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Samsung Galaxy Watch

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic review: A stellar smartwatch for those with Samsung phones

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
370
inc VAT

The Galaxy Watch 4 is Samsung’s best smartwatch to date, but annoying restrictions mean it’s less appealing than it should be

Pros 
Impressive performance
Access to more apps than before
Attractively priced
Cons 
Mediocre battery life
No ECG unless you have a Samsung phone
Doesn’t offer all Wear OS features
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The only major gripe I’ve had with Samsung’s wearables in recent years is that there hasn’t been much progression between iterations. As with lots of tech nowadays, each model has improved on the last but not by so much that I’d recommend rushing out to buy the new one.

With the Galaxy Watch 4 series, Samsung is truly shaking things up with a new processor and Samsung-branded Wear OS software replacing the firm’s own Tizen operating system. However, while it’s a very impressive smartwatch indeed, the new Galaxy Watch is arguably more restrictive than ever.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic review: What do you get for the money?

Unlike the Galaxy Watch 3, which consisted of one variant in two sizes, with the Watch 4 you get to choose between two variants, each of which is available in two sizes.

The Watch 4 Classic is slightly larger at 42mm or 46mm, has a stainless steel case and rotating bezel; the plain Watch 4 comes in 40mm and 44mm sizes and has a low-profile touch bezel and an aluminium case, as found on the Galaxy Watch Active Series.

The regular Watch 4 starts at £249 for the smaller 40mm watch and rises to £269 for the 44mm model. Meanwhile, the more directly comparable Watch 4 Classic will set you back £349 and £369 in 42mm and 46mm sizes respectively, which is around £50 less than the Galaxy Watch 3 cost when it was first released.

To add 4G functionality, you’ll need to fork out an extra £40 over those prices, whether you opt for the Watch 4 or the Watch 4 Classic. And if you want to tweak every aspect of your watch via Samsung’s Watch Studio, you can expect to pay a bit more still. As such, you’re still looking at spending £450 or thereabouts for a 46mm Galaxy Watch 4 Classic with a strap of your choice and all the bells and whistles.

We were sent a Bluetooth-only 46mm Watch 4 Classic for review, but whichever variant you choose, the Galaxy Watch 4 will come with the same Exynos W920 chip inside. Samsung claims this delivers a 20% boost in CPU processing speeds along with graphics rendering that’s a whopping ten times faster than the older Exynos 9110.

The chip is now backed by 16GB of storage and 1.5GB of RAM (again the same across all models), both of which represent notable improvements on the old model, which had 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM. The 46mm Galaxy Watch 4 Classic has also had a display upgrade, employing a 1.4in, 450 x 450 AMOLED panel as opposed to the 360 x 360 display found in the Watch 3.

Otherwise, little has changed physically. The smartwatch is unmistakably the successor to the Galaxy Watch 3 and, aside from its low-profile buttons, which look more akin to those on the Galaxy Watch Active, you’d struggle to differentiate the two at a glance.

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Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic review: What’s new?

The headline here is that the Galaxy Watch 4 employs Google’s Wear OS software in place of Samsung’s own Tizen OS, but this isn’t Wear OS as you might know it. In fact, this “powered by Samsung” version feels quite different to Wear OS on other Google-based smartwatches.

As with previous Galaxy wearables, rotating the bezel clockwise opens a series of “tiles”, which let you do everything from starting workouts to checking your activity levels, pulse or sleep score. Meanwhile, a swipe down on the touchscreen opens a quick settings menu that looks just like the one on the Galaxy Watch 3. The main difference is that apps can now be found via a swipe up from the bottom of the display instead of being hosted on a tile of their own.

In addition to Samsung’s core apps for weather, reminders and alarms, you’ll find a couple of standout new entries here, including Google Maps and, importantly, Google’s Play Store. The latter opens up a whole range of possibilities compared to what’s possible with any recent Samsung smartwatch, with apps such as Shazam, Couch to 5K, Nike Run Club, Calm, Komoot and Telegram all available, in addition to Google essentials such as Google Fit, Google Pay and Google Keep.

Elsewhere, the Galaxy Watch 4 introduces a range of new health-related features including snoring detection and continuous blood oxygen tracking throughout the night. And, thanks to its new “BioActive” sensor, the watch can also measure your body composition, offering insights into body fat percentage, BMI, skeletal muscle mass, body water mass and basal metabolic rate. This is done by simply placing your middle finger and ring finger on the watch’s buttons, while lifting your arms up so that they’re not touching your body.

The ECG feature that was introduced to the Galaxy Watch 3 via a software update in the UK is also present, although to use this, you’ll need to pair your Galaxy Watch with a Samsung smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic review: What do we like?

As far as sheer processing speed is concerned, this is the best Galaxy Watch to date. Apps load quickly and are a pleasure to use and the interface works exactly as you’d expect it to, only faster than before. Spotify is still installed by default and supports offline playback, too, which is great news because that has been an important selling point for Samsung’s wearables in recent years.

The Galaxy Watch 4’s graphical capabilities are notably improved compared with its predecessor, too. This is most evident in some of the device’s animated watch faces, which look superb. A quick tap on one lets you switch between fun, colourful, graphical animations of a cat, rabbit, sheep and monkey. Meanwhile, another has lots of little hundreds and thousands that float around on the display. There’s no huge practical benefit, but it’s the closest I’ve seen any smartwatch come to rivalling an Apple Watch as far as visual flourishes are concerned.

As I’ve already touched on, the wider choice of apps, thanks to the addition of the Google Play Store, is a huge positive. Essentially, you’re getting the Tizen user experience combined with a much larger app store, which makes the Galaxy Watch 4 considerably more fully featured than any of its predecessors. If a lack of Google Maps or Google Pay has always been a dealbreaker for you in the past, the Watch 4 could be the Samsung smartwatch for you, although I’d still recommend reading on to the end of the review before you make the leap.

How about those new body composition features? I’m not sure they’d be enough for me to upgrade from the Galaxy Watch 3 but, aside from weight, which you’ll need to add manually, the Galaxy Watch 4 offers most of the insights you’d get from smart scales such as the Garmin Index S2 – and it logged impressively similar measurements too. I would always take such readings with a pinch of salt, but if you want to keep an eye on general trends in your body fat and water composition, it’s certainly a handy addition.

And then there’s the price. It’s only a bit cheaper than the Galaxy Watch 3 was at launch, but I bemoaned the fact that the Galaxy Watch 3 cost 40% more than its predecessor, so it’s great to see that Samsung has taken note and made the Watch 4 accessible to more people. Although we were sent the Watch 4 Classic for review, the Watch 4 represents an alluring prospect, especially when you consider it contains all the same internals for a mere £250.

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Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic review: How can it be improved?

Sadly, the move to Wear OS isn’t altogether a resounding success. You’d hope that a Samsung watch powered by Wear OS would enable faster, easier setup on any Android device, but that’s simply not the case. On the contrary, you still need to install a whole host of Samsung apps on your Android phone to use the Galaxy Watch 4, including Galaxy Wearable, Samsung Health and Samsung Pay.

What’s more, even after you’ve installed these you still won’t be able to make the most of all the watch’s best features. The ECG app, for instance, which is a key selling point, requires you to own a Samsung Galaxy smartphone. At launch, the blood-pressure-tracking option is also not supported in the UK.

The Galaxy Watch 4 is also Samsung’s only smartwatch in recent years that doesn’t work with iPhones at all. Apple itself is notoriously restrictive but with Samsung moving to Google’s Wear OS, you’d hope it would become more accessible, not less.

There are other frustrating aspects of Samsung’s version of Wear OS, too, including the fact that Google Assistant is not present. Instead, you have to make do with Samsung’s own Bixby virtual assistant, which is rather puzzling when Bixby has taken much more of a back seat on the brand’s recent smartphones. Not only that, but there's a very limited option to remap the buttons, so you’re stuck with activating Samsung Pay via a long-press of the back button, for instance.

Finally, there’s the issue of battery life. Samsung’s Gear and Galaxy smartwatches once wiped the floor with Apple’s wearables in this respect, but now it’s become much more of a close-run thing. Samsung estimates the Galaxy Watch 4 will last 40 hours on average and that’s largely in keeping with what I’ve experienced in the sense that it usually lasts between 24 and 48 hours with moderate use.

That’s still better than plenty of Wear OS wearables but if, like me, you resent having to charge your watch every night to be sure it will definitely make it through the next day, then this isn’t the device for you.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic review: Should you buy it?

All of this leaves the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic in a rather peculiar position, which is a shame for a device that offers such excellent performance in many respects. If you’re a loyal Samsung customer who always has a Samsung smartphone, there’s no doubt this is the best smartwatch you can buy. Nothing else (ignoring the Apple Watch) comes close.

For everyone else, it’s a little more complex. Although iPhone users might not be able to use this latest Samsung wearable, they needn’t worry when the Apple Watch starts from as little as £197. Non-Samsung Android phone owners, meanwhile, will have to put up with installing Samsung bloatware and missing out on the ECG function if they want to benefit from what is, arguably, the best all-round smartwatch for them.

If you’re more into strong battery life than having plenty of apps at your disposal, there are plenty of other good options to choose from. Huawei’s Watch GT2 delivers impressive battery life and solid fitness features alongside a bright, colourful display for a mere £100. Meanwhile, Garmin has a host of decent GPS watches such as the Vivoactive 4 (£199) and Forerunner 245 Music (£259) that offer basic smartwatch features alongside offline Spotify playback and in-depth fitness tracking.

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