Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2 Smartwatch Review
It is noticeable that Samsung already has some experience in developing smartwatches. Over the years, the design has changed from square to round and in contrast to Apple, Samsung has also opened up to smartphones from the competitors. The rotating bezels of the Gear S2 were already appreciated, and the rotation made scrolling on the smart wearable much easier. In the current model, Samsung has replaced the mechanical rotating bezel with a digital one, once again showing itself very innovative. We have looked at the Galaxy Watch Active2 in some detail, not only testing its operation.
Starting Up – You can also connect it to an iPhone
After initially charging the Watch Active2 using the included magnetic adapter, the smartwatch can be connected to either an iPhone or a smartphone with Android 5 or higher. To do this, you have to download the Samsung Galaxy Watch from Apple's App Store or the Galaxy Wearable app from the Galaxy Store or the Play Store. This will also be followed by the installation of the Watch Active2 plugin and the Samsung Accessory Service, if you don't already have them installed. After this is done, you can configure many settings such as the watch face and arrange your apps either on the watch itself or perhaps more comfortably using the smartphone. You only need to login with a Samsung ID, if you want to use the Samsung Cloud or download additional apps from the Galaxy Store.
Solo Operation – It also works without a smartphone
Install the app, connect to the smartphone, create an account, and login - this is the usual sequence to setup a smartwatch, and you will only get notifications and reminders on your wrist, if you follow this. Those who don't need or don't want that for some reason, can also operate Samsung's pretty fitness watch alone without a smartphone. To do this, you ignore the notice about the wearable app during the initial setup and continue to swipe to the question mark, which hides the corresponding option. What functions will you get then? In addition to the basic watch function, you will also have the fitness and sports functions of the Health app, including a beginner training for runners. The workouts can optionally be saved, if you connect your watch to the smartphone later.
Since you can connect the watch to the WLAN directly, it can download weather information and updates independently and directly from the Internet. In addition, you can access the Galaxy Store to download additional watch faces and apps such as the Strava app, for example. However, many apps will only work after they have recognized the corresponding smartphone app. For example, Spotify first asks for the Premium status via the smartphone, and only then allows you to download playlists and listen offline. For the Store, you need a Samsung ID, which also accesses the Samsung Cloud. Otherwise, the login is optional.
Case and Equipment – Including storage for music and photos
The Galaxy Watch Active2 is available in two sizes: 40 or 44 mm (1.57 or 1.73 in) and optionally with an aluminum or stainless steel case. Only the stainless steel version can optionally also include an integrated eSIM. All models have a Super AMOLED display and offer 4 GB of storage for a maximum of 200 pictures and up to 1 GB of music. The music player is not available in standalone mode. It is only installed after connecting to a smartphone, from which the music files can then be downloaded to the watch. Samsung's own Tizen version 4 is used as the operating system. This is overlaid by a specific watch version of Samsung's One UI.
Operation and UI – Comfortable thanks to the digital bezel
Operation using the buttons, gestures, and the digital bezel is comfortable. The bezel facilitates scrolling through lists and menu items immensely, and is also useful for volume control. In order to rotate it, you swipe the finger along the display edge, like wiping along the rim of a wine glass, for example. Notifications are placed "virtually" to the left of the display, and on the right, you can get to the widgets of the various apps. You can add or sort them individually, and in order to scroll, you can also use the bezel instead of the swiping gesture here. A gesture from the top opens a Quick Panel with relatively many settings, as shown in the images below.
You can input text using a virtual T9 keyboard: 11 input fields are associated with several symbols each, which can be selected by pressing multiple times or by pressing and holding. This is not a bad solution for the smaller display of the 40-mm watch, particularly since we were easily able to hit the keys with mid-sized fingers, at least in the test. Alternatively, you can also dictate the text. With the exception of some English terms that are also used in German, the transcription worked well. A third option, where the letters are displayed one after another, was not available for the German language at the time of our test. While you can read incoming messages in their whole length, pictures will not be displayed.
Phone calls – Possible with or without eSIM
The test unit with the aluminum case does not have an eSIM. Yet, short messaging and phone calls are still possible using Bluetooth, when the smartphone is nearby. The integrated speaker does a good job, even if slightly distorts already at medium volume. For dialing, you can either use the call or contact list, or a number keyboard.
Fitness – From couch potato to active athlete
Samsung Health is installed on the Watch Active2. The constant monitoring continuously measures the heart beat, steps, and floors. Activities such as walking, running, biking, swimming, and training with the ellipsis trainer or rowing machine are automatically recognized and recorded as a workout. In addition, you can also manually record hiking, yoga, Pilates, and multiple workouts in the fitness studio, including bench, leg, and shoulder presses.
Before starting a training, it is worth looking at the corresponding settings. For every activity, you can individually adjust the goals - duration, route, calories, and for swimming also the number of laps – and the information display for the training. You can also adjust the output intervals of the integrated speaker or headset. In addition, you can increase the GPS accuracy for outdoor sports.
Those who have only rarely or never done running before might like Samsung's running coach. Goals of the corresponding workouts range from easy jogging to long distance running and up to tempo increases. They can be expanded using the smartphone app.
In general, the Health app on the smartphone offers even better support for health goals. It is already preinstalled on many Samsung phones, and you can find it on the Play Store otherwise. For example, it accesses an extensive database for a protocol of the food intake, while on the watch, you can only input the calories directly, so you need to be able to estimate them accurately.
While the additional types of sports from the app cannot be transferred from the smartphone, you can transfer training plans from various areas that last several days. Those can then be started on the watch directly on the corresponding day. If you wear the watch at night, it will also record a sleep protocol. However, during our test, we got two protocols each for several nights. As the reason, an interruption of the heart rate recording due to a loosely fitting watch band was specified, but this was not really the case.
Compared to other smartwatches, the Watch Active2 offers many analyses directly on the wrist and is also able to display them as graphics that are mostly attractive. In terms of activity reminders, some prettily animated instructions can also liven up your office routine, if you follow them. Training information can also be displayed directly on the watch, even later, after the training has been completed. However, the time window is limited to the current week - so you will only have access to, for example, two days of recordings on a Tuesday, and seven days on a Sunday.
Battery Life – Still far away from weeks of battery life
The battery of the 44-mm model has a capacity of 340 mAh, and the watch with the 40-mm case that we tested has a battery capacity of 247 mAh. In standalone operation with the always-on display activated, we recorded a battery life of 37 hours. After connecting it to the smartphone and using its expanded functionalities it was still about 34 hours. If you do without the always-on display and otherwise also do not use the smartwatch for control a lot, you can reach 48 hours. However, the behavior changes drastically during sports activities: an hour-long run with an active display, music transfer, and high GPS accuracy already used almost half of the charge of the fully-charged battery in our test.
A positive aspect is that during charging, the watch shows the predicted time until full charge. In a completely discharged battery, it shows about 2:30 hours, which turned out to be quite accurate during the test. After half an hour, the battery has recharged to about 20% of its capacity.
The Galaxy Watch Active2 is a pretty smartwatch that can be operated intuitively and comfortably. The replacement of the first, at that time still mechanically rotating bezel of the Galaxy Watch by a digital bezel naturally also changes the looks. The visuals are now more delicate and less technical. In terms of its function, it also works very well in its current form.
The concept of the digital bezel works well and makes for an elegant operation of the Samsung smartwatch.
Making phone calls using eSIM or the smartphone connected via Bluetooth, the music function, and the many ways to record sport and fitness activities represent the basic framework of functions, which can be expanded using a well-arranged app store – even if it is not as extensive as the one from Apple.
However, a weak point that Samsung shares with Apple and manufacturers of smartwatches with WearOS, is the battery life. Here, the watches from Huami or Huawei, who are exemplary in this area, are able to score better. In terms of the price, the Watch Active2 is placed between those and the current Apple Watch: at the time of our test, the prices range between 275 and 450 Euros (~$303 - $496), depending on the model.