The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 was perhaps one of the more exciting announcements from Samsung Unpacked. Compared to the new foldables, which are rather incremental updates, the Galaxy Watch 5 lineup felt like major leaps forward. Well, except for one big change.
While we still have to spend a bit more time with the Galaxy Watch 5 (and Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro,) our early impressions suggest some worthwhile upgrades and the making of one of the best smartwatches of the year. The battery life is better, the screen is more scratch resistant and the $279 price point for the Galaxy Watch 5 is pretty attractive.
But, the rotating bezel is gone, and it’s why I won't be buying a Galaxy Watch 5.
I currently have a Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, and I wear it most of the time. I wear it to work out, it gives me Slack notifications while I am writing an article and it’s surprisingly useful for sleep-tracking. The rotating bezel helps me in literally all of these situations.
So, despite the upgraded battery life of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 — which has been my biggest issue with the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic — I can't imagine swapping to the newest smartwatch, even if it's going to be considered the best Samsung watch yet.
Seriously, why ditch the rotating bezel?
The rotating bezel has been a key feature of Samsung smartwatches even before the original Samsung Galaxy Watch. It dates back to the Samsung Gear S2 (not to be confused with the Gear 2). That watch was the first to directly compete with the Apple Watch, and the rotating bezel successfully set Samsung's smartwatch apart. Especially since Apple had its own rotating crown to provide similar functionality.
Ever since, Samsung has offered at least one Galaxy watch with a rotating bezel in each generation, with the exception of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 releases in 2019. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 that came out in 2020, the following year, brought it back. And, of course, it continued on the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic last year.
That’s what makes the choice to omit it from the Galaxy Watch 5 lineup odd for Samsung. It already tried to lose the bezel once, and then walked that move back. Admittedly, Samsung didn't truly unify its smartwatch lineup until the Galaxy Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic, so maybe its plan was always to go back to the bezel in the Watch 3 so it could have multiple options.
But if that was the plan, why abandon the plan with the Galaxy Watch 5? While we don’t have sales data for the specific models, we do have market share data from Counterpoint Research for 2020 and 2021 by brand.
In 2021, the year when Samsung launched the Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic, Samsung grew its market share by 1.3% while its top competitors Apple and Huawei lost market share. Samsung even vaulted Huawei for the number two spot, and joined Apple as the only smartwatch maker with over 10% market share. The system was clearly working, so why change it?
The rotating bezel is a must for me
As someone who owned a Samsung smartwatch with a rotating bezel (Galaxy Watch 4) and without one (Galaxy Watch Active 2), the rotating bezel is a revelation. It makes navigation so much easier, both in the main UI going between tiles and within particular applications.
One hidden gem was discovering that I could control the volume of my phone from my smartwatch using the rotating bezel. While that seems like such a small thing, it helps when listening to audiobooks in bed so I don’t have to look at a screen to hit the perfect volume. It’s become a part of my nightly routine, and I couldn’t imagine living without it. A digital bezel just wouldn't feel the same.
Options for fans of the rotating bezel
For fans of the rotating bezel, there's really only one option now when smartwatch shopping. Though it's a year old, the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic remains on sale as one of the best smartwatches for Android. Plus, as a Wear OS 3 smartwatch, the software compatibility makes it so all the previous generations aren’t worth getting, even at a discount.
Unfortunately for Samsung, the other option is to buy our top smartwatch: Apple Watch 7. While it does not have a rotating bezel, it does have its signature rotating crown, which gives users similar functionality.
Switching to Apple would be an admittedly drastic — and rare — step for an Android user committed to Samsung's ecosystem. But this is an unforced error by Samsung that could turn into a costly mistake. Hopefully, they will fix it by bringing back the rotating bezel to the Galaxy Watch 6, or whatever smartwatch Samsung releases in 2023.