If we’re honest, Android has never had a great smartwatch option to rival the Apple Watch. In a bid to change that, Samsung and Google partnered up to create Wear OS 4 and, with it, the Galaxy Watch 4. And, in a few words? It’s a beautiful Frankenstein monster. And, the best Wear OS watch yet.
And I’m not kidding about the Frankenstein monster bit. For the past year, I’ve been swapping between a Wear OS watch and a Samsung Galaxy Active 2. If it seems odd that I keep switching, it’s because I’ve never been totally satisfied with either. Wear OS has better apps overall, but it’s slow and clunky, and I like the Tizen interface better. Now that I’ve been using the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic edition, I can’t help but see how it’s a product of both. It’s like Wear OS and Tizen had a baby, and the final product is (mostly) better for its parentage.
The new Galaxy Watch 4 comes in two flavors, the Galaxy Watch 4 and the Galaxy Watch 4 classic. Internally they’re the same watch, but externally they diverge. The plain Watch 4 serves as a successor to the Galaxy Active 2, while the Classic is closer to a Galaxy Watch 3. That means the Classic gets a rotating bezel to navigate the interface, along with the same swipe gestures, and the case is upgraded to stainless steel. They also come in different sizes, with the Galaxy Watch 4 offering 40 and 44 mm options, while the Classic comes in 42 and 46 mm sizes instead.
We’re looking at the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic for this review, specifically a 42 mm model. Because the internal memory, processor, sensors, and user interface are all the same, most of this review could cover both models. But the rotating bezel is worth spending a moment on because it serves as the true differentiator.
The bezel comes with two distinct benefits over the standard Watch 4. The first is that it makes the watch a little thicker. Now that’s usually a bad thing, but hear me out. The bezel rests atop the display and so, in essence, acts as a protective barrier. It’s like the lip on a phone case preventing the display from touching every surface. As often as I clumsily bang my arm (and watch) into every door frame and random object I walk by, there’s something to be said for any extra protection.
The other benefit is, of course, navigation. Rather than a swipe from the left or right edges of the display, you can turn the bezel left or right. I’m not sure that it’s any easier than just swiping, especially because you still need to swipe for up and down gestures in many places. The bezel spins fluidly, but there’s a pleasant clink to both the feel and sound of it, too. It reminds me of the noise a bike makes when you stop pedaling and just coast. It’s super satisfying.
But it’s also probably not necessary. You’ll spend $100 more for the bezel and stainless steel materials, and that feels like a lot extra to pay when everything else is the same. That includes the gorgeous display—and I do mean gorgeous. The Galaxy Watch 4 packs an AMOLED screen, and Samsung does a great job making it bright and vivid. It looks even better than my Galaxy Active 2, which feels washed out in comparison.
Overall, whether you get the standard or Classic, you end up with a smartwatch that looks very much like a standard watch. It’s round like it should be, and uses traditional 20 mm, quick release bands. So grab a nice leather band, and it’ll look that much more like a regular watch, which fits my preferences. Even the two control buttons add to the look, but we’ll talk more about those in a bit.
Thanks to my time in both Wear OS, the Galaxy Watch 4 threw me for a loop at first. This watch runs Wear OS 3 with One UI, basically, an upgrade OS developed in collaboration between Google, and Samsung. The One UI comes directly from Samsung, and other Wear OS 3 watches won’t look quite the same.
On the Galaxy Watch 4, some things work like Wear OS, others like Tizen, and a few things are totally new. Take navigation, for instance. Swipe to the right, and you’ll get a Tizen-like notification page instead of Google Assistant. You won’t find Google Assistant at all, a glaring omission compared to other Wear OS devices, but Samsung says that’ll arrive on the watch eventually. Swipe to the right, and you’ll get to tiles that look like a cross between Wear OS tiles and Tizen widgets.
Swipe to the bottom pane, and you finally get the first true indicator that this is a Wear OS watch—Wear OS apps. You can navigate existing apps here and even install apps directly on the watch; no phone required. It’s fast and easy, and hallelujah for that because installing apps on Wear OS watches used to be a giant pain. Neither Tizen nor Wear OS had apps in this location, but I think it’s an improvement over both.
But here’s where things get tricky. You see, this is a Samsung watch, although you can use it with any Android phone. However, you can’t use it with iOS (unlike previous Wear OS and Samsung watches), but I’m not sure who would do that anyway. And even on Android, not every feature works on non-Samsung phones. As I mentioned above, even though it’s a Wear OS device, you currently can’t use Google Assistant. You’re stuck with Bixby. Yuck.
Using the Galaxy Watch with a non-Samsung phone requires installing several apps. I already use the Galaxy Watch Active 2 with my OnePlus phone, so I thought I was good to go. But to my surprise, I still had to install more apps to make the new Galaxy Watch 3 work. And even more surprisingly, I can’t install all the apps I need to make every feature work.
The Galaxy Watch 4 offers electrocardiogram (ECG) scans, but I can’t use it. Any attempt to launch the watch app prompts me to install the Samsung Health Monitor app on my phone. But that’s only available in the Galaxy app store, and no, you can’t sideload to get around the problem. (The store only runs on Samsung phones.) You’ll hit other weird limitations, like Google Pay. You can install it on the watch, and it opens, but I couldn’t get it to add cards to my watch. It always errored out.
Even if Google Pay did work correctly, it’d be inconvenient to use. You can press and hold the bottom hardware key if you want to launch Samsung Pay (which works fine, honestly). But you can’t remap that function to any other app. This means if Google Pay ever does work, you’ll have to launch it by scrolling to it in the app list.
So, you have Wear OS apps but also duplicate Samsung apps. And some of the Wear OS apps are just missing or don’t work. But, at least you get Wear OS watch faces, which is an improvement over Tizen. And overall, this crossbreed is better than its parentage. Tizen has always lacked apps or even great watch face options. Wear OS is famously slow, thanks to both the software and underpowered processors. But the Galaxy Watch 4 gets you Tizen polish, Wear OS apps, and speeds that don’t quit thanks to the Exynos W920 chipset and 1.5GB of RAM. I’ve never experienced so much as a stutter on the Galaxy Watch 4, and that’s great.
The Galaxy Watch 4 isn’t a fitness watch, but it still does fitness like most smartwatches. Unfortunately, I managed to dislocate my left elbow during a parkour training session just before my watch review unit arrived, so I haven’t been able to test the features extensively. The “other workout” you see in the screenshot above is my 8-year-old wearing the watch during one of his parkour lessons. The truth is, the sensor is probably “accurate ” enough, and what matters is that you use it consistently and pay attention to the numbers over time.
But overall, the Galaxy Watch 4 is the best Galaxy Watch for fitness yet. It has the same Health offerings as Tizen watches (which frankly outright steal the look of Fitbit graphs). And it benefits from access to WearOS apps like Strava and Google Fit. More choice is always a good thing. But as I noted above, to get the most out if you’ll need to use a Samsung phone. ECG doesn’t work without it.
You can, at least, use the body composition feature with any Android phone. I wouldn’t put too much stock into it. It works like smart scales by sending an electrical signal through your body to guestimate skeletal muscle, body water, fat mass, and the like. However, you have to provide your weight since it’s not a scale, which means it’s only as accurate as the information you provide it.
And even that might be generous. It works by wearing your watch on your left arm (sorry, people who prefer right arm watches), turning your right-hand palm up, and touching the two contact buttons with your middle and ring finger. Then you lift your elbows away from your body and wait. But here’s the thing, even the watch admits that simple things like your arms touching your sides or positioning can change the result. I measured three times in a row and got a different result each time. Take it with a grain of salt, and don’t depend on it.
So overall, how is the Galaxy Watch 4? Well, hands down, it’s the best Wear OS watch you can buy right now. But that’s not saying much, because it’s also the only Wear OS watch you should buy. The rest of the field is held back by weak processors and old software. Nothing can compete.
Then again, I’m not sure what could in the future. Samsung’s processor can keep up and even shine on Wear OS, and it remains to be seen if the upcoming Snapdragon 4100+ will finally catch up. But I wouldn’t get my hopes up on that end.
For all the praise I can heap on the Galaxy Watch 4, it’s ultimately “best on Samsung,” and that’s unfortunate. You might think that’s a new issue, but the previous Galaxy Watch didn’t have quite so many limitations or require quite so many different apps. Don’t get me wrong; I’d still recommend this watch over the Galaxy Watch 3 as Wear OS brings a lot to the table.
I can’t help but long for a pure Wear OS watch with Samsung’s processor. I might even pay extra for that.
As for which Galaxy Watch 4 you should get, that one is a little more difficult to answer. The rotating bezel and stainless steel probably don’t justify the extra $100 the Classic model demands when you get down to it. Logically, that’s just the truth. But if you have the $100, if you don’t mind spending the extra money, you won’t hate yourself for it. That rotating bezel is like the ultimate fidget spinner right on your wrist. It’s so satisfying.
Either way, if you want a Wear OS watch right now, this is the one to get.
Here’s What We Like
- The best Wear OS watch yet
- Wear OS apps!
- Runs super smooth
And What We Don't
- Samsung apps required for non-Samsung phones
- Not all features work on non-Samsung phones
- Bixby only