Samsung Galaxy Watch Active Review

samsung galaxy active
Samsung Galaxy Active

Missing from the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active is the rotating bezel but I rarely missed it and other features more than made up for the loss. The classic look, its light weight on my wrist, comfortable and practical size, fitness tracking abilities, and gorgeous screen has been a pleasure to wear on my wrist.

I review a lot of fitness trackers and smartwatches and some of them have been a disappointment, so I’m always thrilled when I come across one that does what I expect.

Is the heart rate sensor accurate? How about GPS accuracy? Does it track the type of workouts I do? Do notifications come through reliably? Is it comfortable to wear? Does it look good on my wrist? Is the battery life tolerable? As a smartwatch does it support the apps I use? And most importantly, as a fitness tracker, does it motivate me to be more active?

Your expectations list my differ a bit from mine but I’m going to go through mine and let you know how the Samsung Galaxy Active did.

Heart Rate Sensor Accuracy

You don’t have to read too many of my reviews before you know that I am super picky about the accuracy of the heart rate sensor. This is probably my number one concern with a fitness tracker. If the heart rate data is bad, well I don’t much care for the watch.

I tested the Galaxy Active versus the Polar H10 chest heart rate strap on a treadmill, rowing machine, and elliptical machine.

Treadmill

The Galaxy Active did a great job versus the Polar H10 as I ran/walked on a treadmill. The average HR on the Active was 112 bpm and 113 bmp on the H10. Max HR on the Active was 136 bpm and the same on the H10. Calorie burn estimates were very similar between the two as well.

Rowing Machine

The performance of the Galaxy Active’s heart rate sensor while I was using a rowing machine was a pleasant surprise. This is an activity that usually stretches the limits of an optical heart rate sensor but it did very well. As you can see below the average heart rate for the Active was 130 bpm and 132 on the H10. Max HR was estimated to be the same on both devices at 143 bpm.

Elliptical

On an elliptical, I began to see the heart rate sensor on the Galaxy Active struggle to get a good reading. Actually, I was using a Gazelle which is kinda like an elliptical but also like nordic walking. With this machine, I can lean back and forward really using my wrist muscles (and other muscles) much more than I would on a typical elliptical.

Still the Galaxy Active didn’t do so bad considering I was pushing the limits for a wrist-based HR sensor. It estimated my average HR at 122 bpm while the H10 estimated 127 bpm. Max HR on the Active was 134 bpm and 138 bpm on the H10 so still pretty darn good.

Overall, I’m pleased with the performance of the heart rate sensor on the Samsung Galaxy Active. It does a terrific job for resting heart rate as well. The watch gives the option to measure your heart rate 24/7, or less frequently with measurements every 10 minutes, or you can turn off the HR sensor and not have it measure your resting heart rate. It will still turn on when you’re doing workouts but if you want to save a little battery life you can turn it off.

However, I didn’t notice a major difference in battery life when I the HR sensor was always on versus reading once every 10 minutes. There’s probably some gain in battery life but it wasn’t particularly noticeable in my experience.

HR Sensor Grade: A-

GPS Accuracy

The second feature of a smartwatch/fitness tracker that I care most about in regards to accuracy and reliability is the GPS. The Galaxy Active has a built-in GPS.

In my experience, the GPS has always been very quick to connect and I’ve never noticed it losing my position.

In a test versus a handheld GPS, the Galaxy Active estimated about a tenth of a mile more but there was some pretty tough GPS conditions during this particular walk, such as walking under two bridges and a metal roof.

I was using Endomondo on the Galaxy Active for this test so I could see how well I was being tracked along the bike path I was on on a map displayed on the watch.

Endomondo uses both the GPS from the watch and phone so I really can’t make a determination on GPS accuracy from this test but it did let me know that the connection between the watch and my phone during workouts is stable. I wasn’t able to say the same thing about the Fitbit Versa which I was also testing.

In a second test against the Apple Watch Series 4, which I’ve tested several times and can be certain it’s quite accurate, the Galaxy Active held up. The estimated distance between the two were very similar. It’s hard to say which one was more accurate but looking at my route on both maps, it looks like both kept a good lock on my position.

The Galaxy Active estimated 1.44 miles while the Apple Watch Series 4 estimated 1.39 miles.


So far in my experiences with the GPS capabilities on the Galaxy Active have been overwhelmingly positive. My location is found quickly, it hasn’t lost my position, and distance estimates, even in very tough conditions, have been reasonable.

GPS Grade: B

Step Tracking

Something that the Galaxy Active is always doing is tracking the number of steps taken throughout your day. I’ve noticed that it does miss some steps when I’m walking about in my house but is very accurate when I’m on the treadmill or walking outdoors.

During activities, I think I’m getting a very good estimate of the number of steps I truly took which matters the most to me. I suspect that it misses some of the steps indoors in an attempt to not count random arm movements as steps. Once I’ve walked more than 20-25 steps in the house it’s very good at picking up my steps.

The Galaxy Active also detects workouts, as when I was doing some yard work. I find this very motivational to be more active! It also gives a more accurate picture of your activity level on a daily basis.

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But if you do have a job in which you take several short walks (less than 25 steps at a time) it will likely not count many of those steps.

In a comparison against the Fitbit Versa, both watches had very similar step count estimates after close to a mile walk. I don’t remember the exact numbers but they were close.

Still, the Galaxy Active does miss quite a few steps throughout the day and for that reason I’m going to have to knock off some points. Yes, it’s very accurate when I’m hiking or walking longer distances but I’d like credit for my other steps too.

Step Tracking Grade: C

Activity Tracking

Activity tracking is a strong point of the Galaxy Active as it supports quite a few different types including indoor and outdoor activities, dynamic workouts (auto-detected), and rep-based workouts and yes the Galaxy Active can count your reps for sit ups, lunges, etc.

Third-party apps available in the app store extend the functionality of the watch. Endomondo is particularly useful for breadcrumbing. You can see where you are on a map and the path that you’ve taken which is great for hiking and other outdoor activities.

Auto-detection for activities is the best I’ve used. While other fitness trackers offer auto-detection of certain activities like running, biking, etc., Samsung watches have always been the best at actually detecting these activities in my experience.

The watch also detects other activities such as gardening, mowing the lawn, or any type of physical activity that lasts 10 minutes or longer, so you’ll get credit for those active minutes which I find very motivational.

Activities Supported on the Galaxy Active

  • running
  • walking
  • cycling
  • hiking
  • swimming (pool)
  • swimming (open water)
  • treadmill
  • exercise bike
  • circuit training
  • weight machine
  • arm curls
  • arm extensions
  • back extensions
  • bench press
  • burpee test
  • crunches
  • deadlifts
  • front raises
  • jumping jacks
  • lateral pulldown
  • lateral raises
  • leg curls
  • leg extensions
  • leg press
  • leg raises
  • lunges
  • mountain climbers
  • pilates
  • plank
  • pull-ups
  • push-ups
  • rowing machine
  • shoulder presses
  • sit-ups
  • squats
  • step machine
  • stretching
  • yoga
  • and a general workout setting that doesn’t fit into any of the above

The data screens on the watch are also customizable for many activities and you can set a goal for your activities including duration, distance, or calories. Music controls can be turned on as well to quickly get to your music player.

I’d rate the Galaxy Active high for the large number of activities that are supported, good auto-detection, rep counting, third-party app support, customizable screens and ease of use. While it’s not Garmin Fenix level, most people will be happy with the amount of data that is available from their activities.

Activity Tracking Grade: A-

Sleep Tracking

The Galaxy Active did a very good job tracking my sleep. More primitive sleep trackers aren’t able to detect more than one sleeping session per day but the Galaxy Active was able to do that. My dogs like to wake me up at 4 am, yes 4 am to eat! I usually fall back to sleep after that. The Galaxy Active was able to detect this very well.

I also appreciate than so many details of my sleep are displayed on the watch itself. I can find the same data through the mobile app but the less I have to use the app the better as far as I’m concerned. It’s nice to get to detailed information through the watch. The Galaxy Active also does this for heart rate and step tracking. You can view a lot of data on the watch itself.

Some of the sleep tracking data, including REM.

Sleep Tracking Grade: A

Connectivity

I had the Galaxy Active paired with an iPhone XR, so yes it works with iPhones! You will get to enjoy more features of the watch when paired with an Android, such as replying to text messages by voice. The watch does have a mic. There’s no speaker however so phone calls can’t be answered through the watch unless you happen to be wearing Bluetooth headphones. Again, this feature only works when connected to Android phones.

As I’ve said a zillion times before, Apple doesn’t like to play nice with non-Apple watches when it comes to these types of features.

However, notifications came through reliably. Third-party apps downloaded to the watch worked well and most of these depend upon a Bluetooth connection with your phone.

The only issue that I discovered was when the watch disconnected due to me being too far from my phone. It usually did not reconnect once I came back in range of my phone. I had to use the Galaxy Watch app on the iPhone to reconnect which was a bit of a pain.

I’m not sure how much I can blame the watch of Apple for this issue but it is annoying regardless of which is to blame but it’s not a dealbreaker for me. The watch stays connected when I stay in range of the phone and apps that depend upon a connection with the phone work fine.

Still, I hope the issue is fixed in the future.

Connectivity Grade: B- (at least when paired with an iPhone)

App Selection and Performance

The Galaxy Watch Active is also a smartwatch so third-party apps can be installed on it through the Galaxy Store. There are more apps to choose from if the watch is paired with an Android smartphone but the apps that i care most about are available even paired with an iPhone.

MapMyRun, Endomondo, Spotify, and Strava are probably the most popular and useful apps to choose from. MyFitnessPal is also available, as well as some golfing apps. I also installed a altimeter/barometer app that I find useful because I can enable storm alerts on it. When the watch detects that the barometric pressure has dropped significantly over a few hours period, it will alert me that a storm is possible.

Oh, and elevation estimates are pretty good too. They’re not as good as the Garmin Instinct but not bad for a watch that isn’t dedicated to hiking.

Yes, app selection is limited in comparison to what is available for the Apple Watch or Wear OS but the apps that I use the most are available for the Galaxy Active. The only apps I wish were available are ViewRanger (a good hiking app) and a good weather radar app.

One area where Samsung watches have an advantage over the Apple Watch is the selection of watch faces. There are hundreds and hundreds to choose from for the Galaxy Watch Active. I have my favorites.

App Selection and Performance Grade: B-

Battery Life

Samsung promises about 40 hours of battery life and that’s exactly what I was able to get. The watch will easily get me through a full day and that’s without using any battery saving features. It would be nice if it got a full two days but it’s on par with the Apple Watch Series 4 in terms of battery life, although I did notice it uses more battery when I’m using the GPS than the Apple Watch.

Some tips to improve battery life are to turn of Wifi or set it to auto mode and turn off location. Neither one of these are necessary to have on throughout the day. Wifi is only necessary when downloading larger files or updates and location is usually only needed when you’re doing outdoor activities.

You do have the option to turn on a Power Saving Mode and a Watch Only Mode which will greatly extend battery life. During Power Saving Mode the screen will be grayscale, and all features except calls, messages, and notifications are turned off. Steps are still counted in Power Saving Mode which is great. This is a nice option when you’re traveling or just want to extend battery life.

Battery Life Grade: B

Build Quality and Comfort

Build quality and comfort is an area where I think the watch shines the most. The screen is a tough Gorilla Glass. No it’s not sapphire but I wouldn’t expect it to be at the $200 price point.

The watch is very comfortable and lightweight. The quick-release strap is also comfortable and easily replaceable. An improvement over the Gear Sport is that the strap holds the watch in place very well during workouts. This was a problem I had with the heavier Gear Sport and its undersized strap.

Samsung Galaxy Active
Samsung Galaxy Active

I love the simplistic yet classic design of the Galaxy Active. Only hybrid smartwatches are going to come closer to the look of an old school “dumb” watch. It’s dressy enough to wear with professional attire but also sporty looking.

The watch is waterproof for swimming, both pool and open water, so it has to have a decent build quality.

I honestly don’t miss the rotating bezel. The screen has gorgeous colors and great resolution for text. It also has an ambient light sensor so the screen will automatically get brighter in sunlight.

While the screen isn’t as easy to read as a transflective display in sunlight (as found on many Garmin watches) it’s readable.

I do wish it had a speaker because if I had it paired with an Android smartphone I would want to be able to answer phone calls through it. That’s always handy when the phone is in the other room and I’m cooking or doing whatever.

But overall, this is a good solid watch with good features, very good fitness tracking abilities, and an attractive and practical look and size.

It looks and fits great on smaller wrists. This is a great option for women and I’ve read quite a few comments by women that appreciate the size of the watch. I can’t say that about many smartwatches. However, it still looks great for men too!

Build Quality and Comfort Grade: A

Blood Pressure Monitoring

The Galaxy Active is capable of measuring blood pressure but currently this feature is only available to Samsung Galaxy smartphone users and by using a third-party app. I haven’t been able to test this feature yet so I can’t comment on it. Hopefully, it will be available to all users eventually and will be a native app on future Samsung smartwatches. We’ll just have to wait and see but if you’re purchasing the watch because you’d like to measure your blood pressure, just know that it is in beta right now (testing phase and not FDA approved) and only available for those with newer Galaxy smartphones.

Conclusion

At its price, it is a direct competitor against the Fitbit Versa and the Garmin Vivoactive 3. I think it beats the Versa on features and performance and holds up well against the Vivoactive. The heart rate sensor on the Galaxy Active outperformed the Vivoactive 3 Music that I have tested.

So far, I’m very happy with the Samsung Galaxy Active and I think it’s a terrific option for most people. It supports many activities which I think people will appreciate and it looks and feels good on the wrist.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Quick Specs:

Size: 39.5 mm x 39.5 mm in diameter; 10.5 mm thick
Weight: 25 grams
Display: 1.1″, Full-color, Gorilla Glass
Display Resolution: 360 x 360
Storage & RAM: 4GB Internal; .75 GB RAM
Battery: 45 hours
Strap: 20mm quick release silicone (comes with small and large size)
Water Resistance: 5ATM; military grade rating
Price: $199 USD*

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*Price at publication of article