With more of a fitness focus, it loses some of the functionality of its bigger brother, but retains just enough that could make it a better buy for the majority of people.
As ever, Samsung owners already sold into the ecosystem are going to get the most out of it, but for everyone else, is it a good enough to give fitness favourites like the Fitbit Versa a run for their money?
Design and build: Nice touch
What’s this – a Samsung smartwatch without a rotating bezel? Yep, despite being a Samsung design mainstay since 2015’s Gear S2, the bezel has been ditched from the Galaxy Active in order to make way for a slimmer and lighter design than the flagship Galaxy Watch.
That’s a bit of a shame, as we’ve found the bezel handy for navigating through menus on a small screen, but it does the job of making it stand apart from the flagship offering, and does help to keep it relatively low profile when you’re wearing it too.
Like all Samsung smartwatches, the Galaxy Active has a circular AMOLED watchface, which is a touch smaller than the standard Galaxy Watch at 40mm wide, with a 1.1in screen. It’s a nice size that will work for most people – even me and my scrawny wrists – and gives just enough screen real estate for the mostly touch-based interface. The beefier wristed among you might prefer the 42mm, or even 46mm, version of the standard Galaxy Watch, but this feels like a good size for its more sporty focus.
The watchface itself is made of metal and comes in four colours, including black, silver, blue and rose gold, with a complementing 20mm silicone strap, which can be switched out for something swisher should you wish. The silicone is comfortable though, and is a great option for working out.
There are two buttons on the right hand side of the watch, which help with navigation. The bottom button works as a home button as well as to power on/off, and the top one as a back button, and can also summon Bixby with a long hold. The latter is raised ever so slightly more than the other but there’s otherwise no way of telling them apart by touch; the home button has a coloured dot on it though.
Since there is no bezel here, selecting apps and clicking icons is all done by touch, which I found to be accurate enough with a jab in the right direction. Considering the smaller screen compared to the Galaxy Watch, it might be a little fiddly for those with larger hands, but it's pretty intuitive from my experience.
As you’d expect from a watch aimed at sport, the Galaxy Watch Active is waterproof to 5m and is IP68 certified, so is perfectly happy to track your water-based activities as well as those on land.
Software and specification: The beat goes on
Powering the Galaxy Watch Active is the same processor in its bigger brother – a 1.15GHz Exynos 9110 processor, supported by 750MB RAM and 4GB of storage (although only around 2.5GB of that is usable after the OS and pre-installed apps). It makes navigation quick and smooth, and I had no stutters whatsoever during use.
It runs on Tizen 4.0, which is slick and easy-to-use - you can tap the face to wake, scroll left for notifications and right for your selection widgets. We’ve previously praised it for its top-notch notification support and range of watch faces, and that’s just the same here, though it is still lacking in the third-party app department compared with watchOS and Wear OS.
Things are improving, with apps for Spotify, Strava, Uber and MapMyRun, but there are still some areas that fall short. Samsung SmartThings is about your only option for home control and Bixby is solely in charge of voice assistance. While they’ve both improved massively from when we first saw them, it still feels a little restrictive. Bixby in particular often struggles to accurately understand dictation, which makes it feel a little useless.
Certainly it makes the Galaxy Watch Active make all the more sense if you’ve already bought into the Samsung ecosystem, and especially if you have a Samsung phone. When paired with an iPhone, for example, your functionality is much more restricted – there’s no reply functionality for emails or messages, no Samsung Pay, limited Samsung Health features and more restricted app availability. Simply put, you’re going to get the most out of the Galaxy Watch Active experience if you’re a Samsung user, exactly the same way an iPhone user will benefit more from an Apple Watch.
There’s no LTE version of the Galaxy Watch Active at the moment – though this is rumoured for the next generation – which means you’re going to need your phone with you to access things like email and Samsung Pay.
Most of us usually carry our phones with us most places anyway, so it isn’t likely to be too much of a problem – just remember to store some offline Spotify playlists (a nice touch, which you can’t do on the Apple Watch yet) if you like to run or work out phone-free.
Elsewhere there is GPS for tracking your exercise in a compatible app and a heart-rate monitor on the back of the watch for keeping an eye on your ticker. Samsung recommends you wear the watch about 1-2 inches above your wrist for the best performance here, offering up details on your heart rate while resting and during exercise. It also uses this information to suggest how stressed you are - if it picks up an elevated heart rate without exercise, it will suggest you take a break with a breathing exercise.
I found the heart-rate monitor to be reliable, and while I wasn't able to compare it to a more accurate chest strap, certainly the readings looked good and were comparible to my Apple Watch 3.
Performance: Run this town
Considering its focus as a fitness smartwatch, it’s about time we talked about how it performs when you’re on the move, and there’s very little to complain about here. It can track a total of 39 activities, including yoga and weight lifting, and seven of them it’ll track automatically, such as walking, running, cycling, rowing and swimming.
Manual tracking is more accurate, but it’s a handy feature if, like me, you regularly forget to press “go” until you’re 15 minutes into your workout.
It will keep a count of your steps taken, calories burned, floors climbed, minutes worked out and your heart rate, plus with a Samsung smartphone in tow, you can add in extra lifestyle details, like calories eaten, water drank and caffeine intake. Hit a goal and you'll be rewarded with enthusiastic praise, which the keen-to-please child in me absolutely laps up.
Like most smartwatches, the Galaxy Watch Active will encourage you to keep moving during the day too, giving you a nudge when you’ve been sat down too long. You can appease its concerns by getting up for a quick walk around, or performing one of its suggested exercises, like torso twists, arm stretches or squats. These are supposed to get automatically tracked so you get the all clear once you’ve completed them, but we only found that squats were tracked successfully, no matter how pronounced we made the movements.
You can set targets to hit, in terms of time active, steps taken and calories burned, and you can keep a quick track of that with one swipe to the left.
At the other side of the scale, the Galaxy Watch Active also automatically tracks your sleep, offering up details on how much deep sleep, light sleep and REM you got, though this level of detail is only accessible through the Samsung Health app. On the Watch Active itself, you can only see your average sleep for the week and whether this is up or down on the week before.
The battery life of the Galaxy Watch Active will go for around two and a half days before it requires a charge, and it’ll take about two hours to charge from flat. Use GPS for tracking runs and you’ll see this come down a fair amount quicker, though. Two days isn't a huge amount for the majority of smartwatches, but it's not a dealbreaker.
Samsung Galaxy Active Verdict
Considering you can now pick up the Galaxy Watch Active for under £200 with a bit of shopping around, it does represent a decent saving on its bigger brother - if you can do without the bezel navigation and don't mind the day or so shorter battery life, of course.
Otherwise, its feature-set is almost identical making it excellent value for money for Samsung users, who will benefit most from its full functionality. Its Tizen operating system still means there are drawbacks when it comes to app availability, but it is getting better, and most of the major players when it comes to fitness are covered, at least.
The Fitbit Versa represents compelling competition at around the same price, offering better battery life and a larger screen, but loses out with only connected GPS and patchy HR tracking. It doesn't look as swish either, so it's all about balancing out what matters most to you.
For a good balance of style, performance and price, the Galaxy Watch Active has to be one of Samsung's best smartwatches yet.