Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro review: More like semi-Pro

Pros

  • Lightweight titanium casing
  • Sapphire glass AMOLED display
  • Large enough battery for most users
  • Google Wear OS 3 app support

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Limited, manual GPX process
  • Skin temperature not yet enabled
  • Blood pressure remains elusive in the US

Samsung announced two versions of its Galaxy Watch 5 this year, but unlike previous years where we saw a standard model and one with a physical rotating bezel, Samsung is doing away with the physical dial and has introduced a “Pro” model.

The Pro marketing of this watch is a bit over the top, with Samsung doing its fair share of promoting how much better the Watch 5 Pro is for outdoor adventures than the standard Watch 5 model. It physically has a harder sapphire glass display, titanium watch case, and much larger capacity battery, so these may help it withstand a bit more abuse. 

A couple of software features round out the “Pro” moniker such as the ability to import GPX files for hiking and biking while also having your return routes automatically mapped out for when you forget to do it yourself. I’ll talk more below about the extensive process to use GPX files, but it’s clear that the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is not going to challenge your Garmin, Coros, or Polar GPS sports watch for outdoor adventures and multi-day use for workouts.

That said, I’ve gone hiking, running, and even sleeping with the Black Titanium Galaxy Watch 5 Pro over the past five days and have built a fair understanding of what Samsung is trying to do with the new watch. And while it may be the company’s latest smartwatch — and the first to go Pro — there are a few shortcomings that I’d like to be proven wrong about as I further test it and finalize the review rating.

Specifications

Display 1.4-inch 450×450 pixels resolution Super AMOLED touchscreen
Processor Samsung Exynos W920 dual-core
Materials Titanium body with Sapphire Crystal glass with 29GPa rating
RAM/storage 1.5GB/16GB
Durability 5 ATM/IP68 and MIL-STD-810H
Connectivity 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, GPS/GLONASS/Galileo/BeiDou, LTE (optional)
Sensors Accelerometer, Barometer, Samsung BioActive Sensor (Optical Heart Rate + Electrical Heart Signal + Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis), Skin Temperature, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Light Sensor
Battery 590 mAh, up to two days in typical usage
Dimensions 45.5 x 45.5 x 10.5 mm and 46.5 grams (without strap)
Colors Black Titanium and Gray Titanium


The Watch 5 Pro comes with Google’s Wear OS powered by Samsung so that means you get Google Maps, Google Assistant, Google Pay, Messages, Keep Notes, and more. In addition, Samsung Pay, Samsung Messages, Samsung Health, Bixby, and other Samsung apps are provided. It is a Samsung Galaxy Watch after all. 

Also: The best smartwatches for Android users: Top Apple Watch alternatives

Hardware

There is no Galaxy Watch option with a rotating bezel this year, but the Watch 5 Pro does have a bit of a unique design with the new sapphire glass display. Replacing the physical rotating dial is a concave transition from the glass up to the edge of the casing that lets your finger swipe up and down to trigger a similar bezel effect. I find this finger guide design to be superior to the flat glass of other Galaxy Watch models and while the mechanism is all software-enabled now, it does give fans of the original rotating bezel a bit of closure.

The Watch 5 Pro is available in one size, so it may not even be a viable option for those with smaller wrists. It’s a fairly thick watch, in order to accommodate the large capacity battery, outsizing last year’s Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, but it is lighter and feels great on the wrist. 

As a fan of big watches though, the Watch 5 Pro is not nearly as big as some of the Garmin and Coros watches that I wear daily, so don’t feel too intimidated by the new design. Samsung also says that the larger size allows the base of the watch to be wider and protrude further out, allowing the wrist sensors to better read and track your health.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro Watch faces

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

The 1.4-inch Super AMOLED display is gorgeous, with crisp fonts, brilliant colors, and a seamless touchscreen experience. With rugged, outdoorsy smartwatches, input delays and lag can be frequent. Not with the 5 Pro; Taps and swipes have performed flawlessly and I am especially enjoying the default watch face options.

This year, the watch case is made with titanium and available in black or gray. You’ll have to buy the regular Watch 5 for the more-lively colors. The speaker is oddly placed on the top of the watch — where the bands sort of cover it, while the microphone is found on the right side between the navigation buttons. 

The default band that shipped with the Watch 5 Pro is the new D-Buckle Sport band, which is much better than the default band I received with my Watch 4 Classic last year. It is a soft silicone band that you adjust by sliding open a latch, fitting the band, and then locking the latch. How secure is the new buckle? I have yet to see the band pop open during any of my workouts or daily activities.

Galaxy Watch 5 Pro

Image: Samsung

Two hardware buttons are positioned on the right side of the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro: A Home key and a Back key. A single press of the Home key takes you back to your default watch face. You can assign any app you want to a double press and long press of the Home key, so I have mine set to Google Wallet and Google Assistant, respectively. This integration and support for Google have transformed the Samsung Galaxy Watch experience into one that Android enthusiasts will be satisfied with.

Still, not everything is geared toward Google services. Samsung Pay is the default press and hold action of the Back key and there is currently no setting available to change this to Google Pay or any other application. Let’s hope Samsung provides a software update to allow customization of this button action, too.

Flipping the watch over we see the Samsung BioActive sensor that is used to capture your heart rate, bioelectrical impedance for blood pressure (not in the US), irregular heartbeat (ECG), blood oxygen levels, and more. To the left side of the back sensor unit is the skin temperature sensor but this has not been activated yet, so stay tuned for more on the tracking feature.

More: How the new Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro may help those trying to conceive

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro

June Wan/ZDNET

Google Wear OS powered by Samsung

When you first power on the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, you’re greeted with a familiar Samsung wearable experience. There are the usual Tizen OS watch faces, tile UI elements, Samsung apps, Bixby, and more. The 5 Pro is clearly still a Galaxy Watch, and with Google Wear OS powering the software, the watch only gets better.

Open the app drawer and you will start to see why the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro running Wear OS is a game changer for Samsung and Google’s watch platform. I currently have the following installed that were not present on my past Galaxy Watch models: Google Wallet, Google Maps, Google Assistant, Google Fit, Gboard (yes, a keyboard for your watch), and more. Thanks to Wear OS, the Watch 5 Pro gains more functionality and access to some of my most widely-used apps across devices.

Also: Google combines Wear OS with Samsung’s Tizen

However, that’s not to say that the software experience — particularly the Google Play Store — is perfect. There were many times when I would search for watch-supported apps on my phone and would be presented with results that weren’t even compatible. This was because whenever I searched a keyword, the Google Play Store would jump out of its watch-filtered system and show me all results in the marketplace — including mobile and tablet apps. My hopes for a Telegram or Starbucks app were dashed a couple of times. 

To see which Wear OS apps you can confidently install on your Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, jump into the Play Store found directly on the watch itself. I found many more apps using the Play Store on the watch, including searching via voice to text. 

Galaxy Watch 5 side view showing app icons

Image: Samsung

Personalizing the Galaxy Watch experience

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is managed through two key Samsung apps: Galaxy Wearable and Samsung Health. To make the most out of your smartwatch, you’ll want to sync up with the two services, both of which are free but very beneficial.

  • Galaxy Wearable: You’re presented with the basic Galaxy Watch information, including the watch name, its battery status, links to watch faces, settings, and more. It is within the app where you can adjust the elements of the Watch 5 Pro’s watch faces, including what metrics you’d like to appear on the home screen, and the color theming. There is even a compass index option in the Pro analog watch face to try out.
  • Samsung Health: Samsung Health is a smartphone-based application that consolidates data collected by the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro into a visually-appealing experience. Data such as steps taken, exercises completed, sleep, stress, heart rate, and more are provided here on a home page, with access to detailed reports. Tapping on ECG or blood pressure (in countries where supported) will open up the Samsung Health Monitor app, a separate service that consolidates your metrics into comprehensible reports for your physician.
galaxy-watch-5-pro-running

Running is supported, but the data provided is pretty basic

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

To encourage healthy habits, you can also start challenges with friends, gain achievements, and view weekly performance reports via Samsung Health. There is also a fitness section of Samsung Health where you can find programs provided by third-party services. There are not a ton of available programs, and many are targeted toward beginners, but it looks like a decent free service provided by Samsung Health.

Also: The 5 best smartwatches: Apple and Samsung battle for your wrist

The one real “Pro” feature: GPX tracking

The one “Pro” software feature of the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is support for GPX for hiking and biking. GPX, or GPS Exchange Format File, is a file type that contains geographic info such as tracks, routes, and waypoints. It’s a bit odd that this is the focus of the Watch 5 Pro when there is no support for trail running, mountain biking, or even running. I guess it’s a start, but let’s walk through how to actually use it on a Galaxy Watch 5 Pro.

The first thing you are going to need is a GPX file for the location you plan to hike or bike. You can try searching online, but you will quickly realize that a third-party service subscription is required to create GPX files. Trailforks is a fairly affordable subscription with GPX files for popular hikes. Personally, I am a Strava subscriber.

galaxy-watch-5-pro-hiking

Hiking to my local fishing hole with the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The GPX support is interesting and if you build up a library of routes, it could be useful even for offline travel. However, my GPS sports watches have preloaded topographic maps and much longer battery life, so they are far more useful for hiking in the wilderness. It’s not clear if Samsung is going to prioritize GPX reading as much moving forward. I hope it does, because while the feature on the Watch 5 Pro is lacking compared to the sport watch market, it’s a great first step. 

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro or Apple Watch Series 7?

There isn’t much point in comparing the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro to the Apple Watch Series 7 running WatchOS 9 since both models are exclusive to their respective operating systems and platforms. An Android user will find more benefits using the Galaxy Watch, while iOS users will feel at home with the Apple Watch. 

That said, I’ve used both devices and found the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro beating the Apple Watch 7 in terms of battery life and body composition measurements. However, Apple’s upcoming WatchOS 9 update brings better fitness support with running power from the wrist, better options for viewing data as you work out, more robust watch applications, and a powerful Apple Healthkit system. 

Bottom line

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is available now for $449.99 in Black Titanium and Gray Titanium. While I am evaluating the Black Titanium model, I also ordered a Gray Titanium one to accomodate my soon-arriving Galaxy Z Fold 4, so be on the watch for more updates. I had troubles ordering the LTE model, which costs $50 more, through Samsung’s website, and the Golf Edition is not yet available, so your options may be just as limited. 

I was expecting to see longer battery life on the Watch 5 Pro, but I guess I was expecting too much from the “Pro” branding. It is indeed, however, proving to have longer battery life than any other Galaxy Watch or Apple Watch I have tested and it seems that just over two days is the practical limit for the smartwatch. 

I will continue to test out the Watch 5 Pro and update the review with a rating after another week or two of working out and seeing all that the Galaxy Watch has to offer. Please let us know if you have any questions about the watch and if there are things you want us to test out in the comments below.