Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 Review

With the Galaxy Watch Active 2, Samsung has blurred the line between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker, giving us a wearable device that feels great on the wrist and is loaded with useful features.

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Pros:

  • Beautiful display
  • Feels great on your wrist
  • Touch bezel for navigation
  • Two sizes
  • Great activity and sleep tracking
  • LTE version available

Cons:

  • The smaller version doesn’t last long
  • Underwhelming app ecosystem

Design

If you own the original Galaxy Watch Active, the design of its successor alone most likely won’t convince you to visit Amazon and make an order because the two smartwatches look more or less identical. We’re not really surprised that Samsung didn’t come up with a new design because the watch looks great and wears even better.

Larger wristed individuals can go with the 44 mm version, while regular folk should choose the more versatile 40 mm version. The larger version weighs just 30 grams, while the smaller one is 4 grams lighter.

Apart from the size, you have another decision to make: aluminum versus stainless steel. The aluminum version is cheaper, lacks LTE connectivity, and comes in cloud silver, aqua black, and pink gold colors. The more expensive stainless steel version is LTE-ready and available in silver, black, and gold.

All versions of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 come with a 20 mm quick-release strap, so it doesn’t really matter too much which one you choose, but it’s worth noting that the aluminum version comes with a rubberized Fluoroelastomer band, while the stainless steel version comes with a leather strap.

Just keep in mind that leather straps tend to look premium only for a while before they start to show signs of wear and tear. The rubberized Fluoroelastomer band that comes with the cheaper version will look just as good as new a year from now, and you can even take it swimming with you.

Display

Even though the smaller and larger versions of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 have a 1.2-inch and 1.4-inch Super AMOLED display respectively, their resolution is identical (360 x 360 pixels), so they fit the same amount of information.

You might think that the smaller version would be crisper, but that’s not the case. Sure, you can examine the display under a microscope and notice a difference, but we can promise you that you won’t see anything when wearing the watch on your wrist.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is controlled using two physical buttons located on the right side (one functions as a back button, and the other as a home button) and a touch bezel, which makes navigating long menus or scrolling up and down in apps a breeze.

Unlike with more traditional swiping gestures, you never really obscure the display when using the touch bezel, and you can be far more accurate thanks to precisely delivered tactile feedback in the form of short but intense vibrations.

Apple users have been enjoying an always-on display only since the release of the Apple Watch Series 5, but Android users are already used to this feature, so Samsung doesn’t advertise the fact that the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 supports it too much.

If you don’t care for an always-on display, you can always turn it off in the settings and enjoy a longer battery life. Personally, we like how an always-on display allows us to glance at the smartwatch from any angle and see what time it is.

Interface

Samsung designed the entire interface of the Galaxy Watch Active 2 around circles. You slide your finger around the circular touch bezel to select from available apps arranged around the face of the smartwatch and do the same to switch between screens or individual options within a single app.

The operating system that makes all the magic happen is Samsung’s Tizen OS, a Linux-based mobile operating system backed by the Linux Foundation. If the name sounds familiar, that’s probably because Samsung also uses it in its range of smart TVs.

The reason why the user interface of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 doesn’t look anything like the user interface of the latest Samsung smart TV is that the smartwatch runs the One UI on top of Tizen, the same UI found on Samsung smartphones.

One UI supports widgets, notifications, and comes with a special watch-only mode, which disables all non-essential functionality, leaving you with a smartwatch that won’t ever disturb you because it can only tell the time.

Where Tizen OS falls behind its competitors are third-party apps. While Samsung is working hard to make its app ecosystem more vibrant, there’s not much to be excited about at this moment, apart from a few popular apps, such as Spotify, Strava, and Under Armour’s suite of health and fitness apps.

Performance

Thanks to an Exynos 9110 dual-core 1.15 GHz chipset, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a reliable performer with fluid animations and reasonably fast app load times. Depending on which version you choose, you either get 768 MB or 1.5 GB of RAM.

All versions of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 come with 4 GB of storage, which is an excellent thing because the Spotify app the smartwatch comes preloaded with supports offline playback.

Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth perform flawlessly, and we were always able to achieve good signal reception even in crowded areas with a substantial amount of radio frequency interference. The same can be said about LTE connectivity.

Features

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 gives you many different watch faces to choose from, and there are even more third-party watch faces that you can download to the watch using your smartphone. Their quality can be hit or miss, though. Third-party watch faces tend to be especially sucky, and somebody should tell Samsung to do some spring cleaning and throw some of the worst offenders out.

Making the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 tick is Tizen OS, a very capable operating system that closely integrates with various services and third-party apps, allowing you to customize your smartwatch experience fully. It can play YouTube videos on your wrist or display full web pages, which may not be terribly useful, but it’s neat nonetheless.

Other cool features of questionable usefulness include stress tracking and AI coaching. The former feature monitors your stress level as you go about your business and recommends breathing exercises when it detects that you’re pushing yourself too much, while the latter monitors your pace when exercising and gives you actionable advice in real-time.

The problem with the stress tracking feature is that most of us don’t have time to take a short break every time our smartwatch tells us to do breathing exercises because we’re in the middle of an important exam, giving a speech, or burning the midnight oil to meet a tight deadline.

The AI coach does what it’s supposed to do, giving you motivational speeches to help maintain your pace and push yourself to achieve your fitness objectives, but it uses Bixby, a virtual assistant developed by Samsung Electronics, and its robotic voice. Hearing Bixby telling you to smile while you’re dripping in sweat can be a slightly surreal experience.

Fortunately, the watch can also tell you to slow down or speed up by vibrating, so you can avoid listening to the AI coach entirely if you prefer to immerse yourself in your thoughts during exercise.

Just like the original Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, the new version can track your sleep. The Samsung Health app does a great job at presenting all gathered sleep data in an easy-to-understand format, clearly indicating how much time of your sleep cycle was represented by individual sleep stages (REM, light, deep, and awake).

The heart-rate tracking functionality has been substantially improved compared with the original Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 with 8 photodiodes providing far more accurate heart rate data for the watch to analyze and interpret.

One controversy surrounding the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 involved its ECG sensor, whose purpose is to send user notifications when it detects an irregular heartbeat that can lead to other heart-related complications.

While physically present in the smartwatch, the ECG sensor is not active because Samsung has to wait for the FDA to give it the green light. According to Samsung, the feature could roll out sometime in Q1 of 2020, along with fall detection.

Battery Life

When talking about the battery life of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, it’s important to note that the 40 mm version has a smaller battery (247 mAh) than the 44 mm version (340 mAh). Since the two versions have displays with the same resolution, the 44 mm lasts slightly longer.

With all sensors on, you can expect to get two days of battery life out of the 44 mm version but only one and a half days out of the 40 mm version. The always-on display feature cuts the battery life of the smartwatch in half, and LTE also takes its toll, so keep that in mind.

It takes approximately one and a half hours to charge the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 fully. The good news is that a quick 30-minute charge gives you around 40% of battery life, which should last you a day unless you play with the smartwatch too much.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is—without a doubt—one of the best Android smartwatches you can buy at the moment, and it will get even better once Samsung activates ECG and fall detection early in 2020. It’s timeless, versatile design makes it a great everyday companion that you can leave on your wrist regardless of whether you’re working, attending a formal event, exercising, or just relaxing at home. With multiple different versions (and price points) to choose from, you should have no problem finding one that can fit both your budget and your needs.

Specifications

Galaxy Watch Active 2
Battery Life24-60 hours, depending on workouts and display
Size44 x 44 x 10.9mm or 40 x 40 x 10.9mm
Weight (44 mm)42g (Stainless Steel, without strap)

30g (Aluminum, without strap)

Weight (40 mm)37g (Stainless Steel, without strap)

26g (Aluminum, without strap)

CaseAluminum or stainless steel
ColorsCloud Silver, Aqua Black, and Pink Gold
Display 1.4” (34 mm) or 1.2” (30 mm) circular Super AMOLED (360 x 360)
Battery340mAh (44 mm) or 247 mAh (40 mm)
Processor Exynos 9110 dual core 1.15GHz
Memory LTE: 1.5GB RAM, Bluetooth: 768MB RAM
OSTizen OS (One UI)
Music Storage4GB (with offline Spotify playback)
Water ResistanceUp to 5 ATM (IP68 / MIL-STD-810G)
GPSYes
LTEYes (optional)
Wi-FiYes
Bluetooth Yes (version 5.0)
Heart Rate MonitorYes
Mobile PaymentsSamsung Pay
Special FeaturesECG sensor, always-on display, Corning Gorilla Glass DX+
Compatibility Samsung and other Android devices (Android 5.0 or higher & RAM 1.5GB above), iPhone (iPhone 5 and above, iOS 9.0 or above)
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