Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs. Galaxy Watch Active 2: The biggest upgrades you'll get

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs. Galaxy Watch Active 2
(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is here, and it's positioned to become the hottest smartwatch—at least until the Apple Watch 6 arrives. 

As one of the best smartwatches we’ve testing this year, the the Galaxy Watch 3 has sleep tracking, advanced workout-tracking, above-average battery life and an ECG sensor for diagnosing atrial fibrillation—features which made the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 such a compelling smartwatch. 

However, the Galaxy Watch 3 costs much more — $399 — than the $279 Galaxy Watch Active 2. 

So for some users in the market for a new wearable, the decision could fall between the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs Galaxy Watch Active 2. Here’s how the two compare, and the biggest upgrade you'll get with the new Galaxy Watch 3.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs Galaxy Watch Active 2: Prices, models and sizes

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 comes in two sizes: 40mm and 44mm. Both are available as Bluetooth/Wi-Fi only models, or with LTE connectivity through AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. As for colors, the Watch Active 2’s  Bluetooth/Wi-Fi models come in Aqua Black, Cloud Silver and Pink Gold, while the LTE models are available in black, gold and silver. 

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 starts at $279 for the 40-millimeter aluminum Bluetooth model and $299 for the larger 44mm version. A stainless steel option starts at $379. If you want cellular connectivity, you’ll have to pay a premium: $429, to be exact. There’s also an Under Armour special edition model for running enthusiasts that costs $279 for the 40mm size and $299 for the 44 mm size.

$399, the starting Galaxy Watch 3 price, will get you the 41mm model in either Mystic Silver or Mystic Bronze. (The latter option is Samsung’s current signature color and matches the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 series). 

The 45mm model starts at $429 and comes in Mystic Black or Mystic Silver. It’s offered in a titanium variant as well, though that will come at a premium. And if you want your Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 with LTE so it can make phone calls and respond to messages when your smartphone is out of Bluetooth range, that will add to the baseline price.

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs Galaxy Watch Active 2: Design

With the Galaxy Watch Active 2, Samsung ditched the rotating bezel and instead introduced an invisible, touch-sensitive bezel that mimicked the mechanism found on the first Galaxy Watch. It slimmed down the design, allowing for a minimalistic-looking smartwatch that wouldn’t be a nuisance to wear during workouts.

The Galaxy Watch 3 is a return to 2018, complete with larger buttons and — yes— the physical bezel. Though both add obvious bulk, it’s an attractive spin on a traditional watch design. It strikes a balance of being a handy piece of tech and a fashion-forward wrist accessory.

And unlike the Galaxy Watch Active 2, the Galaxy Watch 3 comes with elegant, leather-like bands. Although you’ll be able to swap them out for the pliable sport bands that shipped with the Active 2, if silicone is more your speed.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs Galaxy Watch Active 2: Specs and sensors

The Galaxy Watch 3 bears the latest iteration of Samsung’s Tizen OS on the software front, so you can expect to get the standard fitness and sleep tracking features, controls and notification system.

But in terms of sensors and additional specs, it doesn't differ much new from the Galaxy Watch Active 2. The Active 2 even received an update with  advanced running metrics, on-demand VO2 monitoring and trip detection.

As the Galaxy Watch Active 2 before it, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 packs GPS, a heart rate sensor, ECG sensor and blood pressure monitor. However, the latter two are not FDA-approved, and are only enabled for use in South Korea. 

Another small advantage the Galaxy Watch 3 will likely have over the Watch Active 2 is double the storage. This is good news for those who appreciate offline Spotify playback.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs Galaxy Watch Active 2: Battery life

When we reviewed the first Galaxy Watch, we said it’s worth buying for the 4-day battery life. So we were a little disappointed when Samsung lowered its ambitions for the Watch Active line and dropped the stamina down to 24-60 hours, depending on workout tracking and display settings.

But with its 18-hour cap, the Apple Watch has tempered our expectations when it comes to battery life of everyday smartwatches. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is rated for 2 days, although we'll need to see if it lives up to that in testing.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2: Verdict

This Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 face-off can't make your buying decision for you, but it can point you in the right direction.

While the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a slimmer workout buddy, the Watch 3 is a more versatile smartwatch for those with versatile needs. You'll get better performance from the newer smartwatch, although the price of last year's model still makes it a great choice.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef. 

  • Toffus
    The more I read about the samsung galaxy 3 watch, more I am inclined to simply buy the Active 2.
  • SuperDave010
    I'm really confused by this review. I don't see anything there to justify the conclusion - that the 3 is worth the nearly 50% price increase over the Active 2, and that the Active 2 is a glorified fitness tracker. The only features it mentions that the two don't share are a physical rotating bezel and fall detection. That's a plus for those for whom falling is a concern, or if one REALLY prefers a physical rotating bezel, but otherwise why would anyone choose the 3?
  • dang1
    came here to research on which galaxy watch to buy. funny, apple gets mentioned, since most likely, people who will read this article are android owners and i-watch is absolutely useless on androids. for me, I avoid apple like the plague