Samsung brings back its signature smartwatch for another go round with the Galaxy Watch3, and the familiarity delivers as expected.

This is a smartwatch that doesn’t try to be something radically different. If you’ve used Samsung’s Galaxy watches before, you won’t feel out of place here. But some of the tweaks do make sense and help make it useful. Given there aren’t too many great Android smartwatches around, the Galaxy Watch3 stands out as a premium choice.

Design and setup

Unlike the Galaxy Watch Active models that cut down for size, the regular ones always looked and felt bigger. This watch comes in two sizes: 41mm and 45mm. My review unit was the latter of the two, and while big, it didn’t feel as big as before.

The key distinguishing feature is the physical rotating bezel. Above all else, it’s the single most identifying characteristic of Samsung’s watches. It’s also one of the best ways to navigate an interface that I’ve seen on any smartwatch I’ve used.

The 1.4-inch AMOLED (360 x 360) is vibrant and rugged enough to withstand repeated swipes on a daily basis. There’s no screen size difference from previous models, so the reduced girth is at the expense of the body. Mind you, it’s not drastically smaller, but when you were as big as Samsung’s previous models were, every little trim helps. The thing about the Galaxy Watch3 is that it’s elegant. It comes with a nice leather band out of the box, and you can always switch it out for another band.

While it doesn’t have the “active” designation, Samsung made this model pretty rugged unto itself. It has the same 5ATM waterproofing, so you can swim with it (though you’ll want a different band for that).

It’s also noteworthy that Samsung doubled the internal storage capacity to 8GB. You get about 5GB of that to work with for apps and music, which is big for bringing in more of both onto the device.

Software and features of the Galaxy Watch3

Because it runs on Tizen, and not Wear OS, Samsung has to convince developers to support its watches with their apps. It’s been an ongoing struggle, and it still endures, which is why the company has to plug the gaps as best it can. It’s not all bad, mind you, as there is some decent integration to be had.

For example, Spotify, Uber, Pulse SMS and Endomondo work relatively well. But from the start, you do have to make compromises using this watch. You can’t get Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa to work on the watch properly. Only third-party apps try to do it, and it’s with really mixed results. No, Samsung’s Bixby is your only real built-in option. The same is true of mapping apps, where Google Maps is nowhere to be found. You have an alternative in HERE WeGo, which can work quite well, but you get the gist of what I’m getting at.

It’s not that there’s a shortage of apps, it’s that you probably have never seen nor heard of any of them. And when you have to pay to use certain ones, you’re not sure if you’ll get your money’s worth. Twitter, YouTube and Google Translate were all announced last year, but have yet to make it to Galaxy Watches in Canada.

As usual, there is an avalanche of watch faces available to choose from. If you’re looking to customize your watch face or have several handy to fit a theme or occasion, you’re more than likely going to find it in Samsung’s Galaxy Store. It’s no wonder that Samsung promotes them so heavily when marketing its watches. They’re never, ever in short supply, and new ones come out all the time.

Exercise and music integration

It’s in these particular elements where the Galaxy Watch3 finds its rhythm. The watch can track up to 40 exercises, and when you add widgets onto the watch, you can make room for additional exercise shortcuts. It can automatically track seven of them on its own, though it usually only kicks in after 10 minutes of activity. It does give you those 10 minutes, so you don’t lose out, but I noticed it didn’t know when to stop.

I could be riding my bike, stop for five minutes and it wouldn’t so much as pause. I chose to manually stop exercises—provided I remembered to do so. With GPS tracking and a user-friendly interface, the positives of the overall experience outweigh the negatives for sure. The downside, however, is that Samsung chose not to upgrade the GPS and heart rate sensor to make them better. What’s here is basically the same as the Galaxy Watch Active2.

I’m not a runner, so I didn’t test out some of the advanced features available, but Samsung certainly tried to add something worthwhile for avid runners. There seem to be more metrics associated with that exercise than with others.

As for music, the Spotify integration here is still excellent. It’s a carryover from the Galaxy Watch Active2, where you can download songs and playlists to the watch’s own storage so you can listen without taking the phone with you.

The process is still the same, too. Download and install Spotify, then go to Settings>Playback>Standalone to enable downloading. Once I copied the playlists I wanted, I could take a walk or bike-ride without taking the phone along. The Galaxy Watch3 paired nicely with the Galaxy Buds Live that I was testing at the same time. You can use any pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones, though.

Gauging performance upgrades

This is both easy and hard all at once. For one, not all the features Samsung touted are available. The major one is the ECG (electrocardiogram) that would be a real benefit as an early warning system for an irregular heartbeat. The problem is that such a feature needs regulatory approval from Health Canada, and that hasn’t happened as of this review.

Then there’s the pulse oximeter sensor for SpO2, or blood oxygen levels. You do have to add the widget for it first, and once you do, it’s easy to take readings. It doesn’t work automatically on its own, however, so it won’t activate while you sleep to check for abnormal breathing. If you’re seeking something to clue you in about potential sleep apnea, this isn’t it.

Speaking of sleep, the tracking for that is superb. It often got my sleep time dead on, and gave me a score between 0-100. It broke down the level of movement and the physical and mental recovery involved. Just a shame it doesn’t bring in the SpO2 to add more depth to each sleep cycle. There are stress and breathing exercises available to help improve upon your waking hours and the quality of sleep.

The notification system is still quite good, and you can respond to messages from the watch. I also took phone calls on the watch itself. There’s some cool versatility to be had, only Samsung doesn’t make it immediately intuitive on how to get to them. The Galaxy Wearable app is the primary setup portal, and it’s there that you can learn more about what the watch can do.

With the iPhone

As before, the Galaxy Watch3 works with Samsung and Android phones running version 5.0 or later with at least 1.5GB of RAM. You can also go with an iPhone if it’s running at least iOS 9.0.

And as I’ve said before, don’t buy this if you have an iPhone. Too many features don’t work, and beyond the exercise and breathing or sleep features, you lose out on everything else. Notifications, calls, a voice assistant, and many apps won’t be there.

For non-Samsung Android users, the watch is really one of the best options you have. That’s partly because Wear OS is still somewhere in the wilderness, but also because it just integrates better than it used to. A big missing piece is the lack of Google Assistant, plus the various Android apps that have no presence on the watch, otherwise.

Battery

I’m not sure I noticed any real difference in battery life from the Galaxy Watch Active2. It stays on or drains under the same usage habits. Go moderate with some exercise tracking and notifications, and it should go for about two days. That’s with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS turned on as well. Start cutting certain features like that off, and the battery starts dripping slower.

The wireless charging dock is the same familiar design, though you can also charge it on any Qi-enabled pad. If you’re in a real pinch, you can use Wireless PowerShare in certain Samsung phones to charge from the back.

Final Thoughts

Samsung essentially made a lifestyle smartwatch that happens to work perfectly fine as an active one, too. The Galaxy Watch3 is hardly a leap forward from the Watch Active2. They’re complementary products that go with different aesthetics. Yes, there are some newer features here, though not all of them are active yet, so the bridge between this and past watches isn’t especially wide.

From a fashion perspective, this is definitely an upgrade from the first Galaxy Watch. It looks nice, and isn’t out of place at a nice dinner or night out. It’s also the best option right now for Android users. Well, this or the Watch Active2. You get active features with both, so it really comes down to what look you’re going for.

The Galaxy Watch3 is available now in a 41mm size in mystic silver and mystic bronze, and a 45mm size in mystic black and mystic silver.

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Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.

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