The choice for a quality wearable in the Android ecosystem has always been as simple as in the iOS landlock. Samsung’s Galaxy Watch has consistently been the go-to smartwatch for anyone wanting a traditional (read expensive-looking) dial and rocks an Android phone. The Galaxy Watch 3 is a general refinement in that direction with the usual enhancements like slimmer design, more sensors and another coat of lacquer on the Tizen OS.
On the face of it, not much is different but that’s a good thing considering how practical the rotating bezel is on the form factor of a smartwatch with a round dial. It was genius when it first came out and it hasn’t lost any of its charm or functionality even now. In fact, the bezel is what defines the Galaxy Watch 3 in many ways and the one thing that might even convince you to drop the Rs. 38,990 for this 45mm Mystic Black variant that’s on my wrist for this test.
Besides the blood oxygen (SpO2) and max blood oxygen uptake (VO2 Max), the Galaxy Watch 3 now also adds sleep and stress tracking and a fall detection trigger. The target group here is primarily fitness enthusiasts but then again, it comes with a leather strap out of the box, so you might want to invest in more sweat-friendly strap and the good thing here is that you can use any standard watch size strap, which could be cheap as chips from your local watch repair shop. It’s a comfortable fit though, even with the big 45mm dial and doesn’t bother during a full day of wear. Sleeping with it isn’t as easy though. It’s become thinner but the rotating bezel does add to the bulk, though it remains one of the most endearing qualities of this wearable. It clicks with military precision and keeps the screen free of your fingers or fingerprints, mostly. It works both ways, rotating left for viewing notifications and right for widgets.
You will have to swipe from the top down to reveal Tizen’s quick toggle tools where you’ll find all the shortcuts to the watch’s primary settings and functions, including the always-on mode, DND, water lock, BT audio, WiFi and more. The two buttons on the side, made of metal, aid in navigation too. The top button is locked to the Back function while the lower Home key can be customised for long-press and double-press actions. It can be configured to summon Bixby or turn the watch off. Tizen OS remains easy to use and the bezel also makes it pretty easy to use the T9 keyboard for text input. You could scribble or choose from the many preset replies too and it all works rather well.
Where the Tizen OS stumbles though is app selection. Sure, it comes with the basics pre-loaded so you have Calendar, Reminders, Microsoft Outlook, Music, Gallery, PPT controller and a whole bunch of fitness routines. In fact, around 25 of the 40 odd complications available to configure are different kind of workouts. From the Galaxy Wearable store, the only two apps I could find worth downloading were Spotify and Flipboard, maybe the remote camera controller if you are into photography. The many thousands of watch faces are largely sub-par in terms of resolution, complication support or design so it’s best not to read too much into numbers. The standard watch faces preloaded are a subjective matter but if you’re an information junkie, you’ll be better off with an Apple Watch which manages to fit in more information in a more legible manner. The Watch 3 displays a half-hearted sleepy shoe icon emanating zzz’s as a prompt to get you moving every hour. That’s the work of a lazy graphic designer in my book and I’m sure Samsung can do better than this. Cartoon-ish is the theme throughout the watch here and again, it’s a matter of personal preference. I especially like the HR-zone scale during workouts that shows you how often your heart rate was in different zones of BPM and depending on your age, will suggest what is the ideal number too. Graphically-prompted workouts make it easy to follow simple routines and the voice quality from the built-in speaker is loud and legible. What could do with some improvement is the haptic feedback which doesn’t have the same depth and intensity as the Apple Watch.
Lightspeed across the Galaxy
Even with 1GB of RAM, the Watch 3 never felt slow or sluggish moving around the various screens. The bright, colourful screen makes it fun to glance at notifications and replying to messages is an easy affair too, with the plethora or preset replies or even via the T9 virtual keyboard. It’ll work with iPhones too but you lose the ability to reply to message notifications and some other functionality. But if you absolutely must fit a square peg in a round hole, it’ll squeeze itself in. I used it with the Note20 Ultra and pairing was quick and getting the general hang of things doesn’t take very long. The bezel makes light work of most menus, moving around swiftly and precisely, getting you to your desired shortcut especially quickly. Measuring my SpO2 levels didn’t always work though and did require a few different hand positions for it to give a reading, but the stress level monitor consistently showed as low, even though I was actually burdened with deadlines and associated thoughts at the moment, so it’s scientific accuracy is debatable.
Elsewhere, wearing the Watch 3 and the Apple Watch S5 on either hand delivered almost identical results during my daily workout, be it for heart rates, step count and calories burnt. It’s also IP68 rated so you could go swimming with it but somehow, it’s the form factor and the leather strap doesn’t really lend itself to being taken underwater as well as the active versions of the Galaxy Watch. Auto-trigger allows a lot of the workouts to start on their own if the watch registers 10mins or more of increased heart rate activity, so you’ll never miss closing the heart loops in the Samsung Health app. If you want turn-by-turn navigation instructions, you’ll be left high and dry as there is no native support for Google Maps or even WhatsApp but if you dig deep enough, you’ll find alternatives or workarounds. Not ideal, but again, for those who absolutely want to milk the Watch 3.
Samsung has been claiming ambitious battery life numbers for the Watch 3 clearly, as I averaged only about a day of usage on any given day. With the watch face left to the always-on setting and throwing in an hour of workout that uses all sensors, it only lasted till bedtime, making sleep tracking possible only if I was up for an after-party. Even at my parsimonious best, all I could get was a day and a half. Charging times are especially slow too, at 2.5hrs from 0-to-full, in comparison to the Apple Watch S6 claimed time of 1.5hrs.
It’s a no-brainer if you’re a Samsung phone user looking for a new smartwatch. The Galaxy Watch 3 is the best of the breed and probably better than any watch running Wear OS too. At the same time, it hasn’t really made any major progress over the previous generations in terms of battery life or even charging times. The weak app store doesn’t help either. But despite its weaknesses, the rotating bezel, bevvy of workout routines, superb screen and speaker/mic set-up and the traditionalist design make up for most of it. At least for the Android user.