The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 can sometimes feel like a great Samsung device that forgets it's supposed to be an Android wearable first. Samsung has long felt that its software, whether it be Samsung Pay, the Samsung Store or even its Bixby assistant, should be what users of its phones opt in for. But that can feel at odds with the idea of Android, a free, Google-owned open-source operating system that's capable of running on almost any device.
That's a far cry from Apple's tight-fisted control of both software and hardware, ensuring anyone who wants to leave their iPhone behind must also exit the company's walled garden of apps, which includes Siri, Apple Fitness, iCloud and so forth. It feels as if Samsung wants what Apple has: total vertical control.
But Samsung can't pull the same trick, because it's primarily a hardware-maker first. If Samsung could have that same walled garden, then leaving Samsung for the upcoming OnePlus 10 Pro would be a lot more challenging for users. Essentially, as long as Samsung continues to use Android, the company will have to acquiesce to the open nature of the platform.
Now Samsung has announced that Google Assistant will finally be coming to the Galaxy Watch 4, the first truly great Android wearable on Google's newly redesigned and relaunched Wear OS. The Galaxy Watch 4 currently sits atop our best smartwatches for Android list. It's been a long time coming, considering the Watch 4 launched in August of 2021. Included with the announcement, ahead of the Galaxy Unpacked 2022 event which will likely reveal the Samsung Galaxy S22, the company revealed a suite of new fitness features.
But Google Assistant is but one app — why is it such a big deal? Well, for Galaxy Watch 4 owners like myself that continue to use the Google Assistant on their paired Android devices, in my case the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, it's ludicrous to use two separate voice-activated assistants when one is better.
Now, I do want to note that Bixby isn't a bad voice assistant. Actually, this excellent comparison between Siri, Bixby and Google Assistant by YouTuber TechNick (opens in new tab) shows that Samsung's assistant isn't far behind. But it still did ultimately land third.
As someone who's been using the Galaxy Watch 4 since around launch, the lack of Google Assistant hasn't been frustrating, just confusing. I have a 4G plan on my watch, and there are times, whether it be when running or driving where saying "okay Google" would have come in handy. Given the cramped nature of wearable devices, not having to type on tiny keyboards whenever possible is best. That's doubly true when trying to use one while operating heavy machinery.
Of course, if I need some virtual assistance, I can always ask Bixby to find the nearest Taco Bell. But it's not as good as Google Assistant, and Bixby lacks the requisite "capsule" on the Watch 4 for navigation. Still, it's disappointing that my stubborn desire to use Google's suite of apps on my Android device has been pushing up against Samsung's stubbornness in wanting users to opt for its services. It makes Android feel bipolar on Samsung devices and has me wishing more for a Google Pixel Fold and Google Pixel Watch combo.
Whether that happens remains uncertain. Until then, I'll be eagerly awaiting the Galaxy Watch 4 update "in the coming months."