As the two leading smartwatch makers, Samsung and Apple consistently push the boundaries on productivity, fitness and staying connected to our digital lives. But every year the Apple Watch leads our roundup of the best smartwatches and closes in on autonomous computing, with the caveat that it’s incompatible with Android phones.
That opens the door for Samsung to swoop in and supply the greater population of smartphone owners. And while we liked last year’s Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, the Tizen-powered Galaxy Watch 3 will need to up the ante if it aspires to topple Apple’s reign. The return of a rotating bezel is exciting, but it’s not enough.
Based on recent news and rumors regarding both upcoming watches, here are five things the Galaxy Watch 3 will need if it plans to steal the top slot from the Apple Watch 6 when they face off in the fall.
1. The rotating bezel needs to feel functional — not frilly
One of the earliest Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 leaks confirmed the physical bezel will return after it was omitted from the fitness-oriented Galaxy Watch Active line. We appreciated how the bezel lends the appearance of a traditional timepiece, though it added bulk to the device as a whole.
We’re excited to hear that the upcoming models sport slimmer bezels, and increase screen real estate as a result. But with that added space, as slight as it may be, tapping the touch screen may be more appealing than frivolously swiping around the display’s casing. We’ll need to spend significant time testing out how functional it feels on the final product.
For what it’s worth, we’re optimistic. Plus the bezel already has a fan base — in an online poll conducted by SamMobile, about two-thirds of participants said they held off on getting the Watch Active 2 because they ‘absolutely’ believe the rotating bezel is a reason to buy the Watch 3.
2. The same great battery life of the original
In our first-generation Galaxy Watch review, we concluded you should get it for the battery life. Clocking out after four days, it bested the Apple Watch Series 4’s mere 18 hours. Though you could argue Apple’s A-one OLED display and slimmer shape are worth sacrificing stamina, it’s no less inconvenient to charge it every night.
Samsung was less ambitious with the Galaxy Watch Active 2. We eked two and a half days out of the workout-friendly wearable, though GPS tracking and the always-on screen option cut that shorter.
Though we’d like to see Samsung maintain the battery life of the original Galaxy Watch, we won’t be disappointed as long as it outlasts the Apple Watch.
3. Accurate sleep tracking
Sleep tracking is all the rage these days in the fitness tracking world. I’m not sold on it because I think more wearable makers get it wrong than get it right. Even when I have the screen usage stats to prove an insufficient night of rest, many sleep trackers will tell me I reached the ideal 7 hours. And of the few that are accurate, not all provide resources for improving the quality of my snooze.
We faced this issue in our Galaxy Watch Active 2 review, but recognized its sleep tracking could be more useful with fine tuning. That was before Apple raised the stakes, though.
Apple Watch fans have asked for sleep tracking since the trend gained traction, and watchOS 7 leaks say it’s finally happening with the help of blood oxygen monitoring. Despite how skeptical I am of sleep tracking, I trust Apple wouldn’t send their attempt live unless it’s completely polished.
The Galaxy Watch 3’s sleep tracking needs to be accurate at the minimum if it wants to keep up with Apple. We’ll have to bring both smartwatches to bed to see how they stack up.
4. An FDA-approved ECG sensor
While the Apple Watch’s FDA-approved ECG sensor is almost old news, Samsung has been slow to get its version approved. The Watch Active 2 has one onboard, but until last month it sat inactive. In May it received approval (opens in new tab) from South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety to measure and analyze a user's heart rhythm for irregularities indicating Atrial Fibrillation.
Samsung can’t enable the ECG in other countries unless it receives similar approval from necessary government agencies, which in the U.S. is the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA.
According to a recent leak, Samsung plans to include the sensor in new Galaxy Watch 3. Whether it’s functional at launch is a detail we’ll be watching closely. ECG readings are a key advantage for the Apple Watch, so Samsung should be chasing those certifications if it wants to tout similar life-saving specifications.
5. Improved iPhone compatibility
An iPhone might be my daily driver, but that doesn’t mean I’m loyal to the rest of Apple’s product ecosystem. While I wind up returning to my Apple Watch after reviews, I could be convinced to strap on the Galaxy Watch if it works well with my handset.
The original Galaxy Watch’s Tizen operating system is compatible with iOS devices, but the capabilities are limited. It meshes well with Android phones, which can’t be said at all for the Apple Watch.
If Samsung really wants to beat Apple at its own game, it would make a smartwatch that dips into Apple’s user base. It’s impossible for the Galaxy Watch 3 to work with iPhones as seamlessly as the Apple Watch, but a better effort could be made. We’d like to see the Galaxy Watch 3 offer support for iMessages and the option to sync with Apple’s Health app, among other integrations.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is expected to launch in July alongside the Galaxy Buds Live, a pair of fitness earbuds. Check back for the latest news and rumors to see how Samsung’s new wearables are shaping up against the competition.