Last year, before the Galaxy Watch 5 came out, I wrote that Samsung getting rid of the physical rotating bezel would be a stupid, stupid, stupid idea. I felt justified after reviewing both the Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro, with their silly nonrotating bezels. And now that Samsung’s unveiled the $299.99 Galaxy Watch 6 and the $399.99 Watch 6 Classic at Unpacked, I’ve never felt more vindicated. The rotating bezel is back, baby.
If you’re new to Samsung smartwatches, here’s the bezel breakdown. Until 2019, all Samsung smartwatches had rotating bezels. Starting with the Galaxy Watch Active 2, Samsung tended to stick touch bezels on its entry-level smartwatches (e.g., the Galaxy Watch Active 2 and Galaxy Watch 4) and reserved the rotating bezel for its premium or flagship models (e.g., the Galaxy Watch 3, Watch 4 Classic, etc.). At least, that was the case until last year. Instead of a Watch 5 Classic, we got the more rugged Watch 5 Pro, sans rotating bezel. I get why. The rotating bezel isn’t quite as durable for outdoorsy activities, but it was still a major bummer.
I got my hands on the Galaxy Watch 6 and Watch 6 Classic last week in New York City, and playing with the Classic again reminded me why the physical rotating bezel was so great in the first place. While I liked that the touch bezel on the Galaxy Watch Active 2 made the watch sleeker, I’ve found over the years that it’s not quite as useful. Scrolling speed on touch bezels can be finicky, and generally, you have to swipe your finger around the entire border. Not so with the rotating bezel. You can be much more precise when navigating through screens and widgets, and you don’t have to move your hand much when you’re scrolling a bunch. Plus, like a physical button, it’s immune to sweaty fingers and gloves. The mechanical click is also much more satisfying than the touch bezel’s haptics.
In a press briefing, I asked Samsung what drove the decision to bring back the rotating bezel with the Watch 6 Classic. Turns out, it was due to popular demand. That said, the Classic’s return doesn’t necessarily mean the Pro is going away. It’s still part of the lineup, but it’s just not getting an update this year. (Samsung demurred when I asked whether it plans to update it down the line.)
The rotating bezel isn’t the only bezel-related update. The border around the OLED display of both the Watch 6 and Classic is also slimmer. It’s 30 percent thinner on the regular Galaxy Watch 6 compared to its predecessor and 15 percent thinner on the Classic. The result is a 20 percent overall increase in screen real estate for both watches.
The difference is easier to spot if you happen to have an older model on hand for comparison (which Samsung did, naturally). And of the two models, it’s much more noticeable on the Classic because the visible part of the screen goes all the way to the edge of the rotating bezel. We’ll have to see how Samsung makes use of the extra space since, so far, the only thing it’s really shown off is the new Funny Face watchface. It’s debatable how funny the faces are — they’re more creepy-cute, in my opinion, and I’m pretty sure a handful of them will haunt my dreams.
Bigger batteries, but not much else
Aside from that, Samsung isn’t reinventing the wheel here. The regular Watch 6 still comes in 40mm and 44mm sizes, while the Classic is only slightly larger at 43mm and 47mm. Material-wise, the Watch 6 comes in an aluminum case, while the Classic is stainless steel. Both have sapphire crystal displays.
The 40mm and 44mm Galaxy Watch 6 are lightweight at 28.7g and 33.3g, respectively. You can really feel the added weight of the stainless steel when you pick up the 43mm Classic, which weighs 52g. As you’d expect, the 47mm is the heaviest of the bunch at 59g, and you can definitely feel the difference between it and the 43mm. There’s no denying the 43mm better suits my tiny wrists, but the larger Classic isn’t egregiously bad. It wears small-ish for its size; something like the 47mm Garmin Epix 2 looks a lot chunkier on my wrist. Side by side, it’s quite similar to the 49mm Apple Watch Ultra.
Compared to last year, the watches also have bigger batteries — not by a whole lot, but bigger. The smaller versions of both watches feature 300mAh batteries (up from 284mAh), while the larger ones have 425mAh batteries (up from 410mAh). It’s a more impressive update for the Classic. The 42mm Watch 4 Classic had a 247mAh battery, while the larger 46mm had a 361mAh battery. Samsung also says the devices ought to have lower battery consumption, while fast charge has been improved so you can get eight hours of battery in eight minutes.
I won’t know whether this will make a difference until I can test the watches longer term. That said, Samsung seems to be tempering expectations with a 30-hour estimate for all four watches with the always-on display enabled and 40 hours with it off. That seems reasonable based on last year’s models, and I appreciate that Samsung doesn’t seem to be overpromising on battery life improvements like it has in previous years.
Besides the batteries, the other notable hardware update is that the Galaxy Watch 6 series uses a new 1.4GHz Exynos W930 chip, with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Otherwise, we’re running off the same sensors, including the 3-in-1 biosensor (heart rate, EKG, bioelectric impedance analysis), skin temperature sensor, and GPS. Again, it’s hard to say what sort of impact the new processor will have. Everything felt fast and zippy with the demo watches I got to see, but demos don’t reflect real-life usage.
Some more minor updates: Samsung is switching over to a one-click strap mechanism and introducing a fabric strap. It’s pretty straightforward. You press a button, and boop, the strap comes off or on. The button is a little smaller than I’d like just because my nails are weak from one too many manicures. But even with my flimsy nails, it’s still much easier than the standard pin strap. The good news is the one-click straps are backward-compatible with older Galaxy Watches, and older straps you might have will also work with the Galaxy Watch 6 lineup. The fabric strap itself is nearly identical to Apple’s nylon Sport Loop — and seeing as I recommend the Sport Loop to Apple Watch buyers, I think that’s swell.
Wear OS 4 and software updates
Most of the “big” changes on the Galaxy Watch 6 series will come from software updates. Namely, these will be the first watches to launch with Google’s Wear OS 4 platform and Samsung’s One UI 5 Watch skin. Wear OS 4 is supposed to bring better battery life, cloud backups, and a new watchface format. As for One UI 5 Watch, Samsung announced what to expect a while back. The main updates include improved emergency SOS calling, personalized heart rate zones, and the ability to view more sleep tracking details from the wrist. There’ll also be an updated Sleep Mode that dims the display and utilizes invisible infrared sensors instead of green LED light for heart rate. The Galaxy Watch 6 series also gets Samsung’s new passive irregular heart rhythm alerts, which monitor for signs of atrial fibrillation in the background.
I didn’t actually get to try most of these updates. I did, however, get to demo the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic as a camera remote with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5. Once you open the camera controller app on your watch, it automatically launches the camera app on the foldable it’s paired to. And yes, this feature is exclusive to Samsung’s foldable phones — which is a bummer because it’s a genuinely handy feature for selfies and group photos. Zooming in and out with the rotating bezel? Intuitive, practical, and helps keep your hands free. There’ll be other tie-ins with Samsung’s ecosystem as well, like finding items via SmartThings Find via the wrist. Samsung Pay is also getting the upgrade to Samsung Wallet. It’s the same thing, except Wallet will also eventually contain IDs, boarding passes, and car keys.
The only thing I actively disliked is that Samsung upped the price from $279.99 to $299.99 for the Galaxy Watch 6 and from $349.99 to $399.99 for the Classic. Getting the larger sizes or LTE capability will bump up the prices further. To be fair, this is more in line with the competition. The Google Pixel Watch, for example, is $349.99. The Apple Watch SE costs $249, while the regular Series 8 starts at $399.99. Inflation is inflation, but you never like to see things get more expensive, especially when a product, for the most part, doesn’t feel that different from the old one.
It’s funny, but I walked away from the hands-on most excited about an old feature coming back. Despite the new software, bigger displays, and every other tiny update Samsung crammed into the Galaxy Watch 6 series, these feel like watches I’ve worn before. That’s not always a bad thing. (It’s called the Classic for a reason.) It’s simply where we’re at with wearables at the moment. The ambitious stuff is in the pipeline, but for now, refinement is the name of the game.