Samsung's Galaxy Watch: A Scientist Weighs in on Its Features

The new wearable falls between two extremes.


On Thursday, Samsung revealed the latest addition to its collection of wearables. The Galaxy Watch looks a bit sleeker than an average fitness watch — a chic timepiece one might wear if one is not interested in advertising that they Seriously Work Out Regularly. Beneath the window dressing, the Galaxy successfully straddles two different worlds of fitness trackers: trackers that look good, and ones that can offer robust data.

The fitness watch spectrum ranges from hardcore workout trackers that don’t necessarily translate to daily wear (e.g., heart rate monitors that require a chest strap, like the Polar M400 GPS to watches that are designed to look good — or at least inconspicuous. The Galaxy watch appears to fall somewhere between the extremes if you take a look at the components, as Jonathan Peake, P.h.D, a senior lecturer at Queensland University’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation points out to Inverse.

“There is plenty of window dressing to suit personal preference,” Peake says. “It is promoted as military grade hardware, I doubt many users would requite that level of durability. Likewise, it’s rated to five atmospheres of underwater pressure, thus it could be used while deep-sea diving.”

If you wanted to, you could take this watch deep sea diving 


How the Galaxy Watch Appears to Stack Up to Competition

Deep-sea diving capability isn’t the only elite-level sport aspect of the Galaxy watch. For instance, it has some advanced GPS technology — in particular capability to integrate with GLONASS, Russia’s satellite navigation system. But aside from those notable features, Peake, who conducted a systematic review of hundreds of consumer fitness trackers earlier in August and published his findings in Frontiers in Physiology, mentions that the Galaxy doesn’t have too much else under the hood to differentiate it from competitors.

“The sensors included in the watch are pretty standard for measuring activity levels, heart rate and daylight,” Peake says. “Monitoring activity levels at the wrist is most convenient and comfortable for users, But some activities don’t involve arm movement, and other activities involve only the arms while otherwise remaining sedentary.”

The Fitness Watch Still Has Two Big Problems

Still, even the Galaxy hasn’t solved two universal fitness tracking issues: the wrist is neither the best place on the body to even put a fitness tracker, nor is it the best place to get a heart rate reading. This is because it uses a system of measurement called plethysmography, which uses a light to sense the blood flow through the veins in the wrist, as opposed to chest-strap heart rate monitors, which measure the heart’s electrical activity.

The different workout modes for the Apple Watch. Samsung's watch boasts more than three times as many sport choices. 


Galaxy Watch Appears to Be an Organizational Game-Changer

But what does seem unique to the Galaxy watch is not how it collects data, but rather how it allows you to organize it. At the unveiling, it was revealed that the watch has workout modes for 39 sports, from cycling to yoga. For comparison, the Apple watch’s newest line only has specific modes for ten different sports.

Having this level of labeling specificity with sport tracking is incredibly helpful when you’e looking to run any kind of analysis on your workout data. For instance, it’s good to know if that a data point showing low heart rate is due to a yoga class and not, say, a slow struggle through a spin class.

For now, the Galaxy watch is one of the first to really attempt to be a true lifestyle fitness tracker that straddles both the worlds of Russian satellite tracking and intense deep-sea diving but can also trick you into thinking it’s a fashion accessory. We won’t know much about how people react to the Galaxy watch’s interfaces until it launches officially on August 24, but if anyone takes it deep sea diving, Samsung would likely be happy to hear about it.

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