Samsung Galaxy Watch Active vs. Apple Watch: Which Smartwatch Wins?

The $200 Galaxy Watch Active isn’t Samsung’s first smartwatch, but it is the company’s most competitive.

On one end of the smartwatch spectrum, the $399 Apple Watch Series 4 can give on-the-fly electrocardiograms for diagnosing atrial fibrillation. On the other, more affordable watches running on Google’s Wear OS platform are stylish but sluggish.

The Galaxy Watch Active isn’t taking on the Series 4, which has advanced health sensors and a corresponding price tag. But it is a direct competitor to the $279 Series 3, which, like the Galaxy Watch Active, offers built-in GPS, heart rate-monitoring (with a couple of extra heart health features), offline music storage and solid native fitness-tracking features.

So which watch is best? Let’s take a look at the specs and then dive in.

Galaxy Watch Active vs. Series 3: Specs compared


Galaxy Watch Active
Apple Watch Series 3
Price
$199.99
Starts at $279 (GPS) or $379 (cellular)
Battery Life45 hours (rated), closer to 24-36 hours in normal use18-24 hours
Size40mm38mm, 42mm
Display Size1.1-inch circular Super AMOLED (360 x 360)272 x 340 (38mm), 312 x 390 (42mm) OLED
ColorsBlack, silver, rose gold, greenSilver, space-gray aluminum
OSTizen OS 4.0watchOS 5
Music Storage4GB (offline Spotify support)8GB (offline Apple Music support)
Water ResistanceSwim-proofSwim-proof
GPSYesYes
LTENoYes (for $100 more)
Heart Rate MonitorYesYes
Mobile PaymentsSamsung PayApple 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 Apple Watch Series 3 starts at $279 for the 38mm, GPS model and $379 for the cellular version. Both models often go on sale, but the lowest we’ve seen it go is $199. That happens to be the Galaxy Watch Active’s price tag, though there’s only one model available.

Winner: Galaxy Watch Active

Health and Fitness

The Galaxy Watch Active is Samsung’s attempt to compete with Apple on health and fitness. It doesn’t quite succeed.

The Apple Watch Series 3 doesn’t have the electrical heart rate sensor that the Series 4 does, so it can’t diagnose atrial fibrillation with an ECG app. But the Series 3 does offer an FDA-cleared irregular heart rhythm notification, which tracks your heart rate in the background and alerts you when it detects irregularities that could be tied to atrial fibrillation. The watch also sends you alerts when your heart rate dips too low or too high.

The Galaxy Watch Active will have a blood pressure-tracking app, called My BP Lab, developed in partnership with the University of California, San Francisco. However, the app is for research purposes only, which means it doesn’t have clearance from the FDA. Also, Samsung has provided scant details on how the feature will work.

MORE: The Doctor on Your Wrist: How Smartwatches Are Saving Lives

All we know is that the app requires calibration with blood pressure measurement from a third-party device, then the optical heart rate sensor will detect variations afterward. The app will be available March 15, so check back for more detail once we’ve used it.

The Active does offer a high heart rate alert, like the Apple Watch, but is otherwise light on heart health features.

Both the Apple Watch and Galaxy Watch Active offer solid native fitness-tracking, but the Apple Watch’s app store has a variety of third-party fitness apps, including popular options like Strava, Nike+ Run Club and Runkeeper. The Active has Under Armour’s fitness apps (MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal, etc.) but no other popular options.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 3

Software and App Store

The Active offers limited apps due to its software, which is a version of Tizen OS that Samsung developed just for its smartwatches. That means developers can’t easily port their Android and iOS apps to Samsung’s watches, so the selection is fairly limited. (Samsung says it offers “thousands” of apps, but the Galaxy store lacks popular smartphone apps that can be easily found in the Apple Watch app store.)

Tizen OS is preferable to Google’s Wear OS platform in terms of design, usability and performance. It’s just as fast as Apple’s watchOS software, if not quite as elegant. But for Galaxy phone users accustomed to the company’s take on Android, the Galaxy Watch Active isn’t a big departure.

Apple wins for the watch's app store.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 3

Design and Display

The Apple Watch’s squircle design has polarized would-be buyers from the jump, so if a traditional watch shape is important to you, the Galaxy Watch Active wins by default. The smaller, rounder shape is more comfortable on the wrist.

Both watches have side buttons to aid in navigation. The Apple Watch’s Digital Crown allows you to scroll and select options without tapping the display, and the side button calls up a dock of frequently used apps. The Galaxy Watch Active’s buttons are simpler: The top button takes you back to the last screen, and the bottom button returns you to the watch face.

The Active’s display seems brighter to my eye, but the 42mm Apple Watch’s screen is more expansive and offers more detail. But with a smaller size and traditional watch shape, the Active wins.

Winner: Galaxy Watch Active

Smartphone Integration

The Galaxy Watch Active presumably works with all Android phones and iPhones, which gives it broader appeal than the Apple Watch, which only works with iPhones. But the Active works best with Galaxy devices, thanks to easier pairing and tighter integration. The Active’s compatibility with iPhones is greatly reduced because you can’t respond to text messages, though Samsung gets points for giving cross-platform support a half-hearted attempt.

Pairing the Apple Watch to an iPhone is even easier process than pairing an Active to a Galaxy phone, but overall, smartphone integration is a draw.

Winner: Draw

Size and Colors

The Galaxy Watch Active comes in just one size, a 40mm round case that is perfect for those with smaller wrists.

But the Apple Watch Series 3 offers two sizes, a 38mm that is also comfortable for small wrists and a 42mm option, which gives the lineup a wider variety.

The Series 3 comes in silver and space gray aluminum, which are pretty run-of-the-mill colors reminiscent of MacBooks.

The Galaxy Watch Active comes in four shades: black, silver, rose gold and green. The color variety makes up for its limited size options.

Both watches offer a plethora of band colors, though Apple wins when it comes to material variety, price range and premium accessories from brands like Hermes and Coach. The Apple Watch's size variety and Galaxy Watch’s color variety make this category a toss-up.

Winner: Draw

Battery Life

The Apple Watch has coasted on 18-hour battery life since its launch, and the Series 3’s battery lives up that claim.

Samsung pegs the Galaxy Watch Active’s battery life at 45 hours, but in our experience, it was closer to 24-36 with normal use. That’s better than the Apple Watch, but far less than the 46mm Galaxy Watch’s 4-day battery. If battery life is important, that watch is the one to beat.

Winner: Galaxy Watch Active

Bottom Line


Galaxy Watch ActiveApple Watch Series 3
Price (10)10
7
Health and Fitness (20)1418
Software and App Store (20)1220
Design and Display (15)1312
Smartphone Integration (15)1010
Size and Colors (10)88
Battery Life (10)86
Overall (100)7581

The Galaxy Watch Active wins on price, but there are other factors to consider. If you use an Android phone — particularly a Galaxy phone — this watch is a no-brainer. The Apple Watch doesn’t work with Android at all.

The Active also works with iPhones, but for smartphone compatibility and advanced health features, the Series 3 is the smartwatch to beat for iPhone owners. (If you want the latest and greatest Apple Watch, the $399 Series 4 is a must-buy.)

The Series 3 is a better smartwatch overall, but the Galaxy Watch Active is Samsung’s attempt to be more competitive with Apple. That’s a win for everyone.

Credit: Tom's Guide