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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: Hands-on with the fitness focused smartwatch

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Samsung adds some minor tweaks, but are they worth the extra cost?

When Samsung released the Galaxy Watch Active fitness focused smartwatch, we gave it a sturdy four out of five stars and praised it for being a solid smartwatch, if strangely not a great fitness tracker.

Samsung has decided to have another bite at the cherry and has revealed its Galaxy Watch Active 2, a small but potentially significant update to the older smartwatch, which will be sold alongside its predecessor rather than replace it.

There are two diameter sizes to choose from – 44mm and 40mm – and at IFA 2019 in Berlin, we got our hands on the larger version of the Galaxy Watch Active 2.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: Key specifications

  • 40mm and 44mm diameter options
  • 1.2in to 1.4in 360 x 360 AMOLED display
  • 46.3g
  • Battery life: 5-days smartwatch mode; six hours GPS + music playback
  • 1.15GHz Exynos 9110 chip
  • Up to 1.5GB of RAM
  • 4GB of storage
  • IP68 rated
  • Built-in GPS and ECG sensors 
  • Bluetooth, and WiFi
  • One UI software and Samsung Health 
  • LTE option 
  • Available in three colours 
  • UK price: starting at £269 
  • UK release date: TBC, estimated late September 

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: Design, key features and first impressions

You’d be hard-pressed to spot much of a difference between the Galaxy Watch Active 2 and its predecessor. Both feature round watch faces and a brace of buttons on the right-hand side to control various functions, including quick navigation between various screens.

That’s no bad thing as the Galaxy Watch Active was a decent looking device, with a good build quality and not too chunky profile for a fully fledged smartwatch. The screen on the Galaxy Watch Active 2 has been ever-so-slightly increased by a whole 0.1inch on the 40mm model to give it a 1.2inch screen, while the 44mm version has a 1.4in display.

As for specs, there’s no new processor here, which is a tad disappointing, though the original’s dual-core Exynos 9110 wasn’t a slouch. Everything seems to work pretty smoothly in the Galaxy Watch Active 2, if not lightning-quick.

Samsung has upped the number of photodiodes on the watch’s bottom to a count of eight; double that of its predecessor. Supposedly, that should improve the heart rate sensing of the watch, which was simply okay in the older Active.

One significant change is the addition of an ECG (electrocardiogram) sensor, which checks the; electrical signals under the wearer’s skin the heart generates every time it beats. It offers a rather simple way to see if one’s ticker is ticking along correctly.

The Apple Watch Series 4 has such a feature, and there’s an argument that it could justify upgrading to the Galaxy Watch Active 2 over Samsung’s older wearables, given it could potentially – and we stress potentially – save someone’s life if it prompts them to go to hospital when irregular heart activity is detected.

There will be a version with built-in LTE connectivity, which will also get a memory bump, giving it 1.5GB of RAM rather than the 768MB in the other models. And there’s the same 230mAh battery in the 40mm model as found in the first generation Active, which is a little bit disappointing as one always hopes for a battery boost in sequel gadgets.

If you’re getting the feeling there’s a lot of business as usual here, then we’re afraid it’s the same on the software side. Samsung hasn’t pushed the boat out on adding new software features, though Bixby is apparently better integrated with the watch’s apps, though we couldn’t put this to the test on Samsung’s stand.

And there’s scope for Samsung to add more software into the mix later on down the line, but Samsung Health still remains the main fitness app on the watch, which isn’t one of our favourite bits of fitness and health tracking software.

However, there is another major change to the Galaxy Watch Active 2, and that’s the return of the rotating bezel seen with older Samsung smartwatches like the Galaxy Watch. Only this time, the bezel doesn’t actually rotate. Rather, it uses a touch-sensitive band to enable rotary navigation of the watch’s apps and software, without relying on moving parts.

It’s early days, but we rather liked this take on a rotating bezel. It’s reasonably accurate at translating our touches into movements through the watch’s app wheel interface. There’s a pleasing bit of haptic feedback, which helps make the whole process of navigating a suite of apps and digital watch faces – loaded with information ranging from steps and heart rate to weather and calendar alerts – more intuitive.

How well such a feature works when running or doing other sweat-generating exercise we don’t know, as the phone was tethered to the stand and a serious looking German security guard was staring at us somewhat threateningly. But the touchscreen display is pretty responsive, meaning should you want to check your heartbeat while running, you can simply swipe to a watch face with the heart rate readout on it, instead of using the touch-sensitive bezel.

Nevertheless, the new pseudo-rotating bezel is a nice addition, and prevents us from feeling a bit too disappointed at the lack of other changes to the smartwatch.

Moving on to colour options, there are three to choose from: Cloud Silver, Aqua Black, Pink Gold. The names may raise an eyebrow but they are easy enough on the eye, though the black looks the slickest and most practical for everyday wear.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: First impressions

For a starting price of £269 for the 40mm version and a top price of £419 for the 44mm LTE model, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is noticeably more expensive than its predecessor, which cost £220 when we reviewed it. That’s quite a premium to pay for some minor upgrades.

If you’re after your first smartwatch, then the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is shaping up to be a decent one, though we’re not 100% convinced it’ll be a go-to fitness tracker. If you have the older model, then you’ll have to weigh up whether an ECG sensor and a faux rotating bezel with haptic feedback is worth it.

We’ll know more when we have the Galaxy Watch Active 2 in to review properly. But we’re tentatively optimistic it could shape up to be a strong wearable.

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