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Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 review: peak of Android smartwatches

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 sitting on a succulent.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 5
MSRP $279.99
“The Galaxy Watch 5 is far from an exciting upgrade over the Watch 4. But if you're getting your first Wear OS smartwatch or upgrading from an older model, it's one of the best available in 2022.”
Pros
  • Lightweight, comfortable design
  • Robust health tracking
  • AMOLED screen looks excellent
  • Easy access to Google apps
  • Very fast charging speeds
Cons
  • Skin temperature tracking not yet available
  • Falls short of battery life claims

So far, 2022 has been a year of iterative updates for much of Samsung’s portfolio, and the Galaxy Watch 5 is perhaps the best example of that. Looking at the Galaxy Watch 5 and its predecessor side by side, it’s difficult to tell what’s different. Both smartwatches have the same chipset, nearly identical designs, similar health features, etc.

But look a little closer, and you start to see what makes the Galaxy Watch 5 tick. It boasts a larger battery, faster charging, a more durable design, and improved accuracy for health tracking. None of these are groundbreaking upgrades, but they once again prove that Samsung is among the best in the business for Wear OS watches.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5: Design

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 laying on a bench.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

The iterative nature of the Galaxy Watch 5 is seen immediately in its design. The Galaxy Watch 5 comes in 40mm and 44mm sizes, with my review unit being the former. The only real physical difference with the Watch 5 is the 3-in-1 BioActive Sensor on the bottom, which is larger than before to get you more accurate health data. The Watch 5 is also slightly heavier, with the 40mm model weighing 28.7 grams compared to the 25.9 grams of heft for the 40mm Watch 4.

Otherwise, the Galaxy Watch 5 is virtually identical to its predecessor. But that’s far from a bad thing in my book. The aluminum casing is sleek and minimalistic, just how I personally prefer my smartwatches to look. The two power buttons are wonderfully clicky, the 20mm watch bands can be easily swapped out with any other styles you’d like, and the Watch 5 feels extremely comfortable to wear throughout a full day of use. Even with the heavier body compared to the Watch 4, the Watch 5 has never been uncomfortable or fatiguing to wear. It’s one of those smartwatches you throw on your wrist and quickly forget it’s even there.

The 44mm Watch 5, and even larger Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, are available if you prefer a bigger watch. But as someone with very tiny wrists, I love that Samsung retains the 40mm size to cater to folks like myself who can’t comfortably wear big watches. It’s something that many other Wear OS options tend to overlook, so it’s great to see Samsung having something available for people of all wrist sizes.

Similar to the Watch 4, you can swipe on the bezel surrounding the Watch 5’s display to scroll through apps or navigate menus. It’s a fine idea and is great when it works, but I often found myself fighting with the feature. Sometimes, the touch bezel navigates smoothly and takes me where I expect. Other times, however, it either doesn’t register my finger or scrolls far too quickly — forcing me to fiddle with it to get to the page I want. It’s better than nothing, but I would have much rather preferred a rotating crown/slug, or for Samsung to resurrect the rotating bezel it’s so intent on killing.

Beyond that, there’s not much more to say about the Galaxy Watch 5’s design. It’s far from the most inventive or original-looking smartwatch, but the execution in (almost) every regard is top-notch. With a comfy on-wrist experience, great buttons, and easily swappable watch bands, there’s little to complain about here.

Galaxy Watch 5: Screen

Someone wearing the Galaxy Watch 5, looking at the app drawer.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Something else that leaves little to complain about is the Galaxy Watch 5’s screen. The 40mm model gives you a 1.2-inch 396 x 396 screen, while the 44mm ramps things up to a 1.4-inch panel with a 450 x 450 resolution. Regardless of which size you choose, both versions feature a Super AMOLED display with “full color, always on” functionality.

Samsung is famous for delivering some of the best screens on smartphones, and that expertise carries over just as well to smartwatches. After wearing the 40mm Galaxy Watch 5 for a little over a week, I’ve been thoroughly happy with every aspect of its screen. Colors are bright and punchy in the best way possible, the ambient light sensor automatically increases/decreases brightness when you need it to, and the Watch 5 gets bright enough that it’s easily viewable even in direct sunlight. I was worried about having difficulty viewing the screen while walking the High Line in Manhattan with the sun beating down on me, but even then, I never had a problem reading the Galaxy Watch 5’s display.

Always-on screen on the Galaxy Watch 5.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

And as hinted at above, the Galaxy Watch 5 supports an always-on display function. It’s not turned on by default, but you can easily enable it from the Settings app. Most watch faces show pops of color in their always-on mode, and if you open an app and then put your wrist down, a basic white clock shows the time over it.

My one and only complaint about the Galaxy Watch 5’s display is the responsiveness of its always-on screen. After lifting your wrist to look at the watch, you have to wait a beat before the display switches from always-on to its fully engaged mode. Far from a deal breaker, it’s one of those things I notice throughout the day.

Galaxy Watch 5: Performance

Quick settings panel on the Galaxy Watch 5.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Powering the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 is Samsung’s Exynos W920 chipset, 1.5GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage. If those specs sound familiar to you, that’s because they’re exactly the same as they were on the Galaxy Watch 4.

For the most part, the Galaxy Watch 5 is a great performer. Apps open quickly, menus (sometimes) scroll smoothly, and opening Samsung Pay or Google Assistant using the physical buttons is instantaneous. But a 100% seamless experience is not provided by the Watch 5.

During my time wearing the Galaxy Watch 5, I’ve frequently noticed little inconsistencies with the UX. Swiping down to view the quick settings pane often takes multiple tries. When scrolling through my tiles, it’s not uncommon to see glitchy animations. The Watch 5 always does what I ask of it — and usually does it very quickly — but it all still feels a little rough around the edges. The Exynos W920 is a perfectly fine chip for the watch, but I can’t help but wonder if things would have been better with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1.

Galaxy Watch 5: Battery life and charging

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5, sitting on its charger.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

If you read any of Samsung’s marketing for the Galaxy Watch 5, you’ll see the company claiming that its latest smartwatch can get 40 to 50 hours of battery life per charge — an absolutely massive jump over the 18 hours of endurance Apple promises for the Apple Watch Series 7. Combined with a battery increase from 361 mAh in the Watch 4 to a 410 mAh cell in the Watch 5, all the makings are there for legendary endurance.

In practice, the Galaxy Watch 5 has totally acceptable battery life, but it’s nowhere near the 40 to 50 hours Samsung claims. Most of my days with the Watch 5 weren’t very intensive. It tracks my steps throughout the day, receives a steady stream of notifications from my Galaxy Z Flip 4, and has the always-on display enabled. With this use — combined with a few Google Assistant questions — I ended one day with 41% remaining after 14 hours and 12 minutes of use. Following just under 7 hours of sleep tracking, I woke up to the Galaxy Watch 5 with 18% battery remaining after 22 hours and 37 minutes of total usage.

If you plan on using the Watch 5 for actual workouts instead of basic step tracking throughout the day, prepare for the battery to drain even faster. After recording six outdoor walking sessions — totaling 1 hour and 27 minutes — combined with frequent notifications and an always-on screen, the Galaxy Watch 5 had 24% battery remaining following 17 hours and 24 minutes of usage.

This is fine battery life, and better than what I see with my Apple Watch Series 7. You might be able to squeeze out 50 hours of use if you disable the always-on screen, limit your notification intake, keep the brightness to a minimum, etc. But if you plan on using the Galaxy Watch 5 with the features that are available, expect closer to 24 hours of use and not much more. It’s good endurance, just not at all in the ballpark of what Samsung is advertising.

Where Samsung’s claims do hold true is charging. According to Samsung, faster charging support means the Galaxy Watch 5 can get up to 45% extra battery after just 30 minutes, thanks to 10-watt charging speeds. Interestingly enough, I found the Galaxy Watch 5 to charge even faster than that.

After charging for 12 minutes, the Galaxy Watch 5 consistently gains over 20%of  battery life. After 30 minutes of charging, my Galaxy Watch 5 regularly gets over 60% battery back — far beyond the 45% claim Samsung makes. To get the watch from 0 to 100%, you’ll need to wait around 1 hour and 12 minutes. This was all done using my 61W RavPower charging brick and the included charging cable that comes with the Galaxy Watch 5. Your mileage may vary depending on the charging adapter you use, but if you have something more powerful than 10W, the Watch 5 seems to take advantage of it without a problem.

Annoyingly, the Galaxy Watch 5 still uses the more restrictive WPC charging tech instead of Qi, meaning it only charges with the included charger in the box or a certified one from Samsung. Unlike your phone or wireless earbuds with wireless charging, you can’t just place the Galaxy Watch 5 on any charger and expect it to work.

Galaxy Watch 5: Software

Holding the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5. The weather app is open.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 ships with Wear OS 3.5 and Samsung’s One UI Watch 4.5 software layered on top. The interface is pretty much identical to the Watch 4’s, featuring a variety of gestures for you to get around. The basics are as follows:

  • Swipe down to view your Quick Settings
  • Swipe up to see your apps
  • Swipe right to view notifications
  • Swipe left to cycle through tiles (aka widgets)
  • Press and hold on the watch face to select a new one

After familiarizing yourself with the various gestures for a few minutes, navigating One UI Watch 4.5 is a piece of cake. Everything is within reach from the watch face, the software is visually pleasing to look at, and you can fully customize the two physical buttons to open apps, trigger a voice assistant, and more. Google Assistant is also available right out of the box — something that wasn’t available on the Watch 4 until months after release. And it works very well! I press and hold the top button, the Assistant pops up immediately, and it answers my questions/commands within a second.

One UI Watch 4.5 isn’t a significant change from One UI Watch 4.0 that shipped on the Watch 4 last year, but there are a couple of meaningful changes. You can now reply to messages using a full QWERTY keyboard that supports tap and swipe typing. Swipe typing has been a little challenging to pull off, but tapping away at characters – combined with generous autocorrect — has been a surprisingly good experience. You can also now change your method of input at any time. Simply swipe up from the keyboard and switch to voice dictation, handwriting, or emojis whenever you’d like.

Better input isn’t the only new thing in One UI Watch 4.5. This latest version of the software supports dual-SIM switching if you have multiple SIMs on your Galaxy smartphone, easier access to accessibility features, and more customization options for Samsung’s included watch faces.

All of this works incredibly well and finally makes Wear OS feel like a fully realized smartwatch platform. Except for one remaining pain point: apps.

It’s been a long time since I wore a Wear OS watch as my daily wearable, and I was hoping that the app selection would be improved compared to my last time with the platform. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The "Apps on your phone" section of the Play Store, displayed on the Galaxy Watch 5.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

To Google and Samsung’s credit, having easy access to apps like Google Maps, Google Assistant, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, and Samsung Health is great. But the minute you start looking for third-party applications, it’s disappointingly barren.

When you open the Play Store on the Watch 5, you can quickly tap the Apps on your phone button to see which of your phone applications have Wear OS equivalents. The only non-Google and Samsung ones I found were Outlook and Bring (a grocery list app I use). There’s no Starbucks app, Delta app, United app, Telegram app, Authy app, Facebook Messenger app, ESPN app — you get the point. Wear OS has been around since 2014, and despite being on the market for over eight years, its app selection is still extremely lacking. That’s not a fault of the Galaxy Watch 5 specifically, but rather a larger problem for Wear OS that Google has yet to find a solution for.

Galaxy Watch 5: Health tracking

The Galaxy Watch 5, showing the health tracking widget.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Health tracking is a major component of almost every smartwatch today, and the Galaxy Watch 5 is no different. The 3-in-1 BioActive Sensor on the underside of the Watch 5 powers its health-tracking feature set. This includes step tracking, auto workout detection, manual workout tracking for 90-plus exercises, and built-in sleep tracking with a Sleep Coaching platform that creates personalized sleep programs. There’s also 24/7 heart-rate monitoring, SpO2 tracking, an ECG app for A-fib detection, and the same Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis sensor from the Watch 4 — allowing you to see your body fat, skeletal muscle, body water, and other stats within seconds.

The new health sensor this year is a skin temperature sensor, but at the time of publication, I have nothing to say about it. That’s because the sensor isn’t actually available for Watch 5 owners to use. It’s an interesting addition and one that should hopefully be activated soon, but Samsung hasn’t provided an ETA for when that’ll be. Considering how long it took for Google Assistant to arrive on the Watch 4, don’t be surprised if you end up waiting months to use it.

While that sounds overwhelming, Samsung does a good job of presenting everything in an easy-to-digest manner. The main Samsung Health app on the Watch 5 houses all of your data in one place — including your daily activity, steps, sleep, heart rate, etc. You can also use numerous health-related tiles, including a sleep tile, body composition tile, exercise tile, and more for quick access to these stats next to your watch face.

Body composition on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

During my time with the Galaxy Watch 5, all of the data it collected seemed quite accurate. My heart rate was always within range of what I expected it to be, step tracking looked good, automatic workout detection worked flawlessly, and sleep tracking performed just as well. The Galaxy Watch 5 shows how long you slept, how long you spent in various sleep stages, calories burned during sleep, and your minimum blood oxygen level. It’ll even work with your Samsung Galaxy phone to track your snoring if you’d like.

I can’t speak to how robust the Galaxy Watch 5’s health platform is for a serious or professional athlete, but as a casual fitness person who enjoys a few walks and runs throughout the week, I’ve been happy with the Galaxy Watch 5. From tracking a workout and my sleep to my fat mass, it collects a lot of data.

My only suggestion to Samsung would be to do something more with that data that I can actually act on. It’s neat seeing my body composition, what my daily activity looks like, and how I’m shifting between sleep stages at night. But as it currently stands, neither the Samsung Health app on the Watch 5 or my Samsung phone offers meaningful insights into what all of those numbers mean. The data is there and presented clearly, but the details behind all of those numbers could be explained better.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5: Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 is available for purchase now. Pricing starts at $280 for the 40mm model with Wi-Fi. Adding LTE to the 40mm Watch 5 increases the price to $330. There’s also the 44mm Galaxy Watch 5 with the same Wi-Fi and LTE configurations, which retail for $310 and $360, respectively.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5: Our take

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 sitting on a succulent.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Just like the Watch 4, the Galaxy Watch 5 is again one of the best Wear OS watches you can buy. But the Watch 5 mainly holds onto that crown because its predecessor was so good, rather than because it does anything new or exciting. From the design and display to the chipset and health-tracking sensors, so much of the Watch 5 is a repackaging of what worked with the Watch 4. If it felt like Samsung had peaked with its smartwatch formula last year, that feeling is even more pronounced with the Watch 5.

That’s not an exciting description on paper, but it ends up serving the Watch 5 quite well in daily use. Everything that was great about the Watch 4 is still here. And combined with the improvements that Samsung did make — like the larger battery and faster charging — you again end up with one of the best smartwatches to pair with your Android phone.

Does that mean everyone should rush out and buy the Galaxy Watch 5 this very instant? No. If you already have a Galaxy Watch 4, there’s no point in upgrading to its successor. And if you’re OK waiting a bit longer, it’s worth seeing what Google has up its sleeve with the Pixel Watch coming this fall. But if you do need a smartwatch for your Android device and want to buy one today, the Galaxy Watch 5 is among the best we can recommend.

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