Being deeply entrenched in the Apple ecosystem definitely has its advantages as the devices typically work well together, be it the iPhone to Apple Watch or with the HomePod & iPads. Getting out is another matter, of course. When I ditched my dead iPhone 11 Pro & switched to the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE last year, I also got an iPhone SE as a backup phone which continued to pair with my Apple Watch. This setup was ok from the fitness tracking point of view, but for me, notifications on the wrist is the USP of smartwatches.
Design & Features
So, after a month of trying to avoid another gadget purchase, I opted to get the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 which is one of the few models with Wear OS 3. While it did have pretty much all a sensors & hardware features as my Apple Watch Series 5 like always on display, sleep tracking, ECG etc. (plus a few more like blood pressure monitoring, SpO2 & body composition analyzer), the ECG & BP sensors are not active in India yet. Haptics are much better on the Apple Watch through. However, you get pretty much similar hardware, but at half the price.
The display on the Galaxy Watch is round, which does take some getting used to when swiping around, but feels more natural to me as majority of my old school watches were round. The controls are somewhat different with 2 buttons on the side, and a touch bezel which can be used for quick scrolling similar to the Apple Watch’s crown. The Classic version of the Galaxy Watch does have a hardware dial instead of the touch bezel, but the price & weight go up significantly.
On the strap front, the Galaxy Watch uses standard 22 mm bands, so the costs are significantly lower. My preference is for the Milanese loop bands & magnetic leather bands for formal occasions, & velcro ones for regular home use. The Apple Watch has a bunch of 3rd party options, but those are 2-3x costlier than the standard watch varieties (Apple’s own straps can cost as much as other smartwatches themselves). Also, while the mechanism for securing & removing bands on Apple watches is quite novel & convenient, 3rd party options can be a bit finicky and don’t work as smooth.
Apps & Notifications
Notifications themselves are quite decently managed, though you do need to use the touch bezel to scroll through them quickly when they pile up in the notification centre. You also get a good number of options to act on the notifications unlike on the Apple Watch. However, you may need to scroll quite a bit to get to them as the notifications can take up a good deal of vertical space along with the response options.
Complications & watch faces are also handled very differently with complication support varying from face to face. Wear OS also supports full screen widgets which feel more like complications.
There’s also a bunch of standalone apps & phone app counterparts (sometimes broken into multiple apps), similar to the Apple Watch. There’s also a browser if you want. That said, the app situation is probably better on the Apple side, but it’s pretty much stagnated at this point with some of the initial developers like Uber even discontinuing support for the Watch apps.
Health & Fitness tracking
While the watches may have parity in terms of hardware sensors, the biggest difference comes in the way fitness data is handled between the watches. Apple has the Health app as a central hub which can share necessary sensor data with multiple other apps. On the Galaxy Watch, and possibly on Wear OS/Android, there is no such standardised central hub due to which most of the data beyond basic step counts is locked within Samsung’s health app, or whichever app (say Google Fit) you use to get the reading, be it getting a heart rate reading, logging your weight or recording a workout. In fact, some of the advanced sensor features do not seem to be supported on other apps.
The situation will of course be similar on other platforms which may not even have support for 3rd party apps. For me, this is a reasonable tradeoff and I am using Samsung’s Health app to track the vitals for the time being.
You can also answer calls on the Galaxy watch in a pinch just like on the Apple Watch, and support is limited to phone calls as well. The speaker is also fairly loud which is good enough unless you are in a noisy environment. Battery life has been typically better on My Galaxy Watch than on the Apple Watch as I can also comfortably wear it to sleep and charge it towards the end of the next day.
I am getting a very similar experience to the Apple Watch with my Galaxy Watch, and it serves my primary need of notifications on the wrist with few tradeoffs, but also a bunch of new features at half the price of the Apple Watch. Ultimately, I have been able to replace my iPhone 11 Pro & Apple Watch Series 5 combo at the a slightly lower cost than it would have taken me to get a 11 Pro replacement.