I've had my Galaxy Watch 4 for a month now, and while I've never been more sure I made the right call buying this watch, with my own money, I've had some trepidations about recommending it to family members. Battery life and charging speeds lag behind the competition, and some of my coworkers returned theirs after experiencing overheating issues.
My nitpicky approach to buying anything tech-related comes from my father, who is even more choosy about his phones, laptops, and accessories than I am. He's been asking about the Galaxy Watch 4 since its announcement in August, but I didn't want to tell him to buy a $250 watch if it wouldn't do the one thing he wants in a smartwatch: work with his golfing app. Now, he's tested my Galaxy Watch 4 while golfing and palling around Walt Disney World with me, and while the watch performed quite well, his app still lacks some important functionalities.
GolfPad is one of several golfing apps that provide GPS shot-tracking, helps suggest clubs and yardage, and thanks to the tags he has attached to his clubs, it can automatically track which club he uses as the clubs talk to his phone during a game. GolfPad already had a Wear OS app — and a Tizen app with more functionality — before the Wear OS 3 announcement, but it was a lackluster experience with lots of lagging and difficulty navigating.
When GolfPad was mentioned by name at Google I/O as one of the apps Google was working with to improve the Wear OS experience, I held out hope that this would finally bring the smartwatch experience my dad wanted. Surely with Google helping GolfPad's developers to guide a watch app with wider functionality and smoother performance.
Well, my dad found the GolfPad app on the Galaxy Watch 4 to be smoother and more consistent than ever. Unfortunately, the functionality is still lacking.
I'm going to preface this by saying that my dad has been using GolfPad for well over a year, and he's often had issues with the app when it comes to app pinning and exiting app pinning when he needs to access another app. With previous watches, GolfPad had to be pinned and open on the phone the whole game. On the Galaxy Watch 4, that's not the case. He could start the round, look at the app when he needed more information, then swap to the watch for adding shots and putts as he went through each round.
However, the GolfPad Wear OS app can only keep score right now. It can't track golf clubs, so if you add shots on the watch, you have to go back and add which club you used while you're walking between holes or waiting for the group ahead to clear the fairway. This means you'll still be pulling out your phone at least once every hole, in fact, probably more than once.
There's no way to view a course on the watch, nor can you figure out how far you need to hit safely away from hazards or where the course turns. And because you can't see a map or tap it for ideal shot distances, that's one to three more times you'll need to pull out the phone per hole. Given that there are four tiles worth of options to the right of the main screen for each hole, it's odd that you can't get even a basic map of the hole on one of them.
The lack of map also makes the "Position Flag" option on the watch completely useless, as it drops the flag where you're standing rather than down the hole where you're trying to hit.
After playing two rounds with the app installed, my dad definitely felt the missing features here. GolfPad says that club tracking is coming soon, eliminating the current need to add the clubs afterward, along with a standalone mode.
What GolfPad really needs to add — and has not announced plans to add — is a way to see distances to hazards and where you can reasonably hit the ball. Seeing that the green is 300 or 400 yards on a Par 5 with a water hazard isn't helpful at all unless you're on a straight hole with no large hazards. You shouldn't have to pull out the phone for the first three shots, then maybe use the watch once you're within range of the green.
Speaking of unhelpful, the GolfPad Tile that you can add to the right of your watch face is just about useless. It just shows the course you're currently on and your overall score. If you're not actively playing a round, it doesn't display much of anything. You can't even start a round from it because rounds have to be started on the phone barring a standalone mode that isn't available yet.
This lack of real functionality is one thing I've seen in far too many apps on Wear OS. Accuweather has no way to swap between locations or see any detailed conditions. Google Keep is great once you get your note or shopping list open, but the constantly refreshing notes list makes it hard to tap the one you want. There's also no way to send a note from Google Keep's Android app to open on Wear OS: You have to find it in the compact list every time.
Even productivity and media apps are ridiculously limited in Wear OS 3. The current lack of Google Assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4 means that even if your watch app has commands that you can use to access a feature more quickly, they're not available right now. It's a shame as apps run better on my Galaxy Watch 4 than they have on any smartwatch I've ever used.
Samsung has earned the Watch 4 spot as the best Android smartwatch, but no matter how well the hardware keeps up, without the apps and experiences to add value and usefulness, it still won't win over people like my dad without a personal test drive or a compelling reason to upgrade.
My dad's much more likely to buy the Galaxy Watch 4 now that he's tried it, but the lack of functionality in GolfPad and other apps means he has to bank more on future features than current ones. Well, that and the fact that the Fitbit Charge 5 is over 2/3 the Galaxy Watch's price and doesn't have GolfPad support at all or a consistent touchscreen UI. However, I might recommend a screen protector if he's going to wear it doing yard work.
The only Android smartwatch you should buy in 2021.
Combining Samsung's hardware prowess and software polish to the wide app selection and compatibility of Wear OS has given us the first Wear OS 3 watch: the Galaxy Watch 4. While we're still waiting on many apps to be upgraded or overhauled for the new system, the fitness tracking is excellent, and Samsung's watch faces are diverse and delightful.
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Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.