Galaxy Watch 46mm

Teardown: Samsung Galaxy Watch

Image credit: Samsung

The smartwatch finally finds its mass market.

Cellphones killed wristwatches. Smartphone makers have been trying to resurrect them. This ironic contrast has dogged the efforts of companies like Samsung and Apple. But with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Watch, might we now say it has been resolved?

Forget Dick Tracy and countless sci-fi tropes (and fashion). The smartwatch has found its commercial raison d’etre in sport and exercise. The data suggest the market is anything but a niche.

According to a 2017 survey by GlobalWebIndex, 76 per cent of Millennials (aged 21-34), 70 per cent of Generation Xers (35-53) and 64 per cent of Baby Boomers (55 and above) make time to exercise at least once a week.

More recently, the American College of Sports Medicine surveyed more than 2,000 trainers and they picked wearable technology as 2019’s leading fitness trend. Demand from a more health-conscious society is, the survey found, now being matched by more accurate metering by the devices.

The Galaxy Watch reflects these trends in a number of ways.

Samsung’s decision to drop the ‘Gear’ brand from its watches in favour of the ‘Galaxy’ associated with its handsets not only helps increase product awareness but also shows how the sports-led product mix has come to be seen as mainstream. Nevertheless, the latest entry’s technological and industrial design is essentially an evolution of the Gear, not a rethink.

The Korean giant has loaded 39 different exercise trackers as standard, with some enabled for auto-tracking. Reviewers found the readings from these to be as or more accurate than those from dedicated sports wristbands.

In addition, there are several motivational features – for example, alerts if you are too sedentary, and opportunities to compare your performance and activity rates against friends with similar watches.

Also, the Galaxy Watch now incorporates a physical bezel to control various watch functions. A colleague who is a keen runner says he has been looking for something like this for a while. His argument is that the tiny touchscreens on fitness bands and/or small buttons are hard enough to use when you are stationary. A simple twist-to-pick bezel is certainly much easier, particularly if you want to keep moving.

An iFixit teardown looked at how the bezel has been assembled. The main portion is an outer plastic ring containing four ball bearings. “Each of the bearings sits on a spring recessed in the aluminium casing, generating a snappy lock when the bezel is turned and the bearing constellation aligns with the grooves in the bezel,” iFixit explains.

“To read the turning of the bezel, there are three Hall-effect sensors on a small PCB, at the same distance from each other as the grooves on the bezel, and every third groove has a small magnet inside. When the bezel is turned, two of the three sensors read a change in their magnetic field (either ‘on/off’ or ‘off/on’). The third sensor does not read a change. With this method, it can be clearly determined in which direction the bezel is rotated.”

There have been some trade-offs to enable this increased focus on health and fitness; this is a device that has a 42mm or 46mm diameter. Most notably, Samsung has dropped the magnetic secure transmission capability for Samsung Pay (although the watch still has near-field communication).

The company has also opted to use its own Tizen operating system rather than the open-​source Google Wear variant of Android. This has allowed Samsung to optimise battery life (four hours in the 46mm version; three hours in the 42mm one) and incorporate the bezel.

However, with apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and – perhaps most significant for runners – Google Maps not yet ported to Tizen, some users may feel these are important gaps. Samsung has worked with Spotify, so that Galaxy Watch owners will be able to run workout playlists via the device.

The Galaxy Watch is available either as a standalone device (exclusive to EE on a separate 4G plan in the UK) or as a peripheral to most smartphones. There, as you would expect, it pairs best with other Samsung products. Also, unlike some other recent ‘foldable’ products, the price is aimed at the broader market: EE is charging £20 a month for the cellular model; the just launched Galaxy Watch Active retails in the UK for £229 (slightly less than the original Watch in this teardown, but with much the same specification).

When they first emerged, smartwatches were interesting examples of engineering on Weight Watchers, but that issue has receded in importance with each new generation, and as the devices have found something like an optimal technological and marketable configuration.

A couple of takeaways from the Galaxy Watch, though, because its market still has some way to go.

First, Samsung may have made the right choice in opting for a round rather than a square face like that on Apple’s rival – the bezel option is getting a lot of attention but it is still too early to say if it will become a necessary feature. Second, while the hardware assembly of smartwatches may now be less challenging, the software continues to demand substantial improvement: Tizen is a trade-off and even the ‘better’ battery life it offers is ‘good’ in a comparative rather than a definitive sense.

Key components: Samsung Galaxy Watch

Exploded view

 1.   Wireless charger coil

 2.  Wireless charger housing

 3.  Wireless charger base assembly

 4.  Wireless charger board

 5.  Wireless charger base pad

 6.  Heart-rate sensor

 7.  Speaker

 8.  Battery

 9.  Bezel (inner)

 10.  Vibration motor

 11.   Service port

 12.  Watch rear frame

 13.  Midframe

 14.  Hall sensor array

 15.  Watch front frame

 16.  Display

 17.  Bezel (outer)

 18.  NFC antenna

 19.  Motherboard

Motherboard

 20.  Barometric pressure sensor, STMicroelectronics

 21.   GPS/GLONASS, Broadcom

 22.  Secure element, STMicroelectronics

 23.  Power amplifier, Skyworks

 24.  Power amplifier, Skyworks

 25.  Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, Broadcom

 26.  Apps processor, Samsung

 27.  NFC controller, NXP Semiconductors

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