In a relatively short period of time, Apple has become the clear leader in smartwatches. But Samsung isn’t going down without a fight, and the company has the numbers to prove it. According to two separate analyst’s reports, Samsung’s wearables business has grown by more than 100 percent over the past year. And now Samsung is introducing another wearable to the lineup, just a couple days ahead of the company's expected formal unveiling of a new Galaxy Note flagship smartphone.
The new Galaxy Watch Active2 is an update to the Galaxy Watch Active released this past February. It’s thinner and lighter than the previous wearable and comes with two new size options. More notably, Samsung says this update includes more advanced health- and fitness-tracking options, taking aim at the biggest selling points of the fitness-forward Apple Watch.
The new Active2 comes in 40 mm and 44 mm case widths, compared to the Galaxy Watch Active, which is only available in a 42 mm size. The Galaxy Watch Active2 has also been put through the design refinement ringer. It’s slightly thinner and lighter—no small feat when the original Active is already pretty small. The Galaxy Watch Active2 also supports a wireless LTE connection (though that will cost you extra) and has a built-in voice translator.
It's worth noting that this new model doesn’t have the rotating bezel found on earlier Samsung smartwatches. Instead, it has a digital version of this, which Samsung says was implemented to maximize screen size. The earlier mechanical bezel was a popular feature because it didn’t limit wearers to just swiping and tapping through the user interface; they could twist their way through menus too.
In line with its moniker, though, the biggest advancements are around health data collection and fitness tracking. The Active2's built-in accelerometer is supposedly improved, for more accurate activity tracking. It has eight LED-based heart rate monitoring sensors, double the number in the Active. This means it will sample your heartbeats at a faster rate, which Samsung claims will lead to more accurate readings. And the Active2 includes an ECG sensor, though it doesn't offer much at this point. It's not FDA approved, and Samsung says "it is currently in a research phase, and we will share more information at a later date on the status, when available."
The watch will auto-record more than two dozen exercise activities (which means you never have to press start or stop; the watch does it for you.) It also displays real-time pacing information during runs and offers seven different running programs. For the times between workouts, it suggests breathing exercises, then shares the data with Calm. (Samsung announced a partnership with Calm in March of this year.)
Like previous Samsung smartwatches, this new one runs on Tizen, Samsung’s homegrown operating system, and it pairs with both iOS and Android phones. The "One UI" on the watch has been updated. I haven’t had the chance to play around with the Active2 yet, so it’s hard to say how this latest UI compares to other smartwatch interfaces.
However, you can opt in to sharing your health and fitness data to other platforms—including Apple Health and Google Fit—if you like the look and feel of a Samsung watch but prefer to use other apps on your phone. All of this data-sharing is enabled through Samsung's own health app, called Samsung Health.
The Galaxy Active2 (no space!) will be available in late September, starting at $280 for the 40-mm watch and $300 for the 44-mm watch. An LTE version of the watch will also be sold starting on September 27, though Samsung hasn’t released pricing on that one yet. And, note, those are entry-level prices for an aluminum watch; a premium stainless-steel model will cost you more, putting the Active2 more in line with Apple Watch pricing. The Apple Watch Series 4, the newest version of the best-selling smartwatch, starts at $349.
Samsung now has three different smartwatches in its lineup, the Galaxy Watch Active, the Galaxy Watch Active2, and the Galaxy Watch. The Galaxy Watch Active, first launched in February of this year, is considered the entry-level model. The Galaxy Watch Active2 iterates on that, while the Galaxy Watch—which replaced the old Galaxy Gear line of smartwatches—is considered the flagship.
Samsung has taken a very different approach to smartwatch releases than Apple, which has introduced one new marquee wearable every fall for the past four years. But then again, Samsung tends to do things differently in general. It unveils a new “flagship” phone every six months, whether that's the Galaxy S or Galaxy Note, and wants to be perceived as being at the front edge of innovation, even if that sometimes results in product fails.
In this case, Samsung’s release of slightly differentiated smartwatch models either shows a lack of imagination, a kind of Fitbitification if its wearable line; or the company genuinely believes that offering consumers a few different options is a better strategy than a one-watch-fits-all approach. At the end of the day, a smartwatch’s success may have less to do with wrist-worn hardware anyway, and more to do with the software ecosystem the wearer wants to live in––and where they want their health data to live.