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Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro review: Small updates to the best Android smartwatch

Generationally, the Galaxy Watch 5 isn’t a huge upgrade, but thanks to continually capable health and activity tracking features and an easy-to-use interface, Samsung’s latest remains the best Android smartwatch around. Samsung’s outdoor-minded Watch 5 Pro isn’t that different from its counterpart. Aside from a larger screen, bigger battery and more durable glass, in terms of applications it offers few upgrades from the Watch 5. Still, with its rugged build and the company’s capable wellness-tracking software, the Watch 5 Pro is an excellent Android smartwatch for those who don’t mind big wrist wear.

Video transcript

CHERLYNN LOW: The best non-Apple smartwatch has long been Samsung's Galaxy Watch Series thanks to its comprehensive health and fitness tracking, intuitive interface, and comfortable, pleasant design. For a product that's so mature, it's hard to imagine what else Samsung can improve upon, which might explain why the Galaxy Watch 5 is very similar to its predecessor.

Most of the changes here aren't immediately visible, like a more durable build and software updates. Samsung also tweaked the curvature of the underside to make the Watch 5 hug your wrist better, and added a skin temperature sensor that does nothing for now. The most notable difference about the Watch 5 is the new Pro model.

It comes in a 45-millimeter titanium case, uses a more durable screen, and has a much larger 590 milliamp bar battery. Frankly, the most exciting thing about Samsung's watches this year is the Watch 5 Pro's estimated 80-hour runtime. Still, the fact that the tweaks are small doesn't mean the Galaxy Watch 5 can't still be an exciting device that is still possibly the best smartwatch around for Android users.

The Galaxy Watch 5 looks just like its predecessor and comes in the same 40-millimeter and 44-millimeter sizes as before. Both of them are just a few grams or less than 1/4 ounce heavier than the previous generation, but it's barely noticeable.

The lack of change isn't a bad thing. The Galaxy watch's round face and minimalist design make it look more like a conventional timepiece than the Apple watch. It's not immediately obvious, but Samsung used a more durable sapphire crystal glass for the Watch 5's screen.

Like its predecessors, the Watch 5 is also rated IP68, 5 ADMs, and Mill standard 810g for durability, which is water, dust, and pressure resistance. I wore it swimming recently, and though it wasn't as accurate as the Apple Watch at tracking laps, it at least survived.

Those who liked Samsung's bezel-based navigation will appreciate the touch-sensitive ring framing the screen that you can use to scroll through the Wear OS interface, as well as the mild haptic feedback as you whiz past apps. I still prefer a physical rotating bezel, but I get that not everyone wants the added bulk. One of the main differences Samsung brought to the Watch 5 is the refined curvature of its underside.

This is meant to keep the watch in contact with more of your wrist so its sensors can deliver more reliable readings. Unfortunately, I found this kind of uncomfortable. Both the Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro would leave round indentation marks on my wrist after I removed them, no matter how much I adjusted the fit.

This is only mildly annoying, and I put up with it because I thought I was getting more reliable scans in return. But I realized that the Galaxy Watch 5 was consistently giving me almost exactly the same readings as the Apple Watch Series 7 that I wore on my other wrist, and the latter never felt as tight. Another reviewer I spoke to said they found the Watch 5 very comfortable, so this might be a matter of personal preference.

This also applies to wearing a watch to bed. Some people don't mind it, others hate it. I belong in the latter camp. But I still wore the Galaxy Watch and Apple Watch to bed to compare their sleep tracking tools.

As I've said before, Apple's system is atrocious. You have to either set a bedtime or enable your sleep focus before the device can tell you're asleep. Even then, it doesn't really actually know if you're awake or passed out. Meanwhile, Samsung can figure it out all on its own.

One night I wore both watches to bed, making sure to know the time right before I flipped over and closed my eyes. The Galaxy Watch 5 accurately noted that I fell asleep around 1:30 AM and woke up at 4:00 AM, while Apple simply told me I got a full night's rest, from 11 PM to 9:00 AM.

The Galaxy Watch 5, like Fitbit's watches, will also use your heart rate information to gauge what sleep zones you hit and tell you how much time you've spent in REM, deep, or light sleep. Sleep tracking itself isn't new to the Galaxy Watch 5, but Samsung did add a sleep coaching tool that's meant to guide you towards better rest.

However, it requires five weeknights and two weekend nights of data before any tips are generated. And I just haven't logged that many hours yet. Plus, my data would be skewed anyway. Any time I wear any accessory to bed, I sleep horribly.

This might be a useful feature, I just can't tell you right now. Another thing I can't evaluate at the moment is whether the skin temperature sensor that Samsung introduced on the Galaxy Watch 5 will be helpful, since it's not currently doing anything. There are plenty of potentially useful applications for that data, though, so it will be interesting to see what the company is able to achieve with this.

Samsung has also long been better than most Wear OS watches at monitoring your activity. And the Watch 5 is no different. When I was stuck at my desk for hours on end pounding out this review, it reminded me to get up and move. I've always appreciated that in addition to walking, Galaxy watches would also suggest movements you could perform at your desk like torso twists or stretches.

Even better, the device would be able to detect exactly how many twists you've done, something the Apple Watch and other Wear OS devices don't do. The flip side of that is that they're also hyperactive at noticing when you've paused and will not only suspend tracking, but will buzz you to let it's not counting the time while you've stopped. Like, chill, Samsung.

Besides the sleep coaching feature, not much is different between the Watch 4 and Watch 5 when it comes to software. You'll still be able to get a body composition reading using the built-in body impedance analysis tool, or BIA. You can take ECG scans, reply to messages, control music playback, and more.

The Watch 5 also uses the same 5-nanometer x-nose processor as the older model. And for the most part, it was just as responsive. I only really had to wait when creating new watch faces or taking a body fat scan. Otherwise, everything happened the instant I tapped the screen.

I actually forgot that this was a Wear OS device, because the Watch 5's software still feels so much like Tizen. Besides swiping up and down from the home screen to pull up all the apps and settings, the majority of the site's swiping interface feels no different from Samsung's original OS.

One thing I wish this Wear OS slash Tizen mash-up did better was displaying workout information. Apple uses a large, bold font that shows how long you've been working out, as well as your heart rate and calories burned. Samsung delivers similar information, but uses a font that's a lot thinner and smaller.

When my Watch 5 screen was locked during my swim and I couldn't tap it, I couldn't see any info at all. And I had to unlock water mode mid-lap to bump up the brightness to the max. Even then, it was only slightly better. It's also worth noting that because they're typically secondary devices, a significant part of the smartwatch experience is interacting with its companion apps on your phone.

In this case, you'll need to install the Galaxy wearable app to set up your Watch 5 and Samsung Health to see details about your workouts and sleep sessions. In, general these apps were easy to use and navigate. And I found settings or health summaries quickly.

Samsung also shows what cardio zones you're in during a workout or sleep session, and this information is only coming to WatchOS 9 when it's publicly available later this year. I wore the Apple Watch Series 7 and the Galaxy Watch 5 on each wrist for a week, and every day they delivered almost exactly the same runtime.

Both devices clocked slightly over a day before clocking out. Although, enabling the always-on display caused the Watch 5 to drain noticeably faster. Both watches also recharged quickly, so I never had to wait longer than 30 minutes to get enough juice for half a day's wear.

When I wore the watch just overnight to test sleep tracking, the Apple Watch used less power than the Galaxy Watch, but the latter actually delivers better results. So I don't mind it using more juice.

The Pro model of the Watch 5 typically lasted a few hours longer than the 40-millimeter model with its always-on display enabled. And I got close to a day more juice with that setting turned off. Though Samsung markets the Watch 5 Pro as having been designed for the great outdoors, there's really little about it that makes it feel that way.

The main difference in my experience is that the Pro is noticeably bulkier. I have fairly petite wrists. So the 45-millimeter titanium case felt overwhelming. It also has a chunky frame around the screen where a rotating bezel might sit, although there is no actual mechanical spinner here.

And while I like that the de-buckle closure makes the Pro fit more securely, it adds to the general heft. Basically, compared to the Watch 5, the Pro feels like an ankle strap. That might not be a bad thing if you're a fan of oversized watches. And the bonus is that the Watch 5 Pro feels strong enough to withstand being smashed.

The other feature differentiating the Pro from the regular Watch 5 is its support for the GPX route format for workouts like hiking and cycling. You'll have to go into the Samsung Health app on your phone to pick a previous route and export it as a GPX file, then go into cycling or cycling and import that information.

Later, you can select from the Watch 5 Pro one of the routes you loaded under one of those exercises to start the same journey. And the device will show you turn by turn directions. It's a little tricky to set up, but potentially helpful for those who are in a new place and want to try out a local route by downloading GPX files from databases. Samsung also added a trackback feature that will take you home the way you came and is only available for certain exercises for now.

Even though most of the changes Samsung brought to the Watch 5 line are minimal, the fact remains that for Android users, this is the best smartwatch around. I might not like the refined curvature of the underside, but it does make for more reliable sensor readings.

The Watch 5 Pro is also a little bulky for my taste, and the only real improvement it offers over the regular model, aside from size and durability, is a bit more battery life. Still, thanks to its well rounded and capable health and fitness tracking tools, alongside its prowess as a smartphone companion device, the Watch 5 is one of the best smartwatches around.

For reviews of other smartwatches, wearables, laptops, tablets, and more, make sure you subscribe to Engadget. And as always, thank you for watching.

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