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Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 hands-on: two models with a big price gap but equally impressive features

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic
(Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung has just announced not one, but two brand new smartwatches for the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 series, and we've had some hands-on time with both already. There's quite a big difference in price, but not much between them at all in terms of performance and features.

The newly-named Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is the follow-up to the Watch 3 from last year and, aesthetically, is pretty similar to that model. Namely, it features that chunky, rotating bezel design we’ve come to know and love. This will be priced from £359.

The other model, simply called Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, looks very different - it loses the rotating bezel and large metal frame. It's a lighter, cleaner design with a much more discrete finish than its pricier counterpart. Prices for this model start at just £259.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

(Image credit: Samsung)

With a price difference like that, you'd be forgiven for thinking one would be a significantly watered-down version. Maybe with less power, features, and storage. However, you'd be wrong. The internal spec of the cheaper Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 matches that of the newly-dubbed Galaxy Watch 4 Classic at every turn. You’re just getting that thicker chassis with a rotating bezel on the latter.

Instead of a rotating bezel to navigate the menus, you can slide your finger around the edge of the screen to navigate in a similar manner. It’s not as immediate as the bezel, but it works well enough. The screen will inevitably end up with more smudgy fingerprints though.

The bulkier design has another advantage beyond nailing that traditional watch feel - protection

And while I’d argue you’re paying quite a lot extra for that feature, the bulkier design has another advantage beyond nailing that traditional watch feel - protection. For some reason, I’m almost constantly catching the edge of my Galaxy Watch 3 against surfaces, tables, door edges, the lot. With the sturdy surrounding bezel and metal frame around the watch itself, I've fortunately avoided damaging the screen glass. I’ve not even seen any dings or scratches in the metal either, so I’d assume the Watch 4 Classic will be able to withstand my accidental bashings too. 

As for the much more open design of the Watch 4, I’d be very concerned for the exposed screen, much like I am with all the Apple Watches out there with curved glass going around the edge of the display. That being said, I'm sure there's a lot of you out there that aren't utter clutzes and are capable of walking through a door without bashing your watch.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

(Image credit: Samsung)

The OS upgrade we've been looking for?

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 series answers the call for a much-needed new operating system along with some new UI enhancements, as the last few watches have all felt too similar. The new Wear OS has been built jointly with Google and it is now compatible with the proper Google Play store.

This is a big deal. Now when you download apps on your phone, you’ll see an option to download any relevant versions to your watch too rather than having to download apps from the rather slim pickings of the Samsung store via a separate app.

More to the point, we’re finally, finally getting proper Google Maps support on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 with an on-screen map and directions at the same time. The built-in compass seems to help point you in the right direction in real-time too. If you’ve tried navigating while walking around a new city using third-party apps on the older Galaxy Watches, this alone might be a reason to upgrade. We might finally be able to leave our phone in our pocket and see where we're supposed to be going. I never really trust relying on just audio directions over Bluetooth, especially when there's a long pause between directions only to find it's stopped tracking your movements when you do take a look. So yes, I'm very much ready to put this to the test properly.

You’ll want to pack the apps into the watch too as they’re much easier to browse on the watch itself now. Simply swipe up and you can scroll through a long vertical list of icons. Sure, it’s a feature lifted from Apple Watches, but straight away I found it much better than cycling through the usual menus to find the app I want.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic

(Image credit: Samsung)

Tech boost

Storage has been doubled to 16GB this year, which is nice to have, especially with the additional apps we might want to download. They're not going to be huge files though, and even 8GB allowed for a lot of downloaded Spotify songs. 

In addition, both Galaxy Watch 4 models come with a 20% increase in CPU and 50% increase in RAM which should ensure smoother scrolling and multitasking. Although we’ll have to live with the watch for a while to really see what difference this makes day-to-day, I experienced zero stuttering and everything loaded fast enough during my hands-on session. 

Even the screen resolution has had a mild bump, now with 10% more pixels. This results in smoother transitions and scrolling.

It's not all rosy, though. Battery life is reported as lasting up to 40 hours, which is less than the two days plus we’re able to get from our (45mm) Watch 3 by around half a day. Perhaps the slightly slimmer design is why there's a smaller battery. Unless it's the same size, but the new OS is more of a drain.

On the other hand, this still comfortably beats the charge time seen on the latest Apple Watch models which last around 18 hours. You're looking at around two hours to recharge the Watch 4 from flat, too.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

(Image credit: Samsung)

Stylish new straps

It's worth mentioning the new strap that comes with both models. Instead of leather, there's a synthetic rubber strap this time around. But don't pull that face. Yes, a lot of rubber straps have that horrible finish that sticks to your skin and pulls at wrist hair, but this feels much more breathable and with a soothingly smooth finish that's much better than the strap on something like the Gear Sport.

This does mean the default leather strap seen on the Watch 3 has been replaced, but given the increasing number of fitness features on the Watch 4 (more on those below), it's clear Samsung is gearing the watch towards using it for exercise more. The leather band wasn't great for getting your sweat on, after all.

However, you can still have the best of both. There is a new optional watch strap sold separately with a cool two-tone design - leather on one side, then this smooth rubber material on the skin-contacting side. So you get to hit the gym and wear it out to dinner in style, too. Hopefully, this won't be too expensive as it looks like a genuinely attractive accessory. Not that the rubber strap looks unattractive.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

(Image credit: Samsung)

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is gunning for your Fitbit

Samsung is leaning even harder on the fitness angle this time around, with a new body composition analysis tool looking to provide one of the most comprehensive fitness smartwatches on the market. And given the Apple Watch has been going much the same way in recent times, I imagine Fitbit will be increasingly concerned about losing market share.

To run a ‘scan’ for the body composition tool, you simply enter your height and weight, then hold two buttons. This allows the watch to send a very mild current through your body to provide results on body fat and the like. Yep, it’s basically witchcraft.

Hopefully, the Watch 4 has fired the little animated chap saying ‘Great!’ when I got up to make a brew - the sarcastic little asshat

Expect to find other features as seen in last year's model too like blood oxygen and blood pressure monitoring, in addition to a heart-rate monitor.

I was unable to test other exercise features during my hands-on session, but I'm hoping for some improved performance from the gyroscope compared to the Watch 3. I found the latter a bit lethargic on responses to stretches as it would often ignore the first handful of squats or twists when I’d react to the (optional) hourly prompts for a quick stretch or two when sitting in a chair all day. Hopefully, the Watch 4 has fired the little animated chap saying ‘Great!’ when I got up to make a brew though - the sarcastic little asshat.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic

(Image credit: Samsung)

Should you pre-order the Galaxy Watch 4?

The new Galaxy Watch 4 series looks to be making a range of neat improvements. I am geeking out on Google Maps properly coming to a smartwatch. And while the lack of a rotating bezel and thick frame might make the Watch 4 more vulnerable to clumsy clashes than the Watch 4 Classic, that low price is incredibly appealing.

If you already own a Galaxy Watch 3 (which currently tops our best smartwatch guide), you should probably wait for the full review to see if it’s worth upgrading. For Android mobile users looking for a quality smartwatch experience with a range of impressive fitness features though, the two Galaxy Watch 4 models might be tough to beat this year.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic are both set to release on August 27 and there's a pre-order offer at Samsung that gives you $50 back in credit. We've got a few more hands-on reports you might be interested in today. Like the brand new Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 preview and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 previews.

Brendan Griffiths

Brendan is GamesRadar's Managing Editor of the Hardware & eCommerce team. Formerly the Deals Editor at our sister site, TechRadar, he's obsessed with finding the best tech, games, gadgets, and hardware at the lowest price. He spends way too much of his free time trying to decide what new things to watch on Netflix, then just rewatches It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia instead.