Earlier this year, Samsung released the Galaxy Watch Active, a less expensive smartwatch focused on fitness features. Now, just six months later, the company is launching the Galaxy Watch Active 2, an upgraded and refined version of the original.
But confusingly, Samsung isn’t discontinuing the first model, it will continue to sell both versions at the same time at different prices (along with the even older and more expensive Galaxy Watch). The Active 2 will come in two sizes — 40 and 44mm — and Bluetooth and LTE versions. It will hit stores on September 27th for a starting price of $279.
The greatest crime Samsung committed with the first Galaxy Watch Active was removing the rotating bezel that had been its smartwatch trademark for years. The Active relied solely on its touchscreen for navigation, even though the software was all designed around the watch having a rotating bezel for control. Many actions require double taps and navigating the watch is just plain clumsy as a result.
Fortunately, the bezel control is back in the Active 2. But unlike the Galaxy Watch and earlier models, the Active 2 doesn’t have a physically rotating dial. Instead, the black border that surrounds the screen is a touch sensitive strip that lets you scroll through the screens and menus on the watch when you run your finger over it. In practice, this worked surprisingly well, though I suspect it will be unusable if you have gloves on. The watch emits a click-like haptic buzz as you move your finger over the bezel, simulating the clicks of the physical wheel.
Aside from the new “digital” bezel, as Samsung calls it, the Active 2’s design is very similar to its predecessor. It’s surprisingly thin and light, and the rounded sides give it less visual weight than you might expect. I found the 40mm version to be most comfortable on my wrist, but even the 44mm wasn’t overbearing. The Bluetooth versions of the watch come in aluminum, while the LTE models will be available in stainless steel.
Samsung says it has improved the heart rate monitor and accelerometer in the Active 2 over prior models. It’s the first watch to support real-time pace coaching through Samsung’s Bixby virtual assistant. The Active 2 also has ECG capabilities, though Samsung says the feature will not be active at launch. The watch has Bluetooth 5.0 and NFC for mobile payments support, as well as GPS for tracking workouts without a phone.
For software, the Active 2 is running the same Tizen-based platform as the rest of Samsung’s smartwatches, and it is compatible with both Android and iOS smartphones. A new feature called “My Style” allows you to create customized watchfaces based on your outfit by taking a picture with your phone. The Active 2 also supports offline syncing of Spotify playlists and has the ability to play YouTube videos on its tiny screen, if that’s ever something you actually want to do. (I did not get the opportunity to demo this, sadly.)
With Google letting WearOS basically flounder for years, Samsung’s models have become the best option if you want a full-touchscreen smartwatch to use with your Android phone. They aren’t perfect, and rely too much on Samsung’s services, but they are well designed hardware with surprisingly nice-to-use software. The Galaxy Watch Active 2 addresses many of the things the first Active got wrong, and although it has a higher price, it’s a much nicer watch as a result. We’ll be taking a closer look when we have the opportunity to review it once the Active 2 hit stores.
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