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Samsung's Galaxy Watch 6 review: Evolution not revolution

It's just a practical, wellness-centric smartwatch — and that's OK.

Malak Saleh

Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 6 received a mostly modest upgrade from its predecessor, the Galaxy Watch 5. Sure, it may have worked to improve some health tracking features. And it even managed to give the wearable a sleeker design while extending battery life. But it is clear that Samsung was not aiming to reinvent the wheel here (and they usually don’t). It's easy to understand why too, when the last generation was already pretty good.

In this year's update, Samsung focused its efforts on expanding its wellness-centric features. These include enhanced personalized sleep coaching and insights, the ability to personalize heart rate zone training during running sessions, improved GPS tracking tailored for track runners, further customization in the workout app and the inclusion of irregular heart rate rhythm notifications, just to name a few. The caveat, of course, is that the Watch 6’s predecessors will have access to all these updates, dating back to the Watch 4. So, if you have one of the previous two models, it might not be necessary to upgrade.

Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 is a pretty comprehensive smartwatch that offers a wide range of health and fitness tracking features at a fair price point.

Pros
  • Good battery life
  • Customizable workouts with accurate autodetection
  • Easy to log menstrual cycle data
  • Easy to export health data
Cons
  • HR zone tool is confusing
  • ECG results are jargony
  • Fall detection is difficult to trigger
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Still, the Galaxy Watch 6’s modest improvements allow it to keep up with frontrunners in the field. For example, it can now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Fitbit's advanced sleep analysis features. The new heart health tools also give the watch the EKG monitoring prowess of Apple and Pixel smartwatches. Meanwhile, the improved run coaching brings it closer to watches offered by Garmin.

Design and battery life

The mechanical bezel-free edition of the Watch 6 is priced at $299 for the 40mm model, which comes in graphite and gold; the 43mm version, which also comes in silver, commands a slightly higher price of $329. It may lack the rotating bezel of the Classic, but it does have a digital bezel which allows you to scroll through your most-used widgets like Sleep, Workouts, and Weather without needing to poke around a menu.

With the Watch 6, Samsung also introduced a new design feature called One-Click, which makes it easier to swap bands with the literal click of a button for your ever-changing style needs. I personally am a huge fan of the graphite sports band and the flush circular face which gives the watch a sleeker feel.

The Watch 6 also boasts a more vibrant, higher-resolution display with peak brightness reaching 2,000 nits, up from the last model's max of 1,000 nits. The screen is also 20 percent larger, making it easier to read text. The always on display (AOD) drained battery life of the Watch 5 pretty quickly when our Deputy Reviews Editor Cherlynn Low reviewed it, but I didn't have similar issues wearing the Watch 6 all day.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face
Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face (Malak Saleh)

The Galaxy Watch 6 comes equipped with a larger battery to support this year’s bigger and brighter display. Samsung claims the watch should run for up to 30 hours with the AOD on and up to 40 hours with it off. This is ideal for busy people who want the guarantee that the watch will work after an eight-hour workday before heading to the gym and again later, for sleep tracking. After using the watch for a day or two (mainly for workout tracking), I have been able to charge the watch to about 80 percent, or almost full, in under 30 minutes using the quick charge feature, adding at least another eight hours of battery life each time. However, battery life for any wearable tends to fluctuate depending on the extent of usage.

Health monitoring and tracking

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face
Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face (Malak Saleh)

The Watch 6 features an Irregular Heart Rhythm Notification (IHRN) feature, which is new for Samsung but has been around for years on competing devices. The FDA-backed IHRN tool detects EKG activity that is suggestive of atrial fibrillation (AFib), a condition that usually preempts stroke or heart failure. The feature, approved by the FDA, monitors a user's heart activity continuously in the background. Because I don't have AFib, there was no way to test this feature to see if it could accurately detect irregular heart activity. This, coupled with the traditional blood pressure monitoring, blood oxygen monitoring, body composition measuring tool, and EKG readings, add to Samsung's overall pool of individualized health data tracking that can easily be accessed in reports on a paired Android phone and shared with a healthcare provider or family member.

I do wish that after running a standard EKG reading, the language around heart health was less jargony. The "sinus rhythm detected" pop-up could easily be misunderstood, but in reality just means your heart activity is normal. That aside, Samsung did cover its own back. With each EKG cycle you run, a pop up disclosure repeats: “this wearable does not detect heart attacks.” The addition of the IHRN feature on the Watch 6 is in line with the company’s attempt to offer more useful cardiovascular insights to users.

Expanding its range of tracking features, Samsung built upon its existing menstrual cycle predictions tool introduced in the Watch 5. This includes the skin temperature reading and sensor technology from the last-gen model, which records measurements during sleep. This addition aids in monitoring your monthly period, ovulation cycle and fertility windows. For it to be useful, though, the tool needs consistent data input by a user so that its predictions get smarter.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face
Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face (Malak Saleh)

Powered by Natural Cycles, a period tracking app, the new dedicated watch face makes it easy to input daily symptoms, which are not all necessarily tethered to a menstrual cycle. It can track everything from mood changes to physical conditions like cramping and bloating to logging sexual activity. All that data, in aggregate, can help Samsung’s app predict when a period will start and end, fertility windows, and when ovulation is expected to kick in. This is all great in theory, but if you're not great at logging daily, you might end up like me, with outdated predictions that your period was supposed to start but never did.

The new watch also comes with a fall detection feature that has a built-in SOS tool that shares a user's location with an emergency service line or emergency contact of your choosing when a hard fall is detected. You have to manually set up this feature and select when the watch should detect falls – it can be on all the time, during workouts, or quote, “during any activity, or movements not registered as exercise.” Once a fall is detected, Samsung says the device can take up to 30 seconds to recognize a fall, but the waiting period can be customized to as little as 10 seconds.

Medical information and conditions unique to a user’s health history can be plugged into the interface on the paired device. This might be especially useful for elderly populations or people who are medically at a fall risk (think post-surgical or highly medicated patients). However, during testing, after falling on different surfaces, and staying stationary for at least 30 seconds each time, I was never able to trigger the alert system. Samsung claims that after a fall, a watch should alert a user for 30 seconds with a popup, sound, and vibration. This delay is supposed to give a user time to get up or cancel the action of alerting emergency services. To be fair, this was also difficult to trigger on the competing Apple Watch Series 8.

Customizable fitness regimens

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face
Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face (Malak Saleh)

Making a unique workout plan with key metrics and goals in mind is nothing new for an avid fitness junkie. Since the launch of the Galaxy Watch 4, Samsung has made it a point to expand its workout trackers, with over 95 unique exercises and sports to track on the watch face, users can also create their own custom workouts. I regularly start my lift sessions with 45-pound dumbbells. I was able to name this workout in the watch as my deadlift warmup and keep track of the amount of calories burned per session. This focus on customization is not new, though, with competitors like Fitbit and Apple offering similar interfaces in their fitness tracking tools. The ability to create a program to burn a set amount of calories or reach a certain number of steps can be helpful for people like me who like to prefer to count down rather than up.

Continuing with the theme of customization, Samsung’s new personalized HR zones are meant to help runners better determine how fast to go. The tool is meant to allow users to keep tabs on heart rate zone data and gain insights into personal exertion levels. By staying within specific zones, I can tailor my workout to match my fitness goals, whether it's fat-burning, endurance improvement, or cardiovascular conditioning. Also, tracking heart rate can help a runner avoid overexertion, which can lead to burnout, or injury. Staying within an appropriate heart rate range ensures a runner is working out safely and sustainably. That all said, again, like most health and fitness features, the benefit of monitoring will come down to discipline.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face HR zones.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face HR zones. (Malak Saleh)

I put the feature to the test by setting up my personalized HR zone to a custom bracket that mimics a high-intensity performance, between 165 to 175. When I went on a run, it kept urging me to speed up and buzzed my wrist with the notification that I was below target. And these notifications are no joke. I struggled to reach my target and even when I did, it was mostly luck.

Running with that much effort, I barely had time to process how to adjust my run according to the alert. So I took a stab at the easiest HR zone target for low-intensity workouts instead at 95 to 105 bpm and found myself struggling with a similar issue-not being able to consistently stay in my target zone. This time, the HR zone alerts were constantly showering me with reminders that I was overexerting and above my HR zone.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6
Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 (Malak Saleh)

This is all to say that although it is a nice feature to have if you're a seasoned athlete and can comprehend and adjust your exertion accordingly. But it's almost not nearly as beneficial to just get a snapshot overview of where my HR zone naturally is with a given run tracker instead of feeling the constant distracting buzz alerting me to something I'm not sure quite sure what to do with

Overall, the notification feature is overstimulating. Even when I paused a workout and tried to have a conversation with Cherlynn, the watch kept pinging me to speed up my run, as it continued to monitor my heart rate zone activity and suggest changes even at rest. Despite this one-off, the watch’s sensitivity in terms of auto detection for movement is pretty accurate. It was noticeably faster at recognizing pauses and restarting based on my movement than my Apple Watch, which was often at least a few seconds behind.

Sleep tracking and analysis

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face
Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 face (Malak Saleh)

Samsung has said it wants to enhance the sleep experience for users by expanding its comprehensive but individualized sleep pattern analysis tools since the last generation. Samsung’s previously announced Sleep Mode features, which automatically disables notifications, dims the watch's screen, and switches to an invisible infrared LED to minimize distractions. I had no trouble setting up sleep goals and (to my surprise) sleeping with the watch on. It doesn't suffocate my wrist at night and if anything, is easy to forget it's on after a while. You can also set up the Smart Things feature, which will detect when a user is sleeping and create the “ideal sleep environment” by turning off or adjusting home electronics like TVs and lights if you're connected to Samsung home devices. However, I was not able to see how the Watch 6 would interact with smart home gadgets because I don't personally own any Samsung home devices.

What I liked about the sleep analysis feature is that after each night of sleep with it on, I got a pretty comprehensive breakdown of how I slept, REM graphic and all, on the Watch 6's dedicated sleep watch face. I was able to get an even more detailed view of my sleep quality on the phone, which showed me how my nights compared on a day to day, telling me which parts of my REM graphic meant what and why it matters. For example, it broke down how much deep sleep I got and it told me how much more I needed. After sleeping with it for seven nights, you're supposed to trigger the sleep coach program that also pairs you with your “sleep animal,” a little 2D avatar that is representative of your nighttime habits. And while it was more comfortable than an Apple Watch, I just don't like the feeling of having something on my wrist at night.

The competition

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 has emerged as a top choice among Android users, especially at this price point. However, the Apple Watch Series 8, which starts at $399, is the obvious alternative for iPhone users. The features are similar, with both models providing GPS tracking, heart-rate sensing, fall detection, sleep tracking and automatic workout recognition.

In terms of fitness-centric offerings, the Garmin Forerunner 745, which is on sale for $299, might be better suited for athletes seeking comprehensive insights into performance metrics and running-focused training regimens. While it may not be as all-encompassing in terms of health guidance tools, it still includes fundamental features like heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, stress monitoring, and fall detection.

But if you want pretty similar offerings in terms of fitness tracking and sleep coaching, the Fitbit Versa 4, which starts at $199, is a pretty cheap alternative. However, with the Versa 4, you get a less integrated smartwatch that feels pretty barebones. For instance, you can’t make or take phone calls or control music through the watch.

Wrap-up

Samsung has a vision for the Galaxy Watch 6 to be perceived as a health buddy, with all of its dedicated wellness-centric updates in heart health, women's health, fitness and sleep domains. But the actual benefits come down to the user. Without discipline, there are no insights to be gained, no tracking worthwhile, or coaching that will be accurate.

But this doesn't take away from the device's well-deserved shine in some areas, namely design, comfort and fitness. It's nothing we have not seen before, and if you already own a wearable of recent vintage, or are an iOS user it's probably not meant for you. If you have the last-gen Galaxy Watch, then hold on to your money because the updates are already in your pocket.