There’s no denying that Apple makes the best all-around smartwatches, especially if you care about fitness, so Android-compatible watches continue to battle for second place. The most recent entry from the Wear OS camp is the fifth-gen Fossil Q, and while that watch is a decent step up from every other device with the same software, it still hasn’t addressed some of the platform’s core problems — poor fitness tracking, degrading app library, and so on.
Samsung’s new watch is a follow-up to the Galaxy Watch Active, which was (by most accounts) the best overall smartwatch for Android devices. The Watch Active2 isn’t a radical departure from the previous model, but there are a few key improvements that most people will appreciate.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
Much like Samsung’s phones, the Watch Active2 comes in a bunch of different variants. There are two sizes available (44mm and 40mm), each with three colors: silver, black, and gold. On top of that, there is also a Watch Active2 LTE with a Stainless Steel body, which is also available in two sizes and three colors. The regular 40mm costs $280, the regular 44mm is $300, the LTE 40mm is $430, and the LTE 44mm is $450.
All the possible Watch Active2 variants (source)
Moving on from Samsung’s SKU hell, I received the regular 44mm version in black. The design hasn’t changed much from last year’s Watch Active — besides the choice of physical size, there is now a speaker on the left side. That means you can receive calls on the watch, and apps like Bixby can give audio feedback.
44mm Galaxy Watch Active2 (left) vs. original Watch Active (right)
Both sizes of the Watch Active2 have a larger screen than the original model (1.2″/1.4″ vs. 1.1″). I’m coming from the smaller Watch Active, and the larger text on the Active2 means I don’t have to hold my wrist as close to my face as I did before.
The screen also supports a feature called ‘Touch bezel,’ which is designed to emulate the rotating bezel found on the Galaxy Watch and some other Samsung wearables. When you swipe around the edges of the screen, the watch cycles through widgets, scrolls in lists, and so on. It takes a while to get used to, and it’s still nowhere near as nice as the real thing, but it’s better than nothing. Interestingly, Samsung only recently started enabling it by default.
The right side of the watch still has two buttons; the top one acts as a back key, while the bottom one takes you to the watch face (or if you’re on the watch face, it opens your apps). Double-pressing the bottom button opens Bixby, but this can be changed to something else in the settings.
Samsung is still going with the tuck-under watch bands that pinch my arm, but thankfully, you can still replace them with any generic 20mm strap. In addition to the black band that came with my watch, Samsung sent me two of its Sport Bands: Pink Gold and Vivid Green. The green strap is my favorite, but if I were buying this watch myself, I’d probably pair it with a cheap leather band.
In the box, you just get the Watch Active2 and the tiny charging pad.
Software, performance, battery
The software experience here is similar to other Samsung-made watches. The Watch Active2 uses the Tizen operating system, designed to look and feel like the One UI skin that Samsung uses on its Android devices. There are a few changes compared to the original Watch Active’s software, like customizable quick settings toggles, but nothing groundbreaking.
Some of the included watch faces
The basic layout is still the same as Samsung’s other watches. The watch face acts as the home screen, with notifications accessible by swiping right, and widgets by swiping left. You can add, remove, or move around the order of widgets. For example, I moved the media controls widget closest to the watch face, since that’s the one I use the most.
The main change to the software experience is the touch bezel, which allows you to quickly scroll across all your notifications and widgets by moving your finger along the edge of the screen. It’s nice to have, but it’s no replacement for the physical spinning bezel on the Galaxy Watch.
All the other features you would expect from a modern smartwatch are here: health tracking, tap-to-pay support, waterproofing, an app store with tons of custom watch faces (and a few apps), and so on. You can also charge the watch by placing it on the back of a compatible Samsung phone. Corporate synergy FTW!
Performance, as usual with Samsung’s watches, is excellent. Tizen doesn’t suffer from any of the random slowdowns or stuttering animations that Wear OS does. The only aspect of the watch that feels like it takes forever is opening Bixby — though activating Google Assistant on Wear OS also takes a few seconds.
Battery life is also a high point. The original Watch Active could already reach two days on a single charge in most cases, and the Watch Active2 is even better. My 44mm version usually ended the day with around 70% charge remaining, with the screen always on and occasional heart rate monitoring. It’s worth noting that the smaller 40mm model has a slightly smaller battery (247mAh vs. 340mAh).
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Galaxy Watch Active2 is undoubtedly the best smartwatch you can use with an Android phone. It’s faster and less buggy than even the recent fifth-generation Fossil watches, with better battery life than you’ll find on any Wear OS device. It’s still a smartwatch though, so if fitness tracking is your number one priority, something from Fitbit or Garmin might be a better option for you.
I’m not a fan of Samsung raising the price by $80-$100 from the original model, but now that the first Watch Active is already going out of stock at most retailers, there’s not much of a point in comparing the two.
Buy it if:
- You want a good smartwatch for an Android phone.
Don’t buy it if:
- You have the first-generation Watch Active.
- You have an iPhone (just buy an Apple Watch!)