Let’s face it, Google’s smartwatch strategy still has a lot of catching up to do relative to the Apple Watch. While WearOS has improved over the years, it has been let down by poor hardware. Hopefully, things should take a turn for the better with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon Wear 4100 SoC in future smartwatches, but that’s yet to be determined. Companies such as Samsung and Huawei have gone their own way, using in-house hardware and software solutions.
Today, we’ll be reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, which was announced alongside the Galaxy Note 20 series earlier this year. The successor to the original Galaxy Watch from 2018, the new Galaxy Watch 3 features a fresh design, plenty of fitness tracking options, and a built-in blood oxygen monitor. The latter feature will be handy in keeping a check on your SpO2 levels, especially with respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19 around.
Our past experiences with previous Samsung Galaxy Watch models have been fairly positive, and it’s time to see whether Samsung has another winner on its hands.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 design
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 features a tweaked design but is still meant to look like a classic watch, similar to the previous model. It has a circular dial with a rotating bezel, but instead of two flattened buttons on the right, you get traditional-looking cylindrical stubs. The Galaxy Watch 3 is available with a 41mm or 45mm dial, and both variants are built using stainless steel. You can also opt for Bluetooth or LTE models in each dial size. LTE variants have a thin red band on one of the physical buttons. Samsung doesn’t offer any choice of watch straps, and all variants ship with a leather one. These can easily be swapped for other straps if needed.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 uses a 1.4-inch Super AMOLED display with a 360×360 resolution and Corning Gorilla Glass DX for scratch protection. The display is excellent, with good brightness, punchy colours, and sharp text. The watch casing is IP68 rated for dust and water resistance, and also boasts of military-grade durability with a MIL-STD-810G certification.
The 45mm version of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is only available in Mystic Black and Mystic Silver. If you fancy the new Mystic Bronze colour that Samsung is advertising heavily, you’ll have to settle for the 41mm variant.
In the box, you get only the watch, a wireless charging cradle, and some documentation. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 clings to the charger using magnets, but the base of the charger can also magnetically stick to metal surfaces.
From a build quality and design perspective, I think Samsung has done a fantastic job with the Galaxy Watch 3. It feels premium and looks great, and the 45mm version is surprisingly not as heavy (53.8g) as I expected it to be. I just wish Samsung offered more options for watch straps at the time of purchase, instead of forcing you to buy the one you really want separately.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 specs
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is powered by a dual-core Exynos 9110 SoC, and has 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage (4.3GB usable). There’s Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi n, built-in GPS, NFC, and sensors such as an accelerometer, barometer, gyroscope, ambient light sensor, and heart rate sensor. There are red LEDs and an infrared sensor on the bottom of the watch, which are used for estimating your blood oxygen (SpO2) level. The LTE version that I have for review supports an eSIM for 4G connectivity, so you can receive notifications and calls when you’re away from your phone.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 has a 340mAh battery which is said to offer a little more than two full days of “typical” usage. The watch can also be charged using standard Qi wireless chargers, including smartphones that support reverse wireless charging, for example Samsung’s Wireless PowerShare feature in phones like the Galaxy S20+.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 can also monitor blood pressure and take an ECG (electrocardiogram), but these features aren’t available on the devices sold in India at the moment. Even Samsung Pay is missing on Indian models which is odd considering that Samsung’s phones have full support for it.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 software
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 runs One UI Watch Edition (v2.0), which is based on Tizen rather than Android. It’s easy to get a hang of the interface, even if its your first time using it. A downward swipe brings up toggle buttons for things like Wi-Fi, Do not disturb mode, etc. The two physical buttons on the right of the frame are also useful when navigating the interface. The upper one is used for going back a level in an app or the interface. A single press of the second button (Home) takes you to all your apps, a long press wakes Bixby, and a double-press shows your recent apps. The latter two actions can be customised via the Wearables app.
Rotating the bezel to the left on the homescreen lets you cycle through all your unread notifications, while turning it to the right shows you all your widgets. New widgets can be added directly from the watch and you can reorder them through the Galaxy Wearable app. You can change the clock face by long-pressing the homescreen and selecting a new one. There’s a good selection preinstalled, and you can get lots more from the Galaxy app store.
Most of these customisations are easier to perform via the Galaxy Wearable app. You’ll need this for the pairing process. There’s also the Samsung Health app, which you’ll need to see and understand all the health-related data measured by the watch. Both apps are available on iOS and Android, but the experience is far from ideal with an iPhone, which we’ll get into in the next section.
The Galaxy Wearables app lets you choose which apps should send notifications to your Galaxy Watch 3, reorder the layout of app icons, customise the widgets, etc. You can also enable fall detection, which sends a call and SMS to your chosen contacts in case you take a hard spill and don’t respond for a minute. You can press use the Home key quickly three times to send an SOS alert. The Wearables app also lets you sync locally stored photos and music to the watch.
The sheer number of watch faces, both free and paid, is maddening, and there are some really good-looking ones to choose from. Most of the watch faces can be customised, including the colours, design elements, and complications (battery status, step counter, etc) that you want displayed. Each watch face also has its own unique always-on display face.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 performance
I initially began using the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 with an iPhone 11 Pro but quickly realised that this match was simply not meant to be. Even though it works, I found the experience to be very poor. Notifications were pretty much always delayed on the watch, the native Spotify watch app refused to work, and while I could accept an incoming call on the watch, I had to use the iPhone to actually conduct a conversation. After switching to the Samsung Galaxy S20+, things were a lot better. I was receiving notifications in a timely manner, and I was able to answer calls straight from the watch.
The interface is very responsive, whether you’re using the display or the bezel for navigation. I found colours and brightness to be excellent. Even outdoors, under sunlight, content on the watch was legible. There were very few instances in the month that I used this smartwatch when an app or system animation got sluggish and slowed down, but other than this, it was smooth sailing.
I enabled the eSIM on my unit using the Airtel network in India, which was a simple enough process. Once set up with a data plan, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 will automatically connect to your mobile network when it’s disconnected from your phone. If you haven’t set up 4G, it will try and use any saved Wi-Fi network to stay connected. Call quality was good in my experience, and the speaker got loud enough for me to hear callers, even outdoors. It does look like you’re talking to your wrist, if you don’t have a Bluetooth headset connected, but it’s worth the convenience.
You can reply to incoming notifications from most apps such as Gmail, WhatsApp, Slack, etc, which is nice considering there are no native Samsung smartwatch apps for any of these. You can choose a reply from a list of presets, make your own preset, speak your text and have it transcribed, send just an emoji, or even type a response on the screen. Samsung’s smartwatch app store is still sparsely populated. It’s devoid of even popular Google apps but there are some alternatives such as HERE maps for navigation. Sadly, other than this and a few notable ones such as Uber, Strava and Endomondo, there’s very little to choose from.
Spotify is present as a standalone app, which means you can stream music straight from the Internet to your watch. If you’ve signed in with a Samsung account and happen to use other Samsung products such as a Galaxy phone and the Galaxy Buds+ earphones, these should appear in your paired devices list, ready to be used.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is loaded with fitness tracking features, similar to what the Galaxy Watch Active 2 offers. The Galaxy Watch 3 can automatically detect up to six activities and begin logging data such as heart rate, steps taken, etc, without needing any user intervention. This worked pretty well in my experience, and the device managed to log a fairly accurate step count and distance on evening walks, even down to the number of floors I climbed. When counting 500 steps manually, the Galaxy Watch 3 was quite accurate, only missing a few strides on average.
When you start a workout manually, you can have a virtual coach motivate you, although I think the voice could have been less robotic. The Samsung Health app on the watch also lets you measure your stress and keep track of the calories in food you’re consuming as well as your water intake. There’s also a women’s health feature for keeping track of menstrual cycles.
You can use the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 to track sleep. Samsung has partnered with the National Sleep Foundation to better understand readings taken by the watch. Surprisingly, I didn’t find the Galaxy Watch 3 to be too uncomfortable to wear to bed, and I ended up using this feature much more than I initially anticipated. It tracks various aspects of your sleep such as REM cycles, awake time, deep sleep, and light sleep. In my experience, even though I was averaging around eight hours of total sleep time, my sleep score was still below the recommended average, mostly due to very little to no deep sleep which was an interesting discovery.
The other highlight feature is blood oxygen monitoring. Unlike sleep or fitness tracking, this is something you need to manually engage on the Galaxy Watch 3, and it requires your attention. Blood oxygen monitoring devices typically take measurements using your fingertip, since it’s the quickest and generally more accurate. Unfortunately, the Galaxy Watch 3 tries to check SpO2 levels through your wrist, which almost always gave me a highly inaccurate result. It also takes a while to get a result, and unless your hand is placed in the designated position, it usually failed to give a reading.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 perpetually gave me a SpO2 reading of around 70-75 percent, which if accurate, meant I would need immediate medical assistance. The problem is not with the sensor, but the way in which it takes readings. When I took the watch off my wrist and placed my finger on the sensor instead, the result was delivered quicker and was a lot more accurate; in line with what a medical device was able to report. It seems that measuring SpO2 via the wrist is far from ideal, so it will be interesting to see how other recent smartwatches that attempt the same thing, such as the Apple Watch Series 6, will perform.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 battery life
I was pretty happy with the battery life I got with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 during the review period. With LTE and the always-on display disabled, I averaged just shy of two full days of active use. This was with the ‘Goodnight mode’ turned on before I went to bed, which still monitors your sleep and heart rate, but doesn’t wake the display till you press one of the buttons.
When I forcibly enabled LTE on the watch, battery life dropped to just about a full day. Typically, most people should have LTE and Wi-Fi set to kick in automatically, and in such cases, with the always-on display enabled, I was able to get one full day’s worth of use on a single charge, which I think is pretty decent.
Charging the Galaxy Watch 3 is a bit of a pain, only because it takes well over two hours to charge fully, which in 2020, feels like a lifetime. The watch itself is rated to charge at just 5W, which leaves no chance for improvement using a faster wireless charger.
The 45mm LTE variant of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 with LTE currently costs Rs. 38,990, while the 41mm variant costs Rs. 34,990. The non-LTE variants are priced lower, coming in at Rs. 32,990 and 29,990 for the 45mm and 41mm variants respectively. While these devices are a bit pricey, it’s still a lot less compared to what you’d be paying for a stainless steel LTE version of an Apple Watch Series 6.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is an excellent smartwatch if you’re an Android user, and builds upon the success of the original. The slimmer and lighter design and the vast assortment of fitness and health features makes it a very good all-round smartwatch. Battery life is decent for the LTE variant, the display is crisp and responsive, and the software is clean and user-friendly. However, there are a few things that need improving, in my opinion. The selection of third-party apps is still pretty lacklustre, charging is painfully slow, and blood oxygen measurement is fairly unreliable in my experience.