The trouble with releasing a follow-up device so soon after the first is there may not be too much to shout about
- Looks great
- Digital bezel works well
- Fantastic screen
- Battery life could be better
- Samsung Health isn’t great
- Some menu items are hard to find
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a bit of an anomaly.
In the world of wearable hardware, a new model every year is pretty rare, with only Apple having the enthusiastic buyer base to sustain it. Most wearables refresh every couple of years, and yet here’s Samsung bucking the trend with a new Galaxy Watch Active just eight months after the original arrived.
You’d think there must be serious innovations to justify a sequel so quickly, but the changes are actually pretty minimal. In many ways it would be fairer to call this the Galaxy Watch Active 1.5 – but that name probably would have gone down poorly in a branding meeting for obvious reasons.
To be clear, this doesn’t make the Galaxy Watch Active 2 bad by any means. It’s a steady improvement on what was already a very strong smartwatch.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: What you need to know
So what does the Galaxy Watch Active 2 bring to the table? Well first and foremost, it’s now available in a LTE flavour, meaning it can connect to the internet without your phone. Our review unit is the standard Bluetooth one, though, so we weren’t able to see if this was worth the extra money.
While the 360×360 AMOLED resolution remains the same, the screen is slightly bigger, going from 1.1in to 1.2in for the 40mm version. There’s also a new 44mm edition, which we were sent, and that packs a 1.4in display. If that still sounds a little fiddly, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Samsung has introduced a digital bezel as an extra way of navigating (though this has since been added to the original watch as a software update.)
Alongside improvements to the LED-based heart rate monitor (it has eight LEDs rather than four), the built-in GPS and the software running coach, Samsung has also included support for echocardiograms as Apple did with the Apple Watch 4. Like Apple, though, Samsung has had regulatory setbacks and at the time of writing this feature isn’t available, even if the hardware can technically provide it.
Otherwise it’s more of the same: a sporty take on Samsung’s answer to the Apple Watch, the regular Galaxy Watch. That means it’s your phone away from phone, with notifications coming right through to the wrist, along with nice little extras like support for offline Spotify playlists on your wrist via Bluetooth headphones, and Samsung Pay built in for contactless payments on the go.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: Price and competition
Prices start at £269 for the 40mm version of the smartwatch, going up to £289 for the 44mm one reviewed here – although the latter can already be had for under £250 if you shop around. If you want LTE, then you’re looking at £399 for the 40mm one or £419 for the 44mm version. The original Galaxy Watch Active, meanwhile, can usually be found for around £175.
Closing in on £300, the main comparison is from the Apple Watch which starts at £379 for the Series 5 or under £200 for the Series 3. But as this is a sports watch, it makes sense to look at the Garmin-flavoured competition too. The Vivoactive 4 starts at £259, while the OLED-screen toting Venu goes for £300. It’s also in the same price bracket as the Fitbit Ionic – Fitbit’s GPS-based watch originally sold for £300, but is now available for under £200.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: Design
I mentioned earlier that you’d be hard pressed to spot the difference between the Galaxy Watch Active 2 and its predecessor, even if you end up with the larger 44mm model. That’s no bad thing: the original was a good looking, if somewhat minimalist, watch, with a large round face and two buttons on the right-hand side. Regular readers of my wearable reviews will know that I’m a big fan of the latter, as touchscreens have a tendency to get finickity when subjected to sweat or rain.
On the subject of controls, one of the big new features of the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is the new digital haptic dial. That sounds like tech gobbledygook, but all you really need to know is that the regular Galaxy Watch has a rotating bezel that allows you to control the watch by physically moving the edges of the casing around in a hugely satisfying way. The Watch Active 2 does this without any moving parts.
Indeed, the black border around the edge of the screen is actually a touch-sensitive strip that controls menus as you move the finger around, with a satisfying haptic buzz as you go along. It won’t fool you into thinking the bezel is actually moving, of course, but combined with the two buttons, it does provide a decent alternative to poking ineffectually at tiny icons.
That’s no fault of the screen, by the way, which is once again a bright and vibrant OLED panel, expanded to 1.4in on our review model. Like most smartwatches, this screen times out after a few seconds, but you can set this to be always-on if you don’t mind a big hit to battery life, which is around two days with heavy usage and this feature disabled. That isn’t enormous, but it’s less of a problem than you’d think – especially if you have a recent Galaxy S device with reverse charging for a quick top up in a jam.
The strap it comes with is a standard rubber affair with both a clasp and a loop to doubly hold it in place. It’s not the most comfortable strap I’ve ever worn – and adjusting it is fiddly thanks to the aforementioned double hold – but it can be subbed out for any 20mm band of your choosing, so it’s hardly a deal breaker.
READ NEXT: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active review
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: Features and performance
In day-to-day use, it’s marvelous, sending through notifications as they arrive on your phone. Permitted apps can be managed from the phone if you think you’re getting too many or too few alerts on the wrist, but Samsung’s default of messaging apps seems to work well enough for me. Like the original, in some ways it’s a better smartwatch than it is a fitness tracker, despite its sporty branding (there’s no ANT+, for one thing, which many athletes would consider sacrilege. That said, Bluetooth chest straps have been made to work via third-party watchfaces).
When I reviewed the original Galaxy Watch Active, I thought you couldn’t customise the workout displays. It turns out you can but it’s hard work to find. Rather than going via the workout widget like you’d expect, you actually have to go into the watch’s own S-Health app and then press the cog next to the exercise you’re interested in changing. No more than three metrics per screen though, which is a pity as a runner who values having four metrics on his wrist at a time (time, distance, average pace and current pace, since you ask).
In the past I’ve struggled a bit with the GPS on Samsung watches – in part, I suspect, because they tend to start as soon as you tap the exercise you want in the workout widget, without waiting for the GPS to lock on like others. But wearing both the Galaxy Watch Active 2 and my own Garmin Forerunner 245 at a local parkrun, I found both to be pretty close to each other – even if both were short of 5k due to course-related reasons (the Forerunner 245, I find, is usually very close to being bang on as far as GPS goes, so the Active 2 gets a pass here).It’s also very good at automatically detecting exercise, should you forget to start something – especially walking, with the watch notifying me without fail once I’ve been pacing solidly for ten minutes. That’s a great feature for casual fitness watchers, who just want an overall feel for how they’re doing, without the pressure of having to log every little thing.
Not that there’s a shortage of things you can log, with Samsung listing 39 exercises it can track – six of which will kick in automatically as above (walking, running, dynamic workout, cycling, rowing and elliptical training). I did find the watch mistook me walking at a brisk pace for an elliptical workout on a couple of occasions, though, so it’s not exactly foolproof.
For ones you have to manually start, everything from mountain climbing to yoga is covered. Obviously this can be a little tricky on a tiny interface, so Samsung lets you pick four favourites to track via a shortcut, without forcing you to navigate a maze of menus every time you hit the gym (or the mountain range).
Of course with all tracking, there’s a certain degree of taking the wearable’s own algorithm’s word for it – but the Active 2 is quite conservative in its calorie estimates. Over the course of a 46-minute elliptical session at my local gym, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 said I’d burned 494 kilocalories, while the TechnoGym equipment I was on estimated the same workout at 1,069kcal. The Garmin Forerunner 245 on my other wrist, meanwhile, split the difference and called it 831kcal. My guess is it’s somewhere between the Garmin and the Samsung, but it’s pure guesswork.
Ultimately, I suppose this doesn’t matter too much as long as each is consistent with itself, so you can see whether a workout is more or less effective as time goes on. And actually my main beef with both Galaxy Watch Actives isn’t the watch itself, but the reliance on the Samsung Health app, which I still don’t get on with hugely well. It’s not particularly intuitive and that problem is made all the trickier to navigate with no web version to consult – it’s still app-based only.
I’m sure that with a bit of patience you’ll be navigating it like a pro, but it’s neither as easy to grasp as Fitbit nor as deep as Garmin Connect. It exists somewhere between the two, and it doesn’t play hugely nicely with other apps either, with just Technogym and Strava listed as options. And by all accounts the link with the latter of these has long been more than a touch unreliable.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: Verdict
But this is small potatoes in the greater scheme of things: the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a great wearable. Despite its Active name, it looks smart enough and has enough functionality that focusing purely on its fitness functionality is kind of selling it short. I haven’t even touched on the built-in support for offline Spotify playlists and contactless payments via Samsung Pay – which is far more widely supported than equivalents from Fitbit and Garmin in the UK.
So yes, even withstanding niggles about surrounding the Samsung Health app, the intuitiveness of the interface and its two-day battery life, you’ll be very happy with the Galaxy Watch Active 2. It’s simply an excellent wearable, period.
The problem is that the original Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is almost exactly the same product, and can now be had for significantly less. With the digital rotating bezel added to the original via a software update, and without the new echocardiogram feature available at the time of writing, it’s hard to argue that you shouldn’t just plump for the original – or a Garmin Venu if you’re an unapologetic fitness data nerd.