Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 & Watch 4 Classic review: Just in time

Samsung ditched its in-house wearable OS, Tizen, to co-develop Wear OS 3 for the Galaxy smartwatches and it's both the same and different — but good in the end.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 (right) and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic (left)
(Image: © Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Android Central Verdict

Bottom line: The cheaper of the two Galaxy Watch models, the Galaxy Watch 4, has everything you want from a fitness smartwatch but lacks the stainless steel heft and rotating bezel of the more expensive Watch 4 Classic. But if you want the green colorway, which is lovely, the Watch 4 is your only option. The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is the true flagship of the Samsung wearable lineup with a stainless steel build and rotating bezel, plus all the great performance, health tracking, and longevity of the Galaxy Watch 4.

Pros

  • +

    Accessible price

  • +

    Excellent performance and battery life

  • +

    Comprehensive health tracking features

  • +

    Wear OS 3 offers access to Google services

  • +

    Included band is comfortable

Cons

  • -

    Capacitive gesture navigation is finicky

  • -

    Occasional tension between Samsung and Google services

  • -

    Now supplanted by Galaxy Watch 5 and Pixel Watch

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If you hoped for a "this changes everything" moment from the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, a deep exhale after years of pent-up frustration, it wasn't it. It wasn't the electric shock to revive the dying patient or a much-needed coat of paint after years of neglect.

Instead, it was the next best thing: the coming together of two capable but flawed parties trying in earnest to solve an intractable problem.

We're obviously talking about Wear OS 3, the long-awaited culmination of Google's protracted attempt to fish its wearables platform out of the bowl, belly-up since it began to flounder in 2016 or so. But we're also talking about Samsung's wearable line, which hadn't changed much since the original Galaxy Watch debuted in 2018.

When Google and Samsung co-announced their partnership in May 2021, the former yielded some control of its OS to the Korean company, and the latter committed to replacing Tizen with Wear OS on all future smartwatches. Still, it wasn't clear whether it would yield positive results for the entire industry or just, well, Samsung.

And while the effect of Wear OS 3 on Google's business partners is still playing out, Samsung's smartwatches do benefit from some Google touches, though not as much as you think. Its position for best Android smartwatch has since been supplanted by the Galaxy Watch 5, but outside of Samsung's own watches and the new Pixel Watch, it still has no proper rivals over a year later.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Price and availability

Announced on August 11, 2021, and released August 27 of that year, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and 4 Classic are available starting at $250 and $350, respectively, from Samsung.com and several popular retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart. We've frequently seen both watches at a significant discount throughout 2022, so you may want to wait if you see them at full price.

While both units come in different sizes — 40mm and 44mm for the Watch 4, 42mm and 46mm for the Watch 4 Classic — in person, the extra 2mm on the Classic is obtained through the rotating bezel, which, along with its stainless steel construction, is the primary design differentiator over the cheaper Watch 4.

If you're buying the larger version of the aluminum Watch 4, do yourself a favor and get the green one.

Made of lighter aluminum, the Watch 4 comes in four colors: Pink Gold (40mm only), Silver, Black, and Green (44mm only). The Watch 4 Classic is limited to the more muted Silver or Black options in both sizes.

The Galaxy Watch 4 comes in some great color choices, including the new Maison Kitsuné edition for $400 and the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic Thome Browne edition priced at $800.

While smaller sizes start at $210 and $310, upgrading to the larger options adds $30 — $240 and $340 — while including LTE capabilities adds yet another $30 on top of that. The most expensive model, the 46mm Watch 4 Classic with LTE, sets you back $370.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Hardware and design

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 hanging on a metal bar

(Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Given Samsung's iterative approach to hardware design over the past few years, it's no surprise that the Watch 4 looks like the Watch Active 2 and the Watch 4 Classic looks like the Watch 3. The names might be confusing, but there's a continuity here that I appreciate.

I reviewed the larger versions of both watches, and each of them comes with 20mm sport bands made of fluoroelastomer, a synthesized rubber that's generally comfortable and doesn't irritate the skin. (For some reason, the Classic comes with a ridged sport band with a traditional watch clasp, while the cheaper Watch 4 comes with a straighter band that terminates in the kind of loop clasp Apple popularized with the Apple Watch.) 

The good news is that, unlike the Apple Watch, the lugs support any quick-release watch strap, and I got to work replacing the sport band on the Classic with a lovely blue leather band from an old Victorinox I still wear from time to time. You can also pair Galaxy Watch 5 bands with the Galaxy Watch 4, if you prefer having more options.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Samsung Galaxy Watch 4Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic
Size44.4 x 43.3 x 9.8mm
40.4 x 39.3 x 9.8mm
45.5 x 45.5 x 11.0mm
41.5 x 41.5 x 11.2mm
Weight30.3g (44mm)
25.9g (40mm)
52g (44mm)
46.5g (40mm)
DisplaySuper AMOLED 1.4-inch (330ppi)
Super AMOLED 1.2-inch (330ppi)
Super AMOLED 1.4-inch (330ppi)
Super AMOLED 1.2-inch (330ppi)
MaterialAluminum caseStainless steel case
Operating SystemWear OS Powered by SamsungWear OS Powered by Samsung
ProcessorExynos W920 (5nm)Exynos W920 (5nm)
Memory1.5GB RAM
16GB storage
1.5GB RAM
16GB storage
Battery361mAh
247mAh
361mAh
247mAh
SensorsAccelerometer
Barometer
Gyro
Geomagnetic
Light
BioActive Sensor (heart rate)
ECG
BIA
Accelerometer
Barometer
Gyro
Geomagnetic
Light
BioActive Sensor (heart rate)
ECG
BIA
ConnectivityLTE
Bluetooth 5.0
Wi-Fi
NFC
GPS
LTE
Bluetooth 5.0
Wi-Fi
NFC
GPS
Durability5ATM
IP68
MIL-STD-810G
5ATM
IP68
MIL-STD-810G
ColorsGreen
Black
Silver
Pink Gold
Black
Silver
Band size20mm
20mm
20mm
20mm

The protruding lugs look fantastic paired with a traditional band, but the fact that they curve down and inwards puts a pretty sizeable gap between the watch's side and your wrist, a necessary sleight of hand to ensure the watch's bulbous 3-in-1 health sensor makes solid contact with your wrist.

The digital crown has its virtues, but there's still nothing like using Samsung's rotating bezel to navigate around Wear OS.

If you can spring for the more expensive Classic model, go for it. While the stainless steel makes it a bit heavier than the Watch 4's aluminum, the tradeoff is worth it for the rotating bezel; there just isn't anything else like it. I love a good rotating crown, but there's something just so satisfying about whizzing through notifications, tiles, and menus without tapping the display at all. The Watch 4 uses a hack of sorts, one that debuted on the Watch Active 2, to emulate the same thing — it dedicates a portion of the OLED display's edge for gesture navigation — but it's finicky and can still block content. However, a September 2021 update did improve the responsiveness of the capacitive bezel on the Watch 4.

The OLED display on each watch is, as usual, pretty great — Samsung doesn't mess around in this regard. But I was kind of surprised to see that, in addition to making each panel slightly brighter, which improves direct sunlight visibility, both sizes are sharper than their predecessors. In fact, the larger Watch 4 and 4 Classic, which share the same 1.4-inch panels, are nearly twice as sharp as the Watch 3 and Watch Active 2, which translates into more legible text at smaller sizes and less aliasing around images. And the newer Galaxy Watch 5 has the same pixels per inch, so you haven't lost a step. 

Side view of Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic

(Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

The side of each watch has two buttons that pull triple duty depending on the situation. A single press of the top button always goes home; the same action on the bottom button returns to the previous screen (which is often home because most apps aren't that deep). Holding the top button activates Bixby or the power menu; holding the bottom always brings up Samsung Pay.

Samsung also improved the haptics in the Galaxy Watch 4 series, but they're still not as good as the Apple Watch.

Each button also has electrodes that pair with the BioActive sensor to pulse mild electrical signals through your body to produce ECG or BIA readings, which is why at least compared to the Galaxy Watch 3, they look more utilitarian than the traditional chronometer style of the previous watch.

I'm also impressed by the haptic motor inside the Watch 4. Samsung's previous smartwatches were known for buzzy and sloppy vibrations, but Samsung's included a higher-quality linear motor on the Watch 4 that, while not used nearly as well utilized as on the Apple Watch, is much easier to endure buzzing against your wrist dozens of times a day.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Software and performance

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Buds 2

(Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

I think there are two primary things people want to know about the Galaxy Watch 4 and, separately, about Wear OS 3: does Samsung's watch platform benefit from its transition to Wear OS, and is Wear OS as a whole considerably better than it used to be?

The first I can answer confidently: yes. Samsung has tried to recreate as much of its Tizen-based UI flow as possible, so existing users won't feel alienated while benefiting from access to the Play Store and some general Wear OS niceties. Notifications still live on the far left of the navigation, with older ones accruing further and further from the main watch face. The quick settings menu still lives at the top, and app "tiles" comprise the real estate to the right of the home screen, just as they did on Tizen. The main functional difference between Tizen and Wear OS 3 is the inclusion of a launcher at the bottom of the workflow, an app cloud very similar to the Apple Watch, and every bit as frustrating to use.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic traditional clock watch face

(Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

I encourage you not to overthink Wear OS on the Galaxy Watch; as I said initially, this isn't the massive reinvention many people wanted or were expecting. Instead, it is very much Samsung's existing wearable experience with access to Google's apps and the admittedly limited selection of Wear OS apps on the Play Store. You also gain better notifications than on Tizen, since Wear OS is so closely tied to Android's core notification framework, but the real upgrades are being able to open Google Maps for turn-by-turn navigation or use Google Keep to check off groceries from a shopping list as you wander through the chips aisle (I see you, and I support your decisions).

Don't overthink Wear OS on the Galaxy Watch; it feels very much like Tizen but with access to Google apps and services.

You also get, or at least will get when they're released, updated versions of Spotify, Strava, Calm, and others that either didn't exist on Samsung's existing platform or were severely underdeveloped. Samsung is betting that developers are more likely to build a decent Wear OS companion app because it's an extension of an existing Android experience, and Google is hoping (praying) that more developers will be willing to build those apps because millions of Samsung phone owners will be wearing Wear OS watches. We'll see how it will all play out soon enough.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 tiles

(Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

Galaxy Watch 4 owners also benefit from a feature Google recently added to Wear OS called Tiles. Think of Tiles as widgets that live to the right of the watch face providing quick access to information or app actions, checking the weather, starting a timer, or beginning a workout without having to open an app. While the Tile API is still in alpha and isn't available to all developers, Google said during its recent developer conference that it's working with dozens of companies to build Tiles into their Wear OS apps. It's honestly one of the best additions to the platform (though it's also being backported to Wear OS 2).

Another welcome feature of Wear OS is custom watch faces. While the ones included on the Watch 4 are quite lovely and varied and Samsung continues to add new options as it did in the February 2022 update. You can also download apps like Facer, which lets you pay for premium options from artists and designers, or Pujie Black, where you can design your own.

Thanks to the new Galaxy Watch 5 and its One UI Watch 4.5 software, Samsung brought new watch faces like Info Board, Pro analog, Digital Neon, Analog Utility, Kinetic Digits, and Flower Garden to the Galaxy Watch 4. More importantly, it added improved accessibility features and a full QWERTY keyboard for messaging friends without needing to pull out your phone. 

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

(Image credit: Android Central)

For the most part, this is very much a Samsung-first experience. But Samsung finally added Google Assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4 almost a year after its initial release, a huge relief for users who prefer that smart assistant to Bixby. 

Hidden deep in the settings is the ability to install a custom launcher, much like you can on your phone. You'll also be able to select a new default health services provider, too, which could mean turning shifting from Samsung Health to Google Fit or even Strava or MyFitnessPal when they're updated to support Wear OS 3's new Health Services features.

The good news is that all of this stuff runs really well on the watch. Samsung's W920 SoC is a dual-core chip paired with 1.5GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, and unlike every Wear OS smartwatch I've used — even the most recent ones running Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 4100 and 1GB of RAM — I didn't dwell once on the performance. When you ask the watch to do something, it just does it; you're not stuck staring at the insipid circular loading prompt while Qualcomm's decade-old silicon churns before half-heartedly acquiescing. And again, the Galaxy Watch 5 used the same chipset, so you're not missing out by buying the older model. 

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Battery

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 quick settings and battery percentage

(Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

When Samsung announced the Galaxy Watch 4 and 4 Classic, it proudly proclaimed "up to 40 hours of battery life," which appeared to signal that it had solved the age-old problem of Wear OS watches needing to be charged daily. The good news is that the Watch 4 and 4 Classic, at least the larger sizes, do outlast every Mobvoi and Fossil smartwatch I've used over the past year. The bad news is that it's not by much, and certainly not enough to call the Watch 4 a two-day device.

Using the Watch as normal, with the always-on-display disabled but raise- and touch-to-wake enabled, tracking a workout, and regularly checking notifications, the watch lasted a day and a half without issue. Enabling the always-on-display didn't impact battery life that much, but enough to concern me about the next step, which is sleep tracking.

This isn't the multi-day watch you may be hoping for, but you can easily get away with wearing it all day, tracking your sleep, and charging it in the morning.

For three days, I used the watch normally during the day with AOD enabled. Then, I tracked a workout and went to bed wearing it to track sleep. When I woke up, I was in the low double-digits each time. So I put it on the charger while I got ready in the morning, and it had around 50% by the time I had to leave the house to take my kid to school. When I got back from the commute, I charged it up to 100%.

If you're the kind of person who needs a smartwatch to last multiple days, it's going to be tough to do here, but you can and likely will get more than 24 hours from it. The caveat is that I didn't engage the GPS at all, but I heard anecdotally from other people reviewing these devices that, as on other wearables, it destroys the battery.

The battery wouldn't be a concern at all, though, if the Watch 4 charged faster. Unfortunately, it takes nearly two hours to charge from dead to full, which means if you do wear it overnight and charge it while getting ready for work or school, you're only going to bring it up about 25%. So you'll need to buy another charger for the office or, once home, put it back on one to charge. Bottom line: Samsung really needs to improve in this area next time.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Health features

The bottom sensors on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

(Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

One of the Galaxy Watch 4's primary purposes — any smartwatch's primary purpose these days, for that matter — is tracking health, and Samsung Health pairs pretty nicely with Wear OS. Both variants and all sizes of the Watch 4 series have the same outlay out health features, including a 3-in-1 BioActive sensor that pulls off heart rate, blood pressure, ECG, and Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA for short), which is new to smartwatches but familiar to anyone with a connected scale.

I used the Watch 4 Classic and Watch 4 interchangeably throughout my week testing the series, the former paired to a Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the latter to a Pixel 5, trying to ascertain whether having a Samsung phone is actually an advantage. Aside from the Galaxy Store-exclusive Samsung Health Monitor app, which is required to take ECG readings, all health features, including BIA, can be done on the watch and synced to the Samsung Health app on Android (there's no iOS app this time around).