Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: Mission accomplished
Should I buy the Galaxy Watch Active 2?
If you’ve been waiting for Samsung to deliver a wearable that’s on the same level as Apple’s hardware, the Galaxy Watch Active is probably the device you’ve been waiting for.
It’s not without room for improvement but its imminently capable, supremely polished and mature in a way that most other smartwatches aren’t.
As far as pinnacles go, the Galaxy Active 2 ain’t half-bad.
Price when reviewed
In Australia, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 starts at AU$549.
This might be a little cheaper than an Apple Watch but it’s a lot more expensive than the Fitbit Versa 2, which remains the best option for budget-conscious buyers.
Galaxy Watch Active 2 full review
In Australia, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2 is available in two sizes (40mm and 44mm), two colors (Black and Gold) and two variants (Bluetooth and LTE/Cellular).
Pricing for the strictly Bluetooth-enabled Galaxy Watch Active2 starts at AU$549 while the LTE version starts at AU$749. Unfortunately, if you're after the 40mm model, you'll have to opt for the latter - since that size is only available as LTE.
You can buy it through:
Design & Display
In terms of design, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a minor revision over the original, which trimmed away some of the executive chic of the Galaxy Watch for a sleeker, more Apple-esque, look.
By comparison, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 features a slightly-wider 1.4-inch Super AMOLED display that’s got slightly-thinner bezels and looks great in action. This is Samsung we’re talking about. The company know their display tech - and that expertise is neatly reflected in the form-factor of the Galaxy Watch Active 2.
Personally, I’m still partial to the square-shaped displays found in the Fitbit Versa and Apple Watch but of all the circular screen smartwatches I’ve used, I’d easily call the Galaxy Watch Active 2 the best.
The model also brings ECG and LTE support to table, which the original Galaxy Watch Active lacked. Otherwise, there’s a lot of shared DNA between the two wearables. You could put them side by side and not tell them apart.
Again, the form-factor here is slightly thinner than the first Galaxy Watch Active but still slightly too bulky by half. I understand there are challenges that come with making the screen smaller but as it stands, the Active 2 can’t really compete with either the Apple Watch or Fitbit’s Versa 2 for lightweight feel.
The one unique design advancement here is what Samsung are calling the Digital Bezel. See, with the original Galaxy Watch and Gear Sport, Samsung let you spin the bezel wrapped around the watchface and use it as an input. This was really clever and well-liked, which was why some users were upset to see them remove it with the original Galaxy Watch Active.
The Active 2 brings the feature back. Sort of.
Instead of a physical sensor, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 utilises a set of haptic sensors around the edges of the display that allow the same kind of functionality without any of the moving parts. At first, I was pretty skeptical about this but it didn’t take long for it to grow on me. It lacks the precision of the original physical bezel but in terms of capturing and embodying the same appeal, it gets most of the way there.
In terms of capabilities, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 offers more of the same. As with the original, you get a full suite of fitness tracking sensors - accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, ambient light sensor, heart rate, sleep tracking - and a total of 38 workout dedicated modes that cover everything from the obvious to the less obvious.
The Galaxy Watch Active 2 runs on Tizen and supports third-party apps via the Galaxy App store. This continues to be the weakest element in Samsung’s overall wearable experience.
The big-name apps that are there - Spotify and Uber - work really well but there’s not much there aside from that. If you use Spotify and Uber, things are going to be rosy. If you don't, things are a little less neat.
Likewise, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 supports contactless payments via Samsung Pay and Samsung’s own Bixby voice assistant for hands-free control. I still wish Samsung would open these functions up to let me use their Google-powered counterparts but both work well enough to get the job done.
Performance & Software
As with hardware, the software experience you’re getting with the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a slight revision on what came before it. The menus look, feel and for the most part are identical between this smartwatch and its predecessor.
Of course, as always, there is a catch.
You can set up and use the Galaxy Watch Active2 with any smartphone (iOS or Android) but to actually get in and get the most from it, you’ll want to be using a Samsung one. Minus that condition, you can’t add new apps to the watch or customise the watchface beyond the dozen or so options that comes preinstalled on it. As someone who has spent money on a watch faces on the Galaxy Store before, this proved particularly frustrating.
Another annoyance is the ECG feature. It does not yet appear to be enabled. The Apple Watch also doesn’t offer ECG in Australia, so Samsung’s wearable isn’t left at a huge disadvantage but it’s an annoyance nonetheless.
That being said, the more I used the Galaxy Watch Active 2, the more I wished that Samsung were ready to make the leap that Apple have with WatchOS 6 by making it possible to download and setup apps entirely using your smartwatch. It sounds small but it would go a long way towards making this device feel like something worth putting your money into and something that’ll get better over time.
Samsung’s marketing sells the idea that the Galaxy Active2 should last you about two days on a single charge. We actually found we could stretch it into a third with some success. Obviously, enabling LTE connectivity or going for an eight-hour hike will reduce that battery life considerably.
Still, compared to its Apple-branded archrival and its immediate predecessor, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 holds its own on battery life. It’s not radically better than the Apple Watch - but it does still win out. We're not quite at set-it-and-forget-it territory yet but we're close. Those looking for a smartwatch that lasts longer are probably going to be better served by Fitbit’s Versa 2 or Huawei’s Watch GT.
The Bottom Line
The Samsung Galaxy Active 2 delivers on the promise of the original in strong form.
Carrying confidence across both the design and performance sides of the equation, it’s easily the best wearable Samsung have shipped in years. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the first sign of proper competition for the Apple Watch. Assuming you're someone who already uses a Samsung phone, Samsung Pay and Spotify anyway.
There’s always room for improvement but the Galaxy Watch Active 2 gets closer to Apple’s wearable than ever before.
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