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Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro review: sometimes bigger is better

At least in terms of reading and battery life

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Pic of the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro on a plant
Photo by Victoria Song / The Verge

I didn’t think I was going to like the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. First came the rumors that this watch would be a behemoth. Then came the whispers suggesting Samsung had murdered its darling: the physical rotating bezel. Finally, leaked renders indicated that this watch was not only big but a heckin’ chonker. If Samsung assembled a team to annoy the crap out of me, Victoria Song, specifically, this is the watch they would’ve come up with. And yet, the $449.99 Pro I ought to despise has pleasantly surprised me several times over the past few weeks.

I know, I’m shocked, too.

Big and “small” at the same time

To be clear, I don’t love the fact that the Pro has a 45mm case that measures roughly 15mm thick and weighs 1.6 ounces. Samsung lists a different width measurement in its spec sheet, but as DC Rainmaker discovered, it doesn’t include the new sensor bump. I don’t care that the bump “melts” into your skin when you wear it. Thickness is an important spec for smartwatches, and trying to make the Pro seem slimmer this way is icky. 

For example, if you’re a smaller person, thickness can trip you up come jacket season. I know in my bones this would snag on all my sleeves once Pumpkin Spice Latte season is well underway. (That’s October, you summer-PSL-loving heathens.) If this were a casual lifestyle watch, I’d rip Samsung a new one for making the Pro the exact size and width of a Double Stuf Oreo. But it’s not. 

Big and bulky the Pro may be, but 45mm is “small” for a fitness watch meant to compete with the likes of Garmin and Polar. Multisport GPS watches tend to sport 47mm cases. Some, like the Coros Vertix 2, the Garmin Fenix 7X, and the Suunto 7 tip the scales at 50–51mm. Watch sizes can also be deceptive. The Polar Grit X Pro is a 47mm watch, but it felt and looked smaller on my wrist. Conversely, the Montblanc Summit 3 is 42mm and felt way bigger on my wrist than the Watch 5 Pro. If you’ve got teeny bird wrists like me, it’s going to be too big no matter what. But if your wrists are more medium-sized or you dig an oversized look, the Pro might appeal to you. 

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro on a wrist
The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is bulky, but it’s smaller than most fitness watches.

For my fellow petite-wristed friends, there are a few things you should know regarding fit. The deployant clasp — or, as Samsung calls it, the D-buckle — on the default band may not be your best option. It’s a shame because it looks elegant, and you can be more precise when adjusting for size. But even when I had it on the smallest possible setting for my wrist, I could still slip two fingers under the lug. Ultimately, I had to wear the watch a little further up on my arm than I’d like. Given a choice, I’d swap out the straps for a better fit; any standard 20mm band will work.

Size isn’t always a black-and-white decision. As someone with bad eyesight, I benefit from the bigger screen combined with the new vision enhancement accessibility features in One UI Watch 4.5. It’s one of the most readable smartwatches I’ve ever tested. I just wish I didn’t have to keep making the tradeoff between readability and comfort. 

Close up of the deployant clasp on the Watch 5 Pro
The Watch 5 Pro’s deployant clasp allows for more precise sizing but may not work well for people with petite wrists.

Regardless, this is one of the better-looking fitness watches I’ve ever tested. It doesn’t scream “I love fitness” and can be worn on dressier occasions that I’d never wear the Garmin Fenix 7S to. I’ve gotten several compliments while wearing the watch, though usually with the caveat: “But it’s so big.”

If Samsung had made a smaller Pro for folks like me, I’d have next to no complaints. Alas, the Watch 5 Pro only comes in one size. 

Better battery, but not what was promised 

A bigger watch also means a bigger battery. The Pro houses a 590mAh battery, which is the largest on any of the Galaxy Watch 5 series watches. Logically, the Pro should have superior battery life. After all, Samsung says it should get an estimated 80 hours on a single charge. 

Reader, I never got 80 hours on a single charge. But it did outperform the 40mm Watch 5 I tested by a mile.

The Battery app in the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro
Battery life is much better on the Pro than on the vanilla Watch 5.

The most I ever got was 65 hours. I got that by turning off the always-on display, disabling the “Hey Google” wake word, turning off notifications during the workday, disabling always-on health monitoring, and taking a two-day break from GPS activities. That… is not gonna cut it in my daily life. With the AOD and Google wake word enabled, notifications on, and my usual 30–60 minutes of GPS activity, I got around 48–50 hours. This is after waiting a few charging cycles for the watch to learn my usage patterns. 

I’m satisfied with these results, especially for a full-featured premium smartwatch. It counts as multiday, and fast charging means you can top up quickly in a pinch. But I did hear from a Verge reader who says they’ve disabled most power-hungry settings, but the Pro ends up with 35–50 percent by 9PM. In one instance, the battery was already down to 64 percent by 4PM despite being fully charged that morning. Battery life is highly dependent on how you use your watch. I had a different experience, but it’s a reminder that your mileage may vary. 

I’d have been even happier with my results if Samsung hadn’t promised 80 hours. It also promised 40–50 hours for both Watch 5 sizes, and I never got that with my 40mm review unit. Same goes for last year’s Galaxy Watch 4 lineup. This, combined with the misleading dimension specs, leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I know companies want to put their best foot forward, but it’s better to underpromise than underdeliver.

The touch bezel is better

Pic of the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro on a plant
The raised lip makes using the Watch 5 Pro’s touch bezel way more enjoyable.

I miss the physical rotating bezel, but I understand why Samsung might not want to include it on the Pro. Durability is a huge draw for fitness watches, and a rotating bezel invites breakage if sand or dust gets stuck in the bezel during one of your adventures. What is the point of beefing up durability with titanium and sapphire crystal if a teeny grain of sand can wreck a key feature? Instead, Samsung gave the Pro a raised lip around the rim to better mimic the feel of a physical bezel and offer the screen further protection. 

I don’t know whether the raised rim protected my watch from calamity, but it improved the touch bezel experience. It creates a groove your finger can rest in, so you’re not as likely to mess up or have your finger fall off the edge. It also lends extra physicality to the relatively weak haptics you get each time you “turn” the touch bezel. It’s still finicky, but considering I expected a disaster, I was chuffed.

It’s got the smarts, but fitness is a mixed bag

I went into it in my Galaxy Watch 5 review, but Wear OS Powered by Samsung is better this year than last. In a nutshell, Samsung watches finally have Google Assistant (buh-bye, Bixby), and there are more robust third-party Wear OS apps in the Play Store. That results in the best Android smartwatch experience you can get right now. (We’ll see what happens when the Pixel Watch debuts next month.) 

Garmin, Polar, and Coros watches kick the Pro’s butt as far as battery and in-depth fitness metrics go. But their smart features are usually limited to alarms, notifications, and text replies. Garmin offers the most, but its execution can be clumsy. The Pro might scratch an itch if you want better smarts on a GPS watch and good (but not astounding) fitness features.

The app menu on the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro
You’ll get more third-party apps on the Pro than you would on a traditional multisport watch.

As for smart features, the Watch 5 Pro runs laps around even the best multisport GPS watches. You can get LTE connectivity, which fitness watches generally don’t have, for an extra $50. If you do, that LTE connectivity gets you superior emergency calling features. (At least, in areas where you can get a cellular signal.) Because it supports apps like Spotify and YouTube Music, it’s a breeze to stream music or download offline playlists directly to the watch. You can also use Assistant or Bixby to control your smart home. 

Of course, the caveat here is that the Pro works best with a Samsung phone. You need the Samsung Health app to make use of all the health features, and only Samsung phone owners can use the EKG feature. Samsung Pay is still hard-coded if you hold the lower button, and there’s no option in the Galaxy Wearable app to switch it out for Google Wallet. You can swap out Bixby for Google Assistant, though. It’s not ideal that you possibly have to use three or four Samsung apps for the watch (e.g., Galaxy Wearable, Samsung Health, Samsung Health Monitor, etc.) but you have more choices than you did before.

The Pro’s most interesting fitness features are turn-by-turn route navigation and track back. Custom route navigation and track back — which helps you get back to your starting point — are GPS watch staples and are vital for trail runners, hikers, cyclists, and campers. But Samsung’s execution feels a lil’ half-baked. For starters, it’s limited to hiking and cycling. Including those two activities makes perfect sense, but I’m baffled why runners were left out when it’s commonly included on hardcore running watches as a marquee feature. (You can get around it by recording your runs as hikes, but then you’ll miss out on Samsung’s advanced running metrics.) 

Route screen on the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro
Setting up custom routes isn’t as smooth as it could be.

Turn-by-turn route navigation requires you to import GPX files, and the process is clunky. First, if you’re only using the Samsung Health app, you have to log a hiking or cycling activity. Then you can select that activity in your history, download that route as a GPX file, and import it. Only then can you enable turn-by-turn navigation. This is silly. It’s much easier to import GPX files you create in Strava Premium’s route creator. But that requires a $60 annual subscription. (There are free options, but they aren’t as easy to use.) This also gets around the hassle of having to go on a hike or ride first before you can use the feature. 

I tried it for a hike and actually liked it once I got past the setup process. That said, as someone who was born with the worst sense of direction, track back gave me more peace of mind. 

As for cycling: the last time I biked, I flipped over the handlebars three times, and I’ve no intention of dying for a smartwatch review. Instead, I had my colleague Alice Newcome-Beill, who is not a dingus on two wheels, take the Pro out for a spin.

Turn-by-turn navigation was accurate and provided frequent updates

Alice said that turn-by-turn navigation was accurate and provided frequent updates, but it wasn’t ideal for city riding. Hearing you should turn in 1,000 feet should be all right on a trail or in a rural setting. But in a city, it’s more helpful to be given street names or landmarks. 

The Pro was on par with my running app and my Series 7 when it comes to GPS distance tracking, though it’s not as precise as the Garmin Fenix 7S in GPS dead zones. That totally makes sense — the Fenix 7S has the option for multiband GPS and the Pro doesn’t. Heart rate tracking was also on par with my Polar H10 chest strap but would take a second or two to update on the display midrun. Especially when running intervals, that’s an annoyance — but a minor one.

Samsung does automatic exercise tracking and pausing better than anyone else. It starts recording runs and walks faster than the Apple Watch or any other smartwatch with this feature. This is great for people who want as much credit as possible for their activities but don’t always remember to hit start.  

Health features are improved but need refining

I went more in-depth with Samsung Health’s sleep tracking issues in my Watch 5 review, but the gist is that it’s mostly fine. It can tell when you’re sleeping versus when you’re awake in bed. Sleep stages are occasionally wonky compared to dedicated sleep trackers. SpO2 tracking is… not presented well at all. The Pro was less egregious than the Watch 5 in this arena, but it still said my SpO2 dipped into the 80–89 percent territory (which is cause to go to a hospital) several times. At least it correctly determined I do not snore.

I did, however, get to spend time with Samsung’s new sleep coaching feature. This feature requires you to log five weeknights and two weekend nights of sleep before allowing you to embark on a six-week program to improve your sleeping habits. You get assigned a representative animal, and it’s a cute way to visualize your sleep patterns. 

Sleep animal screen on samsung phone
Devastated that I’m a cautious deer and not a nervous penguin.

The program itself is fine once you hit week two. It’s been prompting me to get my butt out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off and walk 10 steps. It… has worked, and I’m curious to see how the program progresses. But week one is reading one or two sleep facts per day that you most likely already know. Stuff like “not getting enough sleep is bad for you” and “try to have a good sleep routine.” So really, you need to get through a minimum of two weeks before you get any useful coaching.

With the Pro, I also revisited the body composition analysis feature. I’m trying to build more muscle, so it seemed like a good opportunity to see if and how anything’s changed since it was introduced last year. But before I get into it, you should always take any measurements taken with bioelectric impedance analysis with grounded skepticism. Last year, Samsung gave me a list of conditions that might prevent accurate readings, and it included things like being on my period, having dry skin, and wearing jewelry. Your armpits also can’t be covered; you gotta make like a Russian Cossack dancer and hold your arms out in front of you. So keep that in mind if you get a wonky reading. For example, one day it said I had 44 pounds of muscle, and the next day it magically shot up to 48 pounds. This is impossible, and I likely screwed up the reading somehow.

Close-up of the Galaxy Watch 5’s sensor
The 3-in-1 BioActive sensor enables EKGs, heart rate, and body composition analysis.

In general, my readings corresponded with what I got on my Eufy smart scale. They were also consistent enough that you should be able to track general progress if you take the readings under the same conditions. That said, I wouldn’t use it to track minute daily changes. 

Also, good news for southpaws who wear watches on their right wrist. Samsung now lets you flip watch orientation, so you no longer have to reach around in a weird way to take readings. Huzzah! 

So, is it really Pro?

Overall, the Pro is best suited for folks who are more active than the average person but don’t venture into the wilderness that often. For example, folks who don’t blink at running a 10K and stick mostly to routes where there’s good cellular signal. It’s a bit much for beginners, and the really die-hard adventurers need better execution when it comes to maps, turn-by-turn navigation, and GPS accuracy in remote areas. 

The Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 pro side by side
If I had to pick between these two, I’d have to go Pro. Truly shocking.

It’s also an option for folks who want better smart features or are on a budget. At $449.99, it’s much cheaper than most flagship multisport GPS watches. Even the $499.99 cellular version will save you at least $100. 

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro are the best Android smartwatches available right now. If you asked me to pick between my 40mm Watch 5 and the Pro, I’d actually pick the Pro. The big size wears smaller than you’d think, the touch bezel is more pleasant to use, the larger screen is easier to read, and that extra battery life comes in clutch. That’s a good enough tradeoff for me. Given a choice, I almost never opt for larger smartwatches. But hey, sometimes bigger really is better. 

Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge