Samsung's Fall Unpacked event has come and gone with the technology company's typical flashy presentation. We saw the latest in folding phones, high-end earbuds, and the next generation of Wear OS 3 smartwatches.
By the end of the presentation I was feeling so — underwhelmed. This isn't to say the new devices won't be impressive, but I was hoping for a bigger change — mostly in the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 series.
Less of a leap, more of a tiptoe
Last year's Galaxy Watch 4 series gave many Android smartwatch fans what so many of us had been waiting for — Samsung's excellent hardware with Wear OS, instead of the homegrown Tizen that prior Galaxy wearables used. But Samsung wasn't satisfied with just being another Wear OS smartwatch. It was the first and, up until recently, the only company to offer the newest Wear OS 3.
This is why the Galaxy Watch 5 has let me down, at least for now. But the announcement was so underwhelming that I didn't even bother to trade in my Galaxy Watch 4 Classic.
My disappointment with the new wearables is less about the OS. I have plenty of opinions on that alone, but more about how Samsung doesn't seem to have made many changes between Watch generations and, in my opinion, made the top-end watch worse.
Looking at the Watch 4 and Watch 5 side-by-side, they look nearly identical, which isn't all bad since the style wasn't an ugly one. But, there aren't any big changes to say the watch is a must-buy. You get a slightly larger battery, sapphire display cover, increased skin contact for the BIA sensor, and a new temperature sensor on the standard Galaxy Watch 5. But you also get last year's processor, a heavier watch, the same storage and memory — oh, and a higher price tag.
We'll have to wait and see after we spend some time with the new smartwatch to see if the battery life is much better, because last year's Watch 4 series was not good for battery life, and was one of the reason's I returned it after two weeks. The temperature sensor could be interesting to see what Samsung and third-party apps do with it, but it also could end up as a gimmick.
An unearned name
Where things really ramp up in disappointment is with the really expensive option, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. Instead of giving us a new Classic variation as it has in the past, Samsung is switching it up with the first Pro option.
I don't mind the use of the Pro moniker, but I do when the product doesn't appear to earn it — and after the presentation, it doesn't.
Aside from a change from aluminum to titanium and a larger battery, the Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro are the same watches. The fancier titanium has some benefits, which may be a big benefit to some. But for most, the cost associated with the material isn't going to be worth it.
Now, the battery difference is significant. The Watch 5 Pro has a 590mAh battery which is almost 240mAh larger than last year's Watch 4 Classic, and 180mAh larger than the 44mm Watch 5.
The part that frustrates me the most is that Samsung is positioning the Pro as the watch for exploring the world and going on adventures. But it lacks some features that competitors in the outdoor wearable space have — and for less. Sure, those other brands may not have the BioActive sensor like the Watch 5 Pro. But with a base price of $450, the Pro should offer more.
One of the most glaring issues is the screen. Samsung has been providing some of the most impressive displays, for years, that are used in many of the best Android phones. Now, I could be wrong, but unless Samsung changes how the Always On Display feature works, you wouldn't be able to see what's on the watch's screen in bright environments.
Many of the best fitness smartwatches offer screens that use reflective technology to allow info to be visible in any type of light. Then there's one of my favorites, the TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra, which uses two displays to offer a full-color AMOLED panel under a trans-reflective LCD panel.
This allows for excellent visibility in daylight and a vivid screen at the same time. This could be seen as nitpicky, and maybe it is, but I don't think that a watch that costs at least $450 and has "Pro" in the name should fall short in this area.
This brings me to battery life. Those fitness watches I mentioned above, and even the TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra, all get an added bonus thanks to the tech used for the wearable's screens — long battery life.
Samsung claims the Watch 5 Pro will have 80-hour battery life. If true, that would be great. However, I'll be holding my breath until we get some time to test it and dig into how Samsung is getting that number. Because, like with new cars and their rated MPG, to hit that 80-hour mark, users may have to disable certain features.
If a true Pro user is also an outdoorsy adventure type, 80 hours isn't that long, and packing things like extra chargers isn't an option. A person going on a hiking trip needs to have key features like GPS, health monitoring, and more running constantly, and not need to worry about their watch dying. Sure, they could take an excellent solar charger to recharge the watch, but most would rather not.
Putting my money elsewhere
Do I think that the new Galaxy Watch 5 devices are bad — no. But right now, I also don't think they have made enough changes from the previous models to justify the price differences and the new Pro name. The Galaxy Watch 4 series are rightfully some of the best Android smartwatches and will continue to be alongside the new versions.
However, I have no intentions of swapping out my Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, even though it doesn't really impress me either. The Classic also has a feature the Pro lacks in the physical rotating bezel, which would be very helpful in outdoor situations when your fingers are wet/dirty/gloved to navigate the watch. But despite all of this, my colleague Andrew Myrick is going to make the change from his Watch 4 Classic to the Watch 5 Pro.
Instead, I'll hang onto my money with plans to buy the Google Pixel Watch. Not only did the new Galaxy Watch 5 wearables not do enough to draw me in with hardware, but I'm not a big fan of how Samsung handles Wear OS 3. I really want to see what Google does with it.
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