Samsung Galaxy Watch3 and Buds Live review: Wearable wonders
The guys at Samsung like to take a punt, clearly. Whether it’s persisting down the path of running their proprietary Tizen OS on their flagship Galaxy Watch wearable or a slick new kidney-bean-inspired design on their Buds Live hearable, the products are unique and compelling for their categories. Are they for you, though? Read on to find out.
Samsung Galaxy Watch3
Samsung’s Galaxy Watch from 2018 has been my go-to recommendation for a premium smartwatch for Android phone users, particularly for those who want a smart looking, traditional round dial on their wrist. And yes, the irony doesn’t escape me that it doesn’t even run Google’s Android WearOS. The Galaxy Watch3 takes the sheer brilliance that is the rotating bezel navigation on a round smartwatch, and refines the concept through a slimmer, lighter body, a larger screen and a bunch of new 2020-spec sensors. You get it in two sizes (41mm or 45mm), with or without 4G connectivity, and all variants work with any Android phone or iPhone…heck, you may even want to pair this (instead of the Apple Watch) if you prefer Samsung’s aesthetic over Apple’s squircle design and are okay with somewhat of a drop in native functionality.
On your wrist, the Watch3 sits pretty…and light, even though the 11.1mm thickness may look chunky on smaller wrists, the butch 45mm variant weighs in at only 53.8g, so it’s comfortable to wear all day long although sleeping with it isn’t as easy. The 1.4-inch circular screen is bright and crisp and if you’re accustomed to an Apple Watch like I am, so much more expansive! There are a bunch of slick watch faces built-in, plus more on the Galaxy Store. If you aren’t familiar with Samsung’s smartwatches, the rotating bezel around the screen behaves like a scroll wheel to navigate the interface, with the two side buttons serving ‘back’ and ‘select’ duties, with the lower button customizable for long- and double-press actions. The bezel rotates with a satisfying click and keeps the touchscreen free of fingerprints, and remains my favorite way to use a smartwatch, bar none.
Running on Tizen OS with One UI 2.0, instead of Google’s own WearOS, has its shares of pros and cons. Tizen remains exceedingly easy to use, and the bezel-based rotary interface is mated really well to the software. You get the usual complement of apps for music, photos, calendar/reminders and email, plus a whole bunch of workout-related routines but beyond these essential apps, the app availability drops off and many popular apps don’t find a mention on the Wearable store. As long as you do not go in expecting the sort of mature ecosystem and third-party app support you get on watchOS, and the built-in capabilities and available apps check your boxes, you should be fine with the Watch3. In use, the Exynos 9110 processor with 1GB of memory and 8GB of storage keeps things zipping along without a hint of lag. Screens whizz by as soon as you flick the bezel, and responsiveness is on par with the Apple Watch experience. Pairing with a Note 20 Ultra was a breeze, with notifications and Slack/WhatsApp messages streaming in quickly and responses (via presets or the on-screen keyboard) worked well.
With this generation, the Watch3 adds in SpO2 and VO2 Max tracking alongside better sleep scoring, stress tracking and a fall-detection trigger, and – don’t judge me – wearing the Watch3 alongside the Apple Watch Series 6 and a pulse oximeter revealed near-similar results during workouts, be it heart rates, oxygenation levels and steps taken. While it consistently took accurate readings, it requires an extremely stable hand (and a few tries, occasionally) to get a reading. There is electrical heart sensor for ECG and one for blood pressure, but it doesn’t have the necessary clearances to enable that feature in India just yet. The companion Samsung Health app does a fairly comprehensive job of tracking fitness and health stats, including sleep tracking, analysis of your runs and even auto-triggering detection of workouts even if you forget to start a routine. Battery life is a middling one day of use with the watch left on the always-on mode, less than an hour of fitness tracking and a full day’s worth of notifications from the Note 20 Ultra. Sleep tracking is possible, but you’ll need to charge it the moment you wake up (since a full charge takes a solid two hours plus), but I couldn’t try it for more than a night’s worth of tracking as the Watch3 and the leather strap felt heavy on my wrist. Maybe one could try switching to a more comfortable strap, if you’re really invested in the sleep tracking…
For someone with an Android phone, particularly a Samsung, the Watch3 is a no-brainer. It combines an attractive ‘watch’ design with that unique rotating bezel, a slick software experience, a gorgeous always-on screen and all the consumer fitness features you’ll need…
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
The Galaxy Buds Live arrive late in a crowded true wireless earbuds market, but they’re here to make a statement. These kidney beans-inspired earbuds challenge conventional norms of earbud design, not only in how they look but how they sit in the ear. Their bean shape forgoes a stalk and a silicone ear tip (which typically sits in the ear canal) – instead, the whole earbud nestles within the concha of your ear, which is the hollow area between your ear canal and the cartilaginous part of your ear, lining up the output of the drivers directly into your ear canal. They’ll look odd-shaped in your hand, quite unlike any earbuds you would have seen, but they sit very comfortably once you slide them into your ears and don’t protrude half as much as other true wireless earbuds do.
As with the earbuds, the charging case is equally diminutive, though it does extend the nearly-six-hour battery life of each bud (with noise cancellation) nearly three times over, around 19-20 hours per charge. Type-C fast charging and Qi wireless charging are both supported on the case. Much like the Buds+ that came earlier this year, the Buds Live use Bluetooth 5 for connectivity, support SBC, AAC and Samsung’s proprietary Scalable audio standards and use the Wearable/Buds app on Android/iOS to handle settings. Pairing is easy, and if you switch between Samsung devices, pairing information can be shared between them.
Now, the lack of a proper in-canal fit had me skeptical about how effective the active noise cancellation (ANC) on these buds would really be. They sound good for open-type earbuds (like the AirPods) and much like the Buds+, have a decent amount of detail and bass for the design, and the soundstage is spacious. Really deep bass and super detailed audio is where the Buds Live are found lacking, but they’re good or everyday listening to Bollywood or hip-hop. It’s in sound cancellation, both passive isolation (with a good seal) and active noise cancellation that these buds fall short – the bar for ANC on truly wireless earbuds is set pretty high by the AirPods Pro and the Sony WF-1000XM3, and the open fit design just can’t match up. There is a discernable reduction in noise, but some amount of background noise manages to leak in.
There’s a sense that style and form factor took precedence when Samsung crafted the Buds Live, and you should know that when comparing these buds to others from the Samsung stable or the competition. If you hate silicon ear tips blocking your ear canal, these are worth considering – they’re light, fit well and the lack of stalks means they look fairly discreet when worn.
Samsung Galaxy Watch3
Pros: Rotating bezel control, bright screen, zippy performance, attractive design, excellent fitness and health tracking, 50m water resistance, cross platform, LTE option
Cons: Tad bulky on smaller wrists, weak app support, ECG not rolled out yet, slow charging, battery life is average
Price: 45mm: Rs 32,990 (Bluetooth), Rs 38,990 (LTE)
41mm: Rs 29,990 (Bluetooth), Rs 34,990 (LTE)
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Pros: Unique design, good for calls, good sound for everyday listening, good battery life, good companion app
Cons: Poor noise isolation, low IP rating, ANC and noise isolation is limited
Price: Rs 14,990
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar