Samsung released the Galaxy Watch in 2018, a sequel to the earlier Gear S3, for everyone who wanted a smartwatch resembling a traditional timepiece. It was followed up by the sporty Watch Active and Watch Active2, but some fans were left disappointing by the more modern design. At long last, the Galaxy Watch3 is here — no, you didn’t miss anything, Samsung skipped #2.
The Galaxy Watch3 is the best smartwatch Samsung has made yet, and as a result, it’s probably the best smartwatch you can pair with an Android phone. However, the $400 starting price is laughable, considering the smallest Watch Active2 costs $230 right now, and many of the unique health features don’t work in the United States.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The Galaxy Watch3 shares many design elements with original Galaxy Watch and the Gear S3 before it. The bezels and lugs look similar to a traditional mechanical watch, with numbers lining the edge of the screen to represent seconds. Surrounding the screen is a physical rotating bezel, which has made a triumphant return after its absence on the Watch Active series. Navigating through menus and apps is effortless, and I wish Fossil or Mobvoi would replicate it on their Wear OS watches.
I received the larger 45mm model for review, and I was surprised to see it wasn’t as bulky as it appeared in photos. The 41mm and 45mm models are 11.3 and 11.1 mm thick, respectively, only marginally deeper than the 11mm Watch Active2. It’s also thinner than the 13mm original Galaxy Watch. I appreciate that Samsung made a traditional-looking watch that doesn’t feel like I have weights tied to my wrist.
The new Moto 360 (left) next to the Galaxy Watch3
All versions of the Galaxy Watch3 come with a plain leather band. The 41mm model uses standard 20mm watch straps, and the 45mm model uses 22mm straps, so there are thousands of replacement bands if you don’t like the one in the box.
The internal hardware includes an Exynos 9110 chipset, 1GB RAM, 8GB of storage, and a 340mAh (45mm) or 247mAh (41mm) battery. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, and GPS are all built-in, plus LTE if you buy one of the more expensive models. Just like all other Galaxy Watches, the Watch3 lacks support for the MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) technology found on the Gear S3 and Samsung’s flagship phones, so tap-to-pay only works on NFC-based payment terminals.
The front display is a 1.2 (41mm) or 1.4-inch (45mm) fully circular AMOLED screen, with a resolution of 360×360. Now that we’re past the days of flat-tire screens, I rarely have anything to complain about with smartwatch displays, and that holds true for the Watch3’s display. It looks great.
The underside of the watch houses the array of sensors and the same WPC-based wireless charging pad that Samsung’s previous smartwatches use. While you can power the watch using the included cradle and reverse wireless charging on Galaxy S/Note phones (also known as Wireless PowerShare), you can’t set it on top of a generic Qi pad.
Charging the Galaxy Watch3 on top of a Galaxy S20
In the box, you get the Galaxy Watch3, the charging cable, and a quick start guide. There’s no wall adapter included in the box, but any USB Type-A charger will work. Also, the box looks an awful lot like the boxes for Apple Watches.
Software, performance, battery
Just like previous Samsung wearables, the Galaxy Watch3 uses the company’s own Tizen operating system. Tizen is still far ahead of Google’s Wear OS in most areas, especially in performance and battery life. You scroll to the left of the watch face to see your notifications, and scrolling to the right will display tiles with information and shortcuts. Everything can be customized, either from the watch or from the companion app on your phone. For example, I moved the music control tile to the first available slot, since I access that far more often than the health features.
Unfortunately, the third-party app situation is just as grim on Galaxy Watches as it is on Wear OS. The built-in Samsung apps and Bixby voice assistant should cover just about anything you could want to do with a smartwatch, but don’t expect much functionality beyond that.
Samsung’s watches work with all Android and iOS devices, but you get some bonus features if you have a Samsung phone. I had the Watch3 paired to my Galaxy S20, and I could see the camera viewfinder on my watch while taking photos, just like with Wear OS watches and Pixels. You can also manage app updates from the Galaxy Store app on your phone, instead of using the pint-sized store on the watch itself.
The health features on the Watch3 are mostly identical to those on Samsung’s previous watches. You get automatic workout detection, periodic heart rate measurements, stress monitoring, daily goals (like rings on the Apple Watch), syncing with Samsung Health, and so on. If you want a more complete picture of your health, you can manually input your water intake and diet. There’s even menstruation tracking, which Samsung has sectioned under “women’s health” — I guess no one at Samsung has heard of trans/non-binary people.
The Galaxy Watch3 has the same ECG/EKG monitor and blood pressure monitor as the Watch Active2, as well as a tracker for blood oxygen levels (which was present on the original Watch Active at one point, but was later removed). However, none of these features are quite as helpful as they might seem on paper. I couldn’t test the ECG or blood pressure monitors at all because neither sensor has been enabled in the United States. The ECG monitor was just approved by the FDA earlier this month, but Samsung hasn’t enabled it quite yet. The blood pressure monitor is still waiting on FDA approval, and even when it does arrive, you’ll need to periodically calibrate it with a dedicated blood pressure device for accurate readings.
I did try out the blood oxygen tracker, but it doesn’t seem to work well. The watch had no issue reading my blood, but it repeatedly failed when my mom tried it. While I personally don’t have a pulse oximeter to compare the results with, Max Weinbach of XDA Developers said the Watch3’s sensor was not accurate at all in his testing, and Daniel Bader of Android Central echoed similar complaints. In other words, if you live in the United States, all of the Watch3’s most advanced health features are either not rolled out or not working well.
The blood oxygen on the Galaxy Watch3 is *so* inaccurate. Watch says 83%, actual pulse oximeter says 98%.
Absolutely do not trust it for anything close to accurate.
— Max Weinbach (@MaxWinebach) August 19, 2020
I got 91% last night so obviously I’m dead now thanks Samsung
— Daniel Bader (@journeydan) August 19, 2020
Besides the mixed results from the blood oxygen tracking, I didn’t have any functional issues with the Galaxy Watch3. It’s just as fast and responsive as Samsung’s previous watches, and Tizen is clearly receiving far more care and attention than Google’s Wear OS.
All the included watch faces
As with most Samsung wearables, battery life is excellent on the Galaxy Watch3. On my larger 45mm model with LTE (though I was not connected to any data networks) and the screen set to always-on, I ended most days with 50-60% battery life remaining. Most people could probably push the watch to three days once always-on display is turned off. Charging only takes a few hours, too.
Should you buy it?
Samsung Galaxy Watch3
No, not until there’s a sale or Samsung fixes the new health sensors. The Galaxy Watch3 is definitely one of the best smartwatches available for Android phones, but there is absolutely no reason to spend $400+ on it. Samsung brings new features to its older watches all the time, so the Watch3 is largely the same experience as the ~$230 Watch Active2 or the ~$220 original Galaxy Watch.
Most Wear OS watches have no health tracking abilities beyond simple heart rate measurements, so the Watch3 could be worth the premium if all of its new sensors were functional, but they’re not. Blood pressure monitoring is still only available in South Korea, the ECG sensor hasn’t been rolled out in the United States yet, and blood oxygen tracking appears to be incredibly inaccurate.
I hope that Samsung continues working on the health features, but until they are widely rolled out and provide accurate results, there’s no reason to spend a premium on the Galaxy Watch3. Buy one of Samsung’s earlier watches instead, or if you don’t really care about detailed health tracking, the Fossil Gen 5 or Skagen Falster 3 are still excellent options if you can snag them for under $200.
Samsung is running a trade-in program for the Galaxy Watch3 that can drop the price to as little as $250, which is a much better value. See this post for the details on Samsung’s trade-ins.
Buy it if:
- It’s on sale, or you can get an excellent trade-in deal.
- You believe that Samsung will keep working on the health sensors, or you don’t care about those features in the first place.
Don’t buy it if:
- You have an existing Galaxy Watch or Watch Active.