Samsung Galaxy Watch hands-on: Steady progress but few thrills

I hope you weren't expecting any surprises.

We knew Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 was coming, but the new Galaxy Watch was a bit more of a surprise. (Well, as much a surprise as a device Samsung leaked on its own website can be.) The crowds have finally started to dissipate here at Samsung Unpacked, so we snagged a few Galaxy Watches to try on, and there's immediately plenty to like about the wearable. It's light, almost surprisingly so. It runs with a new dual-core Samsung Exynos 9110 chipset, not the same poky Snapdragon Wear 2100 that's been in nearly every Wear OS watch for two years. It has what look like some excellent displays (under weirdo stage lights, anyway).

Oh, and it looks pretty nice too. I hear that's important to some people.

With all that said, I can't really call the Galaxy Watch surprising. The versions with darker trim are basically lighter versions of the hypermasculine Gear S3 Frontier -- that reduction in weight is largely because of the Watch's plastic back and the removal of Samsung's MST payments system. (Sorry, you'll only be able to use NFC for mobile payments.) The rose gold model, meanwhile, is nice and subtle with a textured, light coral band. I don't know that I could pull it off, but my colleague Cherlynn Low is already pretty fond of the thing.

There's a 42mm and a 46mm version of the Galaxy Watch, and assuming it doesn't look too awkward on your wrist, you're almost certainly better off splurging on the larger model. That's because the Galaxy Watch's biggest selling point might be its battery life: Samsung said the smaller 42mm model only has a 270mAh battery, while the slightly larger 46mm Watch can hit the six-day mark before its 472mAh cell needs recharge. Solid battery life from a Samsung watch isn't much of a shock -- the Gear Sport routinely hit four days of use in our review -- but we'll have to wait a few more weeks to test the company's claims for ourselves.

While Samsung didn't have much to say about when it would see the light of day, it might be worth going for the LTE-friendly Galaxy Watch as well. All versions of the Watch come with 4GB of internal storage, but the LTE version will ship with 1.5GB of RAM -- that's twice the amount you'll get in the standard Bluetooth model.

Unfortunately, some of the Watch's most notable features don't seem to work on the units we've strapped on. Covering a big event like this is often an exercise in stress management, so it would've been nice to use the Galaxy Watch's included Stress applet to help us manage the flood of emotions that come when testing new hardware. And since Samsung hasn't seen fit to fill Barclays Center with treadmills, we obviously couldn't take the Watch's exercise-recognition features for a test. That said, Samsung's wearables have historically been more like smartwatches than activity trackers, so we're curious to see if the company has made any meaningful progress on this front.

Oh, and the Galaxy Watch has one more crucial thing in common with the rest of Samsung's wearables. Contrary to rumors, it runs Tizen, not Wear OS. You won't hear me complaining though: The things Samsung has been able to pull off, like its still-fantastic rotating bezel interface, just don't seem possible to build atop another company's software. That devotion to Tizen also means that the number of undeniably valuable third-party apps for the Galaxy Watch is smaller than it would be for a Wear OS device, but that's how it goes sometimes.

After watching the company try to craft the perfect wearable for a few years, it seems clear the Galaxy Watch isn't a game changer. It represents another year of steady progress, but we can't tell if it's a true must-own gadget after just a bit of hands-on time. Stay tuned for a full review soon.