Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra hands-on: Didn't fall far from the Apple tree


Have you heard the song that goes “anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you?” Well, it seems like the folks at Samsung have been listening to that on repeat. At its Galaxy Unpacked event today, the company unveiled a slew of products, including a few wearables that look remarkably familiar. The Galaxy Ring, which was teased in January, appears to be inspired by the Oura Ring. Meanwhile, the new Galaxy Watch Ultra seems to have borrowed many traits from a competing product at Apple, right down to its name.

The resemblance doesn’t end there, but there are a few key differences between Samsung and Apple’s high-end smartwatches. From my recent hands-on experience, though, Samsung’s latest wearables don’t seem to bring many new things to its familiar-looking products.

The Korean company has a long history of aping Apple, and has even had to pay the iPhone maker millions of dollars as part of a multi-year patent infringement case. With everything from its name to appearance to features being so obviously similar to the Apple Watch Ultra, I don’t think it’s too far for me to outright say that Samsung is copying the iPhone maker, and pretty brazenly so. In fact, even with the Galaxy Watch 7, Samsung seems to be bringing features that already launched elsewhere.

Most of the changes on the Watch 7 aren’t immediately visible. There is a new 3nm Exynos processor under the hood, which Samsung says is three times faster than its predecessor. It’s also supposed to deliver 30% improved power efficiency, which should translate to better battery life. The Watch 7 also has a dual-frequency GPS system for more accurate location tracking. Apple brought dual-frequency GPS to its watches in 2022 with the original Watch Ultra.

The similarities don’t end there. Samsung is also offering new watchbands, including one in a very familiar-looking ripple style. The Galaxy Watch 7 and Ultra will also support a new “double pinch” gesture that will let you do things like trigger the camera or dismiss an alert by bringing your thumb and forefinger together twice. Apple formally launched Double Tap on the Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 last year, though the bones of the gesture-based navigation has existed as an accessibility feature for longer.

I wasn’t able to test double pinch at the hands-on event for myself, though Samsung reps onsite showed me how it would work. To be fair, it also took Apple weeks before it actually rolled out Double Tap to the public.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 7 on a stand on a white table, showing an analog watch face.The Samsung Galaxy Watch 7 on a stand on a white table, showing an analog watch face.

Sam Rutherford for Engadget

The Galaxy Watch 7 also comes with the usual set of new watch faces, and has a second-gen bioactive sensor that allows for faster and more-accurate readings. There’s also new software features like an AI algorithm for sleep analysis and a “De Novo FDA-authorized Sleep Apnea feature” that checks for “potential signs of moderate to severe sleep apnea.” The Galaxy Watch 7 (and Ultra) is also one of the first to run Wear OS 5, which was first teased at Google I/O back in May.

I’m recuperating from a recent injury and did not take a nap at the hands-on event, so I wasn’t able to check out the new sleep features or really even jump about to see how long my heart rate changes might take to register. I can only say that on the outside the Galaxy Watch 7 looks a lot like the Galaxy Watch 6.

I spent more time checking out the Galaxy Watch Ultra, which is, to give Samsung at least a little credit, the most different looking smartwatch it’s made in years. When rumors were rife that both Samsung and Apple were readying “Pro” models of their watches to launch in 2022, I was seriously underwhelmed when I finally saw the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. It was nothing like the Apple Watch Ultra, and seemed to be just a slightly more durable and souped-up version of the classic Galaxy Watch.

With the Galaxy Watch Ultra, Samsung has managed to successfully change up the look of its long-standing series of smartwatches. This thing’s appearance definitely makes a statement, and it’s not just “Watch Ultra for Android!” One thing Samsung did differently from Apple is that it kept the circle display, but framed it in a rounded square case, resulting in what the company described as a “cushion” design. Supposedly this “enhances protection and visual completeness,” but I suspect it has more to do with a round screen being easier for Samsung’s manufacturing.

The “cushion” style goes a long way in making the Galaxy Watch Ultra look different from other Samsung watches, but it still comes off like a slightly wider version of the Apple one. Both wearables have titanium cases and screens that can go up to 3,000 nits of brightness. They also offer water-resistance of up to 100 meters.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra on a wrist in mid air, with its screen showing the words The Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra on a wrist in mid air, with its screen showing the words

Sam Rutherford for Engadget

Apple does have a depth gauge and can be used for recreational diving at up to 40 meters, though, while Samsung doesn’t have similar software. There are other small differences in dust- and water-resistance between the two Watch Ultras, with Samsung’s rated at IP68 and Apple’s at IP6X dust-resistant.

Though it looks bulkier, the Galaxy Watch Ultra actually has a smaller 47mm case compared to Apple’s, which is 49mm. The latter is also a hair heavier, weighing 61.4 grams (2.16 ounces) compared to Samsung’s 60.5 grams. On my relatively small wrist, the Galaxy Watch Ultra looked a bit overwhelming, just like the Apple version did. If you have bigger bones and thought the Apple Watch Ultra was an alright size, you won’t have an issue with Samsung’s version. I will say that in my brief time with the Galaxy Watch Ultra, it never felt too heavy, and I almost forgot I was wearing it.

I already described how Samsung is bringing double pinch to the Galaxy Watch series this year, which is basically Apple’s double tap but less sophisticated. In my brief experience, Apple’s implementation is more thorough and works in more parts of the interface (like for jumping through individual widgets in its smart stack, for example). Samsung’s approach is fairly limited, since it appears to only be able to do one or two things.

The Galaxy Watch Ultra does have one notable difference from the Apple Watch Ultra — buttons. It has three on its right edge: the Home button on top and the back button at the bottom, just like previous models offered. But a new Quick Button sits in the middle and can be customized to launch an app or workout with a press. You can also determine what it does when you click it twice, but by default holding it down for five seconds will trigger the emergency siren, which is another feature that Apple also launched with the original Watch Ultra. A lot of Samsung’s interface also looks similar to Apple’s here, though its alarm sounds more monotonous and shrill than the iPhone maker’s.

Side view of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra on a wrist in mid air, showing the three buttons on its right edge. The top is a black rectangular button with an orange line in it, while the middle is a round dial with an orange outline. The last one is a black rectangle with a white line in it.Side view of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Ultra on a wrist in mid air, showing the three buttons on its right edge. The top is a black rectangular button with an orange line in it, while the middle is a round dial with an orange outline. The last one is a black rectangle with a white line in it.

Sam Rutherford for Engadget

One thing about the Galaxy Watch Ultra annoyed me more than anything else. Although it’s a dial that can turn, rotating the Quick Button doesn’t scroll through the interface. There’s also no physical spinning bezel here, so the only way you have to scroll through Samsung’s software is by dragging your finger across the screen. For a smartwatch company that’s best known for its rotating bezel that allows for easy scrolling, this seems like a glaring omission and a missed opportunity. Oh and just like the Apple Watch Ultra’s Action button, the Quick button is easy to accidentally press into when you bend your wrist backwards while doing pushups, for example.

There’s a lot more of the Galaxy Watch Ultra I’d like to test properly, like whether its 3nm processor truly translates to speedier performance and longer battery life. Samsung claims the Galaxy Watch Ultra can last up to 60 hours of typical use, 100 hours in Power Saving and 48 hours in “Exercise Power Saving.”

I’m also curious to see how Samsung’s double pinch feature compares to Apple’s version, even though I don’t find myself using the latter much in the real world anyway.

Has Samsung really done anything better than Apple with the Galaxy Watch Ultra? Though I’m skeptical at the moment, it’s a little too early to tell. It’s definitely a good thing that Samsung has priced its Watch Ultra at $650, which is $150 less than the Apple Watch Ultra and certainly more palatable. But I can only wait till after I’ve put the device to the test in the real world to know if it’s worth spending any money on. If you’re already intrigued, you can pre-order the Galaxy Watch Ultra and Watch 7 starting today on Samsung.com and they’ll be available on July 24.

Catch up on all the news from Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked 2024 here!



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