The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4's fundamental feature is its new software, a unified version of Google's Wear OS called Wear OS 3.
Unlike the Tizen-powered Galaxy watches of the past, the Galaxy Watch 4 series is outfitted with a suite of Google programs. As much as the Apple Watch is made for iOS folks, Samsung's latest device is looking to become the premier smartwatch for all Android users.
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By folding into Tizen into Wear OS, Samsung and Google took a major step in merging the market of smartwatch platforms. Similar to how smartphone companies can customize Android to better fit their brand, Wear OS allows augmentation for wearable makers. That's why I'm finding the Galaxy Watch 4 maintains familiar aspects of Tizen, while supporting greater Samsung ecosystem integration thanks to One UI Watch.
Getting to know Wear OS on the Galaxy Watch 4 is a fresh experience, even if it's technically a reintroduction. Some features are great right out of the gate, improving what was already one of the best smartwatches you could buy.
Others aren't as impressive, at least in my testing so far. Here are my favorite and least favorite Wear OS features on the Galaxy Watch 4.
Great Google Maps app
Google Maps on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is a revelation. As someone who relies on Google Maps to get everywhere, it's been a drag dealing with a fickle Apple Watch version of the app. But now, when I start a route from my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, it automatically launches on my wrist with turn-by-turn directions.
When I'm on foot or driving my car, my Galaxy Watch 4 will buzz when it's time for the next step. Since it's more interesting (and safer) to walk looking up, I appreciated the cues.
Keyboard for messages
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 had a T9 keyboard, which I relied for texting more often than I thought I would. I know, typing on such a small screen sounds ridiculous, but I appreciated the ability to send messages in cases when I couldn’t use talk to text or didn't want to draw my letters. It's one of the features I wished Apple would copy in watchOS 8.
But it didn't, giving Google's software a leg up in the ongoing Wear OS vs. watchOS face-off. When you send messages on Wear OS, you have the option to type them out using the T9 keyboard. All you have to do is click on a number, and the corresponding letters appear in a pop-up for you to choose from.
No Google Assistant... yet
Now we're onto the not-so-great stuff about Wear OS on the Galaxy Watch 4. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is missing a killer feature at launch: Google Assistant. Samsung confirmed to Android Central (opens in new tab) that Google Assistant is not on the Galaxy Watch 4 series yet. Apparently the assistant will make it to the new smartwatches eventually, but no word on when that might be. For now, I'm stuck talking to Bixby.
With Google's voice butler built into the Galaxy Watch 4, users would gain access to the best Google Assistant commands, including control of the best Google Home compatible devices in your smart home and all the other perks that come with knowing how to use Google Assistant. Can Bixby do all that? I think not.
One thing I'll note here is the Galaxy Watch isn't launching until August 27. That gives some wiggle room for updates before the greater population gets a new smartwatch on their wrist.
No battery life improvement
I'm not necessarily disappointed about the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4's battery life. I'm just confused. During Google I/O, Wear OS developers promised the new software would bring better battery life efficiency to smartwatches running the unified platform.
Instead, the Galaxy Watch 4's battery life might be slightly worse than the Galaxy Watch 3's. In the first few days of testing, the smartwatch has lasted about 20 hours before needing a charge. That's with the always-on display enabled, overnight blood oxygen readings and activity tracking, though. Sure, I might be challenging the battery life, but those are all Galaxy Watch 4 features the average person would want to use.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 with Wear OS outlook
I need to spend more time with Wear OS on the Galaxy Watch 4. Getting to know a new software requires many hours of testing, especially in real-world applications. I will say my short time toying with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4’s software is the best experience I’ve ever had using Google's wearable platform, though.