Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: A good but still not great smartwatch

Posted: 30 October 2019 9:02 am
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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

It's one of the best smartwatches available for Android users, but Samsung hasn't done enough to justify the price difference between the Galaxy Watch Active 2 and its predecessor.

Quick Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 covers most of the ground you'd want in an upgrade, including LTE options and lots of watch faces to pick from. At the same time, Samsung's attempt to imitate its own rotating bezel with touch doesn't work as well as it should for the money.

The good

  • Light and stylish
  • Lots of watch face choices
  • Automatic workout tracking
  • LTE option if you want to leave your phone at home
  • Better battery life than the original Watch Active

The bad

  • Digital bezel is very fussy
  • Custom charger
  • More expensive than the regular Galaxy Watch Active
  • 40mm style doesn't come without LTE

Smartwatches aren't something you buy every day, which has generally led manufacturers to rather slow upgrade cycles. We've typically seen a yearly upgrade for the industry-leading Apple Watch for example.

It's a little surprising then, that around 6 months after debuting the Galaxy Watch Active, Samsung is already selling its successor, the Galaxy Watch Active 2.

It's very similar to its predecessor in a lot of ways, which means it's certainly not a great upgrade option. If you're looking for a watch that's a decent competitor to the Apple Watch – and indeed one that looks more like a classic watch than Apple's effort – it's a good, if slightly pricey alternative.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

Design

  • 40 or 44m watch face sizes
  • Variety of band and build materials
  • Sporty look

Samsung still sells its actual Galaxy Watch model, even though that's pretty long in the tooth by now for folks who want a more traditional looking watch. As the name suggests, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is pitched more towards the activity tracker side of the market, but still with enough essential watch "style" that it doesn't just look like a tracking band.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 comes in either a 44mm or 40mm watch face. The unit I've tested with is the 44mm aluminium black model, which is essentially the most conservative design of any of the Galaxy Watch Active 2 models. It's available in either an aluminium or stainless steel casing in either black or rose gold, depending on your taste preferences.

There are catches here in terms of functionality and price, however. The 40mm variant only comes in stainless steel, and if you want integrated LTE cellular capability, that's only found on the stainless steel models as well.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

The practical upshot here is that if you want the smaller watch, you've got to pay more even if you didn't want LTE compatibility. The aluminium variant as tested connects via Bluetooth only and only comes in the 44m size.

Samsung sells a variety of additional bands for more sporty or fashion-focused purposes to pop onto the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, at either $69 for the sports bands or $129 for the leather bands in a range of colours. The default black band is rudimentary, but it's quite comfortable for everyday wear, including of course any workouts you might be doing.

Like the Galaxy Watch Active before it, what you won't find on the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is Samsung's distinctive rotating control bezel. I'll get to that in a minute, but what you do get are two side buttons for accessing your apps list and heading back to the primary watch face, along with a touch-sensitive watch face itself.

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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

Performance

  • Tizen is slick and has decent app coverage
  • Samsung Pay compatible
  • Digital bezel is a neat idea, but it doesn't work well

The short time span between the release of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 and its predecessor means that there's a lot that's very familiar in its operation and usage. Like Samsung's other wearables it's running on the company's own Tizen platform. This means app developers have to explicitly make Tizen versions of their apps in order for them to work with the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2.

It's not accurate to say that every smartphone app you'd want is present, but most of the heavy hitters are. If you're so desperate for your social media fix that you'll stare at Twitter on a 1.4-inch screen, you can do just that. It's substantially easier to add apps and watch faces from your connected phone than it is on the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 itself, but the full app store experience is present within the watch too.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

Where the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 does score points over the competing Apple Watch is in the fact that Samsung has been much more open to third party watch faces over the years. With its circular watch face, you can make the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 look like just about any conceivable type of watch you prefer, from quite classy looking analog faces through to more complex, data-rich digital types.

The original Samsung Galaxy Watch Active did away with the physical rotating bezel found on Samsung's earlier watches, and I missed it quite badly. It wasn't just a unique selling point for Samsung's watches, but also a genuinely useful bit of technology.

Before you get too excited, it's not back on the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, but Samsung has integrated a "digital" version of the bezel that allows you to guide your finger around the apps list in a rotating fashion similar to the physical dial.

Not that you might notice this at first. By default that functionality is oddly disabled. This is probably because Samsung is aware of how hit-and-miss it actually is. You've got to use a very definite and slow motion to get it to work at all.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

If your finger is slightly off-position, you're more likely to open an app than scroll past it. Ultimately, it's actually easier to leave it off and use simple swipe and tap motions instead.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 does come with an LTE-enabled option, but I've not been able to test that as the model I've been using is the simpler and cheaper Bluetooth variant. Still, in theory you should be able to set that up with carriers that support eSIM for phone-free usage while you're out and about, as well as activating Samsung Pay once you've set that up.

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Battery life

  • Expect 1-2 days battery life
  • Custom Qi charger, but compatibility will vary widely

A smaller watch can only fit in a minute quantity of battery charge, but we've seen a lot of variance in what that means for overall battery endurance of late. Huawei sits at one end with the Huawei Watch GT and Huawei Watch GT Active devices, but those both limit actual "app" usage to a level that those wanting a smartphone may find limiting.

Apple sits at the other end, only stating a watch battery life for the Apple Watch Series 5 of "up to" 18 hours, although our own testing suggests it can usually beat that to run for a full day.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 sits closer to Apple than Huawei. Its 340mAh battery is rated by Samsung for "over 45 hours" of typical usage, which should put it into the nearly-2-days category for most owners. It's a fair assessment; if you're a very light touch on the watch you might make it to the 3 days, but not much more than that. It's one area where there's definitely an improvement over the original Galaxy Watch Active model, which sports a smaller battery capacity.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

Like its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 charges using Qi wireless charging, but with a very small, essentially custom charging plate.

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 attaches magnetically, so it's easy enough to use at least, and in theory you might be able to get a different Qi charger to activate. However, I've had no luck with that, so anyone travelling with the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 would be well advised to pack the charging cable as well. You'll also need a standard wall charger, as you're not supplied with one in the box.

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Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2?

  • A nice smartwatch, but the earlier Galaxy Watch Active is arguably a better buy

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 does improve upon its predecessor in some aspects, but it's somewhat hard to recommend given the price difference between the two models.

If you're dead keen on having an LTE-enabled Samsung watch it's the one to buy, and it's certainly comfortable and stylish. However, the limited way in which you have to opt for the pricier LTE model if you want the smaller watch is annoying and the digital bezel compares poorly to its physical predecessor.

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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: Pricing and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 sells outright with a 44mm watch face and an aluminium body for $549.

The 44mm LTE variant in stainless steel costs $799.

The 40mm variant only comes in stainless steel with LTE compatibility for $749.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 specifications

Product Name
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
Case Size
40mm/44mm case
Display size
1.4 inches
Resolution
360 by 360 pixels
Processor
1.15GHz dual core
RAM
1.5GB
Finishes
Aluminium, Stainless Steel
ROM
4GB
Operating System
Tizen
Connectivity
Bluetooth 5, LTE (Cellular model only)
Battery
340mAh
Price
From $549
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