Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: Solid smartwatch, but not too “active”

It may not have looked like it, but the original Samsung Galaxy Watch Active was in need of a refresh. There was nothing wrong with the design, but we found plenty of problems under the hood — particularly with fitness and activity tracking. That’s why I was so excited to see the company release the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 so soon after the original.

We’re happy to report that Samsung fixed some of the gripes we had with the first Watch Active, but left a few of the fitness features hanging. Read our full Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review to find out why you should buy it, and why you might want to stay away. 

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review notes: I’ve been using our Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review unit for around four days, running OneUI Watch version 1.5, Tizen version 4.0.0.6, and software version R820XU1ASHF. Our Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review unit is the 44mm Bluetooth-only model and has been paired with my Google Pixel 3 for the duration of this review.

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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: The big picture

The Apple Watch Series 5 might be far and away the best smartwatch on iOS, but Android users don’t have it that easy. Wear OS has some nice options, but doesn’t have much support from Google on the software side. And Fitbit’s smartwatches are getting better, but they’re still in their infancy.

As long as Samsung nails the hardware and continues to support its software, it should come out on top, right? Not so fast. We ran into a few big problems with the original Galaxy Watch Active — for a fitness and health tracker, it wasn’t very good at tracking fitness or health. So, whether we recommend this product or not wholly depends on if Samsung fixed those issues.

Design and hardware

  • Aluminum and stainless steel models
  • 40/44mm case, 20mm strap
  • 1.2 or 1.4-inch Super AMOLED
    • 360 x 360 resolution
  • Touch-enabled bezel
  • Dual-core Exynos 9110 at 1.15GHz
  • Bluetooth model: 768MB of RAM
  • Bluetooth + LTE model: 1.5GB of RAM
  • 5ATM, IP68, MIL-STD-810G
  • Built-in speaker

At first glance, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 looks to be essentially unchanged from the original Galaxy Watch Active; however, there are actually a handful of notable upgrades with the second-gen device. The watch now comes in 40 and 44mm case sizes (mine is the 44mm), along with your choice of stainless steel or aluminum build materials. The stainless steel model will no doubt feel like the more premium device, but I can’t complain about the aluminum model I have on hand.

The Watch Active 2 still comes with two physical buttons on the right side of the watch case — one back button, one home/all apps button. Double-tapping the home button calls up Bixby, and a long-press of the back button brings up Samsung Pay (more on that later).

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review watch face clock face 4

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review heart rate sensor
samsung galaxy watch active 2 review side buttons
samsung galaxy watch active 2 review speaker

Your display size will depend on your watch case size. The 44mm Watch Active 2 comes with a 1.4-inch screen, while the 40mm watch comes with a smaller 1.2-inch screen. Resolution is the same on both models (360 x 360), and the AMOLED panel is very sharp and vibrant. Blacks are deep, whites are bright, and viewing angles are fantastic. This is a Samsung watch, after all.

Despite its big 44mm case, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 never really got in my way. It’s plenty light at 30g, and the bezels are minimal.

Speaking of bezels, Samsung made the bezel around the Active 2’s display touch-sensitive, allowing you to scroll around the user interface by sliding your finger around the edge of the display. It’s pretty convenient, and I found myself using it more often than not. This definitely makes up for the lack of a rotating side button. However, I think I still prefer the physically rotating bezel on the original Samsung Galaxy Watch.

The Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a two-day smartwatch, even with heavy usage.

Battery longevity will also depend on which model you choose. I wasn’t able to test the 40mm watch with its 247mAh battery, but Samsung says it’ll last roughly 1.5 days on a single charge. My 44mm watch with its 340mAh cell was able to last about two days with heavy usage, which is pretty much what Samsung quotes for the watch. Two days isn’t horrible for a smartwatch compared to some Wear OS offerings, but it’s nowhere near Fitbit or Garmin levels. Still, you’ll likely have no problems making the watch last well into the second day without charging it up. I set up the watch, ran for 45 minutes with the heart rate sensor and GPS turned on, did a 20-minute yoga session, and used sleep tracking, and the Galaxy Watch Active 2 was still able to last until the end of the second day.

If you have the always-on display turned on at all times, expect the watch to last a bit less than 1.5 days.

Samsung includes a WPC-based wireless charger in the box. It’s a simple and small wireless charging puck, so it won’t double as a bedside clock or anything. 

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MyStyle customizable watch face on the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

This time around, you’ll find a speaker cutout on the left side of the case. The new speaker allows the device to make and receive phone calls (without a smartphone if you opt for the LTE model), provide audio responses, and even play music and videos right from the watch.

Overall, speaker and microphone quality is good. I’ve been using the Bluetooth-only model, so I wasn’t able to test phone-free calling throughout the review period. Even so, my wife told me call quality through the watch was so good that she couldn’t tell the difference between the Watch Active 2 and my Pixel 3. Not bad.

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review strap

The included 20mm quick release straps are quite nice. They’re made of silicone and don’t collect too much dust or lint. If you’re not a fan of Samsung’s straps, you can swap them out for any ole 20mm watch strap of your choosing.

Samsung is taking aesthetics one step further with the introduction of the MyStyle watch face. Selecting this watch face will allow you to take a photo from your camera or gallery, extract the colors from that photo, and use them to create a watch face. It’s quite nice, and I’m sure this will be popular for those who need a watch face to match their outfits every day. I’m more of a minimalist with watch faces, so I usually go for the more boring black analog look.

Fitness and health tracking

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review samsung health widget

  • Heart rate, ECG, accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, ambient light sensors
  • A-GPS/Glonass/Beidou
  • Fitness, sleep, and stress tracking

One of our biggest gripes with the original Samsung Galaxy Watch Active was, coincidentally, its ability to accurately track activities. We found resting and active heart rate to be erratic, same with GPS, and floors climbed measurements to be inaccurate with the original device. Samsung included an upgraded heart rate sensor in the Watch Active 2. Resting heart rate readings have been improved, but there’s still more work to be done with recordings during workouts. Also, floors climbed metrics are still all over the place.

For some reason, the altimeter Samsung uses in the Galaxy Watch Active 2 has a hard time reporting accurate numbers. I climbed my 15-stair staircase five times in a row, and the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 reported just one floor climbed. These are similar results to what Kris reported with the original Watch Active.

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review floors climbed

I tested the watch against my Wahoo Tickr X heart rate strap and my Garmin Forerunner 245 Music during a 37-minute outdoor run. The results can be found below.

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review garmin forerunner 245 music heart rate readings

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review heart rate readings
samsung galaxy watch active 2 review wahoo tick x heart rate readings

The Tickr X chest strap reported a max heart rate of 177bpm, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 reported a max of 180bpm, and the Forerunner reported a max of 157bpm. The Samsung watch was definitely closer in terms of max heart rate, though it didn’t quite get back up to the maximum after the short dip towards the end of the run. Average heart rate readings were closer to the Tickr X as well. The chest strap reported an average of 154bpm, while the Galaxy Watch reported a closer reading of 161 compared to the Garmin’s 174bpm average.

Throughout this and one other workout, though, heart rate readings were sluggish. Taking a look at the Samsung Health screenshot above, you’ll see the heart rate sensor leveling out for a solid 10 minutes before increasing again. It did keep up with the major trends for the most part, but only after it got over that period of sluggishness. 

Also read

Samsung did, however, improve resting heart rate readings with the new watch. When I typed this, I was sitting at my desk, relaxed, looking at my heart rate chest strap and Galaxy Watch Active 2. The chest strap showed a resting heart rate of about 73bpm, while the Galaxy Watch Active 2 reading showed 70bpm. Every time I’ve compared resting heart rate readings, the Active 2 has been mostly in line with other watches as well.

Overall, the Galaxy Watch Active 2’s heart rate sensor seems to be a step in the right direction, but it’s still off compared to other fitness watches. I just don’t think Samsung’s heart rate sensors are able to compete with the big players yet.

The same can be said for GPS accuracy. On two separate occasions, my Watch Active 2 over-reported distance traveled during my runs. It was about a quarter mile over the run you see above, and a bit more than that during another run.

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review heart rate

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is still able to take blood pressure readings, but Samsung isn’t necessarily flaunting that feature this time around. This is probably a good thing, because the bp tool was the worst aspect of the original Galaxy Watch Active. Samsung is still working with the University of California, San Francisco to research blood pressure monitoring from the wrist, so this is by no means a full-fledged feature or a viable replacement for a medical-grade blood pressure monitor. However, many of the recent Play Store reviews for the My BP Lab app claim the application has been much more reliable and accurate after recent updates. Even so, we wouldn’t recommend buying the Galaxy Watch Active 2 solely for blood pressure monitoring.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 also has a built-in electrocardiogram (ECG), though it won’t be accessible to the user until a later date.

Also read: Withings Move ECG review: Heart not to recommend

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review running activity 2
samsung galaxy watch active 2 review running activity 1

A total of seven activities can be tracked automatically, including running, walking, swimming (new), cycling, rowing, elliptical workouts, and a dynamic workout option. The watch can track over 39 other workouts as long as you start those activities manually. Overall, not much has changed on the fitness tracking front, though there is an improved Running Coach feature that monitors real-time pace metrics while you’re out on a run. This just means the Watch Active 2 can tell you your steps per minute (SPM) and pace.

Stress tracking also makes its return, along with guided breathing exercises if you find yourself in a tense situation.

Sleep tracking is one of the watch’s high points. The Samsung Health app does a good job at laying out all of your sleep metrics in an easy-to-understand way. It’ll show your total time asleep, sleep stages (awake, REM, light, and deep), efficiency percentage, calories burned, consistency targets, averages, trends over time, and more. It’ll even recommend calming guided meditations if you need help falling asleep.

Smartwatch features

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review all apps

  • Samsung Tizen OS with OneUI
  • NFC payments with Samsung Pay
    • No MST payments
  • Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi b/g/n, NFC
  • 4GB of onboard storage
    • 2.5GB available to the user

There aren’t an overabundance of new smartwatch features this time around, so for the most part, I’m going to send you over to our original Samsung Galaxy Watch Active review for details on the general Tizen layout, device compatibility, and more. What you should know is that Samsung’s Tizen OS is clean, easy to use, and getting better with every iteration. Its app ecosystem is lacking compared to Wear OS and WatchOS, but there are a decent amount of third-party apps to satisfy your needs.

Now let’s talk about the new features with the Watch Active 2. As previously stated, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 comes in two connectivity models: one with Bluetooth + Wi-Fi and another with Bluetooth + Wi-Fi + LTE. I’m using the Bluetooth + Wi-Fi model so I can’t comment on LTE connectivity, unfortunately. You can check out carrier compatibility here.

The Watch Active 2 only comes with 4GB of onboard storage, leaving just 2.5GB available for storage upon first boot. That’s not a lot, but it’s at least enough to store a few hundred songs for offline playback. Samsung makes it relatively easy to load up music on the Galaxy Watch Active 2, and there’s also offline Spotify support via a standalone app. Just connect your favorite pair of Bluetooth earbuds and you’re all set for offline listening.

Don’t miss: The best workout earbuds you can buy

A few other new features available in the Watch Active 2: It now supports real-time voice and text translation in over 16 languages, though I’m not sure who would choose to translate language on their watch instead of their phone. Also, Samsung made a standalone YouTube player app for the watch, if for some reason you’d like to torture yourself and watch videos on your smartwatch.

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review spotify app

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review quick settings on wrist
samsung galaxy watch active 2 review bixby
samsung galaxy watch active 2 review weather

Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant is back again, available via a double-tap of the home button or by saying “Hi, Bixby.” I ran into a few issues with voice recognition throughout my testing, with Bixby not understanding what I’d say about 25% of the time. When it did recognize my voice queries, it was actually pretty quick to offer responses — way quicker than Google Assistant on Wear OS.

See also: Bixby guide: Features, compatible devices, and the best commands

You can do much more with Bixby if you also have a Samsung Galaxy phone. It’s actually a pretty powerful voice assistant on a non-smartwatch form factor. Even though I was using it with my Pixel 3, being able to ask it for the weather or to start a phone call was convenient.

Samsung Pay support is baked into the watch again, but unfortunately MST payments still aren’t supported. NFC payments work just fine with Samsung Pay, but it’d be nice to have MST functionality back again.

The Samsung Health app

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review google pixel 3 samsung health app

Also read

Again, I’m going to point you towards our Samsung Galaxy Fit review for an in-depth look at the Samsung Health app. As a brief overview, though, Samsung Health is a clean, detailed, and versatile fitness application that does a nice job of making users’ activity and health trends easily accessible. There are plenty of social features to dive into, along with tutorials and guides if you need a little help improving in any particular area.

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review samsung health app screenshots 1
samsung galaxy watch active 2 review samsung health app screenshots 2
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The setup process still needs a ton of work, though. When you boot up your Galaxy Watch Active 2 for the first time, it’ll prompt you to download a total of four applications to get it working properly. You need the Galaxy Wearable app, Galaxy Watch Active 2 Plugin, Samsung Accessory Service app, and of course Samsung Health. Again, we go over why you need all these apps in our Galaxy Fit review. The setup process is annoying, but luckily you only need to do it once.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 specs

 Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 (Bluetooth)Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 (LTE)
Display44mm: 1.4-inch Super AMOLED
360 x 360 resolution
Corning Gorilla Glass DX+

40mm:1.2-inch Super AMOLED
360 x 360 resolution
Corning Gorilla Glass DX+

44mm: 1.4-inch Super AMOLED
360 x 360 resolution
Corning Gorilla Glass DX+

40mm:1.2-inch Super AMOLED
360 x 360 resolution
Corning Gorilla Glass DX+

Strap44mm models: 20mm interchangeable
40mm models: 20mm interchangeable
44mm models: 20mm interchangeable
40mm models: 20mm interchangeable
ChipsetDual-core Exynos 9110 at 1.15GHzDual-core Exynos 9110 at 1.15GHz
RAM768MB1.5GB
Storage4GB4GB
Battery44mm models: 340mAh
40mm models: 247mAh
WPC-based wireless charging
44mm models: 340mAh
40mm models: 247mAh
WPC-based wireless charging
Durability5ATM
IP68
MIL-STD-810G
5ATM
IP68
MIL-STD-810G
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0
Wi-Fi b/g/n
NFC
A-GPS/Glonass/Beidou
LTE
Bluetooth 5.0
Wi-Fi b/g/n
NFC
A-GPS/Glonass/Beidou
SensorsHeart rate
Electrocardiogram
Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Barometer
Ambient light
Heart rate
Electrocardiogram
Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Barometer
Ambient light
SoftwareTizenTizen
CompatibilityAndroid: 5.0 or higher, RAM 1.5GB and above
iPhone: iPhone 5 and above, iOS 9.0 or above
Android: 5.0 or higher, RAM 1.5GB and above
iPhone: iPhone 5 and above, iOS 9.0 or above
Dimensions and weightAluminum 44mm: 44 x 44 x 10.9T, 30g
Aluminum 40mm: 40 x 40 x 10.9T, 26g

Stainless steel 44mm: 44 x 44 x 10.9T, 44g
Stainless steel 40mm: 40 x 40 x 10.9T, 37g

Stainless steel 44mm: 44 x 44 x 10.9T, 44g
Stainless steel 40mm: 40 x 40 x 10.9T, 37g
ColorsAluminum: Cloud Silver, Aqua Black, Pink Gold with Fluoroelastomer (FKM)

Stainless steel: Silver, Black, Gold with Leather strap

Aluminum: Cloud Silver, Aqua Black, Pink Gold with Fluoroelastomer (FKM)

Stainless steel: Silver, Black, Gold with Leather strap

Value and the competition

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review vs fossil gen 5 smartwatch

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 vs Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch

The 40mm Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 with Bluetooth + Wi-Fi is available today on Samsung.com starting at $279.99, while the 44mm Bluetooth + Wi-Fi model starts at $299.99. Both sizes are available in three color options: Aqua Black, Cloud Silver, and Pink Gold. Samsung.com also offers financing options if you’d rather pay that price over time.

Pricing and availability details have yet to be announced for the Galaxy Watch Active with LTE, but we will be sure to update this review as those details become available.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2

$279.99 is a good starting price for the Galaxy Watch Active 2. It undercuts the Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch by $15, and it’s significantly less than the new Apple Watch Series 5 starting price of $399. 

With Wear OS in an awkward state right now, I have no problem recommending the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 to anyone looking for a high-end smartwatch on Android. If you already bought the Galaxy Watch Active and are looking to upgrade, I’m on the fence as to whether or not you should buy the Watch Active 2. However, it is really nice having access to a speaker and touch-enabled bezel.

If you’re looking for a fitness smartwatch that will be able to accurately record heart rate and GPS, I’d suggest you look elsewhere. Garmin’s Vivoactive 4 line just came out (review coming soon!), but the Vivoactive 3 Music is still a good option as well.

A similar smartwatch alternative to the Watch Active 2 is the Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch. It also offers a speaker, good battery life, and really nice hardware at around the same price point. Trust me, I really think you should check it out if you don’t mind Wear OS.

Need something even cheaper and don’t mind sacrificing on features? The Fitbit Versa 2 is a great option at $199.95. It’s a fantastic fitness tracker, a decent smartwatch, and even has Amazon Alexa baked in.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: The verdict

samsung galaxy watch active 2 review watch face clock face 7

I’m really glad Samsung released the Galaxy Watch Active 2 so soon after the original. The original Galaxy Watch Active felt like a first-generation product, whereas the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a product that proves Samsung is listening to user feedback. The touch-sensitive bezel really helps with the overall experience, and there’s now LTE connectivity for those who need it. All in all, it’s a good all-around smartwatch.

Just be sure you’re buying it for the right reasons. It might be able to track your fitness, but it’s not the most accurate fitness watch you can buy. Not even close. Blood pressure monitoring is wonky too, and Samsung’s app ecosystem is lacking compared to the competition.

For many people, though, those are small gripes. If you’re in need of a solid Wear OS alternative, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a great choice. Ironically, just don’t buy it for the “active” features.

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That’s it for our Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review. Are you still buying one? Or are the fitness tracking issues enough to keep you away?

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