Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 6 Is the Apple Watch’s Only Real Competition
Attention Android users: the Galaxy Watch 6 and Watch 6 Classic are your smartwatch king and queen.
Jimmy has had a Samsung Galaxy Watch on his wrist for as long as he's been cutting my hair.
My barber and an anti-iPhone user (though he admits to using an Intel MacBook Air), Jimmy bought his Samsung smartwatch in a Black Friday sale in 2018 and has been using it ever since. About two weeks ago, I went in for a trim and as usual we talked about the latest gadgets I was testing. I showed him the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic on my wrist while he took scissors to my mop.
I asked him why he hasn't replaced his five-year-old smartwatch. He said it still worked. I asked him what he loved about his Galaxy Watch. "I like this," he said, pointing to the rotating bezel around the smartwatch's display with the tip of the scissors. "I like Samsung."
A few days later I got a text from Jimmy. "I just ordered a 6 [Classic]." Of course, the bubble was green on my iPhone. I was the one who also convinced him to upgrade his ancient Galaxy S8+ to a Galaxy S21 Ultra.
I don't know how many Jimmys there are out there, but I know one thing: people like Jimmy are exactly the kind Samsung is trying to keep from switching to an iPhone and Apple Watch. People who prefer its products, use Android phones, and really love the rotating bezel on Samsung smartwatches.
Bigger, Faster, and Satisfying to Use (Again)
I have been testing both the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic and the Watch 6, but tor the sake of this review, almost everything I say about the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic also applies to the Galaxy Watch 6.
There are some some differences between the two smartwatches: the Watch 6 Classic is made of stainless steel and the Watch 6 is milled from aluminum; there's a touch-sensitive bezel on the Watch 6 instead of the mechanical ring on the Watch 6 Classic; the Watch 6 Classic cases (43mm and 47mm) are larger than the Watch 6 (40mm and 44mm); the Watch 6 comes in graphite and gold (40mm) or graphite and silver (44mm) and the Watch 6 Classic in black and silver (43mm and 47mm).
But other than that, the experience is the same. Both smartwatches come in two sizes (1.3-inch with 432 x 432 resolution or 1.5-inch with 480 x 480 resolution); they have the same Exynos W930 chip, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and battery capacities (300 mAh on the smaller models and 425 mAh on the larger ones); they're both IP68 water and dust-resistant and MIL-STD-810H rated; both support Bluetooth 5.3 and Wi-Fi 6E.
Like my friend Jimmy, I prefer the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic over the Watch 6, though the regular model does have bezels that are 30 percent thinner. It looks more like a classic timepiece with the right watch face than a fitness wearable. A few years ago, the Watch 6 Classic would have been considered too big unless you have thick wrists. Nowadays, large smartwatches are trendy. The black 47mm Watch 6 Classic that I've been testing for the past month is actually lighter and thinner than the 49mm Apple Watch Ultra, though its round case and strap design make it feel bulkier on my average-sized wrist. This might not an issue if you have larger wrists, but for me, the extra space between the lugs and my wrist made it less comfortable to wear in bed for sleep tracking.
More than anything, Jimmy and I were really happy to see the return of the rotating bezel. A signature design that differentiated Samsung's smartwatches from the competition, the company nixed the element on the Galaxy Watch 5 series; not even the Watch 5 Pro had it. Clearly upsetting enough people, Samsung brought the feature back.
Last seen on the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, the Watch 6 Classic's mechanical bezel is thinner, but no less satisfying to use for navigating around One U 5.0, Samsung's smartwatch software based on Google's Wear OS 4. You can still swipe on the display or the bezel (on the Galaxy Watch 6), but that's not as fun; feeling each click as you turn the bezel is a detail that makes the Galaxy Watch 6 special. Jimmy told me he wouldn't get any smartwatch without it because he sometimes wears latex gloves on the job. I've tested previous Samsung smartwatches that had a rotating bezel and have to agree that it's a very useful feature in winter. The ability to be used with gloves might also be why I see tons of construction workers wearing Samsung Galaxy Watch Classics instead of Apple Watches.
Slighter Better Tracking
The Galaxy Watch 6 really isn't breaking new ground as a smartwatch. But neither is any other smartwatch. It still works like the same widget-sized computer on your wrist.
You can see notifications, make and receive calls, and track your workouts and health with greater precision thanks to an array of sensors. With a new chip and more RAM, all of these smartwatch features open and respond a little faster and less jittery. But if you're rocking a Galaxy Watch 5 series or Watch 4 series, the Watch 6 series is unlikely to feel like a rocket. There's only so much speed a smartwatch needs. The greater responsiveness on the Watch 6 is more noticeable compared to Jimmy's five-year-old Galaxy Watch, though. While not unusable (yet), twisting the bezel on his Galaxy Watch and seeing the various app widget screens move in an almost slow-mo like fashion really drove home how much progress we've made in performance. You won't notice it in year-over-year upgrades, but over multiple generations and after many software updates, the speed difference is literally visible.
Here's the thing about smartwatches: unless you actually do (then more power to you), it's unlikely you'll use every feature. The Galaxy Watch 6 Classic does advanced sleep coaching, ECG and irregular heart rate notifications, personalized heart rate zones, bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), cycle tracking, and can measure your skin temperature and blood oxygen. Every new sensor added into each new smartwatch is another point of data to help us live a healthier life. Whether or not you use the features, however, is entirely personal. As a male, I can't use the cycle tracking, but as a female, it might be very important and a top reason to buy a Galaxy Watch 6. A more serious runner (and healthier person than I) like my little sister would appreciate the new Track Run feature that (as its name suggests) provides GPS data while running on a track; I run casually so the feature is lost on me.
My friends joke that one of my secret skills is falling asleep. I'd crush at Pokémon Sleep I'm told. And while I do enjoy seeing my sleep data neatly detailed in metrics and graphs, I'm terrible at acting on any of the information collected from smartwatches. The sleep tracking on the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic is good and more useful than on Apple Watch, but I prefer to wear my Oura Ring 3 to sleep. I sleep in very strange positions and I like that there's no chance my Oura Ring will buzz me with a notification — ever.
I'm not dismissing the usefulness of any of the health tracking features in the Galaxy Watch 6, only that you really need to do your homework and decide for yourself whether you need a feature or not. If you there’s a feature you’ll use, great, spend away! If the features don't provide any value or your existing smartwatch or fitness tracker already does all that you need it do — congrats, you can save your money.
Best Smartwatch For Android Users
This wrap-up will sound very familiar if you've read any of our previous Samsung smartwatch reviews because the story remains the same: the Galaxy Watch 6 series is the best smartwatch for Samsung or Android users. It is Android's version of the Apple Watch. This didn’t happen overnight; it took 10 years of iteration for Samsung to get here.
There are many Wear OS smartwatches that work with Android phones, but none come close to the fit and finish of the Galaxy Watch 6 series. Samsung's brought back an iconic feature on the Watch 6 Classic and tweaked the software just enough to complement the refined hardware. Unfortunately, Samsung didn't bring back support (limited as it was) for iPhones.
It would have been great to see Samsung go bolder with a 10th anniversary version of the Galaxy Gear (Samsung's first smartwatch had a camera built into the strap!). But just like smartphones, it's very likely that smartwatches (for Android or iPhone) are going to be iterative from here on out now that the category has matured.
Jimmy at least seems satisfied with his faster, but iterative new Watch 6 Classic. "It's very nice. The battery last [sic] a lot longer than my old one" is the reply when I asked him how things were going with it.