The Most Stellar Android Watch Out

Amid a treasure trove of new products like the Galaxy Fold 3, Galaxy Flip 3 and Galaxy Buds 2, Samsung has unleashed not one, but two new smartwatches for 2021. It’s an embarrassment of riches, especially if you’re a Samsung fan. And while the two watches are more alike than different, there’s enough variety here to appeal to two very different kind of smartwatch wearers.

We’ve already talked about the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, which was recently reviewed by Forbes contributor David Phelan. Now it’s time to look at its sibling, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4.

It turns out that almost everything you can say about the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is also true of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. So rather than repeating ourselves, we thought we’d tackle this review of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 a little differently. We’ll hit the highlights, telling you what’s new and interesting about the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4. But for the details, check out David’s review of the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. I’ll concentrate on how the two smartwatches are different, and some of my own personal observations about why you might want—or not want—the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 for yourself.

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Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 In a Nutshell

Pros:

  • Beautiful bezel-free AMOLED display
  • Excellent health and fitness features
  • Google Play app compatibility

Cons:

  • Digital bezel not nearly as useful as in Galaxy Watch 4 Classic
  • Bezel-free screen more likely to get scratched and damaged
  • Many features require a Samsung phone

Samsung Galaxy Watch4 Specifications

Price: 40mm Bluetooth/Wi-Fi $250, 40mm LTE $300; 44mm Bluetooth/Wi-Fi $280, 44mm LTE $330 | Processor: Samsung Exynos W920 | Display: 40mm 1.2-inch AMOLED, 44mm 1.4-inch AMOLED | Storage: 16GB Memory: 1.5GB | Battery size: 247mAh (40mm); 361 mAh (44mm) | Dimensions: 40.4 x 39.3 x 9.8mm (40mm), 44.4 x 43.3 x 9.8mm (44mm) | Weight 40mm 26g, 44mm 30g


Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Review

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is built on the same general foundation as the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. That means you get the same two-button control scheme on the side of the watch, the same easy-to-replace sport band and the same interface on-screen. Like the Classic, the Watch 4 has made the leap from Samsung’s Tizen OS to the new version of Google Wear.

And while you might not care about the under-the-hood details like what operating system it’s using, this is important stuff. It means that Android phones might finally be consolidating under a single software architecture to do battle with the Apple Watch. And while the Tizen OS had a decent collection of apps, now you can take advantage of the full Google Play app store. The Galaxy Watch’s app world just got a lot bigger.

Even so, if you’ve had a Galaxy Watch before, you won’t feel lost. Swipe up for apps (though now it’s an Apple Watch-like app grid), down for setting, right for notifications and left for app tiles. The tiles is the meat and potatoes of the watch, with access to fitness and sleep tracking, weather, your calendar, heart rate, ECG and more (there’s even blood pressure if you live in the UK, but fingers crossed on it coming to the US soon). It’s also easy to add new tiles to this view from your list of apps.

And while we’re on the subject, I need to take a moment to marvel at the display. The bright, crisp AMOLED screen is a thing of beauty, no less gorgeous on the Watch 4 than the Classic. I still dislike any watch that doesn’t have an always-on display—many years into the smartwatch era, it’s still awkward to have to twist your wrist to see the time, especially while in conversation with another person—but there’s no doubt that this is a snappy, fast display that never makes you wait for the watch to do a thing you asked for.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: The Design Differences are Modest

As I’ve already mentioned, both watches have the same underlying operating system, and in fact have the same processor, memory and sensors. What’s different is mainly in what meets the eye.

The Watch 4 comes in two case sizes: 40mm and 44mm (as opposed to the Classic’s 42mm and 46mm cases)—but note that the small Watch 4 and the small Classic offer the same screen size, as is the larger Watch 4 and larger Classic. So no, you can’t get a larger display by opting for the Classic. And while the Classic is only available in two colors (black and silver), the Watch 4 adds two additional colorways: green and pink gold.

But perhaps the most important distinction between the two watches is the construction. The Classic’s chassis is machined from rugged stainless steel, while the Watch 4 has a less expensive, and somewhat less robust aluminum construction. Will that matter? It depends on how much abuse you tend to pile onto your watch, but I’d say that it’s a non-issue for most people—rest assured that both are water- and dust-resistant with an IP68 rating. A bigger concern is how easily the watch face will scratch, and as I will explain in a moment, the Watch 4 is definitely going to get beaten up more than the Classic.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: The Rotating Bezel is Digital

Whether or not you have owned a Galaxy Watch before, there’s probably one key feature you know about: The rotating bezel. This bezel is a signature feature in Samsung watches and makes navigating a joy. Just spin the clicky, tactile bezel to browse your notifications and app tiles, or to scroll through a long screen of text. It’s fluid, convenient and—dare I say—fun.

And that’s one of the biggest changes in the Galaxy Watch 4—the rotating bezel is gone. Instead, the display goes edge-to-edge with no discernable bezel at all. It gives the watch a crisp, modern, sporty look. And that might really appeal to you (it does to me). Want a traditional bezel? Get the Classic. Want all-screen-all-the-time? Get the Watch 4.

Even so, Samsung has retained the spinning navigation, but now you drag your finger around the circumference of the display. You can feel a haptic vibration with each “click,” but the purely digital spin is honestly less satisfying than turning a real bezel, and doesn’t feel much different than simply swiping in a straight line, which accomplishes the same thing. The Watch 4 is also marginally more vulnerable to scratches, as well—the raised bezel on the Classic generally takes the brunt of collisions with desktops, doorways and all the other daily obstacles. Lacking a bezel, the Watch 4’s fully exposed watch face is likely going to amass more scratches over its lifespan.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Final Thoughts

Personally, I am torn. Having had the chance to test both the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic and the Galaxy Watch 4, I prefer the more modern and sporty look of the Watch 4, but I miss the rotating bezel of the Classic. The digital rotating bezel seems somewhat pointless, honestly; the Classic’s physical bezel makes it easy to scroll through a long screen of text, for example, without getting your finger in the way of what you’re trying to read. But with the Watch 4, using the virtual bezel or just swiping through the middle of the screen is pretty much a wash. You might as well just swipe; the gesture is even easier to do.

That aside, though, the Watch 4 is my favorite by a nose. It’s less expensive, which is a big win, and the 44mm size is, at least for me, the sweet spot for a men’s watch, and that’s only available for the Watch 4. The larger Classic doesn’t make the screen any bigger, but the addition of the bezel makes it a tad oversized for my wrist.

And Samsung holds nothing back. You get all the health and fitness features, for example, the same battery life and all the same water- and dust resistance. There are no compromises. I thank Samsung for not hobbling the Watch 4 by creating a tiered basic and premium watch experience with the Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic.

Unfortunately, I do have one significant caveat. Even though the Galaxy Watch 4 is clearly trying to help unify the Android smartwatch world, there’s still a way to go. Despite running Google Wear, the watch is still a mish-mash of proprietary Samsung software. Want to ask your watch a question? A long press of the top button summons Bixby—Google Assistant is not in the house. Likewise, much of the health-focused bioanalytic data the Watch 4 generates (like electrocardiograms and body analysis) only sync with Samsung apps. And it won’t work with an iPhone. At all.

The bottom line is that the Galaxy Watch 4 is really designed for people already in Club Samsung. If you don’t have a Galaxy phone, you should probably move along, there’s not a lot to see here. But for those already sporting a Samsung phone, this is arguably the best Android smartwatch that’s ever found its way to my wrist.