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If apps are your thing, upgrading to the Galaxy Watch 4 makes sense

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is an excellent smartwatch, but it has now been replaced by the Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. The question is, if a Galaxy Watch 3 is currently on your wrist, should you give in to temptation and upgrade to the Galaxy Watch 4?

I’ve been wearing the Watch 3 and Watch 4 Classic to find out if the latest model is a significant enough upgrade to warrant splurging on one. Here’s a hint about my conclusion before we get into it: If you want more apps, then one stands above the other.

Wearing the Galaxy Watches

On paper, there isn’t much difference between the two Galaxy Watch models as they are almost exactly the same size and weight. Each comes in different sizes, and I’ve been wearing the larger versions. What has become clear is you shouldn’t be guided only by the numbers here. While both are listed at about 11mm thick, the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic has a sleeker profile and more curves around the new biometric sensor array, resulting in it looking and feeling slimmer on your wrist.

Galaxy Watch 4 Classic on the wrist.
Galaxy Watch 4 Classic Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The weight difference on paper is only a couple of grams, but it’s noticeable. The curvier underside of the Galaxy Watch 4 means it sits better anyway, plus the slight reduction in weight — 52 grams against 54 grams — allowed me to wear it for longer without it getting uncomfortable. There’s no difference in durability, with both coming with an IP68 water-resistance rating and MIL-STD-810G certification against drops, plus Gorilla Glass DX over the screen.

Samsung’s alteration to the strap is key to the Galaxy Watch 4’s comfort. The Galaxy Watch 3’s traditional strap (leather on my review model) is fine and has worn well, but the barely tapered style means it appears quite small on the large case. Smaller lugs and a contoured strap on the Galaxy Watch 4 minimize the overall size very effectively, and while it’s definitely not dainty, these simple design alterations disguise the large case extremely well, helping it look better. The keepers don’t hold the strap overhang in place, though.

Galaxy Watch 3 on the wrist.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There are a few other changes, like the button design and the bezel, but they don’t impact the way the Galaxy Watch 4 wears. I’ve found the Galaxy Watch 4 is the more comfortable of the two and consider it a more mature-looking watch than the Galaxy Watch 3.

Wear, or Tizen?

Samsung’s Tizen software helped the Galaxy Watch 3 beat its Google Wear OS rivals throughout 2020, but it has been abandoned in favor of the joint Google/Samsung Wear platform for the Galaxy Watch 4. Much of the basic look remains, though, due to the use of Samsung’s One Watch UI over the top of Wear, so it’s not a huge shock to the system when you swap to the new model. Even the rotating bezel is still there to help you navigate quickly.

The Galaxy Watch 4’s new Exynos W920 processor and 1.5GB of RAM give a noticeable performance boost over the Exynos 9110 and 1GB of RAM powering the Galaxy Watch 3. The operating system feels more spritely, while scrolling is a little faster and smoother. The fonts and colors used in One UI Watch on the Galaxy Watch 4 are more mature as well, making the Galaxy Watch 3 look a little dated in comparison.

There are other design alterations throughout the operating system, such as swiping up on the screen to reach the app menu, but they don’t fundamentally alter the experience. What does alter it is access to the Google Play Store and standard Google apps. From Google Pay to Google Maps, as well as the many third-party apps for Wear, there’s more choice of apps on the Galaxy Watch 4. Aand that means it’ll do more for longer, and also do more,than the Galaxy Watch 3. The range of Tiles (accessed with a left swipe on the screen) is also more varied on the Galaxy Watch 4, making it faster to find the information you want.

Both watches use the Samsung Wearable app to connect to your phone. That’s right, the Galaxy Watch 4 does not use Google’s Wear OS app to connect. It’s also worth noting that if you are using a Galaxy Watch 3 with an iPhone, stop considering an upgrade as Samsung has not added iOS support to the Galaxy Watch 4. I’ve used both smartwatches with various Android phones and have experienced no connection issues at all.

Software updates are also something to consider. The Galaxy Watch 3 isn’t expected to get an update to Wear in the future, but it is supported by Samsung’s commitment to delivering updates to its current operating system for up to three years. You’re already a year into that, while the Galaxy Watch 4 comes with the very latest piece of software. There’s not much information about Wear updates yet, but when they do arrive, the Galaxy Watch 4 is likely to be one of the first to receive them.

Wear is not necessarily a reason to upgrade on its own, but it is if you’ve been hankering after Google apps like Pay, Maps, and YouTube Music, along with a richer ecosystem of third-party options that the Galaxy Store simply doesn’t offer.

Health and fitness

I tracked exactly the same exercise session on both smartwatches and recorded the data inside Samsung Health, and both returned essentially the same results. The Galaxy Watch 4 measured 3,946 steps, 278 calories burned , an average heart rate of 100 beats per minute (bpm) with a maximum of 146bpm. The Galaxy Watch 3 showed I took 4,036 steps and burned 261 calories, and had an average 103bpm heart rate with a 146bpm maximum. Both showed the same GPS data, but different maximum speeds, while the Galaxy Watch 4 offered more detailed terrain information such as elevation.

Biometric sensor array on the Galaxy Watch 3 (left) and the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic (right)
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Both measure heart rate, stress, and blood oxygen (SPo2), and take an electrocardiogram (ECG) reading. The Galaxy Watch 4’s new sensor array adds a Body Composition reading, which shows details like body fat, water, and skeletal muscle. It’s useful as part of a weight loss program, but the data is not effectively explained for anyone not familiar with it, lessening its usefulness for many.

Regardless of which Galaxy Watch, I like the effective auto-pause feature during workouts. The main display is clear and easy to read when exercising, and starting workouts is quick and simple. There are movement reminders but no Apple Watch-style handwashing timer. Samsung Health is required on your phone, and it is easy to see all your data, but I dislike the Samsung ads and banners. On the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, you can also use Google Fit, which isn’t an option on the Galaxy Watch 3, plus there’s access to many other fitness apps through the Google Play Store.

The Galaxy Watch 3 is still a great fitness companion, but the draw of finally getting that much-missed app from the Google Play Store may help some decide to upgrade. Otherwise, there’s no real motivation to do so, as both do a very similar job equally as well. If tracking fitness is your reason to wear a smartwatch, the sportier Galaxy Watch 4’s design may appeal more than that of the smarter Galaxy Watch 4 Classic.

Battery life and usability

Do not upgrade to the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic if you want longer battery life. With the always-on screen active, raise-to-wake engaged, and a workout tracked, the Watch 4 Classic’s battery won’t last for more than a day without a recharge. Turning the watch off overnight and not tracking a workout will see it last for two working days. Neither the new Exynos processor nor Wear has positively impacted the usage time yet. If you own a Galaxy Watch 3, you won’t see any major improvements, but you also won’t see any significant decrease either. Both are about the same.

I judged usability on the software’s reliability, the usefulness of the notifications and alerts, and how long it takes to do anything on the smartwatches. The Google/Samsung Wear platform is still very new, and can be less reliable than Tizen on the Watch 3 when you start to use apps. It’s likely you will find some don’t operate with the rotating bezel, some features are not enabled yet, and it’s not possible to set all non-Samsung apps as the default option.

Do not upgrade to the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic if you want longer battery life.

This inconsistency will (hopefully) get better over time as developers adapt their apps for Wear OS 3. Notifications arrive on both watches reliably, and the sharp screen on each watch makes them easy to read, plus there’s plenty of options to interact with them. Wear’s Tiles are excellent, with bright colors and clear text, and there are a lot of additional Tile options to add compared to those on the Tizen watch. The watch face choice is wider and more fun, plus there are a lot of alternatives from the Google Play Store. Customization is easier on the Watch 4 Classic, and finding the information that’s relevant to you is faster once you’ve set the watch up to your liking, but it doesn’t drastically improve over the Watch 3.

Time to upgrade?

There is one compelling reason to upgrade from the Galaxy Watch 3 to the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic — app availability. If you want to use Google Maps on your wrist, listen to YouTube Music and control it from your smartwatch, or choose Google Pay over Samsung Pay, the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic offers all this and a lot more. Access to Google Play, and to the majority of Google’s apps, is a huge selling point.

Galaxy Watch 4 Classic (left) and the Galaxy Watch 3 (right)
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

However, outside of this, it’s not a big leap forward. The battery life has not seen a bump, the performance is only marginally better, and the display is just a little bit sharper. The fitness-tracking advancements don’t show up enough under general use to warrant replacement, although there is a more advanced sensor on the back of the Watch 4 Classic, and updates may add more to it in the future. While I find the design favorable and the strap more comfortable than the Galaxy Watch 3’s, others may not feel the same.

The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic starts at $350, making it cheaper than the Galaxy Watch 3 at launch.

The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic starts at $350, making it cheaper than the Galaxy Watch 3 at launch, but still an expensive smartwatch. Samsung will give you $135 for a Watch 3 model as a trade-in at the time of writing, reducing the cost of the 46mm Galaxy Watch 4 Classic model. The Galaxy Watch 3 won’t be worth this amount next year, so if the promise of more apps and the very latest software and hardware appeals, it’s a good time to take Samsung up on its offer.

You won’t regret upgrading, but there’s no harm in waiting for a while to see Wear OS 3 improve.

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