Galaxy Watch Active 2 Hands-on Review: A True Apple Watch Rival

Sleeker, cheaper and run coach built in

For

  • Sleeker design than Apple Watch
  • Built-in run coach and sleep tracking
  • Can start runs with Bixby using voice
  • Customizable watch faces match your outfit
  • Deeper Twitter and YouTube integration

Against

  • ECG not launching until later
  • Digital rotating bezel feels a bit gimmicky

Less than six months after releasing the best Android smartwatch you can buy, the Galaxy Watch Active, Samsung is back with the Galaxy Watch Active 2 (starting at $279). This time, Samsung isn't just aiming to launch the best Apple Watch alternative for Android. Packed with advanced health and fitness features, including a few tricks the Apple Watch can't do, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 proves Samsung is playing to win. 

Galaxy Watch Active 2 price and release date

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 goes on sale Sept. 27. The 40-millimeter aluminum Bluetooth model will cost $279, while the larger 44-mm watch will cost $299. The stainless steel Bluetooth model starts at $379. A stainless steel watch with cellular connectivity starts at $429. An Under Armour special edition of the Galaxy Watch Active 2 that emphasizes MapMyRun integration will also be available in September for $309.

Preorders for the Galaxy Watch Active 2 start Sept. 6 and run through Sept. 26 on Samsung.com and other retailers. Samsung says that shoppers who preorder the Galaxy Watch Active 2 on Samsung.com are eligible for a free Wireless Charger Portable Battery.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Galaxy Watch Active 2 design: Sleek looks, digital rotating bezel

The Galaxy Watch Active came in just one size with a 40-mm case. The second-gen watch still comes in a 40-mm version, but a larger 44-mm option is joining the lineup for those with larger wrists (or those who prefer an oversized look). Both models come in Cloud Silver, Aqua Black and Pink Gold aluminum with fluoroelastomer bands; and stainless steel silver, black and gold with leather straps. An LTE version of the watch will be available only in stainless steel.

The round AMOLED display on the Watch Active is simply stunning. The Apple Watch has long polarized potential buyers with its rounded, square-ish screen, which resembles a minicomputer more than a traditional timepiece. Samsung wins points for making a watch-like smartwatch.

The original Galaxy Watch Active sacrificed the physical rotating bezel that set the Galaxy Watch apart from its rivals. Samsung brought back the rotating bezel for the second-gen Watch Active, but this version is touch-based. Now you can slide your finger along the edge of the display to rotate through menu options.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

During our hands-on time, we found this digital rotating bezel to be overly sensitive. It felt too fast as we navigated the interface, but we'll withhold final judgement until we can spend more time with the smartwatch.

Galaxy Watch Active 2 ECG sensor and sleep tracking

Apple has been pushing the boundaries for smartwatches for some time, but last year it introduced a pair of medical features that no other company has: an irregular-heart-rhythm notification and an electrocardiogram sensor cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for detecting atrial fibrillation. Samsung just put its own ECG sensor in the Galaxy Watch Active 2, although, as in the Apple Watch Series 4, that sensor won't be functional at launch. Samsung said it is still working with research partners to conduct studies, presumably to garner FDA approval.

MORE: Best Smartwatches 2019

In addition to the ECG sensor baked into the hardware, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 has an eight-LED heart rate sensor for sampling heart rate more quickly and accurately.

And, unlike the Apple Watch, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 will natively track sleep. The watch will detect when you fall asleep and use your heart rate to determine the breakdown of sleep stages — light, deep and REM — and display that data in a dashboard in the Samsung Health app. This is similar to Fitbit's sleep-tracking feature, which is incredibly insightful.

Galaxy Watch Active 2 fitness tracking: A better workout coach

Samsung also made the Galaxy Watch Active 2 a more useful fitness tracker with the addition of run coaching. The new feature uses the watch's built-in GPS and a new, improved accelerometer to more accurately track your running speed. You can choose from seven preset running programs, depending on how many miles you want to run or how fast you want to run those miles.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Apple Watch's app store has third-party workout apps that also offer running programs but lacks a native coaching feature.

Galaxy Watch Active 2 watch faces: Customized to match your outfit

It might sound silly at first, but we like that the Galaxy Watch Active 2 can let you create watch faces to match your outfit with very little effort. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I just used the Samsung Galaxy Watch app to take a photo of my shirt, and then I could choose from multiple fun patterns in the same colors. It goes a long way toward making this wearable feel more personal.

Galaxy Watch Active 2 LTE: Stay connected on the go

Samsung didn't offer a cellular-connected Galaxy Watch Active the first time around, but an LTE model is joining the Galaxy Watch Active 2 lineup.

MORE: Best Fitness Trackers of 2019

With LTE built in, you'll be able to do things like stream Spotify to the watch while you are working out as well as use tools like Google Translate on the fly.

Galaxy Watch Active 2 Apps: Better Twitter and YouTube integration

Samsung is sticking with its proprietary Tizen OS platform for the Watch Active 2, which gives the company more control over design and battery life but means buyers won't have as many options in the Galaxy Wear app store as you'd find in the Apple Watch or Wear OS stores.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

But Samsung has worked to improve Tizen OS for users by working with major companies like Twitter and YouTube to deliver a better app experience on the watch. Twitter on the Watch Active 2 will allow you to like and retweet directly from the watch, as well as compose tweets and send them. YouTube on the new watch will let you watch short video clips. This is not an immersive viewing experience, but we like that you can go full screen when watching these videos and remove the black bars.

Perhaps the most significant software improvement in the Watch Active 2 is the streamlined handoff between a Samsung Galaxy smartphone and the watch. Samsung Cloud stores your app login info, so apps you're using on the phone will automatically be logged in on the watch.

Galaxy Watch Active 2 battery life

Samsung provided the battery life numbers for the LTE versions of the Galaxy Watch Active 2. You can expect 24 hours of juice from the 40-mm model and a day and a half of endurance from the 44-mm version. Samsung will provide the battery ratings for the Bluetooth models soon.

Outlook

Apple is crushing the competition when it comes to smartwatch sales, and Samsung and Fitbit are competing for the scraps. But that's because no company has meaningfully challenged Apple with a smartwatch that can stand up to the Apple Watch's feature set. With Galaxy Watch Active 2, Samsung is stepping up its game.

You get a built-in run coach, a sleeker design, superior sleep tracking and more fun ways to customize the watch faces. However, you'll have to wait for the ECG feature to go live, and Samsung simply doesn't offer as many apps as Apple does.

Stay tuned for a full review of the Galaxy Watch Active 2 to find out how it stacks up to the best smartwatches.