I was an early adopter when it came to smartwatches.
I was wearing them when they were big, clunky and to be honest, not that smart.
They've been around longer than most people think and in the last couple of years, they've got really good.
Nowadays for me, it's a hard call as to which is my most indispensable device; my watch or my phone?
Trouble is, which watch?...
Galaxy Watch Active on the left - Galaxy Watch 42mm on the right
This was supposed to be a review of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, the latest in a long line of great wristwear from Samsung, going back further than just about anyone. In fact, they've been selling them as far back as 2013.
The reason I've turned this into a double review is it's actually pretty hard to separate the Active from the Galaxy Watch, released late last year. That's not a bad thing, as they're both amazing.
The Galaxy Watch is probably the more traditional-looking of the two, as it retains the rotating bezel controller, now fairly familiar on Samsung's last few generations of watches. We'll get into the practical advantages of this shortly, but cosmetically speaking, the fact there's a bezel and the fact the watch is round means the Galaxy Watch is probably the most "watch-like" looking smartwatch on the market. It's not oversized and you can swap out the band with any other 20mm strap you like. The 42mm version comes in black or rose gold, while the larger 46mm model is silver. (The 46mm requires a 22mm band)
So if you don't want people to know you're wearing a smartwatch, the Galaxy Watch might be the way to go.
The Active loses the bezel completely, so the whole operation is not only a bit smaller, but it's more streamlined and sporty. There's only one size but it comes in all three colours. Like the Galaxy Watch, the Active also features quick release 22mm bands and I've found mine looks surprisingly good with a leather strap. Living up to it's name, the Active definitey looks more like a fitness device than a conventional timepiece.
Turns out, the appearance of these two watches is probably the only significant difference between them.
Well... except for that bezel controller. The trick to a genuinely useful smartwatch operating system is providing all the functionality you need via the smallest screen possible - especially if you have massive, fumbling fingers like mine. The bezel on the Galaxy Watch lets you scroll easily between home screens, apps and options. It's also a natural way to raise and lower settings like volume and brightness.
In saying that, you can still do all those things with the Active, just by tapping and swiping instead. To be frank, if you've never used a Samsung watch with a bezel, you won't miss it at all.
Other than that physical control option, both watches now run the same Samsung One UI, which is just so easy to use. It features clear, clean icons and easy access to shortcuts and settings - including watch-specific ones like Theatre Mode and Goodnight Mode - preventing your watch lighting up or vibrating at the wrong time in the wrong places.
It's taken a while, but there's actually quite a bit of content to load onto your Samsung watch these days, more and more app developers getting on board with Samsung's proprietary Tizen OS. Health and fitness tracking is one area in particular where both these watches offer masses of options - all pretty great. That's apart from the common exercises both watches will detect automatically - including swimming, thanks to their 5ATM pool-proof rating.
Another massive advantage of choosing a Samsung watch is it'll work with pretty much any phone out there. Sure, it runs best with a Samsung device - especially when it comes to replying to emails or texts - but pair it with any Android or iOS phone and you'll still receive notifications and you can still use all the great fitness and activity tracking functionality.
The Active and the Galaxy Watch share many of the same specs under the hood too; both sport a 1.15GHz dual-core CPU, both offer 4GB of on-board storage and both run just 0.75GB of RAM - which doesn't sound like much and yet both these devices keep on ticking without missing a beat. (Not actually ticking obviously. You know what I mean) The only little discrepancy is battery life - the cell in the Active is a bit smaller and it definitely doesn't last as long, although both watches see out a long day with no issues.
And yet... I have this weird impression the Active works ever so slightly faster than the Galaxy Watch. I can't prove it scientifically and there's no technical reason for it, but I could swear things like light adjustment and app start-up seem to happen faster on the newer watch. Probably just a psychological thing knowing it's newer.
One thing drives me absolutely insane though. When you put either device on its wireless charger, a lightning bolt animation flashes around the screen to confirm it's charging. Okay, whatever. But then, after a few seconds, that same lightning bolt remains stationary on the screen and doesn't go out till the watch is fully charged. This is so stupid, especially in an otherwise pitch-black bedroom. Why can't I turn this off? I've spent a long time trying to solve this, including chatting online with Samsung techs and I haven't figured it out yet. If you do, please let me know.
Other than that, I love both these watches equally, please don't make me choose. Your choice will probably come down to looks; bezel or no bezel? That's the question. Oh, and the Active is $150 cheaper, so that could well sway things too.