Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro hands-on: Barely-there updates (and one new design)

The big theme for Samsung’s August Unpacked event this year seems to be refinement. With every device it launches today, the company brings minor tweaks and improvements to increasingly mature products. In last year’s Galaxy Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic, the company ditched its own Tizen OS in favor of a version of Wear OS it co-developed with Google, introducing a new BioActive sensor that combines three biometric sensors into one. It also introduced a body composition scanner that uses bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) for more comprehensive health insights.

Compared to last year’s model, the Galaxy Watch 5 looks a bit boring. The biggest change this time around is a new skin temperature sensor that won’t be active at launch, while the other upgrades, like improved durability and curvature, aren’t immediately obvious either. However, I can’t blame Samsung for a boring generation of smartwatches as the Galaxy Watch line is already arguably the best wearable for Android users. After all, it’s hard to keep surprising the industry with groundbreaking features.

Samsung has launched a new Pro variant designed for people looking for a more rugged option for outdoor adventures. It has a larger 45mm titanium case and larger battery, making it a compelling alternative to some Garmin sports watches. But more on that in a moment. I spent more time with a 40mm Galaxy Watch 5 than any other watch at a recent hands-on event in New York, and while I’m blown away by the lack of new features, I’m still digging Samsung’s latest smartwatches.

At first glance, the Galaxy Watch 5 doesn’t seem to differ much from the Watch 4. They come in the same 40mm and 44mm sizes, although the new ones have technically larger screens at 1.2-inch and 1.4-inch (up from 1.19-inch and 1.36-inch, respectively). One of the changes this year isn’t visible — the watches now use sapphire crystal, which Samsung says makes their displays 60 percent more scratch-resistant than their predecessors.

The company also redesigned the bottom of the watch case, adjusting the curvature to increase the surface area that would make contact with your wrist. This should result in more reliable and accurate biometric readings from the sensors, even when you’re banging your hands. Without a direct comparison, I couldn’t tell if the Watch 5 felt tighter on my wrist than the Watch 4, but it seemed to stay in place better than the Apple Watch Series 7, which I wore at the demo event.

This design improvement is for more reliable sensor performance, but Samsung says its three-in-one BioActive sensor has also been updated, although it hasn’t made it clear what has changed.

Side view of a purple Galaxy Watch 5 on a wrist, showing the profile and redesigned bottom.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

If the Watch 5’s sensors are stuck even when you’re unconscious, the device should also help collect more accurate data while you sleep. Samsung monitors your breathing and heart rate to see not only how long you’ve slept, but also what stages you’re in, like REM, deep or light sleep. It also monitors if you snore and uses all that information to assign you a score. This year, Samsung is introducing a sleep coaching feature that aims to learn from your patterns and create a personalized plan to help you get better rest.

Samsung also added a new skin temperature sensor to the Galaxy Watch 5, but it won’t activate until an unspecified time after launch. I could not use the watch to take a temperature reading even though I measured my body fat using the built-in BIA tool. Not only was I happy to see my body fat percentage drop by a full 2 ​​percent since taking the same test at last year’s launch event, I was also impressed that the measurement took noticeably less time than the previous version .

I thought this might be thanks to the dual-core Exynos W920 chip powering the Galaxy Watch 5, but Samsung said that apart from some algorithmic changes, the processor in the new watch is the same as last year’s model. Still, it was snappy and responsive in my short time with the device. Whether swiping through the Wear OS tiles or selecting a new watch face, the Watch 5 never felt sluggish. Colors and text also looked vibrant and crisp on the Super AMOLED panel. Oh, and in case you were worried, you can still use the bezel around the screen to navigate the system.

A red 44mm Galaxy Watch 5 and a pink 40mm Galaxy Watch 5 side by side on a table.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Like some previous versions of the Galaxy Watch, the Watch 5 has a touch-sensitive bezel that you can slide your finger along to scroll through apps and notifications. However, I accidentally triggered elements on the screen when trying to scroll through some workouts with the bezel. Incidentally, those who miss Samsung’s physically rotating bezel can still buy the Watch 4 Classic, which the company will continue to sell alongside the Watch 5 series.

Although I wasn’t able to verify this during my demo, Samsung says the Galaxy Watch 5 is rated IP68 for water and dust resistance, and 5ATM for underwater use. The devices have also been fitted with larger batteries: the 40mm variant has a 276mAh cell compared to last year’s 247mAh, while the 44mm version now has a 397mAh battery instead of 361mAh . They’ll charge faster too, with Samsung promising you’ll add a 45 per cent charge in 30 minutes. Samsung even went so far as to say that an eight-minute charge can provide eight hours of sleep tracking and that the Watch 5 can last up to 50 hours.

In the larger Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, Samsung has installed a 590 mAh battery. Since the Pro edition’s 1.4-inch screen is the same size and resolution as the 44mm Watch 5, that larger battery should offer longer runtime. The Pro’s screen is also covered with a 29GPa sapphire crystal on the Pro, which is harder than the Watch 5’s 24GPa glass, making the former slightly more scratch-resistant.

A black Galaxy Watch 5 Pro on a woman's wrist.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

If most of your workouts take place outdoors, you’ll likely also appreciate the Pro’s new route-based activity tracking capabilities. Samsung has added support for the GPX route tracking format, available for the first time on a Galaxy Watch. You can log the distances you’ve covered during your hikes and share them with others in the Samsung Health app with a new Route Workout feature. The company says you can also download walking and cycling maps, and after you’ve started your journey, the system offers turn-by-turn directions. The Watch 5 Pro can also help you get home with peace of mind thanks to the new Track Back feature, which Samsung says in its press release “guides you back to the way you came”.

As someone with fairly small wrists, I found the Watch 5 Pro a bit overwhelming and heavy, but people who find a larger screen easier to read might appreciate it. The larger watch uses a D-buckle closure that folds and snaps on the wrist, and Samsung said this “offers rugged durability with a sleek and clean fit.”

I’m fully aware that what I’m about to describe isn’t the best durability test, but it was the best I could do at the hands-on event without completely damaging a demo device: I slapped it a little half-heartedly Face the Watch 5 Pro a few times and to no surprise it didn’t break. Since the biggest difference between the Watch 5 Pro and the regular version is durability and battery life, it’s hard to say whether the new model is worth the extra $170.

A trio of Galaxy Watch 5 units on a table, with purple, blue, and red straps from left to right.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

For that and other real world performance tests I’ll have to get a test device to know for sure. If you can’t wait for the reviews to come out, you can pick up the Galaxy Watch 5 starting at $280 (Bluetooth only; $330 for LTE) or the Pro for $450 and up Samsung, Amazon and other retailers pre-order.

Samsung is also launching a Golf Edition of the Watch 5, which comes with exclusive watch faces, a two-tone strap, and unlimited membership to the Smart Caddy app and other preinstalled software. You get the Golf variant of the Watch 5 in 40mm or 44mm, as well as the 45mm Pro model. All of the things Samsung launched today will be available on August 26, but as always I’d recommend waiting until we can test them to find out more about battery life and overall performance before throwing your money spend.

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Russell Falcon

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