Samsung $400 flagship Galaxy Watch 3 smartwatch tries too hard to impress but falls flat, and it’s not our top choice

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galaxy watch3

  • Samsung's $399.99 Galaxy Watch 3 is the company's flagship smartwatch with the most advanced features and hardware inside.
  • Among its advanced features is a blood-oxygen (SpO2), an electrocardiogram sensor, and advanced sleep and stress tracking.
  • After trying the Galaxy Watch 3, I can't say these advanced functions incite much confidence, nor are they intuitive or all that useful.
  • Most people seeking a smartwatch for fitness tracking should have a longer look at the cheaper $229.99 Samsung Galaxy Active 2, which comes with the same core features as the Watch 3 that are frankly more useful than the current iteration of the advanced features.

Samsung's latest Galaxy Watch 3 is the company's flagship smartwatch, and it comes with a variety of enhanced features and sensors, as well as design that reduces the infamously large smartwatch bezel. 

Ultimately, however, the Galaxy Watch 3 isn't a smartwatch I'd recommend to most people, at least not at its starting price of $399.99. It's just such a high price for lots of uncertainty around the advanced features, and there are other cheaper smartwatches like the $229.99 Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 that offers significantly better value while keeping the core benefits.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 specs

Display:  1.2 inches, 360 x 360 (41mm) and 1.4 inches, 360 x 360 (45mm)

Battery: 247mAh (41mm) and 340mAh (45mm)

Processor: 1.15GHz, dual-core, Exynos 9110

Memory and storage: 1GB RAM and 8GB storage

Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS, GLONASS, BEIDOU, Galileo, LTE (optional)

Sensors: Accelerometer, Barometer, Gyro Sensor, Electrical Heart Sensor (ECG), Optical Heart Rate Sensor (HRM), Light Sensor

Water resistance: IP68 + 5ATM

Design and comfort

The Galaxy Watch 3's overall design is plain, even it is made of premium materials like steel or even titanium — any flair or aesthetic comes from the watch face of choice that shines from the AMOLED screen. Still, the Galaxy Watch 3 has some of the thinnest bezels for a smartwatch, and Samsung makes some of the best use of those bezels with the unique rotating dial that makes it easy — and even satisfying — to navigate around the Watch 3.

So, how do the watch faces look? You get a good range to pick from, and you can customize them with different colors, complications, hand designs, and so on — although, I do wish you had more control and options for customization. And, there's the numerous selection you can find in Samsung's app store and Google Play Store, too. But, even Samsung's excellent AMOLED display tech can't emulate a real analog watch face. No smartwatch can.

Comfort-wise, the Galaxy Watch 3 is very nice to wear whether I'm on the couch or working out — it's light, and it's not very big or thick. I never liked leather straps for a variety of boring, whiny personal reasons, but the included leather strap is actually better than I thought it would be. Although it does have a break-in period where it creaks and is uncomfortably stiff.

samsung galaxy watch 3

Performance 

Fitness

The Galaxy Watch 3 has a suite of fitness and health tracking features and sensors. You'll find the basic sensors like a heart rate sensor, as well as more advanced sensors like an ECG (electro cardiogram) sensor for blood-oxygen and stress measurements. There's also GPS for tracking distance.

Despite having all these advanced features, I find myself using the Watch 3 more for its core, basic features. I love that the Watch 3 automatically and accurately detects a workout. I also like that it measures my heart rate and time elapsed, distance traveled, and estimated calories burned, and that I could have a simple report on the Samsung Health app.

You can download your Spotify playlists onto the Watch 3's 8GB of internal storage, which should be enough for a few hundred song and your workouts, which is great if you don't want to bring your phone along on a workout just for playing music. 

With that in mind, Samsung's $229.99 Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a cheaper (and better looking, in my opinion) alternative to the relatively expensive Watch 3 that starts at $399.99, because it comes with the core basic stuff.

General usage

Getting notifications on a smartwatch so you don't have to pull out your phone every time has been one of the main attractions for smartwatches, and the Watch 3 performs just fine in this aspect. As always, it's a pleasure to get a quick glimpse at emails, text messages, and any other notification I want to receive.

One of my favorite things about using the Watch 3 has been taking phone calls without touching my phone once. It's been incredibly useful on certain occasions, and it's a feature I actively miss when I don't have the Watch 3 on my wrist.

The Watch 3 also includes fall detection, which may be useful to some users.

Similar to the fitness stuff above, you can do all these things on the cheaper Galaxy Watch Active 2.

samsung galaxy watch 3 notifications

Battery life

Battery life is one of the main draws for the Watch 3 with a two-day advertised battery life by Samsung. I found that to be actually true, even with workout days when the Watch 3 was using a variety of sensors — as long as you don't use the "always on" mode for the watch face.

When you have the "always on" mode for the watch face, battery life is reduced to about a day. 

The charger is basic and minimalistic — the Watch 3 functionally magnetically attaches to the disc, and it lies flat on a surface.

Drawbacks

Fitness

The Galaxy Watch 3's marquee and differentiating feature is its advanced sensors for tracking blood-oxygen (SpO2) levels, but neither the Watch 3 or the Samsung Health app tells me what to do with blood-oxygen data. It doesn't really tell you what to do about stress levels or sleep tracking data, either. None of it seems integrated into any overall health or fitness tracking on the Watch 3 or in the Samsung Health app, and the features seem astray and isolated in their current iterations. They're fun to look at, but the novelty wears off, and I never tracked my blood-oxygen, stress, or sleep again after just a couple days.

Samsung does say that the Watch 3's blood-oxygen tracking "evaluates overall endurance during training," but you have to manually go through the watch's interface to begin measuring SpO2 measuring — it's not something that's measured automatically when you're working out, which doesn't seem intuitive or useful.

samsung galaxy watch 3 spo2 sensor

On top of that, I'm skeptical of the accuracy that the Watch 3 is tracking my sleep. Ever since a recent update to the Watch 3, it claims I haven't been in deep sleep for days, and that the quality of my sleep has been a 30 out of 100. But, it was saying that my sleep efficiency was consistently over 80% before said update. What do I believe? The confidence is gone.

To be honest, I'm skeptical that a consumer-level smartwatch like the Watch 3 can truly record and track things like blood-oxygen levels, and especially sleep and stress. If you're after those kinds of measurements, the Watch 3, or any standard consumer smartwatch, doesn't incite much confidence or usefulness.

One small complaint about workout auto-detection — while it's great, it is also too eager to claim that I am actually working out. More often than not, the watch registers my showers as a workout, for example. It's an annoyance if you're consistently staying on top of your workout and fitness tracking, as it inflates tracking numbers — I doubt that I burn 100 calories during a 10-minute shower. Thankfully, you can easily delete the erroneous workouts in the Samsung Health app.

Another small complaint with fitness tracking is how the watch face doesn't stay on to show you your heart rate and other data during a workout. Having to make a gesture or press a button or the screen to turn the screen on to quickly glance at my workout data is annoying.

A watch that's reluctant to tell you the time

Unless you opt for the battery-draining "always on" mode for the watch face, the Watch 3 won't reliably tell you the time when you want it to. Sometimes, you have to overtly perform a dramatic "checking the time" gesture to get it to work. Other times, a gentle roll of the wrist will work just fine. Sometimes, it simply doesn't work, which is particularly frustrating when the screen lights up randomly when you didn't want to tell the time.

The feature is inconsistent, and it's a smartwatch thing. No smartwatch I've tried with battery-draining, fancy, colorful, and high-resolution screens that require gestures to wake the screen get this right. 

Some people don't mind, or it works better for them. To me, it drives me insane to be met with dark emptiness when I want the time from a watch.

samsung galaxy watch 3 bad at time

No Google Assistant, and Bixby can be hard to use

The only smart assistant you get is Samsung's Bixby, which is annoying, especially as you don't get the option to use Google Assistant. 

The Samsung Tizen operating system running on the Watch 3 looks and runs great, but it can be difficult to find certain settings and options. For example, some settings and options are on the watch and others in the Samsung Wear mobile app on your smartphone. I was looking for a way to disable the notification I get when the connection between the watch and my phone is lost, and I eventually resorted to googling it and discovered that the setting is only found on the watch itself.

Another example: I want to add cycling as one of my widget shortcuts so I can quickly start tracking a cycling workout, but it's incredibly difficult to do so. There's lots of internet searching for things that should be easy to do. Even after doing it once, I'm not sure how to do it again. Tizen and the software could do with some work. 

Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3?

Not for $400. The fancy SpO2 sensor and other advanced tracking like sleep and stress seem overly ambitious, hard to use, and just don't incite much confidence in what they're designed to do. 

If you're looking for a smartwatch to track fitness, you're better off with something cheaper that has the core basics, like the Samsung Galaxy Active 2 that starts at $230 and can regularly be found for less. 

If you're looking for a watch that tells you the time and you like the idea of personalized watch faces, I wouldn't recommend the Watch 3, either. In fact, I wouldn't recommend any smartwatch if telling the time is your primary use for a smartwatch.

If you already know that you like smartwatches and you can tolerate their typical shortcomings like the reluctance to tell time and battery life (compared to a real watch), the Galaxy Watch 3 can be a good option, but I'd wait for its price to go down. I'm not seeing the $400 value with the Galaxy Watch 3.

Pros: Battery life; good set of core health and fitness features; relatively thin, lightweight, and comfortable for a feature-packed smartwatch; supports Spotify offline music; great for taking phone calls and notifications. 

Cons: Price; plain design; inconsistent screen waking to tell time; advanced health and fitness features are questionable; no Google Assistant support; un-intuitive Tizen operating system.

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