Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 hands on review: Hello familiar

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The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is a landmark launch – as the flagship device returns to Google Wear OS. Expectation is high.

As it seems customary with Samsung smartwatch launches, we’ve had leaked pictures, specs sheets and retailer slip-ups that have spoiled most of the surprises.

As we knew, the Galaxy Watch 4 and the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic ditch Samsung’s Tizen OS for a new version of Google’s Wear OS that Samsung has helped to build.

The Watch 4 and Watch Classic are the first two watches to showcase just what the two companies have been working on.

Based on what we’ve seen so far when we headed to the Samsung KX experience space in London to see them up close, it all feels very familiar.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Price

  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 (40mm, Bluetooth): £249
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 (40mm, 4G): £289
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 (44mm, Bluetooth): £269
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 (44mm, 4G): £309
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic (42mm, Bluetooth): £349
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic (42mm, 4G): £389
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic (46mm, Bluetooth): £369
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic (46mm, 4G): £406

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Key features

  • Available in 44mm/40mm (Watch 4) and 42mm/46mm (Watch 4 Classic)
  • Biggest Watch 4/Watch 4 Classic models include 396×396 Super AMOLED displays
  • Exynos W920 dual core processor with 1.5GB RAM and 16GB storage
  • Up to 40 hours of battery life
  • Run on Wear OS with Samsung One UI Watch 3
  • Samsung Pay or Google Pay support
  • Download apps from Google Play Store
  • ECG, PPG and BIA sensors
  • Built-in GPS/Glonass/Beidou
  • LTE on all models
  • 5ATM water resistant rating

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: A familiar look

Galaxy Watch 4 Classic (left) and Galaxy Watch 4 (right)

Galaxy Watch 4 Classic (left) and Galaxy Watch 4 (right)

Let’s get the nitty gritty details out of the way. There’s the Galaxy Watch 4 and the Watch Classic. Think of the Watch 4 as the replacement for the Watch Active 2 and the Classic as the successor to the Galaxy Watch 3.

The Watch 4 come in 40mm and 44mm case sizes and the Watch 4 Classic in 42mm and 46mm cases.

The Watch 4 comes with an aluminium case and the Classic with a stainless steel one.

In terms of colors, the 44mm Watch 4 comes in black, green or silver. The 40mm can be picked up in black, pink gold and silver. The Watch 4 Classic in both sizes comes in your option of black or silver.

In the screen departments, the 40mm Watch 4 features a 1.2-inch, 396 x 396 Super AMOLED always-on display and the 44mm has the larger 1.4-inch 450 x 450 Super AMOLED screen.

The 42mm Watch 4 Classic hosts a 1.19-inch, 396 x 396 Super AMOLED screen and the 46mm Classic gets a larger 1.4-inch, 450 x 450 display.

Samsung says that’s a 10% increase on pixels from its last watches. The larger Galaxy Watch 3 and Watch Active 2 models topped out with 360 x 360 resolution Super AMOLED screens, so that’s a sizeable step up on the display front.

There’s also a Galaxy Watch 4 Thom Browne edition, but Samsung hasn’t shared much details on it beyond some renders. Think Thom Browne bands and some designer watch faces.

While things may have changed on the software front, both watches still feel every bit like Samsung smartwatches.

The Classic feels like the chunkier of the two watches and is the one where you do still get Samsung’s signature physical rotating bezel. However, the more pronounced bezel makes the screens on both Classic models feel cramped.

There’s now flatter, physical buttons instead of the more traditional watch-style ones used on the Watch 3 and that’s down to the introduction of new health features.

Galaxy Watch 4 Classic and Galaxy Watch 3

Galaxy Watch 4 Classic with Wear OS (left) and Galaxy Watch 3 and Tizen OS (right)

You’ve got watch band options to play with just like previous Samsung smartwatches too. The leather and silicone ones we got to try out on felt well made and the hiqh quality kind you’d expect to find attached to top end smartwatch. You’ve still got a simple pin mechanism on either ends of the strap if you want to remove them too.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 models

Left to right: Galaxy Watch 4 Classic (46mm and 42mm) and Galaxy Watch 4 (40mm and 44mm)

It’s the Watch 4 though that’s the standout looker of the two for us. Much like we had a preference for the more minimalist, streamlined look of the Watch Active, we got similar feelings about the Watch 4.

It’s still all clean lines with a case that’s slimmer and has a nicer matte finish than the Classic. That more svelte look is partly down to the lack of a physical rotating bezel. Instead you’re getting a digital bezel ne just like the Watch Active, though its presence blends into the screen when it’s awake in a far nicer way.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Return to Wear OS

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 wear OS

A Samsung with TizenOS is soon to be a thing of the past. The Watch 3 and Watch Active 2 set to be discontinued, and will be supported with crucial updates for a few more years. It sees Samsung return to the smartwatch software it toyed with back in 2014 with the Samsung Gear Live. before it decided to stick with its own in-house built OS.

The Watch 4 or Classic run the new Wear 3 with Samsung’s One UI Watch overlaid on top. But the experiencer of using and interacting with the Galaxy Watch 4 feels pretty much the same as the existing Tizen devices.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 vs Galaxy Watch 3

Galaxy Watch 4 Classic with Wear OS (left) and Galaxy Watch 3 and Tizen OS (right)

The text and icons feels cleaner and more stylised (and very HarmonyOS). The gesture-based navigation remains largely the same, but some things live in different place. Most notably, you now swipe up to reveal the app tray instead of hitting the top physical button like you did on the Tizen-based watches to get you into that rotating bezel-friendly app tray. The circular UI has disappeared entirely.

Swiping right gets you to your Tiles (widgets) so that’s something brought in from Wear, though Samsung had this widget-style screens in place already. You can view things like your health and fitness stats or calendar. Nothing really caught the eye as being hugely different from Tizen.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic

Delving into the repositioned app tray and there’s a mix of Samsung and Google apps here, and is the first sign that Google does have a presence. There’s Samsung Pay and Bixby and a new dedicated controller app for Samsung’s Galaxy Buds.

Interestingly, we were told that during the set up of you watch, which will still be done through the Galaxy Wearable app, you’ll be able to choose between using Google Pay or Samsung Pay contactless payment services.

It’s a similar story for Google Assistant and Bixby and choosing between assistants is something we’ve seen on Fitbit’s smartwatches, which are now of course owned by Google.

Unlike payment service options, that support won’t be available at launch though.

Ultimately though at first glance, Samsung’s Wear feels like Samsung’s Tizen OS, bar the presence of Google’s native apps and taking away one of the most compelling reasons to have the physical rotating bezel on its smartwatches.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: A big health kick

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 first look: Wear OS smartwatch doesn't feel all that Google (yet)

Samsung’s smartwatches have always been well equipped on the sports tracking front and that doesn’t change here. Features like built-in GPS, a running coach with advanced running metrics and more exercises that support its automatic activity tracking feature are all present.

In the Active 2 and the Watch 3, it brought ECG monitoring and non-invasive blood pressure monitoring, once calibrated with a a cuff-style monitor and you continue to do so every four weeks.

You still get those features on both Watch 4 models and with Samsung’s new BioActive sensor, it’s adding a BIA sensor into the mix.

The BIA sensor enables you to perform a body composition analysis, which measures body fat and muscle mass among other stats.

This is the kind of analysis usually associated with stepping on a set of smart scales. It’s a feature that’s not entirely new to wearables. Former wearable player TomTom launched the TomTom Touch fitness tracker in 2016 with this feature on board. Samsung is bringing it back.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 first look: Wear OS smartwatch doesn't feel all that Google (yet)

To perform the body composition analysis, you’ll need to place your fingers on the two physical buttons, which pack electrodes and explain the change to flatter buttons on Samsung’s new watches.

On our first attempt it suggested moisturising our fingers. Our second attempt generated information like skeletal muscle, fat mass, body fat, BMI. It’s a feature some might enjoy having, if it proves accurate enough to use it regularly.

You can also scan for heart rate, stress via heart rate variability measurements and blood oxygen levels, which can be measured during sleep too.

What we don’t really know how this metrics will be presented and pulled together into the Samsung Health companion app and how easy it will be to share with other apps and services. This is going to be crucial as far as how useful that information can be.

Initial verdict

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 first look: Wear OS smartwatch doesn't feel all that Google (yet)

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic feel and look familiar, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The Watch 3 and the Watch Active were excellent smartwatches, and it’s clearly more of the same with some minor tweaks on both versions of the Watch 4. We’d say the Watch 4 is the nicer looking of the two though.

While Samsung’s smartwatches have rarely disappointed in the performance department, an upgraded processor, improved screen and more health sensors are all welcome additions.

What we really can’t say is how we feel about the move to Wear OS, because at first glance, its impact is minimal. The real test will be how the Galaxy Watch 4 uses the improved app selection – and whether there are any changes in battery life.

Living with new Wear 24/7 will be the true test of whether Samsung made the right call to team up with Google. We expect Google’s presence to grow over time on Samsung’s new smartwatches.

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