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Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 review: Still a great Apple Watch alternative
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
What we like
What we don't like
After a brief stint with Wear OS (then Android Wear), Samsung ditched Google’s smartwatch platform for its own. This resulted in a stunted app ecosystem and some compatibility issues, but over time helped Samsung’s smartwatches blossom into the well-rounded wearables we’re familiar with today. The latest Samsung watch exudes premium hardware and a wealth of features you can really only get from one other company.
Read Android Authority’s full Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 review to find out why it’s one of the best Apple Watch alternatives you can buy, if you’re looking for a cheaper smartwatch.
Update, July 2021: We have updated this Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 review with new software and pricing information.
A fashionable Samsung smartwatch
The main aesthetic criticism of Samsung’s original Galaxy Watch is its chunky design. It has big bezels and an in-your-face look that many people either love or hate. Samsung really turned things around with the Galaxy Watch 3. It’s thinner and lighter than the original, and certainly not as chunky. Be warned, though: the 45mm variant is almost too big for my average-sized wrists. If you’re concerned at all about size, you might want to go for the 41mm version.
I know why you’re all here, and that’s to talk about the rotating bezel. It’s great. Truly. It’s smaller on the Galaxy Watch 3, but not any more difficult to use. It offers a satisfying click when it’s rotated, and I’ve actually found myself rotating it just… because. It beats the pants off the rotating crowns we see on Wear OS watches, and it’s approximately 1,000x better than the touch-enabled bezel on the Galaxy Watch Active 2.
Samsung has something special here. Every smartwatch needs a rotating bezel.
I’m using the 45mm model with its 1.4-inch AMOLED display. You already know what I’m going to say here: this is a Samsung product, so it has a fantastic display. It’s super easy to see outdoors in direct sunlight.
That display is pretty power-hungry, though it shouldn’t stop you from getting around two days of battery life on a single charge. If you keep the always-on display turned off and don’t use it to work out too often, you might be able to make it stretch to day three. I’ve been getting about 1.5 days of battery life with the always-on display turned on, sleep tracking enabled, and recording a GPS-enabled workout every day. A five-mile run drained about 20% of my battery life, for reference.
Also, keep in mind this is the 45mm model with a bigger battery. If you buy the 41mm model, expect slightly shorter battery life.
The charging situation is not great. The magnetic charging puck packaged with the watch is fine, but it’s not very powerful. It’ll take over two hours to charge the watch up to 100%. That means you might actually need to plan out when you charge your device if you know you’re going to want to use it to track your sleep or during a workout. Luckily you can top it up via Wireless PowerShare if you have a recent Samsung phone.
All Galaxy Watch 3 models are made of stainless steel, save for one titanium variant that’s far too expensive for us to recommend.
The watch comes with a “genuine leather” strap in the box. It’s a nice strap — comfortable, and it seems durable. I’m not a huge fan of contrast stitching on straps, though, so I swapped it out for another silicone strap I had lying around. (It’s compatible with 22mm straps, by the way, while the 41mm version works with 20mm straps.)
This leads me to a gripe I have about smartwatches in general. For as much flack as the Apple Watch gets, I think Apple made the right move to ship silicone watch straps with the base model watches. These are meant to be workout watches for a lot of people, and only including a leather strap in the box means a lot of people will need to buy a third-party strap so they can work out. This isn’t a complaint I have with, say, $200 watches. But the Galaxy Watch 3 is expensive! You’d expect to get everything you need in the box.
The watch face selection is abundant. Samsung says “over 80,000” watch faces are available for the Galaxy Watch 3, and a wide variety of them are free. Most of the first-party watch faces featured in the Galaxy Wearable app are customizable. The My Style watch face makes a return, allowing you to snap a photo of your outfit and apply those colors to your watch face.
Fitness and health tracking: Held back by hardware
Samsung is touting the Galaxy Watch 3 as the more lifestyle-oriented smartwatch in its lineup, but it has pretty much all the same health and fitness features that come with the Galaxy Watch Active 2.
It can track 40 different sport profiles, from running and swimming to cardio-based exercises like mountain climbers. 33 of those activities need to be tracked manually, while seven of them can be auto-tracked.
I’ve found automatic tracking to be slightly unreliable. The Galaxy Watch 3 tracked a 45-minute walk around my neighborhood but didn’t stop recording my activity even though I’d been sitting in a chair right afterward for about 10 minutes. There’s no way to manually stop these exercises, either; it just stops when it stops.
Also read: The best fitness trackers you can buy
Samsung stuck with the same GPS and heart rate sensors that it put in the Galaxy Watch Active 2, which is unfortunate considering I found those to be the most inaccurate parts of the watch. So, how do they fare on the Galaxy Watch 3?
Not so well. The Galaxy Watch 3’s heart rate sensor struggled to keep up with major highs and lows during a five-mile run through my neighborhood compared to the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro and Wahoo Tickr X chest strap. While the average beats per minute for all three devices were similar (149 for Fenix, 150 for Galaxy, and 145 for Tickr X), the Galaxy Watch 3’s readings were often 10-15bpm too high during major lows in my run. Roughly 24 minutes into the run, the Fenix 6 Pro and Tickr X recorded a low of ~90bpm, but the Galaxy Watch 3 only dipped down to about 125bpm.
Unfortunately, Samsung still doesn’t allow Galaxy Watch devices to connect to external heart rate sensors, so there are no easy workarounds if you want accurate heart rate data.
I feel the same way about the Galaxy Watch 3 as I feel about the Active 2. Samsung gets an A for effort with many of the fitness features it attempts to implement, but the sensors just fall short for those looking for the most accurate stats. This watch will absolutely suffice for casual athletes who want to keep an eye on their activity overall. Users who are interested in minute details should look elsewhere.
Unfortunately, you shouldn't look to the Galaxy Watch 3 for accurate GPS and heart rate data.
GPS performance is so-so. It seems to stick to my running paths pretty closely, actually, though it often over-reports my running distance by a quarter mile or so. This happened on nearly every run I took with the Galaxy Watch 3, despite my mile markers lining up closely with my Fenix 6 Pro.
Perhaps my favorite new feature on the Galaxy Watch 3 is its running analysis. During and after your run activities, you’ll get advanced running metrics like asymmetry, contact time, flight time, regularity, vertical, and even stiffness. Each of these metrics is scored on an “improve” to “great” scale, and Samsung Health does a fantastic job of displaying this information in charts after your run.
These metrics are usually only offered by devices with integrated foot pods. I don’t have any foot pods or smart insoles in my possession, so I’m not able to compare results. I do think some of the metrics are spot-on, while others seem to be over-scoring on things that need work. I think my contact time and asymmetry are solid, so I’m happy to see the results come back as “great.” However, I felt extremely stiff on one particular run, even though I also scored “great” on that one.
Samsung does sleep tracking really well, and the Galaxy Watch 3 adds even more improvements thanks to the company’s work with the National Sleep Foundation. Overall, sleep tracking has been accurate for me. It’s been able to pick up when I fall asleep and wake up in the night. Samsung Health makes it super easy to see this information, too, and provides ample insights on your sleep quality that might help you improve.
New to the Galaxy Watch 3 is a sleep score feature, which scores your sleep quality on a scale of 0-100 based on total time asleep, time in sleep cycles, movement, and physical and mental recovery. I haven’t been sleeping so well lately, and I’ve woken up in the middle of the night for a few minutes. Samsung actually splits this into two periods of sleep — not just one sleep period with an interruption in the middle — which means I’m scored separately on each short sleep. As a result, my sleep score is only at 30/100. On any other device, it’d probably be much higher than that.
Stress monitoring and breathing exercises are still offered on the Galaxy Watch 3 if you need some help cooling down in the middle of the day.
All Galaxy Watch 3 models come with a built-in pulse oximeter for measuring blood oxygen levels, or SpO2. Manually recording blood oxygen data from the watch is pretty seamless, though I’ve noticed it does take a few seconds longer than my Fenix 6 Pro. It’s also very touchy in regards to movement. The recordings on both Samsung and Garmin devices have been pretty spot on for what it’s worth, usually hovering around 97%.
Samsung isn’t trying to detect signs of sleep apnea like some of its competitors, so the pulse oximeter only works for on-demand readings. It can’t run at night while you’re sleeping.
You’ll also get VO2 max estimates after each one of your activities with the Galaxy Watch 3. The numbers from my Samsung watch usually lined up pretty well with the Fenix 6 Pro. Interestingly, though, they fall on different parts of the scale. For instance, my 50.3 VO2 max number during a run with the Galaxy Watch 3 says I’m at a “good” level and in the top 35% of my age range, which only appears to be in the middle of Samsung’s scale. My Fenix 6 Pro gave me a 54 score, though, and says my VO2 max is “excellent” for my age range.
Samsung is taking another swipe at the Apple Watch with its new fall detection feature. If you’re in the middle of an activity (running, walking, etc.) and the accelerometer senses that you’ve fallen, your Galaxy Watch 3 will send an SMS to up to four emergency contacts. I tried fake falling about a dozen times with the watch, and I was never able to get it to trigger. Hopefully, that’s just the Galaxy Watch sensing that I’m faking it.
Samsung warns that this feature may falsely trigger during high-impact exercises, so it’s best to keep an eye on your wrist when you’re working out a little harder than normal. Also, it’s important to keep in mind this isn’t a safeguard for an older person shuffling around the house. You have to be engaging in an activity for the watch to sense that you’ve fallen.
If you happen to own a Samsung television, the Galaxy Watch 3 might make it easier for you to exercise at home. You can pick a workout video from Samsung Health, cast it to your TV, and it’ll display your heart rate in real-time. There are over 120 workout videos to choose from, which can all be played on your phone if you don’t own a Samsung TV. I don’t, so I couldn’t test this feature.
In July 2021, Samsung rolled out software version R845FXXU1DUE4 to the Galaxy Watch 3 which brought improvements to its blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) measurement. Improvements to voice guidance, which was initially added to the Watch 3 in November 2020, also arrived in this update.
Finally, Samsung rolled out ECG functionality to the Galaxy Watch 3 in September 2020. It works just like how ECG readings work on the Withings ScanWatch or Fitbit Sense. Recording an ECG only takes 30 seconds, and you can start it right from the watch itself. Once the recording finishes, the watch will let you know if it sensed any potential signs of atrial fibrillation (AFib).
A better Android watch than Wear OS
Setting up the Galaxy Watch 3 on a Samsung phone is easy — just install the Galaxy Wearable app, connect your device, and you’re good to go. However, the setup process is more cumbersome if you’re using a non-Samsung phone. You need the Galaxy Wearable app, Galaxy Watch 3 Plugin, Samsung Accessory Service app, and of course Samsung Health.
After you jump through all those extra hoops, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best smartwatch experiences you can get with Android. For me, Samsung’s smartwatch software has surpassed Wear OS as the go-to Android watch operating system — even if it has some major restrictions.
Samsung's smartwatch software is all-around better — and more supported — than Wear OS.
First, the good. The Galaxy Watch 3 can handle all the standard smartwatch stuff we’ve come to expect. You can receive smartphone notifications and reply to them from your wrist. You can even view your chat history on your watch for certain messaging apps. There’s offline local music support and offline Spotify support — a surprisingly rare feature on wearables. There’s 8GB of internal memory for holding your music, apps, and photos (if you really want that).
Offline music support is available on all Galaxy Watch 3 models. You can stream music via Wi-Fi on all variants, but of course, you’ll need one of the LTE-connected watches while you’re away from Wi-Fi. The LTE version also lets you send and receive messages and calls when you’re not connected to your smartphone. Since I don’t have the LTE version, I can’t comment on LTE connectivity.
Paying for things with your wrist is pretty easy with the Galaxy Watch, thanks to Samsung Pay. However, you’ll have to go the standard NFC route for contactless payments — MST technology isn’t supported here. We would really like to see the return of MST for Samsung Pay. It’s just too convenient not to have on a smartwatch.
Third-party app support is still not great on Galaxy Watches. You have access to a handful of the most popular fitness apps, like Strava and MapMyRun, but overall app selection pales in comparison to Wear OS or Apple Watch devices. You just can’t find as many official third-party apps in the Galaxy Store, meaning you might need to download a hacky unofficial app to get certain services up and running.
On-device performance is OK. The Galaxy Watch 3 is powered by Samsung’s Exynos 9110 SoC, which has powered every Galaxy Watch device. There’s 1GB of RAM here, up from 768MB from the Active 2. I can’t say I noticed a huge difference in performance. Navigating around the software is fine, but internet-enabled apps such as Bixby and Spotify can be slow to launch.
Samsung Health is great, but get rid of the ads
We’ve talked in-depth about Samsung Health in the past, so I’m going to point you towards our Galaxy Fit review for a general overview of the app, how to navigate around it, and more.
In summary, I like it! It reminds me a lot of the Fitbit app, if you’re familiar. Samsung Health is clean and easy to use, and provides lots of social features and challenges to keep you motivated. There are also a variety of workout programs, videos, and health resources if you want to dig into yoga and meditation or learn more about the latest diet trends.
Samsung is putting advertisements in Samsung Health. There’s a big banner ad on the top of the Home screen, advertising things like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (which is annoying to see while you’re using a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra), promotions from the Galaxy Store, and more. There’s a dedicated Notifications tab that also gives you ads for related products like vitamins.
Samsung, get out of here with those ads. It’s not something anyone wants to see after they buy a $400+ smartwatch from you.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 specs
|Samsung Galaxy Watch 3|
45mm: 1.4-inch AMOLED
41mm: 1.2-inch AMOLED
Corning Gorilla Glass DX
Dimensions and weight
45mm: 45 x 46.2 x 11.1mm
53.8g (stainless steel), 43g (titanium)
41mm: 41 x 42.5 x 11.3mm
Colors and materials
45mm: Mystic Black (stainless steel or titanium), Mystic Silver (stainless steel)
41mm: Mystic Bronze (stainless steel), Mystic Silver (stainless steel)
WPC-based wireless charging
Samsung Exynos 9110
LTE (available in select models)
Optical heart rate sensor
Ambient light sensor
5ATM + IP68
Tizen OS 5.5
Android: Android 5.0 or higher & RAM 1.5GB or above
iOS: iPhone 5 and above, iOS 9.0 or above
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 review: Value and the competition
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is usually available on Amazon, Samsung, Best Buy, and other retailers starting at $399.99, but you can regularly find it on sale at most retailers. LTE models are available from Verizon and AT&T starting at $449.99.
That’s a lot of money for a smartwatch, no matter how good it is. That starting price is over $100 more than the Galaxy Watch Active 2 sold for at launch, and $70 more than the original Galaxy Watch. But is it $70-$100 better? I don’t think so. Samsung improved the hardware over the original watch, so that’s a bonus, though I don’t think the software has improved enough for the company to charge this much. It’s like Samsung saw how much Apple was charging for its Series 5 watch and thought it’d do the same. These points are nullified when the Galaxy Watch 3 can be had on a ~$100 discount, but keep this in mind if the price goes back up.
Apple’s latest smartwatch, the Apple Watch Series 6, is the Galaxy Watch 3’s biggest competitor. Each device offers a similar feature set and comes in various sizes and connectivity options. The Galaxy Watch 3 is compatible with Android and iPhones, but you’ll get the best experience if you’re using a Samsung phone. The Apple Watch is only compatible with iOS.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 series is also available now, which adds more sensors and has better hardware than the Galaxy Watch 3. There are limitations, but odds are if you’re looking for a recent Galaxy Watch, you’ll find something to like in the Galaxy Watch 4 series.
See also: The best smartwatch deals we could find
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 review: The verdict
Samsung’s watches have always tried to do everything. Think of a modern smartwatch feature and the Galaxy Watch 3 probably has it. Throwing in too many features often results in a lot of missed opportunities, but I think Samsung actually delivered in most areas here.
Outside of hardware and design, I don’t think the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is the best wearable you can buy in any one particular category. Garmin and Fitbit watches are more accurate with fitness and health, and Wear OS has a better app ecosystem. But the Galaxy Watch 3 is so well-rounded overall, I won’t hesitate to say it’s one of the best smartwatches you can buy for your Android phone.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is the best smartwatch you can buy for your Android phone.
Maybe the bar for acceptable Android watches is just so low that it leaves me to gush about a watch that simply doesn’t fall flat on its face. Even so, I think well-roundedness counts for something when we’ve had so many watches attempt and fail to be the be-all, end-all Apple Watch killer.
It certainly has its shortcomings, but I think many people will be really happy with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 — provided they can stomach the high price tag.