Review, Smartwatch, Wearable

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active Quick Review: Stripped Down to the Essentials

Samsung’s range of smartwatches have steadily improved over the years, especially since the introduction of the much loved Gear S2. Today, we have the latest iteration of the company’s smartwatch: the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active.

Retailing at only RM799, the Active is one of Samsung’s most affordable smartwatches. But with the lower price point, certain aspects of this wearable had to be removed. As a whole, however, the essential features are all still here, which make the Active quite an attractive smartwatch.

What It Is

Unlike most smartwatches in the market now, the Galaxy Watch Active runs on Samsung’s very own Tizen software. For the most part, it works really well, but it does have its fair share of weaknesses – I’ll elaborate more further down this review.

When it comes to hardware, the Active features a 1.1-inch 360 x 360 Super AMOLED display, a 1.15GHz dual-core processor paired with 0.75GB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, a 230mAh cell, and a heart rate monitor. On top of that, this smartwatch also has built-in GPS, along with support for NFC.

The Good Stuff

One of the best qualities of the Galaxy Watch Active has to be its fantastic circular display. The Super AMOLED screen’s vibrant colours and deep blacks are very pleasing to look at, and even under bright sunlight, the display is still very legible.

Thanks to the Super AMOLED screen, the Active’s always on display looks really good too. While this depends on the watchface that you’re using, most of Samsung’s pre-loaded watchfaces are well-designed.

Speaking of which, enabling the always on display would affect battery life quite a bit. On average, I was getting around one and a half day of usage with the feature enabled. If I disable it, I can get about two to three days of usage – that’s quite impressive.

Do note that I got this kind of battery life with the Active’s default settings. The screen’s brightness was set to seven (out of a maximum of ten), and the smartwatch was set to measure my heart rate continuously.

Performance of the Galaxy Watch Active is also surprisingly good. I can navigate seamlessly through the smartwatch’s interface, swiping through my various widgets didn’t show any sign of sluggishness, and overall, the Active never felt unresponsive or slow.

Of course, one of the most vital features of a smartwatch is getting notifications pushed to your wrist. In this regard, the Galaxy Watch Active does a very good job. Whatever notification my phone gets are pushed properly to the Active, and notifications I dismissed are also reflected on my phone.

It is possible to interact with notifications too, such as messages from WhatsApp and Telegram. I can either send a pre-written reply, use the T9 keypad, or literally “draw” my own message letter by letter.

Design wise, I really like the compact form factor of the Active. It is light, it feels robust, and swapping out the straps is a very easy procedure, thanks to the quick release pins. That being said, I do wish the bezel surrounding the display was more minimal – it’s a tad too thick for my liking.

All in all, the Galaxy Watch Active has a lot of good qualities, and I enjoyed using it. However, it does have a number of shortcomings too, such as..

The Bad Stuff

Since it’s running on Samsung’s own Tizen software, third-party apps are still limited, especially in comparison to the large selection of apps for Android Wear devices and Apple Watch. While Tizen still works very well on its own, limited third-party support does make it less attractive of a platform.

Workout detection of the Active is not particularly great either. I was pretty excited when I saw the sheer number of exercises it can detect, but that quickly changed when I tried them out. In exercises that don’t involve a lot of arm movement, the smartwatch has a hard time detecting the workout.

That’s not to say it doesn’t work at all. In certain exercises, the Active can actually track them very effectively. It’s just a finicky feature.

Part of what makes Samsung’s range of smartwatches so intuitive (and fun) to use is the rotating bezel, so not having that on the Active is a bit of a bummer. Tizen’s user interface was designed with the rotating bezel in mind, and navigating through the menu and widgets without that bezel feels a little bit jarring.

Granted, the Active still works just as fine. Plus, Samsung had to remove the rotating bezel to lower the price of the smartwatch, and that could work in favour of the Active for its intended audience.

Is It Worth It?

For only RM799, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is really quite a compelling smartwatch. It is sleek, it has a fantastic display, and Tizen, even with its limited selection of third-party apps, is very polished and intuitive to use.

Also, it’s been a while since the Active was introduced here, so certain retailers are already offering pretty good discounts for the smartwatch. In fact, you can get it for only RM660 now – that’s RM139 worth of savings.

At this price point, the Galaxy Watch Active is that much more attractive. It’s already a very good smartwatch to begin with, and if you can live with its limitations, the Active will serve you very, very well.