It wasn’t easy to hide my excitement over the release of the new Samsung Galaxy Watch 3. As one of the biggest fans of the Galaxy Watch Active 2, seeing a more fashion-forward watch with physical rotating bezel from Samsung certainly grabbed my attention. You knew I was going to get one on the wrist. And I did just that, having now spent a couple of weeks with a 41mm Galaxy Watch 3.
I don’t want to spoil this here review and tell you that my excitement has since drained, but let’s just be straight here – this is a really expensive Galaxy Watch Active 2 in a new case. What I’m saying is that it’s a nice watch, it’s also really expensive compared to what I still believe is the best Android smartwatch.
Here’s a quick review of the Galaxy Watch 3.
What’s good about the Galaxy Watch 3?
Design: I’m actually pretty torn on the Galaxy Watch 3 design and don’t love it, but I’m trying to be fair here and point out that it is a nicely designed watch. Samsung clearly took care in creating a premium-feeling smartwatch that easily rivals the feel of an Apple Watch, only this actually looks like a classic watch.
I’m not sure how many of you have held or used an Apple Watch, but they have substantial weight to them compared to other smartwatches. They come off as if they are a meaningful piece of tech, not just a cheap notification accessory. The Galaxy Watch 3 is probably the only smartwatch I’ve worn that brings out that same response. And look, I’ve reviewed $1,000+ watches, none of which I would give this same praise to.
What I like here is the precision, the two sizes, the satisfaction you get from rotating its bezel, and again, the weight. As you wear this watch, hold it in hand, or use it, there is nothing cheap about it. The pushers have great click, each notched rotation from the bezel is reassuring, and with its always-on display, you might actually trick someone into thinking you aren’t wearing tech on the wrist.
For this review, I tested the 41mm version because the 45mm version didn’t come in silver and that size also sounds huge. The big differences between the two sizes are really just the size and the teeth on the bezel (45mm has them, 41mm doesn’t). I wish Samsung would have gone with a matching silver bezel for this particular model, as two-tone is an acquired taste that I don’t have.
Outside of appearance, my one complaint is that this watch, well, it’s thick. There’s a chance that the 45mm version spreads things out some on the wrist, but this 41mm model rides high. I didn’t bang it on doors or walls necessarily, but that weight I mentioned coupled with its height means it’s somewhat top-heavy and needs to really be tightened to the wrist to avoid feeling floppy. Working out with it, the thickness is most definitely noticeable, as it constantly reminds you it is there.
Generally speaking, though, most people will likely look at the Galaxy Watch 3 and think – damn, that’s a nice looking watch.
Display: Samsung put 1.2″ and 1.4″ displays in its Galaxy Watch 3 models and there is a good chance that they are the same displays that you will find in the Watch Active 2. They have resolutions of 360×360, are AMOLED, can do always-on display, and are covered in Gorilla Glass DX.
Like on the Watch Active 2, you get a super color punchy display that really isn’t hiding the fact that it’s an AMOLED. While Samsung’s phones have toned down the excessive color pops and contrast for a more accurate presentation, their watches are always trying to remind you that they are colorful. And that’s fine! The more color the better on an always-on watch face, particularly when it’s as small as this and needs to present you with important information at a glance.
The blacks are super deep, brightness levels are fine outdoors, and touch responsiveness is solid. Plus, if you don’t want to touch the screen, that bezel is there to navigate you through almost everything.
Performance: Samsung is once again using the dual core Exynos 9110 in the Galaxy Watch 3. This is the same chip as you’ll find in the Watch Active 2, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Where Samsung did add a slight improvement is in RAM; Samsung jumped it to a full 1GB from 768MB. They also tossed in 8GB storage instead of the 4GB they had been using.
The Galaxy Watch 3 is a well-running watch. I haven’t had any issues opening up workout apps, checking and dealing with notifications, reading health data, setting alarms and…I don’t know what else you do on your watch. Your boy is never going to open up Bixby nor do I try not to voice dictate anything on any watch. But yeah, the typical smartwatch stuff I do, all of that happened smoothly on this watch.
- Rotating bezel: People seem quite excited about the return of the physical rotating bezel on the Watch 3 after Samsung only included a touch version on the Watch Active 2. As someone who never quite adopted the rotating bezel, I finally did on this watch and yes, it is very nice. You should force yourself to use it, as it really does help you navigate the watch without covering the display.
- LTE or Bluetooth: The model I tested is a 41mm with Bluetooth-only, but I wanted to point out that Samsung does offer you plenty of options. If you want LTE connectivity for on-the-go action without a phone, you can buy just that. Remember that it will cost you, though.
- Watch bands: I immediately took off the included 20mm leather band that came with my Watch 3 and replaced it with the rubber 20mm strap that came with the Watch Active 2. Some may like a leather strap on a smartwatch, but I like to sweat with my watches and this Active 2 band is awesome. I bring this up to let you know that Samsung’s other watch accessories are actually quite nice and you may want to look into them. Or you could shop on Amazon for similar stuff at a fraction of the price.
What’s not so good about the Galaxy Watch 3?
Battery life and slow charging: Battery life has been surprisingly below-average for me on the Galaxy Watch 3. That’s surprising because I raved at length about the impressive battery life of the Galaxy Watch Active 2, which as far as I can tell, has the exact same batteries as both Watch 3 models. The 45mm version sports a 340mAh cell, while the 41mm model I tested sits at 247mAh.
Now, in my Watch Active 2 review, I was using the bigger 44mm version and saw full 2-day battery life with workouts mixed in, sleep tracking, heartrate monitoring, the works. I also mentioned that I had tested the 40mm version of that watch too and estimated that it could have come close to similar battery life. This 41mm Watch 3 is 1.5 days at max, and that’s with pretty light usage.
In my battery test notes, I made no mention over the past few weeks about getting to a 2nd day off the charger. Most of the days, I would charge the Watch 3 to full, wear it overnight, and look for a charger at some point mid-day the next day. If I worked out or went for a run and used it to track that activity, life of the watch shortened by hours. I had multiple days where the watch would come off the charger at 11AM or noon and then need to be charged again the following morning. That’s Wear OS-level battery life.
My setup, for those questioning how on Earth battery life for me has been this bad, hasn’t changed from one watch to another. I use constant heartrate monitoring, I utilize sleep tracking, I 100% leave always-on display on, I get limited notifications from only select apps, and I’m paired to a Galaxy S20. My setup isn’t advanced by any means, but I do turn on the stuff I feel is important.
The poor battery life is only made worse by the fact that Samsung’s watches take at least 2 hours to charge from 0% to full. In a time where Fossil’s Wear OS watches do the same in less than half the time and smartphones have 45W stupid-fast charging, I’m not sure why Samsung hasn’t addressed this problem.
You see, a smartwatch is meant to be worn almost all of the time. You wear it to keep track of your health status, to track sleep, to get notifications without having to look at your phone, etc. But if you need to take it off your wrist for 2 hours in the middle of every day, that’s a 2-hour gap in information that your watch will never get back. Frankly, it’s unacceptable that Samsung’s watches charge this slowly.
The bottom line here is that after being so impressed by the Watch Active 2’s battery life, this Watch 3 has left me disappointed.
Price: Throughout this review, I constantly brought up the Galaxy Watch Active 2, and no, that’s not just because it’s the watch from Samsung I like so much. I continue to bring it up because it’s set of specs are almost identical to the Galaxy Watch 3. Same processor. Same display. Same battery sizes. They can both run an electrocardiogram (ECG) once fully approved or the app is released.
The differences are in the cases, a physical vs. touch rotating bezel, the slight bump in RAM and storage, and price. The Galaxy Watch Active 2 topped out originally with Bluetooth at $299 for the 44mm model, but could also be had for $279 if you went 40mm. Samsung appears to have permanently dropped their prices to $269 and $249 now. The smaller 41mm Galaxy Watch 3 costs $399 with Bluetooth only. The bigger 45mm model starts at $429. So we’re talking over-$100 increases for a fancier case with a physical bezel, a bit more RAM, and more storage.
I’m not sure I see the added value. The Galaxy Watch 3 looks pretty nice and feels premium, but for a fraction of the price, you can have almost the same watch experience, with a sportier and more active feel.
- Fitness side of things: I’m not necessarily a pro workout bro by any means, but I do like to run. I took the Galaxy Watch 3 on a couple of runs and it performed decently. With GPS on, it tracked my routes, pace, and cadence well, and mostly matched my Garmin Fenix 6s once it locked-on to a signal. Its heartrate tracking wasn’t as good and appears to have only updated every half mile or so on one run, which is not what I wanted to see. A second run I took it on, the heartrate sensor only tracked for a few minutes of the run and mostly reported as “data missing.” Like all smartwatches, this is a casual fitness watch. Sure, it’ll estimate VO2max scores now, track steps, and let you choose from dozens of workouts, but I’m not sure I would ever fully trust the data it gives me back.
- Apps: This didn’t bother me much, but I always like to remind you that the app selection on Samsung’s watches isn’t great. Google Maps isn’t here, the fitness app selection is limited, and you’ll mostly just use the stuff Samsung pre-loads on there. I haven’t had many issues with that and still highly recommend their watches, just be aware of it.
Buy or pass on the Galaxy Watch 3?
I’d pass and buy a Galaxy Watch Active 2. The Galaxy Watch 3 is really expensive and not really an upgrade over their more fitness-focused watches. The design is nice and the weight feels expensive, so Samsung is charging you for both.
I don’t have any huge gripes about this watch, please don’t take it that way, it’s just that I don’t see how anyone would buy this watch over the less expensive and arguably just as good, Watch Active 2 line.