I mention all this because cheap and charming can be a powerful combination for wearables. Just look at Fitbit and its highly rated Versa: Thanks to its blend of exercise smarts and attractive design, that wearable almost single-handedly helped the company swing into profitability. It's not hard to look at the Watch Active and think Samsung is aiming for similar success, but we'll need more time to see exactly how worth this thing is. In the meantime, though, my first day with Samsung's Galaxy Watch Active has left me with mixed impressions.
To Samsung's credit, the Watch Active is arguably the sharpest-looking wearable it has ever made. That's obviously a subjective call, and some of you probably enjoyed the big, masculine aesthetic the company embraced in earlier models. (Here's looking at you, Gear S3 Frontier.) Still, the Watch Active is cute, clean and stylish in a way Samsung's other fitness devices just aren't — it's elegant enough that it's as well-suited to a night out as it is a punishing session at the gym. Its cuteness, however, is partially a function of its small size, and that means Samsung has had to make some compromises.
First up, the screen. I've always gravitated toward Samsung's bigger smartwatches because my eyes are terrible and they need all the help they could get. The 1.1-inch display itself is plenty bright and readable, even under the harsh sun, but it's bounded by some hefty bezels. And while the round panel isn't much smaller than the one found in the 42mm Galaxy Watch, I still ran into some trouble nailing some of the interface's touch targets. It doesn't help that, for the first time in years, Samsung ditched its clever, rotating bezel for navigation. It was easily my favorite way to interact with a smartwatch, because it made scrolling through menus and options incredibly fast. Presumably got the axe to keep costs down. Oh well.
Battery life is also a concern. Samsung says you can squeeze up to 45 hours of use out of the Galaxy Watch Active's tiny 230mAh battery, but even at this early stage, that seems pretty unlikely. I popped the Watch off its wireless charging disc at around six in the morning, went on the least pleasant jog of my life, went to work, and triaged a few notifications from my wrist. By around 8PM, I was hovering just below the halfway point. To me, that day was actually pretty light. I didn't use the Watch to stream music while running, nor did I have its always-on screen enabled. Here's hoping this performance evens out over time, but for now, I'm pretty wary of Samsung's claims. At least you can charge it by plopping it on the back of your Galaxy S10.