I have a confession to make: I’ve never really liked smartwatches. As a tech journalist that’s quite a controversial take, but I’ve always opted for a traditional timepiece rather than a cutting-edge wearable.
It’s not that I can't see the benefits of having what is essentially a miniature smartphone strapped to your wrist, it’s more a personal preference. On an admittedly snobbish level, I just don’t think smartwatches look particularly good. The chunky square face of the Apple Watch in particular looks extremely unappealing to me.
Furthermore, while it’s pretty impressive that the best smartwatches can do everything from measuring your body fat percentage to monitoring your blood oxygen levels, these are metrics I don't feel the need to track day-to-day. Granted, some people likely find such comprehensive fitness tracking motivating, but for me it triggers the obsessive side of my personality.
While I have purposefully avoided smartwatches over the last half a decade, earlier this month I decided it was time to get some proper first-hand experience. After using the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 extensively over the last two weeks, much to my surprise I've been won over by the wearable. Here’s how that happened.
Off to a mixed start
One thing that struck me as I unboxed the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 was just how slick it looks. Unlike an Apple Watch with its distinctive square face, the Galaxy Watch 4 blends in pretty seamlessly with my existing collection of traditional wristwatches.
Sure, if you give it more than a passing glance, it’s very clearly a smartwatch, but I love that the circular face invokes a more traditional watch design. Unlike some wearable products, the Galaxy Watch 4 doesn’t immediately scream “look at me” to passersby. That gave it a big old tick straight out of the box for me.
Unfortunately, my positive initial impression was quickly dampened as I began the setup process. Granted, it’s an Android-only device and I’m primarily an iOS person, which may be partially to blame but I experienced a lot of issues signing in to my Samsung account on the Galaxy Watch 4. I was forced to hard reset the smartwatch twice to start the process anew before it finally worked.
I also feel that the sheer amount of options and settings that Samsung expects first-time users to select during initialization is on the overwhelming side. I prefer a gradual approach. Run me through the bare essentials straight away, then let me tweak the rest as needed.
Testing out the tracking
Once I finally had the Galaxy Watch 4 set up and linked to my Samsung account, I was ready to start getting acclimated to the device. I was pleasantly surprised how easy navigating menus is on the 40mm display, and I really appreciated the clicky side button that instantly takes you back to the main watch face.
Actually using the smartwatch for fitness tracking played out pretty much as I expected. It's nice but I personally find it overkill. To be honest, I’m fairly dubious about the quality of the tracking as well. For example, during a brisk ten-minute walk to the cinema to see Spider-Man: No Way Home the watch reported I’d burnt 135 calories, which seems on the high side to me.
I have grown to appreciate the Galaxy Watch 4 's auto-tracking feature. Not having to manually ask the watch to begin tracking before exercise is pretty nifty, especially as I’m notoriously bad at remembering to trigger the Strava app before a run.
I’ve observed that fitness tracking features typically headline the promotional material of not just the Samsung Galaxy Watch range, but most smartwatches in general. While I understand the appeal of comprehensive exercise and health tracking, what really won me over about the Galaxy Watch 4 was all the other (often less publicized) stuff it can do.
Excellent for everyday use
I can actually pinpoint the exact moment when I truly felt like having a smartwatch strapped to my wrist was worthwhile. I was out for a Christmas meal with my partner and once the bill came we were quibbling over the tip (both of us are somewhat mathematically challenged).
I initially turned to the Galaxy Watch 4 for a standard calculator, but with a quick swipe, I was able to access a widget that allowed me to enter the total bill, desired tip amount and the number of diners and get an instant split. It almost felt like something out of a sci-fi movie! Now of course the latest smartphones offer this sort of functionality as well, but the convenience of having a tool like this on your wrist shouldn't be overlooked.
It’s these smaller features of the Galaxy Watch 4 that really impressed me the most. Being able to use Samsung Pay to complete transactions with just a wrist motion, swapping songs on Spotify without needing to pull my entire phone out of a pocket, and being able to quickly check my location at a glance via GPS, have all been extremely useful over the past two weeks.
These everyday features aren’t often as well promoted as the fitness tracking stuff, but to me, they are the functions that justify picking a smartwatch over a traditional timepiece. I’m okay not knowing how many steps I took in a day, but I love being able to pay by tapping my watch against a card machine.
Not quite essential (but almost)
For as much as my overall opinion of smartwatches has shifted in general, I still don’t see one ever fully replacing my traditional watch.
For one thing, actually waking the Galaxy Watch 4 to check the time requires a very exaggerated move of your entire arm. Which can look a little silly in public. Of course, some users will undoubtedly prefer their watch only waking after clearly intentional movement, but Samsung should really add sensitivity options so everyone can find their sweet spot.
I’m also not convinced that aggressive fitness tracking is something that anyone but a professional athlete really needs consistent access to. At least it’s not something that I personally need. However, the myriad of everyday features offered by the Galaxy Watch 4 certainly adds up.
I’d still feel pretty comfortable leaving home without my Galaxy Watch 4, if only because my smartphone can do pretty much all the same things, but even so the wearable makes a pretty convincing argument for itself. Just two weeks with the Galaxy Watch 4 and I’ve gone from a smartwatch skeptic to something of an evangelist. That’s no small achievement.