Galaxy Watch 4 Classic review: Samsung Google partnership means Android users can confidently ignore the Apple Watch Review – ZDNet

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By | September 27, 2021 | Topic: Mobility
Samsung has offered smartwatch options for eight years, but the Apple Watch is the default for many people in large part because of its vast support for apps, refined user interface, and ability to serve as an iPhone companion. Android smartphone users can’t use an Apple Watch, however, and with the recent Google and Samsung partnership we finally see a Samsung Galaxy smartwatch that can challenge Apple for the title of best smartwatch.
I’ve owned several Samsung smartwatches over the years, and for the last several years the company has offered compelling options that were powered by Tizen. Tizen was arguably a better smartwatch-optimized OS than Apple’s watchOS, but it was held back by limited third-party applications. Google’s Wear OS powered by Samsung changes that, and the potential success story of the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is more about the software than the hardware.
Also: Best smartwatch for Android users 2021: Top watches
In typical fashion, Samsung’s hardware is fantastic and doesn’t leave anything behind with an expanded app ecosystem thanks to support for Google’s Wear OS. If you enjoyed using the Tizen OS, don’t worry. Much of the look and feel of Tizen is found on the Galaxy Watch 4, but with the addition of support for Wear OS-powered third-party apps.
Samsung continues to struggle with FDA approval of blood pressure monitoring in the US, which will set the Galaxy Watch 4 apart from the Apple Watch that does not have that capability. However, after two years of floundering with this regulatory approval, I wouldn’t purchase this watch and count on this capability coming anytime soon.
The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is available in 42mm and 46mm sizes with Bluetooth or LTE options. This review focuses on the 46mm LTE model that has been paired with a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and connected to the T-Mobile network.
If you look at a Galaxy Watch 3 and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic side-by-side then you may be hard-pressed to see much difference in hardware. That’s not a bad thing, as hardware was never the problem with a Galaxy Watch. However, one aspect of the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic that vexes me is the change in the larger watch option from 22mm bands down to 20mm bands. I have a large collection of 22mm bands that I have purchased over the years for the larger Galaxy Watch models, and now all of those are useless. The narrower band looks a bit out of place on the larger watch, although now all Galaxy Watch 4 models (Classic and standard in all four sizes) use the same band width.
To make this band change worse, the silicone band that comes with the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic by default is simply terrible. Those paying for the more expensive and higher-end Classic model should have been offered a leather band by default. The included silicone band is almost impossible to install into the lug openings due to the angled design at the ends of the band. I had the pins retracted and thought I had it secured a number of times, only to try to put it on and see the pins pop out and the watch fall to the table. The bitter end of the watch strap slides into two loops, but those loops move up and down the strap seamlessly so the bitter end always seems to be flopping around. This band experience is a real shame and was never an issue on past Samsung Galaxy watches.
Samsung offers plenty of other band options, and some of them look great, but the company should never have included this silicone band in the box. Bands from Samsung range in price from $29.99 to $79.99, but given the terrible sport band that was included I am looking elsewhere for bands. Please leave a comment below if you have any recommendations for good bands for the Watch 4 Classic as I now have to rebuild my band collection.
The Super AMOLED high-resolution display is gorgeous with crisp fonts, brilliant colors, and a seamless touchscreen experience. In addition to a bigger battery, I purchased the Classic model because it retains the cool rotating physical bezel. This also means that the display is inset down a bit from the bezel of the watch, which affords a bit of protection for the display and gives it a classic watch look and feel with 5-minute increments labeled around the edge.
Two hardware buttons are positioned on the right side of the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. In addition to various functions, the buttons are used when taking ECG and body composition measurements. The top button is the Home key and the bottom is the Back key. A single press of the Home key takes you back to your default watch face. You can assign any app you want to a double press of the Home key, and I have mine set to Google Pay. Press and hold the Home key to launch Bixby or to power off. Google stated that Google Assistant will eventually arrive on the Galaxy Watch 4 in a future update, so that is one significant potential improvement to look forward to.
A short press of the Back key can be set to go to the previous screen or show recent apps. Samsung Pay is the default press and hold action of the Back key, and there is currently no way to change this to Google Pay or any other application. Let’s hope Samsung provides a software update to allow customization of this button action too.
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The watch case is stainless steel, available in black or silver, and my particular model is the black one. The speaker and microphone are found over on the left side of the watch.
Flipping the watch over we see the new Samsung BioActive sensor that is used to capture your heart rate, electrical heart and bioelectrical impedance for blood pressure (not in the US), irregular heartbeat (ECG), blood oxygen levels, and body composition.
When you first power on the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, you may think it is just a new Tizen-powered watch with a similar watch face, tile UI elements, Samsung Pay, Bixby, Samsung Health, Outlook, Spotify, Strava, other applications, and more. It is clearly very familiar to past Galaxy Watch models and honestly that is a good thing.
Swipe up from the home screen and you will start to see why the Galaxy Watch 4 running Wear OS powered by Samsung is a game-changer for Samsung and for the Wear OS platform. I currently have the following apps installed that were not present on my past Galaxy Watch models: Google Keep Notes, Google Pay, Google Maps, Google Fit, Calm, Google Messages, Gboard (yes a keyboard for your watch), Todoist, IFTTT, and many more. The apps I enjoyed using on an Apple Watch that I would like to see come to Wear OS and the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic include Evernote, Starbucks, OneNote, Telegram (you can actually reply to Telegram messages, but you cannot originate them), and Google Podcasts. Google Assistant should be coming in a future update too. What other apps do you want to see on the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic?
On past Tizen watches, the Galaxy Store on your connected phone was used to find apps, select them, and then choose to sync and install them to your watch. On the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, there are two ways to manage apps for your watch. In the Galaxy Wearable app there is an icon for Store. Tapping this takes you into a filtered variation of the Google Play Store with only Wear OS watch apps shown on the page. When you tap on an app there will be a green install button with a drop-down arrow next to it, in most cases. Tapping this drop-down arrow reveals whether there is an app for your Android phone and the watch, so you can install some apps without the companion smartphone application.
Also: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3: Finally, a great smartwatch from someone other than Apple
This experience needs some work, though, and may be confusing for new watch owners. If you tap the magnifying glass search icon and then enter an app name, such as Starbucks, the Play Store app appears — making you think you can install it on your watch. Search jumps out of the watch-filtered system, however, so it’s just showing you all results in the Google Play Store. My hopes were dashed a couple of times while using search. Since search here is a bit broken, you may feel there are limited apps for the watch as only a handful of apps is shown when you tap into a category like ‘Our favorite picks’. If you go back from the main page, then the watch filter also turns off and you end up back on the full standard Google Play Store launch screen.
To see which Wear OS apps you can confidently install on your Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, jump into the Play Store found directly on the watch itself. This experience is similar to what we have seen on the recent versions of Wear OS where there was no way to manage apps from the connected smartphone. A large search button appears at the top with the following other categories: apps on your phone, featured apps, streaming audio, watch faces, get it done, track your workout, essential watch apps, or other categories provided by Google. Below these are the apps you have installed on the watch so you can manage them.
I found many more apps using the Play Store on the watch, including searching via voice to text. I’m also now a Facer subscriber because there are a ton of watch faces you can install, and the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is a lovely device for lots of watch faces. Keep in mind that some watch faces with complications may impact your battery, so be careful with them too. Make sure to search for your favorites, though, as the categories have a limited number of apps and there is a lot more hidden in the Play Store than you might think.
Your new Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is managed through the Galaxy Wearable smartphone application. After installing and connecting with your watch, the main display will show the watch name and battery status up top with links to watch faces, apps, tiles, quick panel, watch settings, find my watch, tips and user manual, and Google Play Store (detailed above). Your selected watch face will also appear above the name of your watch.
Tapping a watch face in the watch face phone manager will make that watch face active. Interestingly, you cannot remove the default watch faces that Samsung installs on the watch. This takes up storage, and I will never use many of these watch faces. I would like to remove/uninstall them so I don’t have to scroll past them on the watch to quickly switch watch faces. This is another area where some attention from Samsung is warranted.
The apps section is where you can reorder the apps, access specific settings for Bixby, phone, Samsung Pay, voice recorder, and weather, as well as view information about the applications installed on the watch.
You cannot choose to uninstall apps here or quickly access the Google Play Store, which seems unintuitive to me. You can uninstall apps directly from the watch or go through several steps in the Play Store to uninstall them, but app management is definitely an area for future improvement.
Up to 15 tiles, aka widgets, can be shown when you swipe or rotate the bezel away from the watch face. Available tiles will depend on the applications you have installed on your watch with my current options including 30 available tiles and 13 active on my watch.
Swiping down from the top on the watch face launches the Quick Panel. In the smartphone application, all of the available buttons can be managed with adding, removing, and reordering actions. Twenty different buttons are available, so take the time to customize these and only show the ones you need to access from your watch. I have 13 installed on my watch.
Also: Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 challenges the Apple Watch in partnership with Google
The watch settings part of the application includes options for notifications, sounds and vibration, display, advanced features (SOS, gestures), battery, content management (music and images), mobile plan manager (LTE model), general, accessibility, account and backup, and the watch software updates. Similar to Samsung Galaxy smartphones, there are a lot of settings to help you customize the watch to your exact needs and desires. These same settings, and more, are available directly from your watch too.
Samsung Health is a smartphone-based application that consolidates data collected by the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic into a visually-appealing experience. Data such as steps, daily activity, exercises, sleep, stress, heart rate, ECG, blood oxygen, and body composition are provided here on a home page with access to detailed reports. Tapping on ECG or blood pressure (in countries where supported) will open up the Samsung Health Monitor app. Data from this app can be consolidated into reports that you can share with a physician for further analysis and discussion.
Body composition is a metric designed to give you a better overall understanding of your body, rather than just weight. It is made up of water, fat, and skeletal muscle weight components. I have a Garmin Index S2 smart scale that also measures body composition through my bare feet. Measuring my body composition with both shows they match surprisingly close to each other. I won’t get into how none of these measures are accurate for my particular body type. The upper range for my “normal” weight is 189.5 pounds, which is what I weighed when I was 16 years old and still growing.
The home page can be customized in the manner you see fit. Even though blood pressure is not currently supported in the US, I manually record mine here in Samsung Health so that I can track trends and share this information with my doctor. This is one vital metric that I would like to see companies like Fitbit and Garmin capture too.
Challenges with friends, achievements, weekly reports, and other functions are provided in Samsung Health. There is also a fitness section of Samsung Health where you can find programs provided by Blesslife, Bodybuilding, Fitus, Keep, Mobiefit, Skimble, and Samsung Health. There are not a ton of available programs and many are targeted towards beginners, but it looks like a decent free service provided in Samsung Health.
This section isn’t designed to sway you one way or the other regarding these two watches, since you also need either an Apple iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy smartphone to even use the respective smartwatch. It’s unlikely anyone is going to make a smartphone choice based on the companion smartwatch. That said, I simply wanted to point out that Samsung offers an extremely competitive smartwatch for Samsung and Android smartphone owners, so these people no longer have to feel they are compromising in their choice of smartwatches.
The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic 46mm model with LTE is priced at $429.99. Samsung also offers various discounts and trade-in offers, however, so you may be able to save a bit on the purchase. The Apple Watch Series 6 44mm LTE model is priced at $529 and that watch has an aluminum frame. The stainless steel Apple Watch models are priced $500 more, so it’s clear that Samsung offers a more premium product for less than Apple. The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic also has a round watch design with a higher resolution Super AMOLED display.
Both watches offer a host of health and wellness tracking features, with the Galaxy Watch 4 having more comprehensive sleep tracking metrics, possible blood pressure monitoring, and body composition measurements. ECG, blood oxygen, heart rate, and more are tracked by both watches. Apple Fitness is a far more comprehensive and consolidated workout system than what Samsung offers, although with time and coordination, you can build up workout programs with the Galaxy Watch 4 and the included workouts found in Samsung Health. This is clearly one area where Samsung could focus its energy with future updates.
There used to be a huge gap in third-party application support. But the partnership with Google the Galaxy Watch 4 holds its own, and we continue to see Wear OS applications appear in the Google Play Store.
After setting up the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic and then wearing it for a few days, I was about ready to return it because I wasn’t even getting a single day of battery life with one night of sleep. I turned off WiFi and the always-on display, and then for the next 10 days I was able to wear it for a full day and night of sleep tracking with some battery left the next day. I’ve since turned back on the always-on display and have things setup where I can track a night of sleep and then a full day. Like the Apple Watch, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is a powerful smartwatch that needs to be charged daily. You need to look to a GPS sports watch, RTOS-powered smartwatch, or a fitness tracker to get a wearable that lasts for more than two or three days. That’s just the reality of today’s technology.
Sleep tracking is interesting, as the sleep score values are vastly different than what I have seen on Fitbit and Garmin. On those devices, I typically achieve sleep scores of 75 to 90 with 100 being an unattainable optimal value. In Samsung Health, with an average amount of sleep over 31 days of 7 hours and 47 minutes, I am seeing sleep scores ranging from 41 to 81. Tapping on the Learn More button shows me that the average sleep score for men 50-59 years old is 49/100 so my 60 average isn’t bad at all. It’s clearly not all about the number of hours you sleep either, and the data is interesting. Speaking of the data, you may want to check out this The Quantified Scientist video that goes into great detail on the health and wellness data collected by the Galaxy Watch 4.
One interesting feature available on the Galaxy Watch 4 is snore detection. When you turn it on, wear your Galaxy Watch 4, and then have your phone on a nightstand next to your bed, you can enjoy interesting recordings of your sleep the next morning. I turned it on several times — you can have it on for one night or all of the time — and was very surprised by how much I loudly snore at night. This setting may help you figure out if you need to be evaluated for sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, so it’s an interesting feature to try out.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic did a great job of tracking the GPS track of my runs and walks with fairly accurate heart rate numbers too. There are coaching options available while you workout and advanced metrics and run dynamics captured by the watch. Samsung Health even provides you with some drills to improve areas of your running metrics, which is something I haven’t even seen on the GPS sports watches I have tried. The VO2 Max figure is lower than I see on my Garmin watch, but I need to wear the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic more to see if this figure adjusts. I had surgery just a week after starting my review, so my runs were more limited than I would have liked for a full review. One great aspect of this Galaxy Watch 4 is that I can truly leave my phone behind thanks to its LTE service.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is the smartwatch I have always wanted with a brilliant large display, UI optimized for the watch and spinning bezel, powerful health and fitness functions, solid collection of available third-party apps, and LTE functionality. I would love to have another day of battery life, but one to two days is typical for powerful smartwatches. The price is very reasonable, and Android phone users never have to look at an Apple Watch user with envy again.
By | September 27, 2021 | Topic: Mobility
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