I don’t think I’ve ever been properly satisfied with a smartwatch. Too bulky, too slow, too ugly, too expensive: there’s no shortage of ways to get it wrong. While we’re still probably a long ways off from getting things perfect (or even approaching the sort of refinement we see with today’s smartphone designs), I have to concede that Samsung’s done something pretty special with the Galaxy Watch4. Even if you’ve been let down by a smartwatch more times than you can count, consider this your personalized invitation to take another look and find out what you’re been missing.

Welcome to Wear OS on a Samsung smartwatch. The Google partnership has opened up the doors on software support, making for the most satisfying Galaxy Watch esperience in years. Now if only Samsung could do something about battery life.

Key Features

  • Wear OS
  • Health sensors
  • Waterproof
Specifications

  • Sizes: 42mm, 46mm
  • Colors: Black, silver, green (42mm); black, silver, pink gold (44mm)
  • Display: Super AMOLED, 1.2″ 396×396 (42mm) or 1.4″450×450 (46mm)
  • CPU: Exynos W920 @ 1.18GHz
  • RAM: 1.5GB
  • Storage: 16GB
  • Battery: 247mAh (42mm) or 361mAh (46mm)
  • Connectivity: NFC, GPS, Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, LTE (optional)
  • Durability: IP68 certified, MIL-STD-810G compliant
  • Software: Wear OS 3 Powered by Samsung
  • Health sensors: Heart rate, EKG, bioelectrical impedance
Pros

  • Display is crisp, bright, not particularly flickery.
  • Wear OS offers great software support, and I love all the sensor data available.
  • Build quality is great, and despite quite a few solid whacks, I’ve yet to do any serious damage to the Watch4’s body nor screen.
Cons

  • Replace the default strap immediately.
  • Neither large enough to go for days between charges, nor small enough to charge quickly, the battery situation is extremely frustrating.
  • Mandatory Samsung stuff.

Design, hardware, what’s in the box

watch4-skeletal-measure

Modern wristwatch design is a goddamn quagmire — and that’s just talking about regular watches. Introduce the increased size demands of smartwatch hardware into the mix, and it’s all too easy for a manufacturer to get carried away with ostentatious ornamentation. While presumably some shoppers are drawn to these designs, I’m instead enamored with the understated simplicity of the Watch4. Dare I say: it almost doesn’t even look like a smartwatch at all.

That may be the highest praise I could offer Samsung’s designers, and while this largely featureless puck of a watch is still smartwatch-thick, the combination of the tapered bottom and the way the watch band flows around the body’s edges leaves you with the impression of a much more streamlined build.

watch4-side

The same smart decisions that bring us that look also give us a pair of low-profile side buttons, the top wrapped in just the slightest hint of a sexy red accent. Compared to what some other companies are doing, I find this incredibly tasteful.

Of course, this is the non-Classic Watch4, so we don’t get a physical bezel for our twisting enjoyment. I’ll talk about the functional impact of that a little later on, but so far as the design goes, I think going without it is a big win. I was concerned about what effect its loss might have on durability, but despite a few questionable impacts, so far the Watch4 has survived without significant damage — the worst I see is some detritus building up in the hair-thin gap between screen glass and watch body, but no blemishes to the body itself.

watch4-strap-hate

If there is one undeniable failure here, though, it’s the strap. I won’t mince words: I absolutely hate this garbage tuck-under design that pushes and pulls at your skin and makes getting a proper fit needlessly complicated. It’s “sporty,” sure, but if I were to start wearing the Watch4 long-term, this would be an early replacement.

At least the screen is quite nice, and while the 42mm watch I checked out is lower-res than its larger counterpart, the display is still impressively sharp, capable of showing tiny details without pixelation. In fact sometimes it feels like there’s almost too much info packed into some watchfaces, but I’d much rather deal with that than the alternative. Even with the 60Hz refresh rate, though, stutters abound; my kingdom for a smartwatch interface that’s consistently smooth.

watch4-band-change

Samsung ships the Watch4 with one Sport band, a magnetic charger (no AC adapter), and a quick-start guide.

Software, performance, and battery life

watch4-multi

It’s been a while since I used a Wear OS device, having spent the past few months with the Watch3 on my wrist. For the Watch4 we were promised a new take on Wear OS with a healthy dose of Tizen inspiration — and really, that’s exactly what this feels like. It’s intuitive enough for previous Samsung wearable users to pick up without a second thought, and the ease with which it taps into the vault of Wear OS software makes it a far more versatile smartwatch.

That said, I’m kinda skeeved out by how buddy-buddy Samsung and Google seem to be for this project, and really don’t love the idea of the sort of software exclusivity we’re already starting to see. That extends to the heavy-handed way Samsung pushes you towards its own services; no one in the history of anything has ever asked for a dedicated Bixby button. And while I don’t love how strongly the watch pushes you towards Samsung Pay over Google’s solution, in the end it works the same.

Notifications work like I’d expect them to, popping up on the left and with a little dot to alert you to their presence, but frankly I’m not crazy about dealing with these on my wrist in the first place; if my phone’s close enough by to be sending notifications to my wrist, I’d much rather just deal with them there. Thankfully, the software gives you plenty of control over which you choose to see.

watch4-choose-workout

There’s a lot to like here for the fitness enthusiast. I love the idea of a smartwatch as a sensor, and Samsung really empowers the Watch4 to measure quite a bit of useful information about your body. Pulse ox is back, joined by an ECG mode that sounds neat, but I question how many users are going to frequently test themselves for heart irregularities.

watch4-recording

The body fat analysis may be my favorite, though getting a measurement requires a bit of an awkward pose, touching both watch buttons while being careful your fingertips don’t stray and hit the watch body, as well. The numbers I get are consistent enough to seem precise, though I can’t ignore that the measurements I see are wildly different from those reported by my smart scale.

watch4-settings

Of course, data’s only good when it can actually be gathered, and the Watch4 struggles at times to measure the statistic it’s looking for. Even after weeks of use, I regularly run into issues during a workout where heart rate data is just lost for minutes at a time. You can tighten up the band or slide it further up your arm (something the UI is constantly reminding you to do, as if all-too-aware of measurement problems) but even that’s an inconsistent fix.

Other times, the information you’re looking for is just too opaque to be useful. The Watch4 builds on Samsung’s sleep tracking with the ability to detect snoring. I used to snore quite badly, but I’ve lost a lot of weight this year and have been curious if my snoring got any better as a result; this seemed like a great test. The first frustration is that the Watch4 can’t measure this alone, and taps into its paired smartphone’s mic to actually record your snores. OK, fine. But even after setting everything up, all I see on my phone in the morning is “no snoring data.” Does that mean I no longer snore? Does it mean I forgot to grant microphone permissions? I’m looking for data that I /didn’t/ snore, and this ambiguity reads like a lack of data either way. It’s rough bits like this that remind you wearables on Android still have a long way to go in terms of usability.

Perhaps it’s a consequence of the smaller 42mm model’s screen, but touch input on this tiny display can be a little frustrating. PIN entry (required after setting up contactless payments) feels like a roll of the dice each time, and even just navigating the system UI requires taps more precise than I’m able to quickly and reliably enter during a workout. I really wish more functionality were tied to the hardware buttons, or at least larger on-screen elements.

watch4-quick-settings

Another issue with this smaller watch is battery life, which I’d characterize overall as adequate but not particularly impressive. It can get through a reasonable day of operation without a big problem, but generally speaking, not even close to two days. I’ve yet to really find a consistent, non-awkward time to charge it. A phone’s easy enough to charge at night, but I want to be wearing the Watch4 for its sleep tracking. And I pop it off before a shower, but that’s not long enough to fully recharge. I end up with some wearable FOMO, but that’s hardly a problem exclusive to Samsung.

Should you buy it?

watch4-maps

With all these niggling complaints, you might think I don’t particularly like the Galaxy Watch4, but that couldn’t be further from the truth; this is probably the best full-fledged smartwatch I’ve ever used. And while I miss the extended battery life enjoyed by simpler fitness trackers, I think the extra functionality here offers a trade-off that’s well worth accepting.

I do miss Samsung’s rotating physical bezel quite a bit, but even without it I’m still very impressed with the Watch4’s construction, from its relatively sleek frame to its ability to resist casual damage. This is probably the best-looking smartwatch I’ve ever worn, and while I dream of throttling whoever approved the band design, that only highlights how well the rest of package here works.

Pricing isn’t exactly cheap — and for a premium watch like this I wouldn’t expect it to be — but the savings of $100 over the Watch4 Classic do help make this model feel markedly more palatable. And really, $250’s not a preposterous ask when we’re shopping for watches in general, to say nothing of smartwatches.

There’s a lot of room for improvement here, but the lion’s share of that is on the software side, and none of the foibles are so severe as to elevate to outright deal-breaker level. And while this hybrid effort with Google is new territory, I think this is a journey worth taking. If you like the idea of a smartwatch and have been waiting for someone to get Android watches “right” — well, you could be waiting until the end of time — but the Watch4 is the strongest effort I’ve seen in a while, and this is ultimately a great place to get on board.

watch4-multi-weather

Buy it if

  • You like your smartwatches sleek, compact, and powerful.
  • You’re a Samsung fan who’s been craving Wear OS app support.

Don’t buy it if

  • You want a wearable you don’t have to worry about charging.
  • You prioritize access to Assistant and Google services.

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