Samsung has two new smartwatches on the block — the Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro — and I’ve spent the past week and a half with them to see if they’re any good.
The Watch 5 builds on the formula of the Watch 4 with a similar design, longer battery life and a few new tricks. Meanwhile, the Watch 5 Pro takes things up a notch with an even bigger battery, a titanium design and new GPX features for those who spend a lot of time outside.
On paper, it’s easy to tell that these watches are designed for different purposes: The Watch 5 is the mainstream smartwatch, and the Watch 5 Pro tries to target a niche. However, in practice, it’s hard to understand why someone would spend $449 for a Watch 5 Pro instead of $279 or $309 for a Watch 5. The advantages the 5 Pro brings to the table aren’t that significant, and the bulky design of the 5 Pro can easily be a turnoff.
Read on to find out what we thought of Samsung’s latest flagship smartwatches.
Galaxy Watch 5 vs. Watch 5 Pro: What’s the difference?
The Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro are very similar watches in terms of specs and features, but they’re designed for different purposes. Samsung is positioning the Watch 5 as the watch for every kind of user — from those who just want notifications on their wrist to regular fitness buffs — while the 5 Pro is geared toward those who need a watch that can withstand more rigorous conditions.
These differences stem first from the materials each watch uses for its construction. The Watch 5 comes with an Armor Aluminum chassis and considerably thin form factor. Meanwhile, the Watch 5 Pro boasts a titanium enclosure that’s a lot bulkier and more durable. It’s much more in line with what companies like Garmin and G-Shock offer on their watches, although the 5 Pro isn’t quite as durable. Both the 5 and 5 Pro are IP68 and 5 ATM rated for dust and water resistance.
The Galaxy Watch 5 series features Sapphire Crystal displays, which makes them 60% stronger and less likely to crack or get scratched in everyday use. The Watch 5 Pro adds some extra protection by raising the bezel above the screen.
Speaking of which, the Galaxy Watch 5 boasts either a 1.2-inch or 1.4-inch Super AMOLED display, depending on which size you opt for. They ship with resolutions of 396 x 396 and 450 x 450, respectively. The Watch 5 Pro gets the same 1.4-inch display despite its slightly larger 45mm size.
Batteries also differ between the watches. The 40mm Watch 5 has a 284mAh cell, while the 44mm boasts a 410mAh cell. They’re each 13% larger than what was in the Watch 4 line last year. Those who want the biggest battery will find it in the Watch 5 Pro, which comes with a 590mAh cell, a 60% size increase.
Beyond the hardware, the software on the Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro is incredibly similar. Both models ship with Wear OS 3.5 and offer a nearly identical set of fitness features, putting aside the 5 Pro’s bonus GPS tracking features.
What we liked about it
Nice screens and more helpful designs
If you feel like you’ve seen the Galaxy Watch 5 before, you’re not mistaken. The design of the watch is basically identical to the Watch 4 from last year, down to the case and display sizes. I got the Graphite model, which is the same finish as my Watch 4, and when they’re turned off, it’s extremely hard to tell them apart.
Mind you, that’s not a bad thing. The Watch 4 already has a great design, so it’s no big deal to see Samsung repeat it this year. There is one physical difference worth pointing out, also found on the Watch 5 Pro: the shape of the sensors on the bottom. Samsung made them slightly curvier this year so they sit a bit deeper on your wrist. This helps to improve their accuracy.
Both watches are also plenty durable, the Watch 5 Pro especially. I was able to go kayaking with the 5 Pro, thanks to its 5 ATM and IP68 ratings, which are also on the Watch 5. I used the water lock feature to lock the touchscreen to avoid any accidental taps from water drops, and it was fine when I rinsed off all the salt with fresh water when I got home.
The Sapphire Crystal glass on both watches is a nice amenity and adds peace of mind in case you bump into something or drop your watch while putting it on. I enjoyed using the Super AMOLED panels on both the Galaxy Watch 5 and 5 Pro, thanks to their vibrant colors, inky black levels and good responsiveness. I also like using the touch-sensitive bezel, which lets you do things like scroll, zoom in and more without blocking the screen itself with your finger.
Good performance and an easy-to-use software experience
The Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro share the same specs as the Watch 4: an Exynos W920 dual-core processor, 1.5GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard storage. Paired with Wear OS 3.5, I found performance to be generally stable and reliable for a modern-day smartwatch.
Speaking of which, Wear OS continues to operate the same way it has for the past year. You still get tons of customizable watch faces, customizable Tiles by swiping left and notifications that offer a good amount of detail. Controls are also the same — you swipe left to access Tiles, swipe right to see your notifications, swipe down for quick controls and swipe up for your app list. It’s very intuitive and easy to pick up on.
Samsung added some new accessibility features in One UI Watch 4.5 like color filters, reduced animations and image enhancers as well as a “fuller” typing experience and easier ways to make and receive phone calls. I didn’t really see any significant improvements in the typing and calling department, but the accessibility features are very welcome.
The Watch 5 has a ton of fitness features and improved sleep tracking, while the 5 Pro goes all in on GPX
Where the Galaxy Watch 5 and 5 Pro shine is in fitness. Samsung includes the same 3-in-1 BioActive sensor as the Watch 4 line, which combines optical heart rate, electrical heart signal and bioelectrical impedance analysis sensors into a single unit. These sensors power the features many come to expect from modern smartwatches like heart rate tracking, body composition monitoring, electrocardiogram (ECG) support and blood oxygen levels.
In practice, all of these features worked really well. Once they’re recorded by your watch, all of your health data gets transferred to the Samsung Health app, which gives you a detailed rundown of what it found. Heart rate patterns, body composition over time (including things like water weight), stress levels and more are all stored and presented in a way that’s easy to digest. There are also lots and lots of workouts you can pick from, so every activity you partake in can count toward your fitness goals.
Sleep tracking gets an upgrade with the Watch 5 series with new sleep coaching tips to help guide you to a better night’s sleep. There’s also snore detection, blood oxygen monitoring throughout the night, sleep scores and sleep stages (for tracking how much light and deep sleep you get). I used this feature a lot during my testing, and I was impressed with how much detail it picked up. I was able to see how long I was in deep sleep each night (admittedly not very much compared to my lighter sleeping habits), what my blood oxygen was like and even when I started snoring.
That feature is particularly interesting. It uses your smartphone to begin recording when it thinks you’re snoring, and there was one night where my phone picked up a 30-second clip. Recordings are deleted every 31 days automatically for security, so if you’re curious whether your snoring is particularly loud, you’ll have a month to check.
There’s also a mysterious temperature sensor on the Watch 5 that’s meant to read the temperature of your skin while you sleep, although I didn’t spot any data that alluded to that sensor being used.
All of those fitness features can be found across the Galaxy Watch 5 series, but the Watch 5 Pro is the only model that ships with the new GPS features Samsung has cooked up.
Specifically, the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro supports GPX, which is a type of file that can track routes, waypoints and more by recording data captured by a GPS. This lets the watch remember which route you took during a hike or cycling session — no matter how random it is — and give you turn-by-turn directions so you can get back to your starting position.
This is a combination of two new features: Route Workout and Track Back. I used Route Workout to track a bike ride around Ocean City, New Jersey, where I took random turn after random turn and detours through alleyways, doing my very best to throw the watch off. Surprise surprise, it had no issue using Track Back to tell me precisely where to go to return to my starting position. Granted, I used this feature in a very open setting instead of more common hiking and cycling areas like the woods or the side of a mountain, but I imagine this feature will work reliably in those scenarios as well.
What we didn’t like about it
The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is too big and bulky
There’s really no two ways about it: The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is a very polarizing smartwatch, at least in terms of design. It’s bulky, it refuses to sit flush on your wrist and anyone with a smaller wrist than mine will have a hard time keeping it in place. The added durability of the titanium body is certainly a nice advantage, but it’s clearly not meant for everyone. It would’ve been nice to see a second, smaller size offered for Watch 5 Pro customers.
Compared to the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, I much prefer the Watch 5’s form factor. It’s a lot sleeker and minimalistic than the beefy, robust aesthetic the 5 Pro goes for. It’s much easier to use the Watch 5 every day because of that, as it tends to blend in with your daily style much easier as well as pair with different bands a bit better.
Speaking of which, I’m also not a huge fan of the band. Samsung includes its new silicon and aluminum D-Buckle sport band with a magnetic clasp, and it’s only good if it’s secure on your wrist and you don’t do anything too rigorous. It’s tricky to secure it to your wrist without having someone assist you, and the magnetic clasp can come undone pretty easily if you knock it the right way. During a kayaking session with the 5 Pro, my wrist hit the side of my boat and the magnet popped off, causing the entire watch to slide down my arm. It’s fine to use otherwise, but I wouldn’t recommend it for any sport where your wrist might constantly be knocking into things.
Performance takes a hit when Wear OS decides to act up
While performance is generally solid, I’ve noticed that running a few apps at the same time can lead to slowdowns, such as when you’re recording a workout and start bouncing around your music app and settings to get your headphones fired up. I’d typically point to a lack of RAM as the source for issues like this, but it seems a bit more plausible that Wear OS is to blame.
Even after the grand overhaul it received last year, Wear OS continues to feel a bit unpolished. Random stutters are a bit too frequent for my liking, and tasks like installing apps take oddly long amounts of time. Even common actions like checking the time can take a few tries; there were far too many times where I’d raise my wrist and the screen just wouldn’t turn on. One UI, Samsung’s custom skin for the software, is likely contributing to some of this grogginess since the system has to power it on top of the standard Wear OS experience.
If you just use the watches for notifications or tracking fitness goals (and you have the always-on display enabled), you probably won’t notice many of these performance hiccups since Samsung is able to pull off lighter operations quite well. Any heavy use of these watches, you’ll start noticing some choppiness.
Battery life is great — as long as you’re willing to turn some stuff off
Samsung increased the size of the batteries in the Galaxy Watch 5 and 5 Pro, which, combined with some under-the-hood optimizations, led the company to make some bold claims about how long each watch would last on a full charge.
With the 44mm Watch 5’s 410mAh cell, Samsung says you should get up to 40 hours of usage. The Watch 5 Pro’s 590mAh cell, on the other hand, is quoted to last 80 hours on a full charge. Eighty hours is a very long time for a smartwatch to stay up and running, especially given how common it is for watches to come with a comparatively measly 18 hours of battery life (I’m looking at you, Apple Watch).
So, are these super-long battery claims true? No, not really.
In my testing, I was getting more like 30 to 35 hours using the Galaxy Watch 5. And with the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, I got about 55 to 60 hours of usage. Despite these shortcomings, compared to other watches like the Apple Watch Series 7, this is actually excellent battery life. The Watch 5 and 5 Pro are easily some of the longest-lasting smartwatches on the market — that is, if you’re willing to adjust your usage patterns.
What do I mean by that? Here’s some context: I used each watch like I do any other smartwatch I test, constantly checking notifications, tracking various walks throughout the day, playing with apps and so on. I also tend to enable the always-on display when I’m given the opportunity to, and I’m usually not one to go and turn off things like Wi-Fi so that it doesn’t interfere with the experience.
However, those features (plus others) are practically required to be disabled for you to achieve the long stamina Samsung says each watch has. With the always-on display flicked on, I noticed a pretty big drop in the amount of time I could use either watch before it died. With Wi-Fi on, it was far worse — I couldn’t get more than a day out of either of them. Think 20 to 25 hours on the Watch 5 and 35 to 45 hours on the Watch 5 Pro.
I’m reaching out to Samsung to ask why this happens, and we’ll update this review once we have clarification.
You’ll eventually have to recharge these watches, and Samsung says it includes fast charging, with 30 minutes plugged in adding 45% to the tank. In my testing, I found that to be true, but it also meant it took over an hour to fully recharge the Watch 5 and 5 Pro, which isn’t very fast.
As incremental an upgrade as the Galaxy Watch 5 series is, it further cements Samsung’s smartwatch line as one of the best on the market. Now with longer battery life, more accurate fitness tracking and extra durability, it’s bound to be as popular as the Watch 4 line was last year, if not more so.
So, should you buy one?
If you own a Galaxy Watch 4, there’s really not much here to justify an upgrade. Unless you absolutely need a more durable design like the Watch 5 Pro has, there’s not much reason to ditch your current watch for a new one. That being said, anyone on the Galaxy Watch 3 or older will appreciate what the Watch 5 and 5 Pro offer. You’ll get a much better software experience with Wear OS, better battery life, a far more expansive list of fitness tracking tools and better durability.
If you’re coming from one of those older watches and want to save a few bucks, you may want to consider a Galaxy Watch 4. Samsung is keeping it in its lineup at $199, which makes it an even better buy than it was last year since it carries a lot of the same features as the new Watch 5. As long as you’re cool with shorter battery life and a couple fewer software features, the Watch 4 will meet your needs just fine.
All of that being said, if you’ve decided you’re going to buy a Watch 5 regardless, consider exactly what you’re looking for. The Galaxy Watch 5 can do basically everything the Watch 5 Pro does (minus GPX tracking and more than two days of stamina) for a much lower price, and you won’t have to deal with the Pro’s bulky design. And even if you’re cool with a beefy smartwatch on your wrist, a starting price of $449 is still pretty steep for what you get.
How the Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro compare
1 to 1.18 ounces
1.12 to 1.5 ounces
50 meters, IP68
50 meters, IP68
50 meters, IPX6
|Battery life (rated)||
Graphite, Silver, Pink Gold
Gray Titanium, Black Titanium
Midnight, Starlight, Green, Blue, Product Red