The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is barely an upgrade on its predecessor, which came out earlier in 2020 but lacked the rotating bezel that made its beefier sibling, the Samsung Galaxy Watch, such a hit. But the refined version of Samsung’s sporty smartwatch comes with a digital bezel and a few other tricks to become the best wearable in the company’s lineup.
The similarities to its predecessor are probably for the best – the Active 2 retains its predecessor’s slimmer, minimal, modern look. It’s almost certainly a more broadly-appealing setup than the Galaxy Watch’s girthy form, akin to the more ‘masculine’ style of traditional watches.
It’s manageable and rigorous enough to take on runs, yet packing enough features and capabilities to rival the Apple Watch 6. But the Active 2’s extra features come at a literal cost – it’s nominally pricier than its predecessor, shrinking the watch’s affordability edge over Apple’s watches.
Still, the Active 2 is a solid choice for consumers on the hunt for a smartwatch to take on runs and into the office, especially for Android users outside the iOS ecosystem. Yes, it can be used with an iPhone, but with limited functionality – and for the same price you could pick up the new Apple Watch SE or an older Apple Watch.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is out now, starting at $279.99 / £269 for the 40mm version or $299 / £289 / AU$549 for the 44mm version. The 40mm model isn’t available in Australia.
The Galaxy Watch Active 2 is also available in an LTE model in stainless steel, which in the US is offered through Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon. In the UK and Australia you can buy this version outright, at £399 / AU$749 for the 40mm version and £419 / AU$799 for the 44mm one.
But if you wanted most of the functionality of the Active 2 and to save a bit of money, you could opt for…the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active. While the extra features – digital haptic dial, LTE availability, and extra workout features – are nice extras, they probably aren’t worth the price jump.
Design and display
The Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a dead ringer for its predecessor – the 40mm version, anyway, since the new smartwatch is also available in 44mm, which is more manageable than the Galaxy Watch’s hefty 46mm bigger model.
As it stands, both options are pretty light, starting at 26g for the smaller aluminum (without a strap) and 30g for the larger – present but not weighty when worn during a run.
Like the original Active, the basic Watch Active 2 has an aluminum body. It comes in cloud silver, aqua black and pink gold colors. You can also get it in stainless steel (which is what the LTE model comes in) for a higher price, which comes in silver, black and gold.
The cheaper model comes with a rubberized Fluoroelastomer band, which you’ll recognize if you’ve ever worn an Apple Watch – material that felt natural through casual and sweaty activity, and would be fine worn sunup to sundown (and beyond).
If you want a classier look and feel, you can opt for the heavier (by about 11g) stainless steel body with a leather strap – but you can also swap out any Samsung-sold or aftermarket 20mm band if you so desire.
In either case, the watch’s back has a heart rate monitor with eight photodiodes – double the amount of its predecessor. In our tests it gave reasonably accurate readings.
The two side buttons are also the same as before – a ‘back’ button on top, which is now outlined in some case colors, and a ‘home’ button below, which brings up your apps. While double-tapping the latter brings up Samsung’s smart assistant Bixby by default, you can (and should) set it to something more useful, such as a shortcut to a frequent favorite.
The Active 2’s 360 x 360 resolution Super AMOLED screen is slightly (as in, 0.1 inches) expanded to 1.2-inches over its predecessor for the smaller 40mm model – meaning less bezel this time around – while the larger 44mm option has a 1.4-inch screen of the same resolution.
That’s about standard for smartwatches, and it’s enough screen real estate to filter through essential information, though sorting through any text meatier than a notification (like, say, an email) is a chore.
Most of Samsung’s first-party apps are optimized for this tiny display, but some third-party options are as audacious as they are spectacularly unsuccessful. By which we mean: we downloaded a YouTube-watching app on a lark, and it went about as expected.
Thankfully, the new digital dial makes navigating around menus a lot more precise. Yes, it’s not as exact or as satisfying as the tactile bezel wheel on the original Galaxy Watch, but it’s the next best thing, with a vibrating tic every time you switch to the next app or setting.
It’s a lot less loose than swiping on the screen, which you can still do if you prefer. In fact, swiping is the only control method when you boot up the watch, as Samsung bafflingly didn’t turn on the digital dial by default.
The dial is worth trying out for ease of use – plus, it keeps your finger on the outer edge of the screen, and out of the way. It’s obviously something that crowns also do (like on the sides of Apple Watches), but it’s nice to see a touch-based alternative method of navigation done well.
Performance and software
The Active 2 has an Exynos 9110 dual-core chipset, the same as its predecessor – and the original Galaxy Watch, for that matter – but at 1.15Ghz, it’s fast enough. The smartwatch’s 768MB of RAM is fine for switching in and out of apps, though that’s upgraded to 1.5GB for the LTE model.
That’s enough power to zoom around the interface, though we still wish Samsung had been able to fit more than 4GB of storage in there – especially since, once the operating system and baseline apps have been loaded up, you’re left with 1.5GB to fiddle with. Enough for plenty of songs and apps (most of which take up barely a megabyte apiece), but not leaving much room for bigger, bolder software.
Like its predecessor, the Active 2 runs on Samsung’s One UI overlay over Samsung’s trusty Tizen operating system, and not much has changed since the original Active. The rotating dial makes it noticeably easier to sift through apps on your home page or notifications on the main ‘watch face’ screen, though it will take a little getting used to for precision navigation (i.e. not zooming past the right stop).
There are other new integrations Samsung is championing – like taking a photo on a phone with the Samsung Wearables app and creating an algorithmically-chosen color-and-pattern watch face design. Ostensibly, this is to sync your Active 2 with whatever you’re wearing, but you could also snap photos of a particular hue or natural color, if you fancy.
Unfortunately, Tizen hasn’t gotten much in the way of third-party app support in the interim since the original Active. Aside from flashlights, calorie counters and run-mapping, you’re likely relying on first-party apps to carry most of your interactivity. Tizen is still behind Apple watchOS and even Wear OS in this regard.
The included apps are still useful, though iOS users still won’t be able to access all the best benefits, like replying to messages or interacting with email beyond notifications. Some things have improved – Find My Phone now buzzes your iPhone even if Do Not Disturb is on – but you simply won’t get the full functionality of the watch without an Android phone.
The Watch Active 2’s fitness apps and features haven’t changed much: there’s still 39 workout-tracking modes, like running, walking, cycling and swimming.
The exercise modes generally work fine for the cardio-related routines, but struggle with those defined by motion.
The ‘Crunches’ mode, for example, only counted reps when the hand (and thus the Active 2) was extended far over the knees…meaning anyone performing a crunch with arms crossed over their chest is out of luck. It’s an odd specificity that extends to other workouts, like Arm Extensions and Jumping Jacks, which were similarly finicky.
But we didn’t have any problems when taking the Active 2 for a jog, where it tracked our runs and gently vibrated when it sensed we’d stopped moving and might be done with the workout (or was just telling us to wrap up our break). The smartwatch also connected effortlessly with Bluetooth headphones, which made it easier to hear the Active 2’s occasional vocal updates on our workout progress.
Listening to music was more of a chore, especially when connected to an iPhone, for which adding music is a multi-step process. Syncing up a Spotify account is easy enough, though the frequent alerts and notifications momentarily muted audio, with multiple disruptions per song. It’s odd, especially when a non-interruption feature seems like such a logical addition for a workout mode.
The Galaxy Watch Active 2 is IP68-rated for water and dust resistance, and can survive being submerged up to 5 meters in liquid and getting a little grimy. There’s even a ‘water lock’ mode that disables touchscreen functionality and vibrates to shake out excess water.
The watch also has an ECG (electrocardiogram), which can be used to detect the electrical activity and rhythm of your heart. It’s a feature we’ve already seen on the Apple Watch 4 and 5 and can be used to detect the likes of atrial fibrillation.
However, while the hardware is present here, the feature isn’t available at launch, as Samsung needs approval for its use in each country. As such we haven’t been able to test this.
If anything lives up to Samsung’s claims about the Galaxy Watch Active 2, it’s battery life. With typical use, our Active 2 lasted through two full days. While that’s not quite the four days that our original Galaxy Watch survived for, it’s more than can be said of the Apple Watch line.
That battery life diminishes with lots of activity: playing music or running the GPS (through those workouts, say) can drain capacity at a more rapid pace. It all depends how much you use it, and there’s a battery-saving setting (switching on grayscale, switching off Wi-Fi) to eke out more life between charges.
The actual capacity of the 40mm model is 247mAh, slightly larger than the 230mAh of its predecessor. The 44mm’s 340mAh capacity might give it the edge over its smaller sibling (the only one we tested), though that’s also powering a larger screen.
Who it’s for
Android phone owners looking to pick up a quality smartwatch from a known brand should consider the Active 2 – especially if they’re, well, active. This is especially true for lovers of the original Galaxy Watch who were wary of a dial-less watch. And since we might never get a Samsung Galaxy Watch 2, this might be the closest we’ll get.
Who it’s not for
Anyone locked into Apple’s iOS ecosystem won’t get the most out of this smartwatch, and with a still-competitive Apple Watch 3 on the market, it’s tough to recommend what’s undeniably an inferior wearable OS. Likewise, any serious fans of Wear OS might be unimpressed by the smaller app library.
Apple Watch 3
As we’ve said repeatedly, the Apple Watch 3 is identically priced, proven, and likely discounted even more during deals seasons. watchOS is more robust and beloved for good reason. While you’ll miss out on the Active 2’s haptic dial and demonstrably better battery, the tighter integration with iOS is more compelling.
Read our full Apple Watch 3 review
Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
We’ve made the case throughout this review, but the original Watch Active has most of the bells and loses out on few of the new whistles in its successor. You’ll still get a quality smartwatch to take on runs and into the office – but at a lower price (which is primed to drop more during deals seasons).
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Watch Active review