Samsung is gearing up One UI 5 Watch for the upcoming Galaxy Watch 6, which brings some much-needed improvements. One brand new addition to that Galaxy Watch OS is Samsung’s irregular heartbeat notifications, which can let users know if they’re having issues well before they manually check.
The Galaxy Watch 5 utilizes sensors to issue an electrocardiogram test, which can detect irregular heartbeats in users with the intention of directing them to seek medical help. Of course, this test is on-demand, meaning that users need to manually check whether or not they have an irregular heartbeat. While the tool is invaluable, it can’t be expected that everyone will check on a regular basis.
In an effort to be more proactive in irregular heartbeat discovery, Samsung has been pushing for the Health Monitor app to be able to check these readings in the background. Announced May 08,2023 , Samsung has officially received clearance from the FDA to push that background monitoring function to Galaxy Watches with the ability to run an ECG.
By allowing the Samsung Health monitor app to run ECG tests in the background, Galaxy Watch users with detected irregular heartbeat rhythms will get a notification if AFib is detected. After receiving a notification, Samsung will have the user run a manual ECG. A manual ECG is more accurate because it requires the users to sit in a certain position with a finger on the watch for a clear reading.
Once activated in the Samsung Health Monitor app, the feature will check for irregular heart rhythms in the background via Galaxy Watch’s BioActive Sensor. If a certain number of consecutive measurements are irregular, Galaxy Watch warns the user of potential AFib activity, prompting them to take an ECG using their watch for a more accurate measurement.
The feature is expected to become available in the upcoming One UI 5 Watch update, which will debut in full on the Galaxy Watch 6 later this year and comes as Samsung builds on its version of Wear OS.
We expect that Galaxy Watch 4 and 5 users who sign up for the One UI 5 Watch beta will also see this feature included. It’s worth noting that ECG readings are still limited to users with Galaxy phones paired to their Galaxy Watch, limiting the functionality for many.
As Google’s biggest show of the year, every I/O brings a ton of news. However, the stakes for I/O 2023 seem bigger, with announcements that could more thoroughly change how people use Google’s biggest products.
Gmail, Docs, and Workspace
Artificial intelligence is, of course, responsible for this. Google has already shown generative AI features in Gmail and Google Docs, with testing already underway. Meanwhile, Google has briefly previewed bringing image generators into Google Slides and having Google Meet automatically create notes from a video call.
At I/O 2023, Google needs to provide a fuller picture of how AI will integrate into its Workspace apps beyond individual features. Equally important are details on a public launch and how they will be available to the (non-Workspace) public. The latter might be where Google One comes into play. For initial testing, it makes sense for features like those that have already been announced in Gmail and Google Docs to be free.
However, since generative AI is computationally expensive, it makes sense for Google to eventually put them behind a paid subscription. Today, 2TB or higher Google One tiers ($9.99+/month) provide premium Google Meet features like 1080p streaming and longer calls, and it would make sense for some (if not most) generative AI features to be locked behind that.
As Google’s crown jewel, many stakeholders will want an update on how AI is coming to Search. There’s, of course, the Wall Street crowd, while end users have shown that chatbot-style queries and answers are something they’re at least interested in. The company has already previewed AI Insights in Search when it announced Bard, but we need a fuller look at the end-to-end experience.
Having a chatbot in Chrome that lets you ask questions about the page you’re currently viewing has been rumored and does indeed sound useful. As a significant entry point for how people use Google, a generative AI presence needs to exist in Chrome.
Generative AI and its conversational nature seem ripe for voice assistants. As we’ve talked about in the past, Google Assistant is at an impasse, with its feature set shrinking. The team behind it is currently tasked with Bard development, so it’s unclear whether Google is at a point where it’s ready to announce upgrades. If it did, Google could position Assistant as being more capable than Siri or Alexa, while Microsoft expressly does not currently have a voice assistant.
For the sake of end users, I think Google needs to publicly recommit to Assistant at this I/O to assure them their devices still have a long future. It would be nice if the company provided an upgrade roadmap, but even assurances would be a start at this point after months of no real developments.
I/O’s roots are as a developer conference, and there will undoubtedly be AI stuff for that crowd. Of particular interest will be assistive tools in Android Studio to aid app development.
We will obviously be getting the major tentpoles for Google’s upcoming mobile release at I/O 2023, followed by Android 14 Beta 2 to hopefully test some of them out. So far, Android 14 feels like an iterative update that continues to build on Material You. For example, we spotted that bolder Dynamic Color theming is coming.
Samsung teased an XR device (headset) running Android in February. We’ve yet to hear anything about the OS, and I/O would be the time to announce it (which also has the benefit of preempting Apple’s realityOS announcement this June). This starts the long road to third-party developer buy-in.
Google needs to share its vision for this form factor, both short and long-term. In the near term, bulkier headsets could allow for productivity and entertainment use cases. Glasses are the future, but until then, we need devices and an OS that will let developers start experimenting with these experiences. It was recently rumored that Apple’s upcoming headset will run iPad apps. Does Google have the same idea, thus providing another reason for Android pushing into large-screen development?
Wear OS 3 was announced in 2021, and we quietly got version 3.5 last year. The timing would be about right for Wear OS 4, which will in all likelihood coincide with an underlying upgrade to Android 13, which brings Material You.
Better Together: ChromeOS, Wear OS, Google TV
As of late, the Android team has been very big on cross-device experiences that emphasize the benefit of going all-in with the ecosystem. Earlier this month, Google released a Cross-Device Services app to power ChromeOS app streaming. We’ll presumably get a demo and launch date for that at I/O. We’re also waiting for the ability to unlock your Android phone with a paired Wear OS watch.
On the entertainment front, we’re waiting for more entertainment-focused Better Together initiatives. Previously, rumors have mentioned connecting Nest and third-party speakers to Google/Android TV devices, while easier-to-access smart home controls and other integrations are on the roadmap (for 2024). We’re also waiting for Fast Pair to arrive for Google TV and Android TV.
Find My Device
Somewhat related to Better Together and the Android ecosystem is Find My Device becoming a broader network that includes third-party accessories. Google has been laying the groundwork for this by saying it would be “encrypting and storing your device’s most recent location with Google.” Meanwhile, there have been persistent rumors of a Google-made tracker.
Made by Google
Pixel 7a, Tablet, and Fold
It seems like we’re back to immediate availability with the Pixel 7a. This was the case for Pixel 3a at I/O 2019 and seemed to be what Google was aiming for in subsequent years, but the world had other ideas.
We should finally get launch details about the Pixel Tablet a year after it was first teased, while Google will be entering a new hardware category with the Pixel Fold.
Last May 2022, Google gave an “early preview” of the Pixel 7 series and Watch, as well as a “sneak peek” of the Pixel Tablet, in what seemed to be a rather unprecedented teaser.
In the case of the phone, it allowed Google to really get ahead of leaks. Before I/O, there were only a pair of leaked renders that got some things about the design right. It was somewhat less successful for the Pixel Watch, which leaked in full (left at a restaurant) and even had an AMA, while the Pixel Tablet reveal dovetailed nicely with the large-screen Android app push.
Ahead of I/O 2023, the company could certainly replicate the strategy for the same reasons. These previews are meant to provide only a high-level overview. For the Pixel 7, it was the design and how the language introduced the year prior would continue but with a modified camera bar, as well as how a second-generation Tensor chip was coming.
The design of the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro have more thoroughly leaked via renders at this point, so Google would be covering the same ground and would get a chance to reveal the colors itself. It would be nice if a “Tensor G3” mention touched upon what the improvements actually are, while the thing everyone really wants to known is what the camera improvements will be, especially given that new sensor on 8 Pro.
The case for a Pixel Watch 2 teaser is somewhat more mixed. As a first-generation product, we don’t know what the update cadence will be. An annual cycle would make a great deal of sense if we look at the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch, but the Fitbit Sense and Versa lines were refreshed every two years. The improvements for a Pixel Watch 2 would be obvious, with a newer chip, more activated sensors (SpO2 and skin temperature changes estimation), and a bigger battery.
I don’t expect the domed design to drastically change beyond maybe thinner bezels, with the band system at least staying for another generation to ensure accessory capability. A Pixel Watch 2 teaser would have to touch on some new hardware features, but I’m not sure Google would want to do that and break the high-level overview nature of these previews.
As always, another factor in doing teasers is possibly cannibalizing sales of the existing Pixel Watch and Pixel 7 series. Google doesn’t seem to mind or at least has different priorities, but it does seem wild to make the effective life span as the latest and greatest product be only 7-8 months.
I think a teaser would more significantly impact sales of the first-generation wearable. As a prospective buyer of the mid-cycle Pixel Watch, knowing that a second-gen was coming in the fall would give me pause if I wanted a more future-proofed purchase. Today’s version is fine and has a battery that can last you a full day, but it’s unknown how it will continue to perform, especially once major OS updates arrive.
After major removals with the promise of new capabilities on the horizon, Fitbit needs to start sharing the second part of its plan, from a redesigned app to new capabilities. I/O would be the time to do that. Meanwhile, Fitbit integration to show live exercise stats on Google TV has already been rumored to continue the Better Together tentpole.
Besides the Google Home app currently being in Public Preview, the company teased a number of other features last year. This includes the web-based Script Editor and more grouping options with Custom Spaces. We’ll hopefully get more updates on that.
Fitbit OS 4.2.3 (Versa, Versa 2, and Versa Lite Edition only)
This release includes bug fixes and improvements.
Fitbit OS 5.3 (Sense and Versa 3 only)
Status indicators on your smartwatch let you know when your device’s battery is critically low, the do not disturb or sleep mode setting is on, or your device isn’t connected to your phone. For more information, see How do I navigate my Fitbit device?
An additional 6 languages are now available on your watch: Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Indonesian, Polish, Romanian, and Russian.
To access the control center on your watch, swipe down from the top of your screen. After your notifications appear, swipe down again to open the control center. For more information, see How do I navigate my Fitbit device?
This release includes bug fixes and improvements.
Fitbit OS 4.1.3
This release includes bug fixes and improvements.
Fitbit OS 4.1.2 (Ionic, Versa, and Versa Lite Edition only)
(Versa Lite Edition only) This release fixes an issue where some customers may have been unable to update Versa Lite Edition after completing a factory reset. If you factory reset your device and your watch is on version 126.96.36.199, see Why can’t I update my Fitbit device?
This release includes bug fixes and improvements.
Fitbit OS 4.1.1 (Versa 2 only)
We optimized the algorithm used to track your heart rate on Versa 2 to complement our latest hardware.
This release includes other bug fixes and improvements.
Fitbit OS 4.0.2
This release includes bug fixes and improvements.
Fitbit OS 4.0.1
To update Versa Lite Edition, let the Fitbit app run in the background on your phone. When the update is ready, you’ll see a notification in the Fitbit app. For more information, see How do I update my Fitbit device?
Your alarms and timers now alert you even when your Fitbit device is locked.
This release includes other bug fixes and improvements.
Fitbit OS 2.1.1
This release includes bug fixes and improvements.
Fitbit OS 2.1
Introducing quick replies. Send customized responses to text messages and messages from select messaging apps with your Fitbit watch. Note that this feature is currently only available on watches paired to an Android phone. For more information, see How do I respond to messages with my Fitbit device?
This release includes other bug fixes and improvements.
Fitbit OS 2.0
Introducing Fitbit Today, an updated on-device dashboard that keeps you informed about all of your health and fitness data. Receive action-oriented and personalized content with daily and weekly health and fitness stats, historical activity, exercise summaries, and tips and tricks for using the Fitbit platform. Swipe up from the clock face to open the Fitbit Today dashboard.
Ionic users, your daily stats have moved from the Today app to Fitbit Today.
We improved the way we track your distance when you’re tracking a run with GPS.
We fixed an issue where some customers’ clocks didn’t update after switching time zones.
We fixed an issue where some customers experienced syncing issues after interrupting clock face installation.
We fixed an issue where some customers noticed the Exercise app crashed after double tapping an exercise.
This release also includes bug fixes and stability improvements.
Fitbit OS 1.1
This release delivers a more personalized experience for Fitbit Ionic customers. Read on for details.
New apps and clock faces
This Fitbit OS update provides access to new apps and clock faces from Fitbit, Fitbit Labs, popular brands, and developers. The apps span a range of categories such as Flipboard, The New York Times, and Yelp. New apps and clock faces will be added frequently. Browse the available apps in the Fitbit Gallery.
We’re introducing Fitbit Labs, which develops experimental apps and clock faces for Ionic. Install an app or clock face to motivate you to stay active, help track and interpret your behavior, and provide intelligent feedback. Choose to adopt a virtual pet and use your steps to keep them fed and happy with one of the FitPet interactive clock faces, or install the Think Fast app and test your ability to rapidly and accurately switch between tasks. Check back often for new apps.
Now you can add up to 6 credit and debit cards to Fitbit Pay on Ionic and choose which card you want to use for each transaction. When you’re ready to pay, swipe right on your watch’s screen to scroll through your cards.
Note this feature is coming soon to the Fitbit app for Windows 10.
This release includes other bug fixes and improvements.
However, the new changelog entry for an update that’s “Sense and Versa 3 only” is misidentified as Fitbit OS 4.2.3. That was a previous update from March for the Versa, Versa 2, and Versa Lite Edition, with the Sense and Versa 3 notably running Fitbit OS 5.x. That said, the contents are clearly new and should be accurate:
That error has been addressed and the update is now referred to as Fitbit OS 5.3.1:
The emphasis is on an “important security update,” with Fitbitrecommending that “you apply an important update immediately”:
The security update patches a vulnerability that, if exploited, could compromise data security, potentially allowing access to confidential or sensitive data but stopping short of full code execution.
Past releases only noted bug fixes and improvements. This update is rolled out to a Fitbit Sense we checked this morning. In our brief usage, we’ve yet to spot any other user-facing changes.
Update: Meanwhile, there’s also new firmware for the Charge 4 (1.100.76), Inspire 2 (1.124.76), and Ace 3 (1.134.76) this afternoon that addresses “bug fixes, improvements, and a critical security update.”
The security update patches a vulnerability that, if exploited, could allow attacker-supplied code to gain unrestricted access and potentially go undetected by the customer.
We recommend that you apply a critical update immediately.
The Google Pixel 5a is the third iteration of Google’s Pixel “a” Series: smartphones based on the Google Pixel experience made with lower-cost entry points in mind. There’s also now more emphasis on battery life and water resistance. The latter is a welcome feature to the “a” Pixel family. The phone Is very similar to the Pixel 4a 5G in size, appearance, and specs. They aren’t identical, but pretty darn close.
Although it has the same chipset, RAM, and layout, the dimensions are slightly different, less than a millimeter difference in each dimension. The battery capacity is significantly better: about 15% more capacity than the Pixel 4a 5G. The phone’s construction is now made of a sturdier aluminum and resin unibody construction like the Pixel 5. The new build is also IP67 water resistant.
Google Pixel 5a 5G specs at a glance:
Body: 154.9×73.7×7.6mm, 183g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass 3), aluminum/plastic unibody; IP67 dust/water resistant (up to 1m for 30 mins).
The Google Pixel’s cameras are of the biggest selling points for the Pixel phones, but you’ll soon learn that its hardware is exactly the same as the 4a 5G and the Pixel 5’s, verbatim. We don’t anticipate there to be any significant difference in camera quality. Performance is also predictably decent on the Snapdragon 765G paired with 6GB of RAM.
These changes do come with a price hike. The Pixel 5a is the most expensive “a” series ever at $449, but will the improvements to the hardware retain their value in the long term? Is the Pixel 5a a solid entry into the Pixel family?
Let’s start answering that by opening the box first and see what’s inside.
The packaging is similar to what we’ve seen from Google for years. The box shows a photo of the Pixel 5a to actual size and the phone lays face down when you pull the lid off.
Under the plastic-wrapped Pixel 5a you’ll find a USB-C to C charging cable, an 18W USB-C charger, and a USB-C to USB-A adapter which Google calls its “Quick Switch Adapter”. This lets you transfer data from another phone to the Pixel 5a.
For the competitors, we’ve only listed devices close to the Pixel’s price range that are only available in the US. Starting with Google’s own, the Pixel 4a makes a case for an affordable and compact smartphone with solid performance. The 4a is $100 cheaper than the 5a 5G but doesn’t support 5G and omits the ultra-wide camera.
Google Pixel 4a
Samsung’s Galaxy A52 5G is just a bit more at $499, and while we did like it for its 120Hz display solid quad-camera setup, microSD support, and 3.5mm headphone jack, it would be better suited at a discount.
Samsung Galaxy A52 5G
Apple’s closest offering is a nearly three-year-old device that’s still a nice value today. Even though the iPhone XR has no 5G support nor an ultra-wide camera, it has great battery life and a very capable single-cam setup. Besides, Apple is sure to support the XR for at least another couple of years of iOS updates. The iPhone 11 starts at $50 more and adds an ultra-wide camera.
Apple iPhone XR
Apple iPhone 11
As one reader pointed out, there’s another competitor worth mentioning here. The Sony Xperia 10 III, although not officially available from Sony in the US, can easily be purchased from Amazon. Though you’ll be looking at the International variant, so no Verizon.
The Xperia 10 III is priced around $400 and comes with the same RAM and Storage as the Pixel. It’s powered by the Snapdragon 690G, is more compact with its 6-inch display, the best dedicated zoom camera in its class, and it has IP68 water resistance. There’s also a headphone jack, microSD expansion, and 30W fast charging with impressive battery life.
Sony Xperia 10 III
The choice for alternatives in this range is slim, hence Google’s decision to limit the release to two markets.
The Pixel 5a is an interesting price point of $449 in the US. While It’s a shame the phone isn’t available outside of the US and Japan, it doesn’t make sense for Google to launch the Pixel 5a outside of these markets since the competition and alternative devices are not as threatening as they are in other markets like the EU and India.
The Google Pixel 5a could have been a more compelling smartphone had it arrived with an LTE chipset instead of the Snapdragon 765G. Thus, it could have been sold at $349 or maybe even $399 to directly compete with the iPhone SE.
The Pixel 5a is essentially a repackaged Pixel 5 with a larger screen and significantly better battery life, but no wireless charging. It feels like Google could have released this device earlier in the year to stagger it further from the imminent launch of the Google Pixel 6 duo.
Similar-sounding privacy details, but more and better information when it comes to your security
Last year, Apple rolled out a new set of what it called Privacy Labels for the App Store. These disclaimers were sort of like privacy-oriented nutrition information attached to each app listing, with developers supplying the details regarding exactly what data their apps collect and precisely how it’s used — assuming you trust them to be honest. The moment that news landed last year, expectations swung our collective attention at Google: When would Android and the Play Store get something similar?
The answer is “next year,” assuming the tentative schedule Google for the new “safety section” announced today holds up. And based on the details provided, it might beat Apple when it comes to caring about your security instead of just your privacy.
We don’t know what the new safety section will look like in action, and Google is still ironing out some of the particulars with developer feedback, but the overall strategy has been outlined in broad strokes.
A (chunky) example of a Privacy Label on the App Store.
The new safety section will offer similar data to Apple’s Privacy Labels (example visible above), with developers stating on their app listings exactly what type of data an app collects or stores and how that data is used. While we don’t know how Google will organize that information or if it will offer the same super-granular approach Apple does, it does sound like Google could intentionally going for something a little simpler — skeptics might claim that’s because Android cares less about your privacy, but to be honest, the way Apple shows that data does start to feel a little overwhelming and overcomplicated for big, monolithic apps with deep cross-service integrations, which are all the rage these days.
As in the case of Apple, Google will require that developers be honest and responsible for declaring what their apps use, and if they try to scoff the rules, they’ll have to either fix it or be subject to further “policy enforcement.” Though precise terms of enforcement haven’t been described, we have to assume it’s similar to violating other Play Store policies, which could mean things as simple as holding back updates, or potentially as extreme as app delisting for extreme violations. And Google is making itself and all its own apps subject to this same policy, so there isn’t a double standard, matching Apple.
However, in a few very significant ways, Google is also one-upping Apple, like security. This new safety section will also explain if an app follows specific security practices, like data encryption. Furthermore, these sorts of labels are only accurate so long as developers are honest about what they’re doing. To that end, Google will let apps declare if their privacy and security claims have been verified by an independent third party.
Apps on the Play Store will also explain if the permissions are required or optional, rather than just listing all possible permissions they could declare. For example: If you’re cool with a third-party photo app accessing your camera but not your microphone and it can take photos either way. Or, if a workout-tracking app can access your physical activity history but not your location directly and still follow your calories burned, etc.
Apps will also declare if they meet Google’s Families Policy, presumably making it easier to pick out family-friendly apps for the kiddos — though hopefully doing a better job of it than the kid-friendly section of YouTube. This would build upon the “teacher approved” badges that rolled out last year for the Play Store and policy changes in 2019 regarding apps that target specific age groups and which child accounts can be limited to with Family Link.
Very importantly, Google’s policy will also let apps highlight if customers can delete their data should they stop using an app. So if any of your data for an app is stored off your device (which plenty of apps do), you’ll know if that’s going to be someone else’s property for time immemorial or if you can tell them to toss it out when you decide you’re done playing Clash of Crush or whatever.
I honestly assumed that if Google rolled out its own version of Privacy Labels, they’d just be a straight clone of Apple’s system. But this policy is set to beat Apple when it comes to security and accountability, not just privacy.
There is one kind of major snag, though, and that’s Google’s timeline for this new Play Store safety section — outside the kind of “eh” name.
While it’s subject to change, this new section isn’t set to show up until next year, sometime in Q1 2022. That’s coming up on two years after Apple announced its privacy disclosures back in June 2020, which rolled out to phones last December. The formal policy details also won’t be standardized until Q3 of this year, and developers can start putting that info in their app listings around the end of the year.
The ultimate deadline by which all new and existing apps must declare details for the safety section is Q2 2022, and it isn’t immediately clear what might happen to the (probably millions of) apps on the Play Store that have been basically abandoned and will never be updated to honor this new policy — if, for example, they might still be available with a prominent warning and blocked from delivering updates until they do, or if they’ll be outright unlisted.
Developers hoping to participate in the conversation for the new safety section going forward are invited to review their apps and see what data is collected, saved, and where and how it’s sent anywhere. At the same time, they should review best privacy practices and best security practices, raising a stink as required should they run into any issues or questions Google might want to be aware of before the new rules are set in stone.
A smartwatch that’s more than just a great conversation starter. It tracks your activity and monitors your sleep, it plays music and handles mobile payments, and yes, it even tells the time with remarkable accuracy! But is spending over $300 on Samsung’s latest smartwatch a wise investment? I used it for several weeks to find out.
In the box:
Samsung Galaxy Watch
Small and large wrist band
Wireless charging cradle
Wall adapter (with non-detachable microUSB cable)
Quick start guide
Design and comfort
The age-old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra is in full effect here, as the Samsung Galaxy Watch looks and feels a lot like the company’s last few smartwatches. It retains the classic appearance and circular design, allowing it to look more like a lifestyle accessory and less like a geeky toy. Whether I’m at the office, out for dinner, or exploring the great outdoors, the watch doesn’t seem out of place on my wrist.
What’s new is that the Samsung Galaxy Watch comes in two sizes. I wore the smaller, 42mm Galaxy Watch throughout the first week of my testing. This model would more easily appeal to a broader audience not only because of its size, but also with the colors it comes in: the decidedly feminine Rose Gold (which we have here) and the much more neutral Midnight Black. However, most of my lady friends who gave it a try did find the watch rather thick.
From left to right – Garmin FR 645, Galaxy Watch 42mm, Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch 46mm
Meanwhile, the larger, 46mm Galaxy Watch only comes in Silver. It is thicker and noticeably heavier, with a pronounced masculine appearance. I also found it more likely to get caught in the sleeve of my shirt. But if you’re already used to wearing extra-large timepieces, then this is the model you should be considering. Admittedly, I got used to its size after wearing it for a couple of days and didn’t think about switching back to the smaller variant.
By the way, the 42mm and 46mm sizes refer to the width of the body of the watch, not to the diameter of its display.
As far as durability goes, the Samsung Galaxy Watch is as tough as you’d expect. It is waterproof down to 50 meters so it is safe to swim with it. It complies with military standards for resistance against shock, extreme temperatures, solar radiation, and other environmental factors. The display is protected by the raised bezel around it, as well as by a layer of Gorilla Glass DX+ scratch-resistant glass developed with watches in mind. And the stainless steel construction resists dents and scratches much better than aluminum would. After several weeks of use, my review units are showing no signs of wear or physical damage.
The soft, rubbery band supplied by Samsung is nice and bendy, and the metal clasp ensures a reliable fit. There’s a bit of stretch to it, which helps with comfort. The only issue that I noticed was that the strap bundled with my 46mm model easily attracts dust and dirt, but a wet towel cleans it easily. Since the band mechanisms are not proprietary, they can be replaced with standard 20- or 22-mm bands, depending on whether you have the 42mm or 46mm Galaxy Watch. Samsung itself is offering leather bands for about $40 apiece.
Display and controls
The 42mm and 46mm Galaxy Watch models come with 1.2- and 1.3-inch displays respectively, both with a resolution of 360 by 360 pixels. Colors are vivid, outdoor visibility is excellent, and text is always displayed in white against a black background, so it is sharp and easy to read. Moreover, since these are OLED screens we’re dealing with, having the watch face always on is an option – although one disabled by default as it shortens battery life. I kept it on nonetheless because it looks awesome.
Samsung‘s trademark rotating bezel is one of the coolest Galaxy Watch features. For those not familiar, it is used for navigating through the interface – for switching between widgets, for example, or for scrolling down an email without obscuring anything on the screen with your finger. All in all, the bezel is a welcome convenience, and there’s something oddly satisfying about the way it clicks with each rotation. Additionally, there are two more buttons on the side – one that takes you back a step and another for accessing the app drawer or going back to the home screen.
As any other touchscreen, the one on the Galaxy Watch may become less responsive as moisture accumulates on it during intense exercises, but I didn’t run into any major issues with it. A special mode locks the display while tracking swimming exercises.
Interface and functionality
The Galaxy Watch runs Samsung‘s own Tizen 4 operating system, which excels in many key areas, one being speed. Both sizes are powered by a new, dual-core Exynos 9110 chip which is both more powerful and more power-efficient than those used in previous Samsung smartwatches. Navigation is swift, and the UI responds instantly to input.
Slowdowns are rare and have a negligible impact on the user experience. It is worth noting that we have the non-LTE Galaxy Watch models for review. These come with 768MB of RAM, while the LTE versions have twice as much, and that might result in even faster performance.
The software itself is easy to get the hang of. Your watch face serves as a “home screen”, naturally, and raising your wrist turns the screen on. From there, much of the navigation can be done conveniently through twists of the rotating bezel. Turning it to the left takes you to your notifications, and you cycle through your widgets by a turn of the bezel to the right. There’s also an app drawer which is accessed by a press of a button on the right side. A swipe down from the top of the screen give access to quick settings and status information.
Notifications arrive on the Samsung Galaxy Watch only moments after they appear on your phone, and dismissing them on one device makes them disappear from the other as well. Neat! You can respond to incoming messages with a predefined answer, by typing or swiping in your response, or by using voice input. As you’d expect, typing on a tiny on-screen keyboard can be frustrating, so I used primarily Samsung‘s more convenient swipe input method where you swipe letters on the touchscreen one by one.
By twisting the rotating bezel to the right, you cycle through your widgets, and once I configured these to my liking, no action felt like it took too many steps to perform. The selection of widgets covers all essential needs: weather information, app shortcuts, quick access to contacts, reminders, music playback controls, and many more. Dedicated widgets also let you easily start an exercise, view your activity at a glance, or measure your pulse or stress level.
Samsung has equipped the Galaxy Watch with a fair amount of customizable watch faces designed to fit most user’s needs. Some have a clean and classic design, while others are sportier, with complications displaying activity stats. Out of the box, the selection isn’t very broad, but many more watch faces are available for download from the Galaxy Apps store.
Bixby – Samsung‘s virtual assistant – is present on the Galaxy Watch and can be triggered with a double press of a button on the side. This lets you use voice commands to do things like calling a friend, starting an exercise, asking for the weather or setting a reminder. All in all, Bixby has the basic covered, but it leaves room for improvement. Her voice, for instance, is decidedly robotic, unlike that of Siri or the Google Assistant. Secondly, she can be a bit slow with her responses, and I run into multiple issues, such as troubles with setting reminders. When I asked questions like “How long is a marathon?” or “What is 24 miles in kilometers”, I was asked to check those on my device instead.
Health and activity tracking
“Time to get moving!” – this is the message that pops up every time when I’ve been sitting on my desk for too long. Inactivity reminders may be annoying, but they’re ultimately for our own good, and I’m glad to see them present on the Galaxy Watch.
Of course, the watch can track a wide variety of activities, from running and cycling to a multitude of gym exercises. Swimmers should know that Samsung‘s software lets you have a custom pool length instead of several predefined ones. And I had no issues tracking my soccer games which I tracked as a Running exercise. I noticed that longer walks are logged as well – automatically. For many activities you get detailed data, such as the distance
you’ve traveled along with a map of your trip (if relevant), the calories you’ve burned, and the heart rate zones you spent time in. But I ran into issues as well. For example, there are presets for squats and jumping jacks, but the watch has a hard time keeping count of my repetitions. I ended up doing twice as many reps because the watch simply couldn’t detect that I’ve jumped or squatted. My legs still hurt a bit.
Sleep tracking is also available on the Galaxy Watch. In the morning, I’m given a breakdown of my sleeping stats, including how much time I’ve actually spent sleeping and how much time I’ve spent in each stage: Light, Deep, and REM sleep. Samsung‘s sleep tracking definitely works, but I really wish I was given a clearer idea of whether my sleep patterns are normal. With the way stats are currently displayed, I don’t see a clear indication of whether the 2 hours of REM sleep that I got last night are enough and whether I should do something about it. Also, I find sleeping with the Galaxy Watch on my wrist rather uncomfortable.
Stress monitoring is another new feature of the Galaxy Watch. By default, stress is measured manually on demand, but you can have it measured constantly. This, however, has a noticeable impact on battery life. If a high stress level is detected, the Galaxy Watch will suggest a brief breathing exercise to calm you down. Personally, I’m not convinced in the accuracy of these readings. At times when I did feel pretty stressed, such as when nearing a deadline at work or after 30 minutes of driving during rush hour, the needle was still pointing at a stress level below the average.
Throughout my testing, I used the Samsung Galaxy Watch together with a Galaxy S9+smartphone. Pairing was quick and easy, as the phone automatically detects the presence of the wearable nearby and initiates the setup process at the press of a button. The watch works with iPhones and non-Galaxy Android phones as well, although your experience may differ. Samsung Pay, for example, can’t be used when the watch is paired with an iPhone.
The Galaxy Watch talks to your smartphone over Bluetooth and maintains a decent connection within a range of at least 30 feet. Once it falls out of range, it will search for a known Wi-Fi network, and it is neat that all Wi-Fi passwords stored on my Galaxy phone were automatically transferred to the watch. Notifications from my phone did arrive even when I was on Wi-Fi, albeit with some delay. The only annoyance that I noticed was that it takes about a minute for the watch to connect to Wi-Fi once Bluetooth connectivity is lost. GPS connectivity is on board for precise location tracking during exercises. In addition, NFC is available for making mobile payments via Samsung Pay. However, you can’t use the watch with older terminals using a magnetic stripe.
Samsung is also offering LTE variants of the Galaxy Watch, thus enabling it to be online all the time. LTE can be useful for streaming music without having your phone around, as well as for making calls or sending texts. We’re not sure how much of an impact LTE connectivity would have.
Phone calls, multimedia, Spotify support
Whether you have an LTE model or not, the Samsung Galaxy Watch can be used to make phone calls. On a non-LTE model, the watch simply acts as a Bluetooth speaker while the call itself is handled by your phone. Call quality isn’t stellar, but it is acceptable. The speaker built into the watch is sufficiently loud and produces clear voice tones. Voices do sound muffled and digitized on the other side of the line, but having a conversation in a relatively quiet environment is definitely possible without much effort.
If you ever want to, you have the option to copy images and music from your phone to your Galaxy Watch. There are 4GB of built-in storage (about 2.5GB user-available), which is less than what an Apple Watch offers, but enough to store several hundred songs.
Spotify is available for download on the Galaxy Watch. This allows you to stream music over Wi-Fi or LTE and listen to your playlists during exercises, or simply download audio for offline use. Music can be listened to from the watch’s built-in speaker, but I would strongly recommend pairing the wearable to a set of Bluetooth headphones instead. While tracking an exercise, playback controls are easily accessible with a twist of the bezel to the left. By the way, I had numerous connectivity issues with Spotify on my review unit, but these were rectified through a recent software update. It now works just fine and maintains a strong connection with my wireless earphones.
Battery life and charging
Just like Samsung’s last few smartwatches, the Galaxy Watch delivers solid battery life. The smaller, 42mm variant easily lasted through 2 full days between charges, while the bigger, 46mm model got me through 3 full days – with the screen always enabled on both. Disabling the Always-On Display feature makes them last a day extra.
Of course, your mileage may vary, depending on how you’re using your Galaxy Watch. Music listening over Bluetooth, for example, takes its toll. On the bigger Galaxy Watch, Spotify consumes 13% of battery life when streaming over Wi-Fi and 10% if you’re listening offline. Fortunately, Sleep tracking consumes only about 7% per night.
Both Samsung Galaxy Watch models require around 2 hours and 20 minutes to charge completely. That’s not particularly fast, but if just give them a quick, 30-minute boost as you’re getting ready for work, you’ll have enough charge in the tank to last through the day. Charging is done by placing the watch on the provided magnetic wireless charging stand.
A smartwatch is still the kind of gadget that you don’t necessarily need, but having one is kinda neat nonetheless. Sure, it is yet another gizmo that you have to charge regularly, but you gain more than just a timepiece that glows in the dark. It helps you keep track of your schedule, it tells you precisely how active (or inactive) you are, and it conveniently delivers your notifications to your wrist.
To those in the market for a smartwatch, the Samsung Galaxy Watch is easy to recommend. It is fast, good-looking, and has great battery life for a device of its class. But it isn’t quite the smartwatch for everyone. iPhone users, for instance, would still be better off with a last-gen Apple Watch, while serious athletes and fitness enthusiasts will be probably served better by other brands. For the rest of us – who may be looking for a high-tech lifestyle accessory blending style, function, and self-expression – the Galaxy Watch would be a great choice.
Currently, the Samsung Galaxy Watch starts at $330 for the 42mm model and $350 for the bigger, 46mm variant. Adding LTE with T-Mobile to the list of features brings the prices up to $380 and $400, respectively. That’s not exactly pocket change, but not expensive either, seeing that Samsung’s most expensive Galaxy Watch model costs as much as the cheapest Apple Watch Series 4. Whether it’s a worthy investment is totally up to you to decide.
Yelp, Flipboard, and The New York Times join Fitbit’s burgeoning app catalogue.
Fitbit’s Ionic smartwatch ($299 on Amazon) is getting some new friends for the holidays. A software update available Tuesday will deliver more than 80 new clock faces and a variety of apps so you can control your lights and check stocks while you work out.
The Ionic’s biggest shortcoming as a smartwatch is its paltry selection of third-party apps. While this update won’t necessarily fix that problem, it does bring a few notable additions that enhance what you’re able to do when wearing Ionic:
Flipboard: View health and fitness stories.
Philips Hue: Control your lights.
Surfline: Track swells and weather conditions.
The New York Times: Check the latest headlines.
Yelp: Find nearby restaurants.
Those five apps probably won’t push any fence-sitters over the edge, but it’s good to see developers paying attention to the platform. Along with the above apps, Fitbit is promising five more by the end of the year (Clue, Game Golf, Nest, TripAdvisor, and United Airlines) bringing the total third-party catalogue to 14. Considering the wearable launched with just four third-party apps in September, that’s a veritable bounty. And more are on the way. Fitbit says British Airways, Lyft, and Walgreens apps will arrive in January.
Also new to Ionic are scores of clock faces to provide “at-a-glance information including active minutes, heart rate, games, goal progress, run cadence, sleep, or weather.” The availability of clock faces was one of the disappointments with the original Ionic OS, especially since the Pebble platform it was based on was so robust. Fitbit says more than 1,000 developers have committed developing for Ionic, and it will continue to add clock faces and apps to Ionic throughout 2018.
From lab to wrist
Perhaps most exciting to Ionic users is the launch of Fitbit Labs, a new initiative from Fitbit’s research and development wing that acts as a sort of beta program to showcase new app and clock face technologies the company is working on. The first round of apps and clock faces will be launching later this month and will include:
Fitbit Pet: Clock faces that help you stay active by using your steps to feed and care for dogs and cats.
Mood Log: A clock face that track how you feel and observes your mood patterns over time.
Tennis: An app to track your swing and give insights on your playing style and help improve your game.
Think Fast: A task-switching game to help you understand the effects of sleep and a healthy lifestyle on your mental alertness.
Treasure Trek: An app to help motivate you to stay active through gamification of your steps goal.
Along with the new apps and performance enhancements, the software update will also include include the new banks and multi-card payments to Fitbit Pay, as well as an partnership with Deezer to bring international users the ability to listen to streaming music from the Ionic without a phone. Similar to the service that exists for Pandora users in the U.S., the Deezer app will be available in 2018.
The new software will be rolling out to all Ionic users today. To check the status of your watch, head over to the Fitbit app on your iOS or Android phone.
The impact on your wrist: It’s notable that the first software update to Ionic doesn’t include any fitness features. Fitbit is playing a massive game of catch-up when it comes to the smartwatch side of its flagship wearable, and in all likelihood, the Ionic’s app platform will never be as robust as Apple’s or Google’s. But you can argue that clock faces are more important to smartwatches, and it could be an area where Fitbit carves out a nice niche, especially if the ones introduced here are as well-designed as Fitbit’s fitness ones.
Find the Fitbit best suited to your activity level and habits.
As one of the biggest names in fitness trackers, Fitbit is an easy pick for recording your daily steps or sleep patterns. Selecting a specific Fitbit model, however, isn’t quite as simple.
The different Fitbit trackers have a lot of overlap in features, and so it’s not straightforward which one is the “best.” Moving up the scale in price doesn’t necessarily mean you get all the features of the cheaper trackers plus additional ones.
That’s where we come in. We’ve boiled down the options into three simple picks that should match most people’s activity levels and styles.
Best Fitbit: Fitbit Charge 2
Most people who want a fitness tracker are best matched with a general, all-purpose device that records steps, sleep, and heart rate. The Fitbit Charge 2 does all that well, and offers more on top of it: In addition to basic step tracking, continuous heart-rate monitoring, and sleep tracking, you also get automatic exercise tracking, silent alarms, and reminders to exercise and to practice mindful breathing.
The Charge 2 also offers a sizable OLED display that offers quite a bit of info at a glance. You can tap the display to toggle between step count, mileage, and calories burned. It also shows call, text, and calendar notifications. On average, you can expect 5 days of battery life with normal use.
Two features the Charge 2 lacks are built-in GPS and being swim-proof, so dedicated runners and swimmers may need to choose a different tracker. (The Charge 2 does connect to your phone’s GPS if you bring both devices for a run, though.) It’s also somewhat bulky on smaller wrists, but you can at least dress it up by swapping the default sports band for more stylish options.
Even with those shortcomings, the Charge 2 is great for those who want more data about their daily activities.
Runner-up: Fitbit Alta HR
The Fitbit Alta HR is all but equal to the Fitbit Charge 2, both in feature set and price. Its main distinguishing feature is how slender it is—arguably, it’s more stylish than the Charge 2.
In this compact form, you get basic step tracking; continuous heart rate-monitoring; workout tracking; notifications for calls, texts, and calendar alerts; automatic exercise tracking; sleep analysis; reminders to exercise; and a small boost to battery life over the Charge 2 (7 days instead of 5 days). It does, however, lack the Charge 2’s reminders to practice mindful breathing.
Like the Charge 2, the Alta HR also doesn’t have dedicated GPS and it isn’t swim-proof. Still, its longer battery life gives it something to counter the Charge 2’s larger display, and its heart-rate tracking gives it a boost over the standard Alta.
Best Fitbit if you wear a watch: Fitbit Flex 2
If you’ve already invested in a watch, replacing it with a fitness tracker isn’t an option. The Fitbit Flex 2 is small enough that it can be worn unobtrusively next to a watch or on the opposite arm, as a pendant or a bracelet, or clipped to clothing if you buy a third-party case.
Its feature set covers the basics: step tracking, call and text notifications, automatic exercise tracking, sleep analysis, and reminders to exercise. And while it lacks the more informative display of its Charge 2 and Alta HR siblings, the Flex 2 is water resistant and offers swim tracking.
If you’re looking for a full-featured watch replacement, the Fitbit Ionic will be a better solution (and keep scrolling for more info on the Ionic). For those looking for an unobtrusive and cheaper entry into the Fitbit world, the Flex 2 is it.
Best Fitbit with every feature possible: Fitbit Ionic
The Fitbit Ionic is the fitness tracker for those who want it all. As you’d expect, the Ionic offers step, sleep, heart-rate, swim, and automatic exercise tracking; reminders to exercise; and notifications for calls, texts, and calendar alerts.
But this fitness tracker also has features you’d expect from a smartwatch: a big color display, the ability to store and play 300+ songs on the device, Pandora support, contactless payments, real-time stats for a handful of activities, and push notifications from apps. It even offers personal coaching for workouts directly on the watch.
All of that functionality comes at a cost—the Ionic has a price tag that puts it in the same range as the Apple Watch and Android Wear watches. However, this fitness tracker has an advantage over smartwatches: its battery life. The Ionic will keep chugging along for up to 4 days, while most smartwatches last an average of a day.
To sum up, if your focus is more on having the best fitness tracker that can also support a handful of smartwatch-like functions, then the Ionic is the device for you.
In case none of these Fitbit options resonate with you, we’ve linked to all of our Fitbit reviews below. We’ll keep the list and this article updated as Fitbit releases new fitness trackers.
If you’re checking out other options in the meanwhile, you can also read our list of best fitness trackers to see our top picks across all brands—including the Apple Watch.
The Huawei Band 2 Pro is a fitness band aiming at the lower end market. It has a vertical 0.91-inch 128×32 PMOLED display for a slim look with three sensors on the back as well as some charging pins.
Inside the band is 256KB of RAM, 1MB of ROM, 16MB of flash storage, a 105mAh battery, and GPS. You’ll also get Bluetooth 4.2, an accelerometer, a cardiotachometer (heartrate sensor), and an infrared wear sensor. On top of that you get 5ATM water resistance, which means it’s safe to use for swimming. If you’re disappointed by the specs, don’t be. It’s a fitness band that’s not running Android and doesn’t need great specs for performance.
Unlike the older and more expensive Huawei Fit, the display on the Huawei Band 2 Pro is backlit and gets washed out in the daytime. It’s also a bit bright in the nighttime, as it doesn’t have a light sensor to adjust brightness. However, it is easily readable in most conditionsMore
Recognized as one of the best-in-class smartwatches in the wearable category, Samsung’s Gear S3 has been praised for its design, user friendliness and technological innovation. But with the recently released value pack update, the Gear S3 is more versatile than ever.
Packed with enhancements that augment the device’s utility and streamline users’ access to the information they rely on, the update transforms the Gear S3 into a controller, a tracker, a communicator and, of course, a watch – all in one device.
Workouts, Your Way
Exercising with the Gear S3 has been completely transformed, thanks to new features designed to make activity tracking more intuitive.*
Advanced, real-time heart rate monitoring with improved accuracy and detailed feedback lets users continuously monitor their heart rate activity – whether they’re enjoying a relaxing yoga session or an exhilarating kickboxing class. They can also control their weight more efficiently via the nutrition management feature, where they can easily add calories consumed, check their calorie balance and compare it to their daily target.
Fitness buffs looking to take their workout routine to the next level will appreciate the Samsung Health Fitness Program feature, which lets them watch exercise programs from their synced smartphone on a TV. Once connected, they can use their Gear S3 to control the displayed content, display their heart rates on the TV.
Centralized Communications, Right from Your Wrist
Despite its productivity and fitness features, the Gear S3 is not just a lifestyle device. In fact, it’s a communicator that makes getting in touch and staying on task easy and efficient.
In addition to searching contacts via the device, users can also now create new contacts right from the screen of the Gear S3. They can also create events along with related information such as date and time, reminder alerts, and location (text only) with a few simple taps and twists of the bezel.
Furthermore, rather than just checking reminders created on the Gear S3, users can also now view and edit checklist, video and web reminders created on their synced smartphone on the smartwatch. For instance, they can create a grocery list on their mobile device and tick items off right from their wrist as they add them to their shopping cart.**
A UX Optimized for the Way You Use Your Device
The Gear S3 sets users free from their phone; a turn of the device’s signature rotating bezel is all it takes to respond to calls, read messages or access an app. But with the latest updates, the device’s UX is even more seamless and user-friendly.
Widgets, for example, have been optimized to fit the newly enhanced circular display of the Gear S3 so that more information can be viewed at a glance. A band has been added around the perimeter of the screen along with widget-specific text such as contact names, detailed weather information and the remaining time before an alarm is set to go off.
By rotating the bezel at a faster or slower rate, users can view more or less information, respectively. For instance, if a user wants to change their device’s watch face, they can see more design options on the screen at once by turning the bezel at a faster speed.
Users can also use the bezel to naturally move from a text message notification to the reply input. Should they not have enough time to send a detailed reply, they can make use of even more default quick replies to express themselves in a snap. They can also create and edit their own quick replies directly on the smartwatch.
Gear S3 owners also now have the option to sort apps in the order in which they were most recently used in addition to being able to customize their location. The Moment Bar, which allows users to adjust the volume, check the battery level and more, is easily accessed with a swipe up or down from any screen.
To top things off, Samsung Gear, the app that Gear S3 owners use to sync their smartwatch with their smartphone, has been enhanced with a modern, image-focused design to better harmonize with the classic aesthetic of the device.
Enhanced Control for Ultimate Connectivity
With a focus on connectivity, Samsung’s ever-growing connected ecosystem brings about the need for more control. With its large touchscreen and rotating bezel, the Gear S3 is the perfect tool for controlling one’s devices, and is only enhanced with the new value pack update.
Users can now manage their compatible Samsung IoT-enabled devices right from their Gear S3 with Samsung Connect. The smartwatch also functions as a remote control for PowerPoint presentations and Samsung Gear VR, adding an element of convenience to both work and play.
The Gear S3 value pack update is now available for download via the Samsung Gear app.
* To activate these new features, the Samsung Health app must first be updated on the smartphone synced to the Gear S3.
** The Reminder function only works with the Gear S3 if the Reminder app is downloaded on the synced smartphone, which is limited to the Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8+ and Galaxy Note8.