. Having said that, the beauty of this watch is that you can easily change the straps according to the occasion – thanks to the quick release pins which come with most standard 22mm straps.
The one thing I did find odd was the absence of a physical tactile bezel, which the Galaxy Watches are known for. With this dial, you can select the menus in a much more defined manner than by using your finger on the touch screen.
The older model, the Watch Active, doesn’t have this feature and it became a sore point with some consumers. So I’m glad to report that Samsung has listened to its customers and brought back the bezel, albeit via a digital implementation rather than a physical one.
By turning on this feature in the settings, you can run your fingers over the circumference of the watch. You can feel a tactile feedback every notch you move to simulate the physical turn of the bezel. While I found this to be quite innovative, I still preferred the physical movement compared to the digital movement.
Overall, the Watch Active2 is a good looking watch, lightweight and the screen is clear, bright and the contrast of the screen is much better compared to my older Galaxy Sport model. The build quality is also top-notch and the finishing is on par with the rest of the competition.
Battery life, functionality
So let’s get the greatest pet peeves of smartwatches out of the way: Battery life. With the Watch Active2, I got about two days of working time before it needed to be recharged with about 5% to go.
This isn’t bad considering older watches needed to be charged every day. Some users report two to three days but I guess that depends on your usage and settings. Charging was done via a magnetic wireless charger, which I found less convenient compared to my older Galaxy Watch charger.
Granted my charger could also easily stand up on a table and I could put my Galaxy Sport conveniently on it, something I couldn’t do with Watch Active2’s charger. With the latter, I needed to lie it flat to have it charged. Charging also took some time – about 1.5 hours to two to go from about 5% to full.
Battery and charging aside, I did find all the tracking and health-related features quite intuitive to use. The Watch Active2 has all the usual tracking features. You can select a host of tracking activities such as running, walking, elliptical training, cycling, treadmill, exercise bike and even set exercises like star jumps, squats, pilates, yoga, and crunches.
It can also automatically detect the kind of activity you’re engaged in, but I did find that this wasn’t as accurate as advertised. Another inaccurate feature is the calorie counter, which I believe exists in a lot of smartwatches too.
What I did notice with the Watch Active2 is that the accuracy on some of these tracking features has improved. Case in point: When running on the treadmill, I noticed that the heart rate measurement is more accurate than my Galaxy Sport.
Due to my arms being waved quite vigorously during a run, I find that the heart rate on my older Galaxy Sport is about 20% higher than my actual heart rate. With the Watch Active2, I found the measured heart rate on the watch similar to my actual heart rate.
On the down side though, I didn’t find the set exercise programmes very accurate. For example, when I set my watch to detect “bench press” and duly followed through with that exercise, it didn’t detect my movements accurately. After huffing and puffing for 10 repetitions in reality, the watch only recorded my having done two to three repetitions! Ditto for crunches.
As for other non-exercise related functions, they generally worked OK. Notifications were good; music playing was OK. The Watch Active2 supports Spotify, including offline listening, so that’s a plus point.
I’m not an avid user of Spotify as I prefer to listen to my own music library and transferring my own songs onto the watch wasn’t a problem and was quite straightforward.
The last issue that most people comment about is the lack of apps that support Samsung’s Tizen 4.0 operating system. As I’ve said before in my Galaxy Watch review – it all depends on what you’re buying the watch for. If you’re a big fan of downloading many apps onto your smartwatch, then perhaps the Watch Active2 isn’t for you.
I personally don’t think you’ll need so many apps on your phone. For me, the use of a smartwatch is really to track your steps, exercise and receive some notifications.
The Watch Active2 is an improvement from the previous Samsung smartwatch models. It’s sleek looking, battery life has improved and the screen and tracking functions are better than before.
So should you buy one? Assuming that you’re not part of the Apple ecosystem, there are other Android-based smartwatches that you could consider on the market. These would use Android Wear operating systems and include LG, Huawei, Suunto, Fossil, Asus and Xiaomi to name a few.
What has always attracted me to the Samsung is build quality, simplicity in operation, stylish design and practicality of its bezel design, which most other Android smartwatches do not have. I personally think these are its best selling points.
If you’re already a Samsung Galaxy smartwatch user, I wouldn’t find much of a reason to upgrade unless you’ve got spare cash to spend or you like a sleeker watch with a digital bezel. If you’re thinking of investing in one because you don’t have a smartwatch yet, I would recommend it.
That said, if you want loads of apps to work on your smartwatch, then the Watch Active2 may not be for you and you may be better off with other aforementioned variants.
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