Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 series initial review: A sensory experience

Samsung didn't only use its mid-August Unpacked event to reveal new foldables - the Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 being the main highlights, along with the Buds 2 wireless in-ears - but also a pair of new smartwatches, the Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic.

With updated Wear OS software, a more powerful processor, higher resolution displays, and lower pricing than the outgoing Watch 3 series, it's safe to say Samsung has strong new contenders for the Wear OS smartwatch crown.

Ahead of the Unpacked event, we got to handle these wrist-worn fitness trackers at Samsung KX - the Korean company's London-based showroom, in the capital's King's Cross area - to see how the range has evolved. 

Watch 4 vs Classic: What's different?

  • Watch 4 from £249/€269 / Classic from £349/€369
  • Watch 4: 40mm & 44mm / Classic: 42mm & 46mm
  • Watch 4: Aluminium / Classic: Stainless steel
  • Classic adds rotational bezel control
  • Same features & sensors in both

The Watch 4 and Classic are fundamentally the same from a capability point of view: whichever you pick there's no difference to power, to sensors, or to tracking options in any regard.

Instead it's all about the materials, finish, style and size. The Watch 4 (embedded gallery below) is more sporty, with an aluminium case and sweat-proof band. 

collection: Galaxy Watch 4

The Watch 4 Classic (embedded gallery up top) is, you guessed it, more 'classic'. It features a stainless steel case, more traditional strap fastening, a rotational bezel dial control (which lacks in the sportier watch), and the two case sizes are a little larger.

Those differences inevitably bring price variances, with the Classic commanding a higher asking price than the sportier Watch 4. This will depend on which size you choose and whether it's Bluetooth only or eSIM 4G capable. Here's a list of pricing options for the UK market:

Galaxy Watch 4

  • 40mm Bluetooth only: £249 / 4G: £289
  • 44mm Bluetooth only: £269

Galaxy Watch 4 Classic

  • 42mm Bluetooth only: £349 / 4G: £389
  • 46mm Bluetooth: £369 / 4G: £406

Design & Display

  • Dimensions (40mm): 40.4 x 39.3 x 9.8mm / 25.9g
  • Dimensions (44mm): 44.4 x 43.3 x 9.8mm / 30.3g
  • Dimensions (42mm): 41.5 x 41.5 x 11.2mm / 46.5g
  • Dimensions (46mm): 45.5 x  45.5 x 11.0mm / 52g
  • Display (40/42mm): 1.2in, 396 x 396 AMOLED
  • Display (44/46mm): 1.4in, 450 x 450 AMOLED
  • 5ATM (IP68) water-resistance
  • Strap: 20mm quick-release

We're going to predominantly focus on the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic here, as it's the watch with the most moving parts - literally - and points of interest. In its 46mm size, as pictured up top, it has the bigger screen - at 1.4-inches - with a higher-resolution than most other wearables can muster.

Obviously this display is round, but the pixel density is similar to the top-end Apple Watch Series 6, which makes for sharp visuals. We much prefer a round watch face, too, as it's simply a lot more classic than the square competition.

Despite the 46mm case being fairly large, the Watch 4 Classic is still slim, with the rotational bezel being what makes it a millimetre or so thicker than its sportier alternative.

That rotational bezel control makes sense for some quick adjustments, but as the Wear OS software has been updated, the typically circular design ideas are less present than before. For example, swipe up on the home screen to reveal all your third-party apps, rather than seeing them relayed around the edge of the display, as you would in the previous Watch 3. This more Apple Watch OS-like look might be visually pleasing, but it's a bit at odds with the need for a rotational bezel.

There are also twin button controls, just as you'll find on the non-Classic model, which we find straightforward for selecting and going back, as applicable, although touch controls are a fast way to dash between various screens too.

In terms of physical build quality, the Watch 4 Classic delivers a strong look in either silver or black (there are green and pink gold options nested within the Watch 4 range, just not for the Classic model). The stainless steel exudes quality, there's no plasticky trim to be found anywhere here.

The strap is fairly basic, though, but with quick-release it's easy to find any alternative to match to your watch case.

With an IP68 and 5ATM rating, the Watch 4 is good to 50 metres underwater too. The IP rating asserts it's also dust-sealed and resistive to jets of water. So if you're the kind of person who likes to keep their watch on at all times, nothing should get in the way of this Galaxy device.

Sensors & Activity Tracking

  • Tracking: Steps, Time, Calories, Body Composition, Sleep, Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, ECG, Stress
  • Battery (40hrs claimed): 247mAh (40/42mm) / 361mAh (44/46mm)
  • Samsung Exynos W920 processor, 1.5GB RAM, 16GB storage
  • Software: Wear OS powered by Samsung

Although the Watch 4 series is capable of notifications, downloading third-party Google approved apps, and good for payments using Samsung Pay, a large part of its being is to track your fitness in various ways.

And by various ways we mean lots and lots of ways. The Watch 4 has Samsung's 'BioActive Sensor' to the rear, which combines optical heart-rate tracking, along with electrical heart rate and bioelectrical impedance analysis. That data input can be used to define a multitude of characteristics, including your body's composition.

We'll focus on the Body Composition feature first, as it's essentially an advanced Body Mass Index (BMI) system, where you enter your height and weight and then use two fingers to touch the watch's dual buttons for it to emit electrical impulses to read your overall body make-up. It'll present results on a sliding scale from green (good) to orange (probably not so good) and that can help you to target specific areas where you may be looking to make a difference. If that's to lose fat, increase muscle mass, and so on - it's not a binary system like classic BMI's ignoring of critical body make-up data.

This focus on health extends across a whole variety of other measures. Swiping between screens and you'll first see the basics - step, time and calories burned (including a 'rings' system to track your progress and challenge friends) - before accessing more detailed health options for Activities (walking, running, cycling, more), Body Composition (as described above), Sleep, Blood Pressure, ECG (electrocardiogram), Heart Rate, and Stress measure. A number of these are used to inform daily results, such as your stress levels, and can help you form an understanding of how, say, your sleep (or lack thereof) may impact your health.

At this stage, of course, we've only scratched the surface of seeing that the Watch 4 can do these things. How accurately or convincingly, however, is up for debate - because we'd need to live with the watch, day in and out, to get a real comprehension of just how useful these readings truly are.

collection: Watch 4 screens

Many people, we suspect, will simply want to know they can tap the 'running' symbol and crack on with a daily jog. That's easily achieved, thankfully, while there are lots of other activity types to choose from - over 100 in all. You can even cast workouts to a compatible Samsung TV, if that's your thing for at-home exercise.

The Galaxy Watch 4 series is also the first to utilise Samsung's Exynos W920 platform, which brings some serious uprating in power compared to last-gen wearables. There's a 20 per cent CPU boost, 10 per cent GPU boost, and with an extra 500MB of RAM (1.5GB total) there's more scope for Wear OS to run nice and smoothly. No juddery screens here, it's all smooth and fluid.

How intense all these sensors and more powerful processing will be on battery life isn't something we can confidently comment upon just yet, but Samsung claims "up to 40 hours" battery life per charge, depending on how much you engage with various activities and tracking.