Samsung’s latest, the Galaxy Watch 3, is an all-round refinement of its previous excellent smartwatch efforts – slimmer, lighter and with a larger screen.
The £399 Galaxy Watch 3 comes in two sizes (41mm or 45mm), two colours and with or without 4G, aiming to be the Apple Watch of Android, here reviewed in black with a 45mm case. It sits alongside the smaller, fitness-focused Galaxy Watch Active 2 and works with any brand of Android with access to the Google Play Store as well as an iPhone running iOS 9 or newer.
The Watch 3 takes the design of 2018’s Galaxy Watch – there was no number two – and slims down its stainless steel body in all dimensions while adding a larger screen. The result is a thin, attractive traditional-looking circular watch that’s only 11.1mm thick and 53.8g in weight.
The 1.4in screen is large, crisp and bright. It copes well with low and bright light, adjusting brightness accordingly, including a super-bright outdoors mode that comes on automatically. You can set the screen to be on all the time with a large array of attractive watch faces available, most of which are customisable. There are thousands more in the Galaxy Store, too.
The rotating bezel around the screen acts as a jog controller for navigating the interface. Two buttons take care of back and apps functions. Press and hold the top apps button to activate Samsung Pay and the bottom back button to activate Bixby or your choice of app. Double press the bottom button to see recently used apps.
The Watch 3 is water resistant to 50 metres, the screen is covered in scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass DX and the straps are standard 20mm or 22mm bands with quick-release pins. It ships with a high-quality leather strap that is much more supple and nicer than those that come with most watches.
Screen: 1.2in or 1.4in AMOLED (364 ppi)
Case size: 41 or 45mm
Case thickness: 11.3 or 11.1mm
Band size: standard 20 or 22mm
Weight: 48.2g or 53.8g
Processor: Samsung Exynos 9110 dual-core 1.15GHz
Operating system: Tizen 5.5 (One UI 2)
Water resistance: 50 metres (5ATM)
Sensors: barometer, gyro, HR sensor, light sensor, microphone, speaker, NFC, GPS
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, wifi n, NFC
Slick performance, 1.5-days battery
Samsung has used the same in-house Exynos 9110 processor in all of its recent smartwatches to great effect, including Watch 3. It has slightly more RAM at 1GB and double the storage at 8GB compared with the Watch Active 2 but performs very similarly.
The interface is slick, snappy and lag-free. Screens and widgets whizz by as fast as you can turn the bezel. It is very close to the performance you get out of Apple Watch and far, far better than any Wear OS watch.
Battery life is also solid but slightly less than the two days of the previous Galaxy Watch, mainly because of the lower-capacity battery. With the screen on all the time I routinely made it from 8am to midnight with at least 40% left. On some lighter-use days I made it to bed with 50% left. The original Galaxy Watch would end the day with closer to 60% battery left.
A 20-minute run with high-accuracy tracking consumed 6% of the battery, while sleep tracking for eight hours drained the battery by 9%. That meant the watch lasted just under 36 hours of constant wearing between charges.
Fully charging the watch takes about two hours, 10 minutes with the wireless charging puck, reaching 40% from dead in an hour.
Samsung does not provide an expected lifespan for the battery in the Watch 3 but provides a one-year warranty. Similar batteries typically last at least 500 full charge cycles while maintaining at least 80% capacity.
Unlike many smartwatches the battery in the Watch 3 can be replaced by authorised service centres. The Watch 3 is also one of the more repairable smartwatches available, scoring a seven out of 10 with repair specialists iFixit, but Samsung did not comment on the use of recycled materials in the construction of the watch.
Tizen 5.5 with One UI 2.0
Samsung uses its own operating system on its smartwatches called Tizen, here in its latest form with One UI 2.0. The firm offers software updates for its smartwatches for extended periods, which has resulted in watches four years old or more receiving updates recently and bodes well for the Watch 3.
Tizen is based around a rotary interface, taking full advantage of that rotating bezel and circular screen, but it can also be swiped and tapped with fingers on the screen.
It operates exactly the same as the Galaxy Watch Active 2 with minor improvements and slicker animations. Notifications appear as tiles to the left of the watch face and can be tapped to expand, actioned or replied to from your wrist. Widgets for various things are to the right.
Swipe down from the top for quick settings or press the apps button for a list of apps. There are only a handful of good third-party apps, but they include Strava and some other fitness tracking apps, plus Spotify with offline music downloads and playback.
Samsung Pay and Bixby
The Watch 3 has Samsung Pay for contactless payments, which works well if a little clunkier than Google Pay, but UK bank support is limited. I use a Curve card, which is supported by Samsung Pay, to bind my unsupported bank cards and use them through it. Samsung recently launched its own version of the Curve card called Samsung Pay Card, too.
Bixby is Samsung’s smart voice assistant. It works fine for simple tasks such as setting timers and other bits but can be a bit slow to activate and understand what you have said. It is more reliable than the previous version but is still the least polished bit of the Watch 3.
Samsung Health has the same comprehensive health and fitness tracking features as it does on the Watch Active 2. It is one of the most complete suites of general health and fitness related monitoring on a smartwatch, including sleep tracking with blood oxygenation, stress and heart health, rivalling that from Apple and far better than Wear OS or rivals.
Running tracking has new dynamics analysis, giving you a breakdown of your form, including asymmetry, foot contact time, flight time, regularity, vertical motion and stiffness. I’m not sure they will convince hard-core runners but it’s an interesting feature to have. Vo2 Max – a fairly common measure of cardiorespiratory fitness – matched my long-term readings from various Garmin devices on first run, which bodes well.
The one negative is that it’s difficult to see when the watch has a GPS lock when preparing for a run, as it just tells you to set off. That resulted in it missing out on 200 metres of a run compared with a Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar.
The Watch 3 has the hardware to perform an echocardiogram (ECG) and to monitor blood pressure but it has yet to be activated in the UK pending regulatory approval, which was recently granted in the US.
Occasionally the watch would get stuck in outdoor screen mode for a bit on max brightness
The short, sharp vibrations for notifications are some of the best outside of the Apple Watch.
The Watch 3 can be used with an iPhone but there are significant limitations around Messages notifications and replies, lack of Samsung Pay, some Health and other functions.
Pairing and set up is faster on a Samsung phone but all the functions work just fine with any modern Android phone.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is the best smartwatch for Android by some margin, taking the crown from the already excellent Watch Active 2.
It combines a slim, light and attractive traditional watch design with the excellent rotating bezel controller, a slick software experience, solid battery life and a bright, crisp and gorgeous always-on screen.
Its health-tracking features are up there with the best. Notification handling on Android is good. There is an enormous selection of watch faces and while third-party apps are slim on the ground, they do include some key ones such as Spotify and Strava.
Samsung offers long-term software support, the watch is repairable and the battery can be replaced if needed. But the Watch 3 isn’t perfect. Bixby still isn’t great, Samsung Pay support is limited in the UK and while it has the hardware to support them, the ECG or blood pressure functions are still pending approval.
I also wouldn’t wholly recommend using one with an iPhone as there are significant limitations compared with an Apple Watch of a similar price.
It is relatively expensive but if you want a great smartwatch for your Android phone, the Galaxy Watch 3 is it. If you want something cheaper, the Watch Active 2 is almost as good.
Pros: slim and attractive traditional watch design, big and bright screen, bezel control, slick performance, solid battery life, excellent fitness and health tracking, 50-metre water resistance, standard 20mm/22mm straps, long software support, battery can be replaced, cross platform.
Cons: few UK banks support Samsung Pay, Bixby is weak, cannot display animated images in smart camera notifications, limited functionality with an iPhone, cannot use ECG/blood pressure yet.