Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro review: The best Android watch gets a modest update

Image Credit: Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Health and activity tracking

Samsung has also long been better than most Wear OS watches at tracking your activity, and the Watch 5 is no different. As I was stuck at my desk for hours hammering out this review, it reminded me to get up and get moving. I’ve always appreciated that in addition to walking, Galaxy Watches would also suggest movements you could do at your desk, like torso twists or stretches. Even better, the device could recognize exactly how many spins you’ve taken – something the Apple Watch and other Wear OS devices don’t.

In general, Samsung’s system is as proactive as ever. When I got up to walk around after the Watch 5 prompted me to, the device buzzed after I’d taken about a dozen steps to congratulate me on the move. That’s a lot less than Apple’s demands, which can make me feel like I’m pacing my room like I’m going insane.

Galaxy Watches are also faster at detecting when you’re moving and asking if you want to record your walk. The downside to this is that they’re also hyperactive when they notice when you’ve paused, and not only will they stop tracking, but they’ll hum you to let you know the time isn’t being counted while you’re pausing. RelaxSamsung!

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

performance and in action

Aside from the sleep coaching feature, the Watch 4 and Watch 5 don’t differ much in terms of software. You can still use the built-in Body Impedance Analysis (BIA) tool to take a body composition reading, take an EKG scan, reply to messages, control music playback, and more. The Watch 5 also uses the same 5nm Exynos processor as the older model and was just as responsive for the most part. I only really had to wait when creating new watchfaces or doing a body fat scan — everything else happened the moment I tapped the screen.

Speaking of which, if you’ve been wondering about the accuracy of the Watch 5’s body composition measurements – it’s surprisingly close to results from more sophisticated systems. I recently tried an InBody scan, which is a more advanced version of BIA like the one on the Watch 5. Samsung’s readings were only about two percent below body fat percentage and less than a pound below my skeletal muscle, as reported by the InBody calculated version.

I actually forgot the Watch 5 is a Wear OS device because the software still feels so Tizen. Aside from swiping up and down from the home screen to bring up all apps and settings, most of the side-swiping UI doesn’t feel any different than Samsung’s original operating system.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 on the wrist shows the weather app. At the top is Jersey City followed by 88 degrees in larger type taking up most of the page and a cloud with a sun symbol on the left.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

One thing I wish Wear OS/Tizen could do better was display workout information. Apple uses big, bold font to show how long you’ve been exercising, as well as your heart rate and calories burned. Samsung displays similar information but uses a font that is much thinner and smaller. When my Watch 5’s screen was locked while swimming and I couldn’t tap on it, I couldn’t see any info at all and had to unlock water mode in my lap to get the brightness to max. Even then it was only marginally better.

It’s also worth noting that a key part of the smartwatch experience is interacting with the companion apps on your phone, as they tend to be secondary devices. In that case, you’ll need to install the Galaxy Wearable app to set up your Watch 5 and Samsung Health to view details about your workout and sleep sessions. In general, these apps were easy to use and navigate, and I was quick to find settings or health summaries. Samsung also shows what cardio zones you’ve been in during a workout or sleep session, and that information doesn’t come to watchOS 9 until it’s publicly available later this year.

Battery life and charging

I wore the Apple Watch Series 7 and Galaxy Watch 5 on each wrist for a week and they delivered almost exactly the same runtime every day, albeit with a caveat. Both devices clocked in for just over a day before failing, although enabling Always On Display (AOD) meant the Watch 5 ran noticeably faster. One night the Samsung watch fell to 4 percent at 7:21 p.m., while the Apple Watch still remained strong at 38 percent despite the AOD being on.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 on the wrist shows the Always On Display. The entire screen is black except for the digits

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Both watches charged quickly so I never had to wait more than 30 minutes to get enough juice for half a day. When I wore the watches overnight to test sleep tracking, the Apple Watch used less power than the Galaxy Watch, but the latter actually delivers better results, which seems like a worthwhile trade-off.

The Pro Difference

The Pro model of the Watch 5 typically lasted a few hours longer than the 40mm model with Always On Display enabled, and I got nearly a day more juice with the setting turned off. Although Samsung markets the Watch 5 Pro as being “built for the great outdoors,” there’s really little to make it appear that way.

The Pro is also noticeably bulkier. I have fairly petite wrists, so the 45mm titanium case felt overwhelming. It also has a chunky frame around the screen where a rotating bezel could sit, although there’s no mechanical spinner here. While the D-buckle closure makes the Pro more secure, it adds to the overall weight.

Gallery: Galaxy Watch 5 Pro review | 9 photos

That might not be a bad thing if you don’t mind oversized watches, and the bonus is that the Watch 5 Pro feels strong enough to withstand a bang against boulders. I had it higher on my forearm when building kettlebells as mentioned previously so the weights actually landed on the screen. Despite being struck by 26 pounds of metal, the Watch 5 Pro survived without a scratch, and I kept going through my reps without much concern. The stronger sapphire crystal that Samsung uses here definitely held up, at least during my testing.

The other feature that sets the Pro apart from the regular Watch 5 is GPX route format support for workouts like hiking and biking. You need to go into the Samsung Health app on your phone to select a previous route and export it as a GPX file, go hiking or cycling and import that information. Then on the Watch 5 Pro you can select one of the routes you have loaded under one of these exercises to start the same journey and the device will show you turn-by-turn directions.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro on a wrist with some lights reflecting off the screen.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

It’s a little tricky to set up, but might be helpful for those who are in a new location and want to try a local route by downloading GPX files from databases. Samsung has also added a Track Back feature that gets you home the way you came, which is currently only available for hiking or biking.

Wrap up

While most of the changes Samsung has made to the Watch 5 range are minimal, the fact remains that this is the best smartwatch out there for Android users. I might not like the subtle curvature of the bottom, but it makes for more reliable sensor readings. The Watch 5 Pro is also a bit bulky for my liking and the only real improvement it offers over the regular model (apart from size and durability) is slightly longer battery life.

Still, the Watch 5 is one of the best smartwatches out there thanks to its well-rounded and powerful health and fitness tracking tools.

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