The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 was something I wanted so badly, but ultimately, it let me down.
Like many smartwatch fans and tech enthusiasts, when all of the rumors panned out to be true that the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 series was going to be ditching Tizen in favor of a new Wear OS 3 — I couldn’t have been more excited. From Samsung’s history of excellent hardware design to the snappy performance produced by its custom processors, I was ready to give Samsung my money. So the day the Galaxy Watch 4 was announced, I placed my pre-order, and the watch has been on my wrist since it arrived — until today.
Let me start by saying that Samsung did everything I could have asked for from a hardware perspective. I have a Galaxy Watch Active 2 that I enjoy for many reasons, hardware being a big one. The design changes that Samsung made from the Active 2 to the Galaxy Watch 4 were just enough to make it the perfect fitness watch for me. Then with the inclusion of the new health-tracking methods that included the BIA sensor, I got my hopes up high. However, once I powered up the watch and began using it, my hopes began to diminish quickly.
It’s not you — it’s me
I’m particular in how I like things, but I’m willing to try something new. However, if I give something different a chance, it better bring something pretty great to the table to add it to my rotation of regulars. This is true in many things I enjoy, from foods to music, movies to tech, and everything else in life. Specifically, in tech, I have found that I prefer the way Wear OS handles the basics over Tizen.
Aside from the lack of apps on Galaxy Watches of the past, my least favorite thing is the notifications.
It’s hard to deny that Samsung’s hardware is among some of the best in Android smartwatches, but again, they have run Tizen for most of their existence. So, again, now that Wear OS 3 was debuting on these new smartwatches, I was ready to dip back to Samsung and see if it could win me over. But, unfortunately, my fear of Google leaning too much on Samsung was realized.
Unless you open up the apps and find the Google apps and the Play Store, it’s hard to know that this watch isn’t running Tizen. The notifications are exactly the same as before — not great IMO, no Google Assistant — though that should be changing in the future, apps are already disappearing from the watch or locked to Wear OS 3, and all the visual cues from Tizen — though that’s not all bad.
Again, I’m fine with something different from what I like if the overall package is better than my previous regular. I know that much of the visual parts of the software are the Samsung skin One UI Watch, and I’m mostly ok with that. But it’s the other things that Wear OS 3 is holding onto from Tizen that aren’t my cup of tea that make the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 a no-go for me right now.
You know what though, I think I could get past the quirks of Tizen Wear OS 3 on the Galaxy Watch 4 after enough use. That’s because the hardware and the way the watch operates is about as perfectly as to be expected — but that’s not true. While the watch’s design is on point for me, it doesn’t hold up for all of the excitement over the new custom 5nm processor and enhancements to the OS.
I was wrong, it isn’t me — it’s you
When I really look at my situation with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, I realize that I’m willing to change for the watch, but it lets me down every time I give it a chance. I can forgive its shortcomings in the software department because much of that can be fixed with future updates, but the hardware is what it is. In this instance, when I say hardware, I’m referring to the internal components and how it operates.
Until I got the Galaxy Watch 4, my daily smartwatch driver was the TicWatch Pro 3. I liked it for its battery life, the usefulness of its dual-layered display, and Wear OS for all of its flaws. Because like I said before, I preferred Wear OS over Tizen because it got the basics better than the latter did. I also ran with the TicWatch Pro 3 because of its overall performance. Even though it is running an “inferior processor” compared to the new hotness in the Galaxy Watch 4 — side by side, today, it runs better.
I’m sure that last statement will ruffle some feathers, but I really expected more in the performance department on Samsung’s watch. Look, there is every possible chance that some of the hiccups when using the watch could be due to some old Wear OS code. But Samsung had a hand in creating this new OS. Sure, some of this may be fixed in the future, but for the cost of this watch and all the pomp and circumstance around it — I shouldn’t have to be a guinea pig for it.
I’m not saying that the TicWatch Pro 3 is perfect, but I get fewer delays on it than I do with the Galaxy Watch 4.
I would regularly press the button to go back and be met with nothing or a few seconds delay. Swiping down to get to the quick toggles, right to the notifications, or left to access the widgets would often greet me with the same waiting period. Swiping up for the app drawer, which I can’t stand the UI of, would give me a delay in the opening and be jittering in scrolling and opening an app.
Then there’s the issue of battery life — woof. Perhaps I got too spoiled by using the TicWatch Pro 3 and the three-day stretches between trips to the charger, but I was impressed if I made it 24-hours on the Galaxy Watch 4. If I take the battery sipping tech behind the dual-layer display on the Pro 3, I’m essentially left with a TicWatch E3, and it would get me at least two days of use before hitting up the charger. Oh, speaking of charging, that also is horrendously slow on the Galaxy Watch 4. If it’s going to have such bad battery life, it needs to charge faster.
But, the Galaxy Watch 4 is packed with some excellent fitness features that make it the perfect companion for all of those exercises, right? Well, kind of. If I stayed indoors for my workouts, that would probably be true. However, when I finally got a day that wasn’t stupid hot outside — I went for a run, and my watch couldn’t keep up. Perhaps worth noting, I purchased the LTE variant of the smartwatch specifically to go for runs outside without my phone.
I was heading out for a nice 5K jog down the gravel road I live on and had my music downloaded from YouTube Music, set my phone down on the counter, paired my earbuds to the watch, and out I went. The automatic run tracking kicked in, and the run went swimmingly — until about two miles in. That’s when the watch told me that it was overheating and had to go into battery saver mode to cool off. This means I lost my workout tracking and music. Are you kidding me?!
There’s no excuse for a smartwatch with so many fitness aspirations, LTE or not, to overheat and shut down when exercising.
After about a quarter of a mile, the watch came back up, and I restarted the run tracking and my music, but that only lasted about 100 yards before the watch shut down on me. It came back up shortly after, but that time I didn’t even have time to try to get it going again. I just can’t wrap my head around how a watch with a fitness focus can struggle so hard to stay powered on during a workout.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just when working out that the watch has overheated and powered off. I had left my phone in my truck as I went into a store, and I wasn’t gone for more than maybe 15 minutes before the Galaxy Watch 4 decided it had enough. The LTE radios not only drained my watch 5% during that short time but also generated enough heat to cause the watch to power down.
To be sure, it wasn’t just the LTE that caused the issue; I did take my watch for another run outdoors and got similar results. This time that watch did make it nearly three miles before overheating. Whether it’s the ambient heat, the GPS tracking, or the poor thermal design of the device, this is unacceptable.
Hopefully, we can still be friends
So after my two-week relationship with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, it’s with a heavy heart that I have to say goodbye. It’s clear that the watch has a lot of promise. With its smartphones and with past smartwatches, Samsung has shown that it knows how to make a great product. The Galaxy Watch 4 is a new venture for the company in both the OS and with new health sensors, so I expect that at some point, the watch will get better — to a degree.
However, I know that I’m not alone in thinking that the new Samsung wearable isn’t all it was hoped to be. Fellow AC writer Derrek Lee has said he plans to forgo the Galaxy Watch 4 and Wear OS 3 for now, in favor of the upcoming Fossil Gen 6 watches. He cites some of the same reasons that I have come to realize. I hope that someday down the line, my feelings will temper and Samsung can make some changes for the better with the Galaxy Watch 4. But until then, it’s goodbye, and I hope we can stay friends.