PHOTO: Samsung

Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 was announced in early August, and launched the very next day. We’ve been testing it since it launched, offering our first impressions shortly after.

You can buy the Galaxy Watch 3 right now in 41mm or 45mm, with prices starting at $399 and $429, respectively.

A successor to the original Galaxy Watch, and better in nearly every way, it has plenty of health features, like better exercise detection, blood oxygen monitoring and an upcoming update that will add ECG capabilities. It also boasts a larger display, up to two days of battery life, and the overall size of the Watch 3 has been shrunk down to make it feel great on the wrist.

Here are our thoughts after using Watch 3 for a few weeks.

This is one fine-looking watch

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
PHOTO: Jason Cipriani/CNN

We really like the overall look of the Watch 3. The round design, with two buttons on the right side, combined with a rotating bezel is a nice break from the rectangular design of the Apple Watch.

The buttons and bezel are used to navigate the interface, with the bezel physically moving and providing an audible and tactile click as you rotate it to scroll through a message, your apps or between screens.

The Watch Active 2 had a digital rotating bezel, and while it’s just as intuitive as the physical bezel of the Watch 3, there’s something to be said about the physical feedback and feel of the Watch 3.

The buttons also allow you to move between screens, with the top acting as a back button, and the bottom button takes you to the home screen when pressed.

There are two different sizes of the Watch 3. The 41mm model has a 1.2-inch display, while the 45mm version has a 1.4-inch display (which is the one we tested).

The overall size of the Watch 3 is smaller than the original Galaxy Watch. According to Samsung, the Watch 3 is 8% smaller overall, 14% thinner, 15% lighter and yet has a larger display than the original version.

Inside the box is a charging cable, which consists of a standard USB port on one end, and a round disc on the other that you place the watch on for charging. A leather band comes pre-installed but is easily swapped out for a 20mm or 22mm watch band. The size of the band depends on which size watch you purchase.

Over the last couple of weeks, the Watch 3 hasn’t left our wrist, other than to charge. It’s light and comfortable to wear throughout the day, and even while sleeping.

Performance and battery life

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
PHOTO: Jason Cipriani/CNN

The Watch 3 runs Samsung’s own Tizen OS, which the company has used for several years now instead of Google’s Wear OS platform. The main benefit of using its own operating system is that Samsung can control the entire experience, especially for those who pair the watch with a Samsung Galaxy phone, like the recently released Note 20 Ultra.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use it with another Android phone, like the Pixel 4 or a OnePlus device. In fact, you can even pair it to an iPhone. You’ll just need to go through a couple of extra steps during setup, in the form of installing plugins that will ensure the watch and your Android phone can talk to one another.

The Watch 3 uses Samsung’s Galaxy Store for access to third-party apps and watchfaces. You’ll find apps like Spotify listed, but any big-name apps are scarce. For example, you won’t find an official Facebook Messenger app in the Galaxy Store.

There are countless watchfaces available in the Galaxy Store, some are free, others are a few dollars. But we have zero issues with the included watchfaces and, frankly, prefer them.

There are several Samsung-made watchfaces to choose from, some of which have complications on them that place more information on the face. For example, our favorite watchface — Analog Dashboard — has four different complications on it. You can edit and select different bits of data, like weather, the date, step count, or even battery percentage to fill in each spot.

The Weather Center watchface is another go-to face, simply because it shows the current weather stats, and instead of showing numbers for the hours, it shows the expected temperature and weather conditions.

Samsung used its own Exynos 9110 dual-core processor in the Watch 3, along with 1GB of memory and 8GB of storage that can be used for offline music, apps and images.

The Watch 3’s performance, whether it’s switching between apps, or the amount of time it takes to raise our arm and wake the watch to view an incoming notification, is fast and responsive. There were a handful of instances where the watch didn’t recognize the turn of our wrist to wake it, but after a second attempt, the Watch 3 lit right up.

Samsung rolled out an always-on display (AOD) feature for Watch 3 that, in many ways, acts a lot like the always-on mode of the Apple Watch. Instead of the screen staying lit up and animated at all times, the screen shows the current time and a snapshot of the latest info on the complications. Things like the second hand are turned off (until you wake the watch) in an effort to save battery life.

The problem with the feature is that battery life with the AOD is cut in half. Meaning, it goes from the 2-day estimate for the 45mm model, to just over a day of use. We wish Samsung’s battery life estimate set better expectations.

Battery life with AOD disabled neared the 2-day mark but didn’t always reach it, especially if we used GPS to track a workout. Still, that’s longer battery life than the Apple Watch Series 5.

Plenty of health insights

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
PHOTO: Jason Cipriani/CNN

When Samsung announced the Watch 3 in early August, the company said that a future software update would add Sp02 and V02 Max monitoring at some point in the future. Our review device had an update available out of the box that enabled both features, so we’ve been able to check our blood oxygen level via the Sp02 app throughout our testing process. But we haven’t had a chance to test the V02 Max feature that measures how well your body uses oxygen during intense workouts.

To take an Sp02 reading, you need to open the app and tap on the Measure button. In order to get a reading, the app suggests holding your arm up at an angle, with your elbow on a flat surface and your wrist around the same level as your heart. You also have to stay still, and remain quiet during the reading.

When the app works, it’s impressively fast. But the problem is figuring out how to get consistent readings. We’ve tried tightening the band, moving the watch further up our arm, resting our arm across our chest, and there just doesn’t seem to be a consistent method.

When it did work, the readings almost always matched a small Sp02 monitor that goes on the end of your finger, which we used to test accuracy. There were a couple of instances of Sp02 readings in the 80s on the Watch 3, but the finger sensor was showing 95 or higher. We’ll chalk up those low readings as improper placement or tests that should have failed instead of returning a result.

Automatic exercise tracking and GPS worked without issue. We were able to take our normal walk around the neighborhood, and the Watch 3 not only detected it without a prompt from us, but correctly tracked the entire walk from start to finish using the built-in GPS.

Samsung has received FDA approval for the Watch 3’s ECG app to help users identify potential heart issues, but the software that enables the feature has yet to be released. We’ll be sure to update our testing once the feature is released, but it sounds like it works a lot like the ECG app on the Apple Watch. You take a reading, and if there’s a potential issue, the watch lets you know you need to see a doctor to follow up.

Bottom line

The Watch 3 is a fantastic smartwatch for Android users, and to that extent, for iPhone users who want something other than the Apple Watch.

There are plenty of features to justify the Watch 3’s premium price of $399 or $429, depending on whether you opt for the 41mm or 45mm version, respectively.

From Sp02 and V02 Max measurements to the forthcoming ECG app, combined with advanced insights into stress and sleep habits, the Watch 3 is equal parts health device and smartwatch.

Battery life could be improved, and it’s a bummer that the 2-day target is with key features disabled, such as the always-on display, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

If you have an Android phone, we can’t think of a better smartwatch than the Galaxy Watch 3.