While Garmin is probably the leader in running watches, the Apple Watch Series 4 and the Samsung Galaxy Active are two examples of smartwatches that do fitness well. So, I put them to the test in in a 5k race. Which one would perform better during an approximately 3.1 mile hilly course in my town? Well, the results are below.
I had expected the Apple Watch to do good because I’ve put it through a lot of other tests over the past several months and it’s always performed well for GPS and heart rate accuracy. I wasn’t so sure about the new Samsung Galaxy Active because, well, it’s new, and I hadn’t had the chance to test it as much.
- The built-in GPS of both watches performed almost identically
- Heart rate data was very similar
- Some quirky behavior was noticed
- The screen of the Galaxy Active was more responsive and easier to interact with
- I preferred Samsung’s mobile app for data
- Third-party apps provide more info then the native apps of both watches
First off, I used the hiking activity on each watch in order to capture elevation data and I’m a hiker. Running isn’t my thing (bad knee, heart condition, I’m old..) and I didn’t run during this 5k but I was pushing myself hard the whole distance.
The course was located in a hilly park on paved roads and bike trails. It was cool, misty, and began raining for the last mile or so. Both watches are waterproof for swimming so I wasn’t worried about either getting wet. If you’re looking for a watch to track outdoor activities this is important.
I wore the Samsung Galaxy Active on my left wrist and the Apple Watch Series 4 on my right. I put both watches on before heading to the race, and both were charged to 100% before I headed for the park. Because of this I was able to get a good sense on step counting and battery life.
The total time of the race was 55 minutes, so I wasn’t exactly lighting the road on fire with my speed but that means I was using the GPS on both watches for nearly an hour. That’s plenty of time to notice any strange GPS behavior.
Both watches have built-in GPS and both found my location very quickly. The Apple Watch is always very fast at finding my location and had it almost instantly while the Galaxy Active took about 10-12 seconds, but that’s very good too.
So, onto the results!
Apple Watch Series 4
Distance: 3.21 miles
Average Heart Rate: 122 bpm
Max Heart Rate: 141 bpm
Avg. Pace: 17’11’ (minutes per mile)
Calories: 235 (active calories); 314 total calories
Total Time: 0:55:15
Samsung Galaxy Active
Distance: 3.2 miles
Average Heart Rate: 122 bpm
Max Heart Rate: 144 bpm
Avg. Pace: 17’14’ (minutes per mile)
Calories: 352 total
Total Time: 0:55:13
So as you can see from the results, they performed almost identically. Knowing that a 5k is a little bit over 3.1 miles and both watches estimated 3.2 miles is pretty darn good.
I did start the activity on each watch a little before the starting gate and stopped them a little beyond the finish so both came within less than one-tenth of a mile of accuracy and over a 3-mile course that’s not too shabby.
Below are the results from the Apple Watch:
Below are the results from the Samsung Galaxy Active:
At no point did either watch lose my location, even going through wooded areas and near buildings, even with my impressive 17 minute mile pace!! :)
The heart rate data was also very close, though I noticed the Galaxy Active displaying a higher heart rate than the Apple Watch at times. Of course, this may have actually been more accurate. It’s hard to say.
But looking over the overall data both estimated the same exact average heart rate of 122 bpm (beats per minutes) and very close max heart rates. The Galaxy Active estimated my max HR at 144 bpm while the Apple Watch estimated my max HR at 141 bpm.
Pace, of course was very similar between the two. As far as elevation data goes, the Galaxy Watch provides more data on this during the activity and in the mobile app after syncing.
The Apple Watch Series 4 will show you your total elevation gain throughout the activity while the Galaxy Active will show your actual elevation which can be helpful when hiking. Both watches are equipped with a barometric altimeter for estimating elevation.
Where the two smartwatches differ the most is in the data you’re able to access through their mobile apps. Samsung Health shows more data and I think it’s displayed in a more visually appealing way.
One feature that I particularly like of Samsung Health is that it shows on the map where I reached each additional mile. This is a feature that Garmin Connect also has for many of their running watches.
Something I like about Apple’s app is that it also has a satellite view which can be helpful in determining accuracy plus it’s just fun to see where I was at on planet Earth!
Below is the map from Apple’s Activity app:
Below is the map from Samsung Health:
The bottom line is that both tracked my location well but I can view more data through Samsung Health as opposed to Apple’s Activity app.
After saying all of that about the native apps of both watches, since they are smartwatches and have app stores you can download very good third-party running, hiking, fitness apps.
If I hadn’t had been testing the watches against each other, I would have preferred to use a third-party app like Endomondo (my personal favorite) to see where I was on a live map. About half-way through the course, I was really curious as to where I was in relation to what was to come (so I could mentally prepare myself and pace myself) and I missed that feature. Endomondo is supported on both watches as well as MapMyRun and Strava.
Apple supports more fitness apps than Samsung so you’ll want to do your homework to make sure your favorite fitness app is supported if you’d like to use it on your watch.
As far as battery usage goes, the Galaxy Active used about 15% during the race and the Apple Watch Series 4 used about 10%. That’s after 55 minutes of GPS usage plus the time before I actually began the race.
One goofy thing that did happen was that the Samsung Galaxy Active showed that I had walked a little over 16,000 steps on the watch but when I checked Samsung Health, it showed the correct step count of 9060. So it synced over my right step count but it was displaying something totally different on the watch. Hopefully the next update to the Galaxy Active will fix this step count bug. The Apple Watch estimated about 9400 steps and I didn’t notice any weird behavior with it.
There’s other features to consider when choosing between the Galaxy Active and Apple Watch but if you already know those differences and are just wondering which is better for a 5k or general GPS accuracy, I didn’t notice much difference at all between the two. There wasn’t a clear winner.
If you have an Android smartphone, the Apple Watch isn’t an option since they aren’t compatible with non-Apple smartphones but if you have an iPhone, like I do, you do have the option of choosing either.
Of course, the Samsung Galaxy Active costs about half as much as the cheapest Apple Watch Series 4 so that’s a major factor.
If I had to declare a winner for this 5k race between the Samsung Galaxy Active and the Apple Watch Series 4, I’d have to say it was a photo finish. For me personally, I enjoyed interacting with the Galaxy Active more – -the screen was easier to interact with while wearing running gloves. I also preferred its smartphone app for viewing data after the race but the Galaxy Active did have that step count weirdness which I can’t explain.
In contrast, the Apple Watch has always been very reliable and stable during my workouts and was again during this 5k so I’d have to give the edge to it for now.