Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro hands-on: The best, revisited

The best smartwatch for your Android phone has been given an update, as Samsung has launched the Galaxy Watch 5, and madded a new Pro version at the same time. It appears the company understands what made the Galaxy Watch 4 such a winner as the design has barely changed at all, but has this translated into stagnation? We spent an hour with the Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro to find out.

There are two models: Watch 5 and Watch 5 Pro

First, here’s what has changed in the range itself. The Galaxy Watch 5 replaces the Galaxy Watch 4 and comes in two case sizes: 40mm with a 1.2-inch screen and 44mm with a 1.4-inch screen. There isn’t a Galaxy Watch 5 Classic this time, and instead, Samsung has launched the 45mm Galaxy Watch 5 Pro which it says is designed for outdoor enthusiasts who need a tougher smartwatch. The Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is sticking around, though, for anyone who really wants a Samsung smartwatch with a rotating bezel.

samsung galaxy watch 5 44mm on a mans wrist.
Galaxy Watch 5 44mm Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

That’s right, none of the Galaxy Watch 5 models use this handy way of navigating through the smartwatch’s menus, and the bezels remain steadfastly immobile at all times. It’s disappointing but somewhat understandable as it’s likely to be a pain to manufacture, and Samsung already set the wheels in motion for its total departure with the Galaxy Watch 4. You’ll just have to be prepared to swipe the screen if you buy a Galaxy Watch 5 or 5 Pro.

What about the design? The Galaxy Watch 5 looks the same as the Galaxy Watch 4, with identical dimensions, screen sizes, and weight. However, this isn’t a bad thing. Samsung nailed the Galaxy Watch 4’s design, so carrying it over is absolutely the right thing to do. The way the screen floats inside the case gives the smartwatch visual interest, and the strap’s integrated design minimizes the size of the watch very effectively.

samsung galaxy watch 5.
Galaxy Watch 5 40mm Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

The overall style is sporty, but it won’t look out of place with smart wear when paired with the right strap, and there are various versions available to make it your own. Samsung seems to have widened its selection of straps, and there are plenty of choices in different materials. I really liked the new versions equipped with a strong magnetic clasp that’s simple to adjust without tools. They’re excellent and owe plenty to the design and closure system used by Tag Heuer on the Connected Calibre E4.

The minimalist, crown-less style and choice of case size make the Galaxy Watch 5 suitable for everyone, and when you put it on, the soft silicone strap’s comfort is immediately obvious. Because of the design points mentioned above, and the pleasing lack of anything sparkly on the small 40mm version’s case, you truly get a choice of case sizes. I think the Watch 5’s style and sizing are perfectly judged.

It’s going to be durable, too. Water resistance is handled by an IP68 rating, and the case is made from Samsung’s hard-wearing Armor Aluminum, which is also used for the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4’s frames. The glass over the screen has been updated to sapphire crystal to increase scratch resistance. Unfortunately, in the short time I wore the Watch 5, I didn’t notice the familiar — and always beautiful — sheen that usually comes with sapphire.

What makes the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro unique

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is a different proposition. Made from titanium, the case is 10.5mm thick compared to the 9.8mm thick Watch 5, plus the case size has been increased to 45mm. Overall it’s not all that much bigger than the 44mm Watch 5 — it has the same 1.4-inch 450 x 450 pixel Super AMOLED screen — but the way the screen has been recessed into the all-in-one case means it makes more of a statement on your wrist.

samsung galaxy watch 5 pro.
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

It’s also heavier at 46 grams compared to 33 grams for the biggest Watch 5, but that’s because it has a larger 590mAh battery inside. Sapphire is used over the screen, but it’s thicker than the pane used on the Watch 5 for greater protection. I noticed fewer reflections, a highly transparent finish, and that more of that desirable sapphire crystal sheen on the Watch 5 Pro than I did on the Watch 5.

Samsung has made the Watch 5 Pro’s exterior tougher, but if that’s not enough, it’ll also sell you a little plastic case that clips onto the body — covering up the titanium case and adding more bump protection around the screen. It’s like converting the Watch 5 Pro into a Casio G-Shock. Putting it on is as simple as lining the holes up, and once it’s in place, it’s very secure. However, unclipping it takes much more effort, and will probably break a few fingernails.

While Samsung is pushing the Watch 5 Pro toward outdoorsy types, I think with the right strap, it’s suitable for everyday wear. I also really like the bolder design. However, some people will consider the 45mm case size large for their wrists, but don’t automatically assume it’s going to be massive. It fit on my 6.5-inch wrist just fine when it wasn’t fitted with the case.

Better sleep tracking, bigger batteries

So far, the changes have mostly revolved around toughness and the introduction of the Pro model, but what about inside the Watch 5 models? The BioActive Sensor introduced on the Watch 4 returns, but with a larger surface area on the case back so it’s more effective at staying in contact with your wrist, plus the smartwatch has a new temperature sensor too. Sleep tracking has been improved with blood oxygen monitoring, snore detection, and updates to the app to show sleep stages and provide a sleep score.

The BioActive Sensor itself is one of the most comprehensive sensor arrays on a smartwatch. It measures heart rate and blood oxygen levels, has an electrocardiogram feature, and can also assess body composition — muscle mass, fat content, and water content. In some regions, blood pressure monitoring will be available, but this depends on local approval. It wasn’t possible to try these features out effectively enough during my short time with the watch.

All this is powered by the same Exynos W920 processor and 1.5GB RAM carried over from the Watch 4, but Samsung has increased the battery capacity by 15% and introduced faster wireless charging using USB Type-C. Now, an eight-minute charge will be enough for eight hours of sleep tracking, and charging the battery from zero to 45% takes 30 minutes. For software, Samsung has Google’s WearOS 3.5 with its own One UI Watch 4.5 over the top. Scrolling around the menus and activating some features didn’t reveal any major differences over the Watch 4, but apparently there are changes to the keyboard and the way the LTE version makes calls. It was slick, smooth, and responsive.

Buy the Watch 5 Pro, and you get all this plus an enhanced GPS-based feature called GPX. It’s designed for hikers who want to record and share their route with friends, see turn-by-turn directions on their wrist, and also have a TrackBack system that takes you back home via the route you came. The larger battery in the Pro will provide 20 hours of continuous GPS use.

Samsung doesn’t fix what isn’t broken

The Galaxy Watch 5 is very similar to the Galaxy Watch 4, with the two sharing basically the same design and internals, making any impact from the new alterations — potentially longer battery life, improved sleep tracking, greater health tracking accuracy — impossible to assess after just a short time with the watch. The things that haven’t been changed arguably didn’t need to be, but it’s unquestionably a relatively simple update for the Watch series this year.

samsung galaxy watch 5.
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

How about the Watch 5 Pro? It’s certainly more unique than a Classic version, despite not having that physical rotating bezel, and is suitably distinct from the normal Watch 5. Although I understand the size of the case will split opinions, I think it looks great. It’s more versatile due to the added toughness, longer battery life, and the optional clip-on case, plus the straps with the magnetic clasp are excellent. However, I found the Watch 4 Classic too big to comfortably wear overnight though, so I imagine it’ll be the same for the Watch 5 Pro — and that means possibly missing out on the new sleep-tracking features.

Samsung got the Galaxy Watch 4 just right, and its reputation as the only smartwatch worth buying that’s not an Apple Watch was well-deserved. The Watch 5 hasn’t changed much over it, and while the material and durability improvements are welcome, neither new model feels like it pushes the smartwatch game forward. Upgrading from the Watch 4 is unlikely to be necessary, but considering the Watch 4 never got any meaningful competition, the Watch 5 will probably become the best option for those with an old smartwatch on their wrists. At least until we see what the Pixel Watch offers.

Price and availability

Tempted by the Watch 5 Pro? Great, but the titanium case and other changes make it much more expensive than the non-Pro Watch 5. It costs $450 for the Wi-Fi version or $500 for the LTE model, while the 40mm Watch 5 starts at $280 or $330 for the LTE model. In the U.K., you’ll pay 270 British pounds for the 40mm Watch 5, 290 pounds for the 44mm Watch 5, and 430 pounds for the Watch 5 Pro. Add 50 pounds to these prices for the LTE models.

the samsung galaxy watch 5 and galaxy watch 5 pro.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Although I didn’t get to see it, Samsung has a Watch 5 Golf Edition too, which starts at $330 and comes with exclusive watch faces, a special strap, and a subscription to the Smart Caddie app. The Galaxy Watch 5 comes in graphite or silver, plus a sapphire color for the 44mm and a pink gold for the 40mm versions. The Watch 5 Pro comes in black or gray. Order through Samsung’s online store, and the smartwatch can be customized using the Bespoke Studio, where there will be 1,032 different possible combinations.

All models should be available to buy starting August 26, with pre-orders available from August 10 through August 25.

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