Just six months after the launch of the Galaxy Watch Active, Samsung has followed it up with the next generation of its flagship smartwatch. But why? I've been wearing the new Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 to find out. Here's my full review.
- Flawless performance
- Excellent AMOLED display
- Digital bezel works well
- Attractive design
- Always-on display
- Samsung bloatware required
- Bixby is still awful
- Poor third-party app support
The Galaxy Watch Active 2 can be expensive
Let's start with the price Samsung is asking for for the Galaxy Watch Active 2. It depends on two things: the size and the question of connectivity. Here's the official pricing for both the UK and the US if you buy the Watch Active 2 directly from Samsung.
- 40 mm (Bluetooth/Wi-Fi) - $279.99/£269
- 40 mm (4G/LTE) - $429.99/£399
- 44 mm (Bluetooth/Wi-Fi) - $299.99/£289
- 44 mm (4G/LTE) - $449.99/£419
All versions of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 are now available. You can still buy the original Galaxy Watch Active, which is less than a year old, of course. The version I wore was the 40mm Bluetooth one - the cheapest Galaxy Watch Active 2 in the line.
Elegant, smart design
Whether you go for the 40 or 44-millimeter version, t he Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a rather small, dainty watch , and not bulky on the arm like many other Android smartwatches. The round-shaped housing has two buttons on the right side, which hardly protrude out of the device. Together with the touch screen, they serve to operate the watch. You'll have to live without a rotating bezel, though. This ring around the display had been on many Samsung smartwatches but had to give way to the touch control we saw on the first Galaxy Watch Active. Samsung has responded to calls that ditching the rotating bezel was a bad idea and, for the Galaxy Watch Active 2, has introduced a so-called "digital bezel". It's a capacitive ring around the display that allows you to navigate and pull sliders up and down. It feels pretty intuitive. I'd still prefer a proper rotating bezel, but this digital version goes some way to making up for the lack of one.
The heart rate monitor is located on the underside of the excellently finished stainless steel case. Samsung has looked at Apple in terms of health features and now offers the possibility to create an ECG reading with your smartwatch. The health monitoring software will send you an alert when it goes above or below normal levels, too. It should be clear that this cannot replace a visit to the doctor if you have a health concern, but these things still make sense.
Samsung equips the Galaxy Watch Active 2 with a bracket for standard watch straps. That's good, not least because the black silicone bracelet I tried was not necessarily pretty to look at. I'm not a huge fan of these rubbery watch straps as they tend to pull on the hairs around my wrist causing discomfort. You can buy the Galaxy Watch Active 2 from your local dealer and design it the way you like it though, which is cool.
The Galaxy Watch Active is quite light in all versions. The weight varies from 26 grams for the aluminum version without LTE in 40 millimeters to 42 grams at 44 millimeters with LTE. The Galaxy Watch Active is IP68 certified and therefore well protected against water and dust. It can withstand up to 5 ATM water pressure and will be absolutely fine if you use it when showering, bathing or swimming.
Smartwatches need AMOLED
The Super AMOLED display comes in both a 1.2 or 1.4-inch version and both have a resolution 360 x 360 pixels. This AMOLED panel is a blessing, especially for a watch, as it can display the time in a very energy-saving way - after all, black pixels consume virtually no energy. The display of the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is very nice to look at. The fine animations on the screen are great and the display is clear despite the small size.
It is also really bright when you need it to be. I had no problems using it both indoors and outdoors. I liked to use the always-on mode combined with a simple, classic watch face. There's also a goodnight mode which turns off the always-on display when it recognizes you have gone to sleep. The always-on display will show you when you are exercising - you'll get a little green man running at the bottom of the screen - but there's no detailed exercise data which is a bit of shame.
Tizen OS has matured nicely
The round arrangement of the buttons in Samsung's Tizen operating system visually matches the shape of the Galaxy Watch Active 2. This also makes sense for the new digital bezel. The interface is all built on circles and screens, and scrolling through them feels intuitive once you get the hang of where everything is.
The center of the screen usually remains free when you are in the menus. In terms of functional diversity, Tizen can now compete well with WearOS, all the important functions of a smartwatch are mastered by the Watch Active 2. Users can customize the dial with the My Style app. Suitable apps for cycling, shopping, walking, swimming, and rowing are available as well as the comprehensive health monitoring stuff through the Samsung Health App.
You do have to download quite a lot of Samsung apps to get the thing up and running, however. I was using the Galaxy Watch Active 2 primarily with a Google Pixel 4 and therefore had to install Galaxy Wearable, Samsung Health, Samsung Accessory Service and a Watch Active 2 Plugin app. Some of this hassle is relieved if you own a Samsung smartphone, but anyone who is interested in this smartwatch that owns a smartphone from another manufacturer should be aware of this. If you are an iPhone user, you'd be mad to buy this over an Apple Watch simply because of how convoluted the connectivity between watch and phone becomes.
Providing you have signed into up Samsung account, you can access the Galaxy Store from the Watch Active 2 to download new apps to the smartwatch. Third-party app support is not quite there yet for TizenOS, although it is better than the situation over at WearOS. The Spotify app is available and you can download playlists to the watch and listen offline, which is an essential feature of any smartwatch that has ambitions of being used for exercise in my opinion. The Strava running app is on there too, but apart from that, I didn't find anything of interest. For voice controls and managing your smart home devices, you are stuck with Bixby.
The performance of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 was impeccable during my review period. The watch runs quickly and smoothly, and the Exynos 9110 with four cores does a very solid job. The main memory depends on the radio technology you choose. With LTE the Galaxy Watch Active 2 has 1.5GB of RAM, without LTE it is only half that. The internal storage on the smartwatch is 4GB. This is sufficient for a smartwatch and you won't have any problems needing more.
I have no complaints about the overall performance of the Galaxy Watch Active 2. No matter what you throw at it, it handles it with ease. The only thing that really slows you down is the digital bezel. It's more of a human dexterity issue than the hardware not being able to keep up, but I was left with the feeling that a physical rotating bezel would make the performance feel even more fluid.
The battery charges wirelessly
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 version I tested comes with a 247 mAh battery. You can have a 340 mAh battery if you go for the more expensive 4G/LTE version though. You can expect to get anywhere from two to three days of battery life from the smartwatch, depending on how much you use it. Exercising routines and tracking definitely impact battery life, so if you a fitness fanatic you might need to reach for the charger more often than someone who is just using it to receive notifications and track steps. I was getting around two days of juice.
Charging is done wirelessly as usual. The connection is strong and wireless charging just makes sense for smartwatches. Leave the charger by your bed and when you take your watch off to sleep you thrown it on the wireless charging dock.
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 technical specifications
Probably the best Android smartwatch
The Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a chic smartwatch with many functions. Compared to the Galaxy Watch Active, which was introduced in February together with the Galaxy S10, the leaps forward are small. If you can do without the digital bezel and the ECG recording, you have no reason to buy the new smartwatch if you already own the original version.
However, that doesn't change the fact that this is still probably the best smartwatch you can buy in the Android world. Tizen is more than capable of challenging WearOS and has better third-party app support, and the performance of the Watch Active 2 is impeccable. The main issues I have with this device are ones that affect the entire Android smartwatch ecosystem. If you are committed to getting an Android-compatible smartwatch, this is one to get.