Samsung's Galaxy Watch 4 could be a peek at the future of Android smartwatches

Image: Collected
Samsung's Galaxy Watch 4 was unveiled last week at Samsung's August Unpacked event. As the first smartwatch with Google's newest version of Wear OS, the Galaxy Watch 4 may offer a glimpse at where Android watches are heading.

It's early days yet when it comes to seeing where this Galaxy Watch 4 and Google's Wear OS platform are heading, and the watch doesn't even become available until Aug. 27. (The Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3, unveiled alongside Samsung's new smartwatch, also arrive Aug. 27, but you can preorder them now and score a $50 Best Buy gift card.) But here are some things I'm already figuring out from a couple of days with both models. Keep in mind that my thoughts here may change as new software or app updates possibly roll in, and as these health features spend a longer period of time collecting data on my wrist.

Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic are basically the same, except for that physical bezel
The two watch models feel pretty interchangeable, which means you should probably get the model you like the looks of most. Or the most affordable one: I prefer the sleeker Watch 4, which starts at $250 (£249, Australian prices TBA). The Classic starts at $350 (£349), and does have a stainless-steel body instead of aluminum, but it's that physically spinning bezel that's really different.

What do you use it for? Mainly, swapping between quick views of information mini apps, called Tiles. On the Watch 4 they're mainly health metrics, and a few extras like calendar and messages. More are likely to arrive as Wear OS 3 continues to evolve, but the point is not every app has a tile. You could also just swipe with your finger instead, making the bezel effectively cosmetic.

The Classic, with its satisfying clicking bezel, has a display that's inset. It makes swipes sometimes a little trickier to pull off. But there is a big bezel advantage, I discovered: When swimming, that physical dial is easier to control when wet than the touch display.

The watch faces are beautiful (mostly)
I love Samsung's Galaxy Watch 4 watch faces. Many are animated and adorable. There are a couple of weird ones: AR Emoji and Bitmoji watch faces try to put cute avatars of me on the watch, but I found them grating -- I don't use Apple's Memoji watch faces much either. There are a good number of customizations on most of them, but not all. Some are fitness-focused, and some have cool optional complication layouts (like clock face widgets for apps).

Disappointingly, many of the best animated watch faces don't have complication add-on options, so you'll use them at the expense of helpful bits of info like weather or battery life. Google's Wear OS faces make an appearance, too. These seem like the best watch faces I've ever seen on an Android watch, and it's still a great sign for what Google and Samsung's new platform can do. I'd like a few more complication add-on options, though.

The only assistant is Bixby
Hello, Bixby. I guess we meet again.

Samsung's voice assistant returns, and it's assigned to one of the Watch 4 buttons by default (the top one, a long press summons it). You can't access Google Assistant as an option, which is something I was convinced would be on the Watch 4. I was wrong. (You can swap out Bixby with a Power Off shortcut, but that's it for that long-press button reassigning.)

Plans may change; right now, Bixby is the only assistant. Again, the watch doesn't arrive until the end of the month. It's built on Wear OS, and Google's apps can be downloaded onto the Watch 4. But I'm concerned about not having Google Assistant. Google Assistant is a big part of how a watch can be connected to a phone (or common Google apps), and it feels like a big loss not to have it right now. I actually use voice commands quite a bit on watches like the Apple Watch because they're easier to pull off in a pinch, hands-free. It's also particularly weird because Fitbit now has Google Assistant support on its voice-connected devices.

I've only used the Galaxy Watch 4 with a Samsung phone right now, but how this will work with other Android phones remains a big question. Then again, Samsung had Bixby on its previous Android-connected Galaxy watches, too.

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