The Galaxy Watch 5 is still the best Android smartwatch you can buy – the only major gripe we can make is that it’s more of the same. It shares the same stylish design and impeccable build quality with an attractive round face rather than the Apple Watch’s more technical-looking rectangular design. It also shares most of the same specs, meaning it doesn’t feel noticeably faster or more responsive than the Watch 4.
There’s a more durable type of sapphire crystal that covers the display, although it will take a few months of continued wear before the benefits of this become apparent. Beneath the glass is the same bright and vibrant OLED touchscreen as before, which wakes up when you raise your wrist or gets a notification and imperceptibly brightens and dims to adapt to the surrounding light conditions, so it always looks natural.
Galaxy Watch 5 vs Galaxy Watch 4
So what has changed? Well, inside there’s a larger battery that can sort of address the main complaint we had with the Galaxy Watch 4. Everyone’s mileage depends on how they use their watch – things like the always-on display can be disabled to extend battery life further, and if you allow the Google Assistant to continually listen for its wake word, it will deflated faster. But swapping out the 40mm Galaxy Watch 5 for the 40mm Galaxy Watch 4 and not changing anything else in our routine resulted in a noticeable improvement in battery performance.
During our testing, the Watch 5 comfortably achieved 24 hours on a single charge, that is with overnight sleep tracking and around 30 minutes of outdoor exercise. Being tethered to our phone during exercise means the Watch 5 can share GPS signal and mobile data, saving battery. Use the built-in GPS or opt for the 42mm or LTE version of the watch with a larger battery and you’ll have a completely different experience. We’re seeing a small battery boost on our wrists – not enough to rush out and upgrade from the Watch 4, but it’s there.
The larger battery capacity means the Galaxy Watch 5 is a bit thicker, but it hides this well with an imperceptibly rounder backplate. Samsung is touting this change as giving the watch a larger surface area and therefore more contact with your skin, resulting in more accurate biometrics. In practice, you won’t notice much of a difference in the health data coming from the already excellent sensors.
Samsung’s wearable records the basic daily metrics you’d expect, like heart rate and steps, but it’s also designed to monitor blood oxygen levels (a measure of your overall fitness) and track your sleep quality, through things like on Watch out for snoring. Like last year, the Galaxy Watch 5 features “bioelectrical impedance analysis,” which attempts to measure body composition by running an electrical signal through your insides for a few seconds.
We’ve always found the Galaxy Watch 4 to reliably give different results than other body composition tests we’ve run – namely on the Withings Body + Smart Scale (£89.95, Withings.com) – but at least they are consequent different. By sticking to one method of measuring your body composition rather than switching between different tools, you can track any physical changes as you progress through a fitness program or diet change.
If you have a Samsung phone – and only If you have a Samsung phone, the Galaxy Watch 5 can also track blood pressure and use an electrocardiogram to record your heart’s weak electrical signal to look for possible problems like atrial fibrillation. Aside from headline-grabbing news about life-saving smartwatches, health experts still doubt that healthy people are regularly screened for heart problems and dismiss these EKG functions as gimmicks. Some cardiologists believe that regular EKG screening may actually do more harm than good, leading to anxiety and misdiagnosis. But where Apple goes, others must follow.
Aside from the usefulness of EKG readings, knowing that some features of the Galaxy Watch 5 are only accessible on Samsung smartphones takes the shine off other Android users. The setup experience on non-Galaxy phones is also a bit choppy, as you have to install three apps to fully communicate with the watch. You have the Galaxy Wearable app and the Galaxy Watch5 plugin. You also have the Samsung Health app, which is beautifully designed and one of the best health apps out there, but jealously guards any data your watch produces and refuses to share it. Without using a, it’s not possible to easily sync your health data to other apps like Google Fit fourth app, a third party app called Health Sync made by a guy in the Netherlands.
Like Apple, Samsung sometimes designs its phones and watches like there’s no other company in the world. But the reality for anyone who doesn’t have a Galaxy device or already uses Samsung Health accepts a bit of hoop-jumping when it comes to navigating the watch’s features. Samsung has at least toned this down in recent months, allowing for a greater degree of control over which payment apps and virtual assistants you can use and what specific buttons do.
Galaxy Watch 5 vs Pixel Watch
A big reason Samsung could relax those restrictions now is the soon-to-be-unveiled Pixel Watch, which could smooth out some of the rough edges Galaxy watch owners experience with non-Galaxy phones. Not much is known about Google’s first smartwatch, but we can rest assured that the wearable will be designed to seamlessly pair with Pixel phones and that it’s aiming at least to be Android’s watch of choice across the board -To be users. Google is hardly an outlier on Samsung’s radar when it comes to phone sales, but a new contender could rival the Galaxy Watch in a wearables race it’s dominated so far.