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Samsung Galaxy Watch review: The smartwatch for everyone

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Samsung’s Galaxy Watch is the smartwatch to buy if you aren’t an Apple lover.

Apple’s (AAPL) new smartwatch, the Apple Watch Series 4, might have stolen the show during the company’s big September event, but it’s not the only intelligent timepiece on the market. Samsung’s new Galaxy Watch is designed to be the South Korean tech company’s answer to Apple’s own device.

It features a classic, circular watch design, as well as a battery that lasts longer than the Apple Watch’s and works with not only Samsung smartphones, but iOS and other Google (GOOG, GOOGL) Android devices, as well. For Android fans, it’s one of the most compelling smartwatches available.

Spin me right round

Unlike the Apple Watch, Samsung’s Galaxy Watch features a traditional, round watch face. The design is important as it allows for Samsung’s slick rotating bezel. It might seem like a silly marketing play. However, the rotating bezel, which Samsung has used on its previous smartwatches, is useful and intuitive.

Want to navigate to a different app screen with the Galaxy Watch? Just twist the bezel left or right to peruse the apps of your choosing. Of course, you can still tap and swipe across the Watch’s touchscreen display, but the bezel is just more fun. Two buttons on the Watch’s right side give you access to your onboard apps, while the other brings you directly back to the home screen.

The Galaxy Watch next to the Apple Watch Series 4.

The Galaxy Watch comes in two sizes: a 46mm model that comes in silver, and 42mm version that comes in black or rose gold. The 46mm Watch is absolutely massive. It’s the kind of watch you’d buy only if you love the chunkiest of timepieces. I’m not that person, so I opted to use the 42mm Watch during my review.

I found the Watch comfortable to wear all day, whether just sitting at my desk or running on the treadmill. The base strap included with the Watch feels a little too sporty for going out to events. Luckily, you can purchase an assortment of bands that are far more stylish, including the Urban Traveller leather band for $39 and the Urban Dress band for $29.

Time to get started

To use the Galaxy Watch you’ll need to download the Galaxy Watch app. This is where you pair the Watch with your phone, as well as manage notifications for apps, set up widgets and adjust advanced settings. It’s managing your notifications, though, that can make or break your experience with the Galaxy Watch.

Too many nudges from your wrist for things like work emails, Instagram notes and Facebook (FB) Messages could have you ripping your Watch from your wrist in frustration. To help get your notifications in order, the Galaxy Watch app automatically populates a list of apps on your smartphone. You can then choose whether or not notifications from each app are sent to your wrist.

It’s important to note that if you constantly receive notifications, you’ll end up running your Watch’s battery down quickly. I ended up enabling notifications for my Alarm, Email, Phone calls, Instagram, Messenger, Twitter, Weather and Spotify (SPOT).

The Galaxy Watch’s weather app.

The Watch also comes loaded with a number of pre-installed widgets that you can navigate between by swiping from right to left on the touch screen or twisting the dial to the right. True to form, though, Samsung gives you way too many widgets from the outset. The company is known for giving you way too many options, and that’s exactly what happens here. You get an altimeter/ barometer, Flipboard, Music controls, Workout shortcuts, Stress gauge, Calendar, Reminders, Contacts, Activity and Weather.

Thankfully, you can delete the widgets to make them more manageable, allowing you to customize the Galaxy Watch as much as you want.  I cut mine down to Music controls, Activity and Weather.

Swiping left to right on the touch screen or twisting the bezel to the left lets you view your notifications. To dismiss them, though, you have to swipe all the way past your last notification, which can be annoying.

Samsung’s Galaxy Watch also lets you change and customize watch faces without having to open the Watch app. It’s not a deal breaker, since you’ll likely only change your watch face once in a while. Still, it’s nice to have the option to change it without having to pull my phone out, which is the whole point of a smartwatch.

Exercising and health

A smartwatch isn’t complete without a fitness tracker, which is why the Galaxy Watch is able to automatically detect your exercises or let you log more than 39 different exercise types ranging from hiking and bench press to running and yoga. And since the Watch is rated for use in up to 50 meters of water, it’s easy to take for a swim.

You can also track your daily steps, what you’ve eaten, how much you’ve had to drink and how much caffeine you’ve had each day. I’m not a big fan of having to track my drinks or food, so I didn’t take advantage of these functions.

That said, the Galaxy Watch did automatically start a workout when I was walking around my neighborhood. The one thing the Apple Watch offers that the Galaxy Watch does are Apple’s insanely addictive Activity Rings, which features three concentric circles that close as you meet your movement, exercise and stand goals.

Time’s ticking away

Swiping down from the top of the Watch’s display pulls up the watch’s settings menu. That lets you turn on the always-on display, so you don’t have to lift your wrist to see the time; battery life; airplane mode, display brightness and audio settings.

The one issue I had with the the Galaxy Watch compared to the Apple Watch was that it took just a hair longer for the Galaxy’s display to wake up when I lifted my wrist than the Apple Watch’s. It’s barely noticeable if you’re not the kind of person who wears a smartwatch every day, but if you are, you might take issue.

The Galaxy Watch’s activity tracking feature.

The Galaxy Watch does, however, beat the Apple Watch when it comes to battery life. I regularly get about about 2 full days of use out of the Apple Watch. The Galaxy Watch, on the other hand, managed 3 days. That’s good news if you’re the kind of person who wants to use the sleep tracking feature on the Galaxy.

The Galaxy Watch also has one more thing going for it versus the Apple Watch: It works with more devices. See, while the Apple Watch only works with the iPhone, you can use the Galaxy Watch with Samsung smartphones, the iPhone, or any Android device. Granted, certain features only work with iPhones, such as Samsung’s S Health features and the ability to reply to messages from the Watch, but it’s something.

Should you get it?

Samsung’s Galaxy Watch can’t quite match the aesthetic appeal of the Apple Watch, and, at times, it can overwhelm you with options. But it’s certainly attractive in its own right and matches Apple’s functionality. If you’re a Samsung fan or Android owner, I suggest opting for the Galaxy Watch. It has a unique design, powerful features and plenty of battery life. If you’re an iPhone user, though, stick with the Apple Watch.

Editor’s note: The Apple Watch’s watch face can be customized from the Watch itself.

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@oath.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley. Follow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn