Roast me all you want, but Samsung's new Galaxy Watch Active 2 is one hot smartwatch.
At first glance, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 looks virtually identical to the Galaxy Watch Active, which only launched this past spring. But place your finger on the edge of the display and turn it clockwise or counterclockwise and you'll see Samsung's signature rotatable bezel control has returned.
The Galaxy Watch Active 2 also comes in two sizes (40mm and 42mm) as opposed to the Galaxy Watch Active's one-size-fits-all model, two finishes (aluminum and stainless steel), an LTE version, and double the amount of tracking sensors to more quickly provide out readouts.
Samsung's new smartwatch isn't replacing the Galaxy Watch Active. Starting at $279 for the 40mm version and $299 for the 44mm model, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 will be sold alongside the $199 Galaxy Watch Active and Galaxy Watch, which starts at $349.
I spent some time with the Galaxy Watch Active 2 and, frankly, I think it's Samsung's best smartwatch to date. It's sharp-looking (especially the stainless steel model), has all of the same smartwatch and fitness-tracking features of the Galaxy Watch, and the digital rotating bezel is a delight to use. Plus, it's cheaper than an Apple Watch Series 4.
If you own a Samsung or Android phone, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is easily the only new smartwatch to consider getting.
OK, let's talk aesthetics. Like I said, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 looks virtually the same as the Galaxy Watch Active.
The 40mm has a 1.2-inch screen and the 44mm has a 1.4-inch display. Both come with 360 x 360 resolution. The screen's round, sharp, and bright — exactly what a good smartwatch display should be.
The bands are interchangeable and easy to swap out, too. Samsung showed off rubber and leather straps.
The digital rotating bezel around the screen is the most interesting upgrade on the Galaxy Watch Active 2. Though I personally wasn't bothered by the fact that the Galaxy Watch Active doesn't have a physical rotating bezel like on the Galaxy Watch, I love that the Galaxy Watch Active 2 has a digital version of it. Not only is it less chunky-looking, but it works really well. Just look at how buttery smooth it is to fly through different app screens:
I'm also liking the stainless steel version of the smartwatch. Aluminum's fine, but stainless steel gives the Galaxy Watch Active 2 are more luxurious look and feel. I'm less impressed with a few of the Apple Watch-inspired details, though. Like the red ring inside of the round button — it's so clearly a copycat of the red ring on the Apple Watch's digital crown.
Inside, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is pretty standard smartwatch stuff: 4GB of storage in both models, 768MB of RAM in the 40mm and 1.5GB of RAM in the 44mm, Bluetooth 5.0, and built-in GPS. The watch is also water resistant in up to 164 feet of water for up to 10 minutes.
As with the rest of Samsung's smartwatches, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 runs Tizen OS and has a built-in heart rate sensor. If you've used a Samsung smartwatch before, there will be next to no learning curve with the Galaxy Watch Active 2.
Tizen OS is fast, smooth, and easy to navigate, especially with the digital rotating bezel.
A few new Tizen OS features worth highlighting: Twitter, YouTube support, and Google Translate. With Twitter, users will be able to see tweets, favorite tweets, and retweet.
For YouTube, you'll be able to watch entire videos on your wrist, either in their original aspect ratio or zoomed in; Samsung doesn't expect you to watch a 10-minute video on the smartwatch, but maybe more for short movie trailers.
And with Google Translate, you can say something into the smartwatch in one language and have the app translate it in another. Google Translate requires an Internet connection and the translations aren't done on device, confirmed Samsung.
While the software is mostly the same, Samsung's beefed up the Galaxy Watch Active 2's sensors. Samsung tells me they've improved the sensors and doubled the sensitivity inside of the smartwatch to get faster readouts and be better at tracking your sleep, automatically detecting workouts, and monitoring your heart.
Also great: the Galaxy Watch Active 2 has many of the same health features as the Apple Watch Series 4, including fall detection, Afib notifications, and an ECG monitor.
Short as my time with the Galaxy Watch Active 2 was, I really liked what I saw. The Apple Watch Series 4 remains the remains the best smartwatch you can get, but with the Galaxy Watch Active 2, Samsung's narrowing the gap.
Truthfully, I was getting bored with the selection of smartwatches for Android. Wear OS by Google smartwatches have all but fallen by the wayside and the Galaxy Watch Active and Galaxy Watch felt very uninspiring. The Galaxy Watch Active 2 seems to strike the best balance between style and health-tracking features. It's by far the best-looking and most capable round-shaped smartwatch I've ever used.
How well Samsung's new smartwatch compares to the Apple Watch remains to be seen. We'll find out when it come Sept. 27 when it's available on Samsung.com and other retailers.