Is the Apple Watch Still the Best Smartwatch in 2019?

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 versus Apple Watch Series 5
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 versus Apple Watch Series 5

Last year, I crowned the Apple Watch Series 4 as the best smartwatch of 2018, as did pretty much everyone else, but is it still the best in 2019? Well, I think we have a close contender in the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 for several reasons and I’ll dig into them. And then I will answer the question which one I think is the best in 2019.

What makes the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 a compelling contender to the Apple Watch? There’s five things that stand out to me that make me want to wear the Active 2 over the Apple Watch Series 5 and they are:

  • Battery Life
  • That Big Gorgeous Screen
  • Widgets/Ease of Use
  • Third-Party Watch Faces
  • The Fun Factor!

Battery Life

While the battery life of the Apple Watch Series 5 seems to actually be less than the Series 4, Samsung improved the battery life of the Galaxy Watch Active 2, at least the larger 44 mm version that I’ve been wearing.

The 44 mm version of the Active 2 has a 340 mAh battery while the 40 mm version has a smaller 247 mAh battery. The larger battery of the 44 mm does extend the battery life over the original Active 2 even with that gorgeous 1.4″ AMOLED display. The 40 mm has a 1.2″ display but also has a longer battery life than the original version.

I’m easily able to get two days of battery life with the Galaxy Watch Active 2 (boy Samsung needs to come up with a shorter name) with my average daily usage. With a couple workouts thrown in and a little heavier usage I can still count on the battery getting me through the day, and that’s including enough juice for sleep tracking.

I can’t stress enough how nice it is to not have to worry about the battery throughout the day! It’s a huge advantage that Samsung currently has over Apple.

The always-on display available for both the Apple Watch Series 5 and Active 2 will drain the battery more quickly. With always-on display enabled on the Apple Watch Series 5 I could barely squeak out 24 hours and I mean barely, like only a few minutes to spare. Turning off the always-on display on the Series 5 got me closer to the one and half day range I was used to with the Series 4.

Music downloaded to the Galaxy Watch Active 2. Spotify is also supported.

The Galaxy Active 2 also has a battery saving mode. I’ve used such modes on Wear OS watches but they take away so many of the smartwatch features that there’s no point to even having a smartwatch. That’s not the case with the Galaxy Active 2 because you still get notifications for phone calls and text messages and it still counts your steps. You can’t reply to those notifications with the battery saving mode on but at least you can still see them. It’s a nice option to have to extend battery life in a pinch but I didn’t find myself needing to use it.

View the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 on Amazon

The Apple Watch Series 5 allows you to turn on/off background app refresh for apps installed on the watch but there isn’t really a battery saving mode on the same level as provided by the Active 2.

Overall, I’ve been impressed with the battery life of the Active 2 considering the competition. Another important aspect is that it charges more quickly than the Series 5. I don’t remember the Series 4 being so slow to charge. I have the Series 5 40 mm cellular version and boy is it slow to charge, almost annoyingly so.

The Apple Watch is one you’ll want to drop on the charger at night unless you have an hour or two in the morning to wait for it to fully charge for the day.





The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 charges more quickly and also supports wireless charging from compatible smartphones.

Again, battery life is huge. No matter how great the features of a smartwatch are, if the battery drains too quickly, it becomes a drag. The Series 5 does get me through the day but once in a while it will drain fairly quickly for some reason. Maybe it’s just the cellular version that experiences this but some days it does worse than others. I just don’t feel like I can count on the Apple Watch’s battery unless I have it close to 100% before I walk out the door.

Battery life. Huge difference that affects the overall wearing experience. Period.

The Display

Besides the larger battery, the other reason why I chose the larger 44 mm Active 2 was because the display is gorgeous, just like the smaller original. The colors are vibrant. The screen is very responsive and yes, the digital rotating bezel is cool, though I don’t use it often.

Endomondo is my favorite app for the Galaxy Active 2 for live map and breadcrumbing for hiking, biking, etc.

While I think the smaller 40 mm Active looks better on my wrist proportionately, the benefits of the larger screen outweigh fashion sense. As mentioned earlier, the 44 mm has a larger battery and better battery life but the larger display also works well with Endomondo – my favorite fitness app.

I enjoy being able to easily see my location when hiking on the live map Endomondo provides. It’s also useful for cycling. While I haven’t found a good Google Maps alternative for navigation, Endomondo is good for those short afternoon hikes. It’s useful to see a breadcrumb trail of my route. While it’s not a full features hiking app, it’s fine for my needs.

The display on the Apple Watch Series 5 is also very good but Samsung knocks it out of the park.

Widgets and Ease of Use

Another area where I think Samsung stands ahead of the Apple Watch is user experience.

Samsung’s layout for the menu system and widgets just make sense on a watch. I can easily get to settings to quickly change them or swipe to a favorite widget.

Wear OS has included Samsung style widgets in recent years but Samsung got it right first. I don’t have to fish around to find an app or look through a long menu as is the case with Wear OS.





There’s several widgets that can be added and customized. This is one of them. I particularly like the automatic rep counting for these types of activities.

The Apple Watch is also very easy to use but there’s a few more steps to change settings. Apps are easy to launch and Apple gives the option of having the apps displayed in a grid or list. You can also get to the most recently used apps quickly on the Apple Watch by pressing the side button. This will bring up a list which is handy since most of us only use a handful of our favorite apps on a daily basis.

So, I’d give the Apple Watch high marks for ease of use as well but I do miss Samsung’s widgets. Again, it just makes sense to be able to swipe over to get different widgets for my favorite apps or to view activity data or start a workout.

Something that’s always irked me about the Apple Watch is that none of the watch faces Apple provides (Apple doesn’t allow third-party watch faces) has my step count on the display. That’s so annoying! Instead Apple shows activity rings which might be neat but I’d prefer to just see my steps.

It might seem like I’m being nitpicky with Apple but I just find the user experience with the Active 2 to be more enjoyable on a daily basis.

Third-Party Watch Faces

I’ve touched on this a bit but I can’t help but notice the difference a watch face makes on, well, a watch. It makes a big difference. I’ve tested a lot of watches and if I don’t like the look of the watch face, no matter how good the watch may be, I just don’t like wearing it as much.

Through third-party developers Samsung offers tons of choices in watchfaces and some are very innovative and/or just plain fun.

Apple limits our choices and that also irks me. There are some nice watch faces from Apple that I like but I know that we’re missing out from the creativity of others. Apple and its closed ecosystem can be a pain. Samsung, Fitbit, Wear OS, and even Garmin allow third-party watch faces but Apple just doesn’t and that stinks.

Samsung is Simply Fun

Okay, I’m probably really ruffling some Apple fan’s feathers here but I’ve discovered that it’s just more fun to wear the Galaxy Active 2 because of all the previous things I just mentioned. The better battery life makes a huge difference in a very practical sense.

I also like the sound notifications and ringtone options. Okay, I know that may seem silly but for some reason they make the watch more fun to wear. Also, the speaker on the Active 2 is better than the speaker on the Apple Watch Series 5. I think the Series 4 had a better mic and speaker than the Series 5 which is strange.

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 is the first smartwatch I’ve had that I would even consider listening to music through its built-in speaker. Don’t expect booming bass and studio quality sound but it’s not bad considering how small the speaker is. I could work out to the music playing through the speaker. I’ve really been disappointed in the sound quality of the Series 5’s speaker to be honest. It’s okay but not as good as the Series 4.

What I do miss from Samsung are more apps. Apple easily wins on that front. Also, third-party apps run so smoothly on the Apple Watch. I’ve never has any glitchy behavior from the Apple Watch while the original Galaxy Active did have some wonky behavior at times. I haven’t experienced that nearly as much with the Active 2 but I still think Apple is the more refined watch operating system, albeit kinda boring in comparison.

The Apple Watch supports a number of high quality apps for a wide variety of uses.

Having said that, I’ve found the Galaxy Watch Active 2 to be more reliable than its’ predecessor. It has the apps I most commonly use such as Endomondo and Spotify so for the most part I’m content.

But…

As far as fitness tracking goes, the Apple Watch Series 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 are very similar and good at fitness tracking. I think the Apple Watch is better at step tracking but GPS and heart rate accuracy are very similar between the two but much more on this in an upcoming article comparing their fitness data.

I do have to say that I really like having a cellular smartwatch. The Apple Watch Series 5 cellular version is often on my wrist because I can leave my phone behind which is so handy when I’m just running to the store, working in the yard, or going for a bike ride.

Spotify is supported by both watches

Having said that, there is a LTE version of the Galaxy Watch Active 2!

I do wear the Apple Watch more often because my main phone is the iPhone XR and I love the XR because of its terrific battery life. Again, I can’t stress enough how important battery life is for any device.

I could pair the Galaxy Watch Active 2 to the iPhone but then I’d lose the ability to reply to text messages and answer phone calls. So instead, I have it paired to the Google Pixel 3a so I can enjoy the full functionality of the watch.

Wikiloc is great for hiking and supported on the Apple Watch as is ViewRanger

Whatever smartwatch you get, I recommend getting one with a mic and speaker, which both of these have, because it is such a practical feature to be able to answer a phone call through a smartwatch.

Both of these are very good smartwatches, really the two best on the market right now, so you can’t go wrong with either but in my user experience I enjoy the Galaxy Watch Active 2 more but since I’m primarily an iPhone user I’m usually wearing the Apple Watch.

So I’ve spent a lot of time talking up the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 and if you have an Android smartphone it’s probably the best option for you.

However, I still think the Apple Watch is the best. It could use better battery life, more customization options, and third-party watchfaces but it’s the perfect companion for your iPhone.

The Apple Watch is still a slick looking watch!

The apps are terrific. I particularly like the map functions when I’m driving and using GPS to navigate somewhere on my phone. The watch works with the phone to help notify my of my next turn.

View the Apple Watch on Amazon

It has several hiking apps that are very good. If it had better battery life I would use them more often and I’d get the larger 44 mm Apple Watch for better map viewability.

The Apple Watch is just freaking awesome and if you have an iPhone I can pretty much guarantee you’ll love having an Apple Watch to not just be an extension of your phone but really provide a lot of practical uses in it by itself.

Activity tracking is terrific. Being able to answer phone calls and reply to text messages is so handy. Of course, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 can also do that when paired with an Android smartphone.

And I particularly like the cellular version because I love being able to leave my phone behind. I use Verizon and with tax it’s about $12 or so extra month for the service and I think well worth it for me.

Conclusion

Well, I’ve given reasons why the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is better than the Apple Watch in some ways and why I still think the Apple Watch is better but these are both very good options. Samsung is not far behind the Apple Watch at all. It just needs more app support and it would be right there. Maybe next year!