Galaxy Watch 5 offers many notification options.  (Image: Dan Howley)

Samsung’s $279 Galaxy Watch 5 is the top Android smartwatch right now

I’m a sucker for smartwatches. I’ve been wearing a Samsung or Apple Watch for years, and frankly, I’d feel naked without the watch strapped to my wrist. That’s why try out Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5 before it goes official on August 26.

Starting at $279 — well below the $399 Apple Watch Series 7 — the Watch 5 is an evolution of Samsung’s Galaxy Watch formula, not a reinvention. Running Samsung’s One UI on top of Google’s Wear OS software, the Galaxy Watch 5 brings a more durable design, a skin temperature sensor and longer battery life.

If you’re an Android fan looking for a smartwatch, you can’t go wrong with the latest from Samsung. But if you own last year’s Galaxy Watch 4, there’s not much reason to upgrade now.

That’s because, overall, the Galaxy Watch 5’s interface hasn’t changed much from the Watch 4. You can still send and receive texts and other messages; make phone calls; and get important app updates. In other words, it can handle everything you’d expect a smartwatch to handle, including controlling your compatible smart appliances.

Stronger design, no bezels, longer battery life

Thanks to the sapphire crystal display, the Galaxy Watch 5’s design is stronger and more sturdy than its predecessor. Apple uses a similar type of display on its own Apple Watch, and while it’s not completely unbreakable — I’ve scratched my own Apple Watch — it’s more durable.

If you’re a longtime Samsung watch wearer, one change you might notice is that the Galaxy Watch 5 doesn’t include the rotating bezel that Samsung found on older models. In its place is a touch bezel that lets you scroll through content by swiping outside the display.

In any case, the lack of a physically moving bezel isn’t the end of the world, but it’s a nice addition to the watch, making it a James Bond-esque device.

Galaxy Watch 5 offers many notification options. (Image: Dan Howley)

The Galaxy Watch 5 comes in two display sizes: 40mm and 44mm. I wear the 44mm version all the time and it fits nicely on my wrist. If you’re looking for a watch with a bigger screen, you can opt for Samsung’s $449 Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, which features a 45mm dial and protruding bezels to further protect the Watch 5 Pro’s screen from scratches and scuffs.

In terms of battery life, the Galaxy Watch 5’s powerplant is 13 percent larger than the Galaxy Watch 4’s, while the Watch 5 Pro’s battery is 60 percent larger than the Watch 4’s. The Watch 4 lasted more than a day. Single charge. I ran the watch for almost two days with both the always-on display and the continuous heart rate monitor active. After the battery life got too low, I switched to watch-only mode and got a few hours out of the device. If you use the Watch 4 in watch-only mode, you can get more than five days of usage, Samsung says.

Health and Fitness

Smartwatches can be used as wrist-worn fitness and notification devices, and Samsung offers both. You can get your workout fix with the watch’s built-in fitness tracker, which can track over 90 workouts. Automatic workout tracking automatically records your runs without having to choose options from the watch’s fitness app.

While you can track everything from swimming to ping pong, I wish Samsung had an option for general free weights. You can choose a personal weightlifting routine, such as the bench press and deadlift. However, I tend to switch from one exercise to another and don’t want to bend over to pick a new routine every time I go from bench press to tricep pulldown. There’s an “Other Workout” option, but Samsung isn’t entirely clear on what’s covered there.

Like most smartwatches, the Galaxy Watch 5 has an activity tracker built in.  (Image: Dan Howley)

Like most smartwatches, the Galaxy Watch 5 has an activity tracker built in. (Image: Dan Howley)

Like the Apple Watch, Samsung provides users with three daily exercise goals represented by hearts on the Watch 5’s display: steps, active time, and active calories. Just like with the Apple Watch, I quickly became obsessed with achieving these goals. Further health and fitness features include the ability to track your calorie and water intake.

The Watch 5 also has an updated sensor on the back. In addition to being able to measure your heart rate and blood oxygen, the Watch 5 can now also check your skin temperature. Well, it will eventually. Samsung has to release an update to enable the feature, so I can’t test it. But when it does work, the company says it will help provide deeper insights into things like sleep tracking.

Apple is reportedly adding a temperature-tracking sensor to its next-generation Apple Watch, though it remains to be seen how the company plans to use the sensor.

Samsung continues to innovate with its watches: improving durability, expanding health and wellness features, and adding new sensors. But the company isn’t the only game in town. While it partnered with Google to develop the Watch 5’s operating system, the search giant will also launch its own competing watch.

We’ll see how the two stack up against each other when the Pixel Watch arrives later this fall.

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