Review: Galaxy Watch4 sets Samsung up for a new assault on smartwatch market

With a slice of a US$59 billion market at stake, can the new range best its competitors?
With a slice of a US$59 billion market at stake, can the new range best its competitors? Photo credit: Newshub

Gone are the days when a watch just told the time and a 'smart watch' was one that had a calculator built in... yes, I'm that old.

It's estimated the global market for smartwatches is worth around US$59 billion in 2021 which means all the big tech companies are eager for their own slice.

That competition means the devices boast an ever-increasing set of functions and styles, giving consumers an ever-greater range of options.

Samsung has struggled to compete with Apple on the wristwear front for a while. By ditching its own Tizen-powered devices for the new Wear OS 3 operating system, the Korean brand hopes to attract a whole new legion of fans.

So how does the latest Galaxy Watch4 compare with the likes of Apple, Fitbit and Garmin?

I used the 40mm version of the Watch4 for a couple of weeks and here are my thoughts. 

The good

In terms of aesthetics, Samsung is responsible for perhaps the best looking smartwatches available, with the new Watch4 Classic in particular being a stunner.

The whole Watch4 range is rounded, giving it a much more traditional and understated look than its squarish and rectangular competitors.

And the range of sizes and styles will suit just about everyone - which makes it easier to ignore the fact the 40mm Watch4 was just too small for me.

A 44mm version, or even the 46mm Watch4 Classic, would have been a much better fit around my wrist, as well as suiting my own personal stylings.

That aside, I was impressed with my first time using a Galaxy smartwatch. 

As a Samsung consumer from way back I already have an account and testing this out at the same time as the Galaxy Fold3 meant it was easy to set up.

Samsung Galaxy Watch4
Photo credit: Newshub

Often the hardest thing with new technology is picking up on the foibles of the software, but thankfully it didn't take too long for me to find my way around the relatively intuitive Wear OS3 and get what I wanted out of the watch.

The selection of faces available, including all the different ways to tailor the screen functions and colours to my liking, meant I had a good looking and useful device on my wrist in no time at all.

The difference between the Watch4 and Watch4 Classic is simply a bezel - in the former, it's virtual and you get used to touching the screen and moving your finger around. With the latter, it's physical.

The virtual bezel works very well, so much so that the functionality would never play into my mind when it came to a purchase decision.

There's just something about the physical bezel that makes the watch slightly more compelling to me - but I think there are many out there who will appreciate the sleeker look of the watch without. Regardless, you're not missing out on functionality.

The organisation of the apps like Google Pay and for the first time Google Maps is nice and familiar feeling. But what about the two most important functions of any smartwatch: the integration with my phone and the fitness functions?

On the latter first, I found the heart rate monitoring, step counter and GPS provided very similar readings to those of my Garmin Forerunner and my Apple Watch. Given the relatively low cost of the Watch4 compared to those other two, that's a very good sign.

I also found it easy to track my runs and walks and, when I needed to be a little more mindful, recording yoga was fine too. So far, so good!

Samsung Galaxy Watch4
Photo credit: Newshub

Phone integration is more of a mixed bag. There is no compatibility with iPhones, as there was with previous Samsung Watch iterations. And not all the health features are available across non-Samsung Android devices.

But with the Fold3 set up as my main phone, notifications, calls, do not disturb and sleep settings were all synched effortlessly and I couldn't have been happier.

Not everything was quite as impressive, though.

The bad

For the first time Samsung has introduced a body composition tool to their watch which can calculate body fat percentage and muscle mass. 

This is a decent functionality addition, even if I found the results a little confusing.

Compared to other readings I've had, including smart scales I've been using for a number of years, the readings were consistently around five percent higher than I'd expected.

If you're someone who takes that number as gospel then that might be a bit of a worry. I think if you put it into an appropriate context and simply use it to track your body composition over a period of time it's potentially more useful.

I've seen mention elsewhere that these types of tools can be problematic with regards to body dysmorphia and how having instant readings can encourage less than healthy behaviour - but given these types of functions are now common then this isn't unique to Samsung's new offerings. But something to be aware of, nonetheless.

I also found the battery life to be less than ideal. I think part of it is I'm a fidgeter, so I'm constantly playing with gadgets, whether they're in my hands or on my wrists. That combined with my very long morning walks meant I had to charge the Watch4 every night.

I will say that when the watch switched to low power mode it did stretch out the battery life significantly, but why wear a smartwatch if it's not smart, right?

Samsung Galaxy Watch4
Photo credit: Newshub

Night charging also made it slightly harder to test out some of the sleep tools.

The tracker "holistically analyses your sleep stages while you rest" as well as checking blood oxygen levels and snoring patterns. You can even get advanced insights from the National Sleep Foundation.

Yeah, that all sounds impressive, but between three separate devices, including the Watch4, I found HUGE variabilities in sleep analysis. If you compared them you'd be forgiven for thinking they were on different people.

The functionality seems almost redundant to me, regardless of brand.

If I wake up fresh and ready to go then I probably had a good sleep, if I'm wrecked then probably not. And I found my partner is a much better arbiter of my snoring than any watch could be.

There are a couple of final annoyances - the first is the ECG functionality of the watch isn't available in Aotearoa. This is due to registration requirements around the world for medical and diagnostic devices.

That's fine and understandable, but it would be useful in such circumstances if the functionality was hidden and you weren't prompted to download the software to use it. It should be relatively simple based on the market you register the watch in.

The last one annoyed me more than it probably should. When walking both of my other devices recognise and give me notifications every kilometre. For some reason the Watch4 would do it every mile.

For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to change it or which setting controlled it. If you're a Samsung fan then I'm sure it's easily solvable, but instead it grated every 1609 metres as my wrist vibrated.

The verdict

Depending on the size, style and functionality you want, the Samsung Watch4 or Watch4 Classic will set you back between $399 and $749, making them very competitively priced.

And if you're a Samsung fan, with a Galaxy phone in your pocket, it really is a no-brainer. They integrate well and will do everything you want from a smartwatch, so why wouldn't you?

Samsung Galaxy Watch4
Photo credit: Newshub

But, for me, this feels like Samsung is shoring up its base and taking stock rather than launching an all-out assault on the market.

Perhaps it's the timing of the switch from Tizen and limitations of Wear OS 3, or maybe it's simply tentative first steps towards eating into the US$59 billion pie, but it feels like there's more to come.

Making the watch completely compatible with other Android phones and finding more ways to get non-Samsung customers excited about wearing one of its watches seems like logical next steps.

It shouldn't take too much - the Watch4 Classic, to me, is probably the best looking device on the market. But that's not everything.

I'll be keeping an ear to the ground for Watch5 rumours over the next year or so - it wouldn't surprise me if in 2022 and 2023 Samsung releases the best overall smartwatch.

Newshub was supplied with a 40mm Samsung Galaxy Watch4 for this review.