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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 vs. Apple Watch Series 4: Which Watch Should You Buy?

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active 2 is the closest the company has ever come to competing head-to-head with Apple’s best-selling Apple Watch. Samsung packed an electrocardiogram sensor, built-in sleep-tracking and LTE connectivity in its new $279 smartwatch, which goes on sale Sept. 27, in a bid to undercut Apple on both features and price.

Will it work? Read on to see how the Galaxy Watch Active 2 stacks up to the Apple Watch Series 4.

Galaxy Watch Active 2 vs. Apple Watch Series 4: Specs compared


Galaxy Watch Active 2Apple Watch Series 4
Price
$279 (40mm), $299 (44mm)$399 (40mm), $429 (44mm)
Battery Life24+ hours18-24 hours
Size40mm, 44mm40mm, 44mm
Display Size1.2-inch circular (40mm) Super AMOLED (360 x 360); 1.4-inch (44mm) Super AMOLED (360 x 360)324 x 394 (40mm) OLED; 368 x 448 (44mm) OLED
ColorsCloud Silver, Aqua Black, Pink Gold aluminum; silver, black and gold stainless steelSilver, space gray, gold aluminum; silver, space black, gold stainless steel (LTE only)
OSTizen OS with OneUIwatchOS 5.2.1
Storage4GB (offline Spotify playback)16GB (offline Apple Music playback)
Water ResistanceUp to 50 meters (swim-proof)Up to 50 meters (swim-proof)
GPSYesYes
LTEYes, for $429Yes, for $499
Heart Rate MonitorYesYes
Mobile PaymentsYes, Samsung PayYes, Apple Pay
Apps“Thousands” of apps, though there are few big names (especially for fitness) and many of the apps cost moneyAlso thousands, but far more big names, including the most popular fitness-tracking apps

Price

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 is pricier than its $199 predecessor, but Samsung’s smartwatches are still cheaper than Apple’s — by a lot.

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 starts at $279, which is much more affordable than the $399 entry-level Apple Watch Series 4. (The Apple Watch Series 3 starts at $279, but it’s not a direct competitor to Samsung’s latest watch because it’s almost two years old and lacks an ECG sensor.)

Add $20 to snag the larger, $299 44mm Watch Active 2. The 44mm Series 4 is $429.

Adding cellular connectivity to both watches will cost you: For the Apple Watch, LTE is a $100 extra, and the cellular Watch Active 2 is $150 than the base-model Bluetooth version.

Health and fitness

The Apple Watch Series 4's ECG app

The Apple Watch Series 4's ECG app (Image credit: Future)

Samsung doesn’t just want to beat Apple when it comes to price. The company wants to offer all of the same sophisticated health and fitness features that have turned the Apple Watch into a must-have — plus a few extras.

The Watch Active 2 has a hardware ECG sensor on the right frame of the device, which could potentially diagnose heart disease, just like the Series 4. But the Series 4’s ECG sensor is actually functional and able to detect atrial fibrillation, whereas Samsung hasn’t yet announced a launch date for its own ECG app. Presumably, the company still needs to submit data from studies conducted with medical partners to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the launch of an ECG app, as Apple did.

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 offers running programs

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 offers running programs (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

But the Galaxy Watch Active 2 has a couple of health and fitness features that Apple’s watch doesn’t. Samsung added built-in sleep-tracking to the Galaxy Watch Active 2, which means you can wear the watch to bed and it will automatically log your sleep and wake times, in addition to your sleep stages (light, deep and REM). Similarly to Fitbit, Samsung will log that data in a dashboard in the Samsung Health app. Third-party sleep-tracking apps for Apple Watch will also log your sleep, but Apple doesn’t offer any built-in sleep-tracking functionality (yet).

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 also offers preset running programs that will coach you to increase your speed using data from the watch’s built-in GPS and improved accelerometer. The Apple Watch’s native Workout app doesn’t have running programs.

Design and display

The Galaxy Watch Active 2's round display

The Galaxy Watch Active 2's round display (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Whether you prefer the Galaxy Watch Active 2 to the Apple Watch Series 4 all depends on how you feel about square watch faces. Apple has stuck with its polarizing rounded-off square (squircle?) design since the Apple Watch launched in 2015, and while it’s clearly not detracting buyers, some people can’t stand it.

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 sports a round, always-on display that makes it feel more like traditional watch than a wrist computer.

The Series 4's OLED display lets you see a slew of apps at a glance

The Series 4's OLED display lets you see a slew of apps at a glance (Image credit: Future)

Both the Series 4 and the Galaxy Watch Active 2 have OLED panels, but the larger Series 4’s display is higher-res (368 x 448) than both of Samsung’s watches (360 x 360).

And while both Apple and Samsung’s smartwatches have touchscreens, Samsung added a touch-based bezel for navigating around the watch more easily. In our early testing, it wasn’t the greatest experience, but we’ll spend more time with the watch to see how it compares to the Apple Watch’s physical navigation tool, the Digital Crown.

Software and app store

Samsung developed its own Tizen OS software for its lineup of smartwatches. Earlier this year, the company brought the One UI it designed for its Galaxy S10 flagships to the Galaxy Watch Active. The second-gen watch benefits from the new look, too. 

Apple has always made the design of watchOS, its smartwatch platform, complementary to iOS. The Apple Watch also benefits from the fact that developers can easily make watch apps to align with their iOS apps, and so there are thousands of apps in the watchOS App Store.

With watchOS 6, due out in September, developers will be able to make watch apps without starting with an iOS app first, which should expand the app offerings. Fewer developers are making Tizen apps, though Samsung says its Galaxy Store for watch apps is also stocked with “thousands” of options.

You can customize the Galaxy Watch Active 2's face to match your outfit

You can customize the Galaxy Watch Active 2's face to match your outfit (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

With the Galaxy Watch Active 2, Samsung added the ability to customize your watch face to your outfit, which is a detail fashion brands like Kate Spade have emphasized in their smartwatches but hasn’t been available in tech- and sport-oriented watches.

Apple doesn’t have an outfit match tool in watchOS, but its watch faces are also customizable. You can even use images from your camera roll as your watch face for an extra level of personalization.

Size and colors

Both the Galaxy Watch Active 2 and Apple Watch Series 4 offer two size options: 40mm and 44mm — the main design difference is the shape of the watch face.

Both devices also come in classic finishes and colors, including aluminum and stainless steel black and silver. The Galaxy Watch Active 2 offers a Pink Gold option, which Apple discontinued when it launched the Series 4 last fall. That rosy hue is only available in aluminum — the stainless steel Watch Active 2 comes in black, silver and gold (as does the Apple Watch).

Smartphone integration

If using a smartwatch with an Android phone is your top concern, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a no-brainer — Apple Watches aren’t compatible with Android. iPhone owners have more options, because Samsung’s watches work with iOS. However, you can’t reply to iMessages, listen to Apple Music or take advantage of other Apple apps on an Android watch.

The Series 4 lets you store Apple Music playlists offline

The Series 4 lets you store Apple Music playlists offline (Image credit: Future)

Samsung made the Galaxy Watch Active 2 more tightly integrated with its Galaxy smartphones by connecting watch apps to the Samsung Cloud. That means when you log into an app on your Galaxy phone, the watch app will also automatically store that login information.

The Apple Watch has always been an extension of the iPhone, with all of your information synced to iCloud.

We’ll put the Galaxy Watch Active 2 to the test to see how its integration with Galaxy phones compares to the Apple Watch and iPhone.

Battery life

In our testing, the Apple Watch Series 4 lasts about 24 hours on a charge. Samsung says its new watch will last more than a day, which we’ll have to put to the test. It’s unclear what effect the addition of continuous heart rate-monitoring at night for accurately detecting sleep stages will have on the device’s battery life, but we’ll put that to the test.

Outlook

In our hands-on time, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 looks to be a true Apple Watch rival. The cheaper price is attractive, as is the round AMOLED display, two size options, the addition of cellular connectivity and new health and fitness features. I’m particularly excited to test out the new watch’s sleep-tracking ability and run-coaching programs.

Without a time frame for the ECG feature’s launch, the Watch Active 2 isn’t at the Apple Watch’s level just yet. But this is the closest any smartwatch maker has come to challenging Apple. 

Stay tuned for a full review of the Galaxy Watch Active 2 to see which watch is worth buying.