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Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs. Galaxy Watch Active 2: Which should you buy?

Galaxy Watch 3 Both Sizes
Galaxy Watch 3 Both Sizes (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 45mm Render

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The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 builds on the successes of one of the most popular "Android" watches ever with new features, new colors, and a greater focus on healthy lifestyles. It's truly a next-generation smartwatch aiming to compete with the best from the likes of Apple and Garmin.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3

Latest and greatest

Physical rotating bezel
New sleep and running features
Trip detection
Built-in GPS
LTE option
Over two days of battery life
Over $100 more than Watch Active 2
Blood-pressure monitoring

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

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The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 has been our favorite smartwatch for Android users since it first debuted in late 2019, and it's likely to stay high on our list until the Watch Active 3 appears on the scene. It is lightweight, sporty, and perfect for everyday use.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

Still one of our favorites

Digital rotating bezel
Built-in GPS
LTE option
Lighter, more streamlined look
Much cheaper than Galaxy Watch 3
Two-day battery life
No trip detection
Blood-pressure monitoring

Don't let the naming convention fool you when comparing the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs. the Galaxy Watch Active 2; these are both the second iterations of two of Samsung's most popular wearables. Even with the newer Galaxy Watch 4 from 2021 taking much of the spotlight, the Galaxy Watch Active 2, released in late 2019, and the Galaxy Watch 3 in mid-2020, these two smartwatches are still excellent devices and share an awful lot of family DNA.

Speaking of the Galaxy Watch 4, in late 2021, Samsung sent several features from that smartwatch to the Active 2 and Watch 3 in a software update. Health features like advanced fall detection and updated Group Challenges arrived alongside new watch faces and more. But you're not here to learn about their similarities, are you? So let's dive into what makes the Watch 3 different from the Watch Active 2 and why you might want to consider one over the other.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 vs. Galaxy Watch Active 2: When Galaxies collide

Even though the Galaxy Watch 3 is only the second flagship smartwatch from Samsung, when it was released along with the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20 phones, the company felt that the device represented such a generational leap forward that a jump in numbering was required. As a result, the latest and greatest wearable from Samsung has iterated on the first edition and borrowed some of the best features from the wildly successful Galaxy Watch Active 2.

So if these two watches are so similar, why would you want to go for the Active 2 instead of the newer Watch 3? There are several reasons, including style, fit, and price, just to name a few.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
Display1.2-inch or 1.4-inch Super AMOLED1.2-inch or 1.4-inch Super AMOLED
Dimensions41 x 42.5 x 11.3mm
45 x 46.2 x 11.1mm
40 x 40 x 10.9mm
44 x 44 x 10.9mm
Weight49.2-53.8g26-30g
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi b/g/n, LTE (select models)Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi b/g/n, LTE (select models)
Water-resistance5ATM+ IP68 / MIL-STD-910G5ATM+ IP68 / MIL-STD-810G
Battery life2+ days (varies by model)2 days (varies by model)
SensorsHRM, electrocardiogram (ECG), accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, ambient light sensor, blood pressure monitorHRM, electrocardiogram (ECG), accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, ambient light sensor, blood pressure monitor
Operating systemTizenTizen
NotificationsYesYes
Built-in GPSYesYes
NFC PaymentsYes
Samsung Pay
Yes
Samsung Pay
ElectrocardiogramYes
not available worldwide
Yes
not available worldwide
Blood pressure monitorYes
not available worldwide
Yes
not available worldwide
Optional LTEYesYes
ColorsStainless steel: Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black, Mystic Silver
Titanium: Mystic Black
Aluminum: Black, Gold, Silver, Pink Gold
Stainless steel: Black, Gold, Silver
MaterialStainless steel
Titanium
Aluminium
Stainless steel

That was a lot to cover. Let's dive into what makes each watch great before deciding on a winner in this matchup.

Athleisure focus: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

Galaxy Watch Active 2 Hero

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is the perfect wearable for the fitness-focused person who wants a legitimate smartwatch companion. It compares quite favorably to more dedicated sports watches and trackers in this space while dramatically outpacing those other devices when it comes to the user interface, power, and smartwatch functionality.

This sporty watch comes in two sizes, a smaller 40mm and a larger 44mm, with four subtle yet beautiful colors to choose from, including black, gold, silver, and pink. The casing is constructed of brushed aluminum, which is durable and lightweight, and the overall feel with the included fluoroelastomer bands is quite comfortable. You almost don't even notice that you have it on!

The display is a bright and beautiful SUPER AMOLED panel, and it features one of Samsung's best user interface features, a rotating bezel. Well, sort of. The rotating bezel is virtual, but it gives you a similar experience as on the Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Watch 3. The only drawback is that when your fingers are wet or sweaty, it can be a bit difficult to use this feature (and as a sports watch, your hands may be slippery when trying to use it).

As you would expect, GPS is built-in, and there are LTE versions available in both sizes. The Watch Active 2 also comes in a golf edition, with accurate course distances from over 40,000 courses worldwide, as well as fun, sporty bands and colors in both sizes. So if you're an avid golfer, that might just sway you to swing with this watch.

Next-generation smartwatch: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3

Galaxy Watch 3 45mm Black

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

It took approximately two years for Samsung to update its popular Galaxy Watch, but that hasn't stopped it from continuing to be one of the most-searched-for wearables on Android Central to this day. So fans are no doubt ecstatic to see it updated in the form of the Galaxy Watch 3.

Wait, you might be saying, what happened to the Galaxy Watch 2? Well, it never existed. Samsung skipped a generation in names because it felt that this watch was such a leap forward in performance, and we think it might be on to something.

The latest version of the Galaxy Watch line came with a host of new and exciting features, including a version of fall (trip) detection, the ability to control the smartwatch with hand gestures, and new watch faces and controls. Which were even further enhanced in the November 2021 software update. There are also new health, fitness, and lifestyle features, such as advanced running analysis and improved sleep monitoring. Samsung is also offering the ability to connect to over 120 video workouts via the Samsung Health app on your Galaxy smartphone.

Unfortunately, some of the most significant health features won't be available to everyone at launch and likely for some time to come. Like the Watch Active 2, which was released in November 2019, the Watch 3 will only support blood oxygen reading and electrocardiogram in some locations such as South Korea and the U.S. This is particularly frustrating, as it has the sensors to do both now, and competitors have similar features enabled in other parts of the world.

There is a 41mm version for smaller wrists that retails for $299 and a larger 45mm version that retails for $399. While this watch's price is a substantial increase over the Active 2, it still sits on the lower end of premier smartwatches like the Apple Watch. It comes in stainless steel and titanium finish options, with bold colors such as the new Mystic Bronze to match the Note 20 Ultra and a stealthy Mystic Black (which is the one I'd go for).

Which should you buy?

Galaxy Watch3 Mystic Bronze And Black Front Lifestyle Official Lifestyle

Source: Samsung (Image credit: Source: Samsung)

When it comes to smartwatches, buying advice is generally to purchase the newest device available. Even more so than smartphones, generational upgrades can perform exponentially better than previous versions.

That's why when forced to pick a winner, I'd have to recommend that if you're considering both the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 that you go with the newer option. Yes, the newer Watch 3 is more expensive, but if you get the 41mm Bluetooth stainless steel version, it comes in cheaper than the larger LTE Active 2. I know that's not exactly apples to apples (or Galaxies to Galaxies), but they're not as far apart as you'd imagine. And you can expect that the Watch 3 will have some deals and sales over the coming months as well.

Despite my official recommendation, I think the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is still one heck of a smartwatch. That's why it's one of our favorite Android smartwatches. It packs a ton of useability features, excellent performance, and comparable battery life at significant price savings. So if you elect to go with this wearable, you're not going to regret it.

Jeramy is proud to help *Keep Austin Weird* and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. When he's not writing about smart home gadgets and wearables, he's defending his relationship with his smart voice assistants to his family. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.