Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro review: Not the latest but still the greatest

Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 6 and Watch 6 Classic were recently announced at the company’s Unpacked event, with the former being an entry-level Galaxy Watch and the Watch 6 Classic being the higher-end option thanks to its physical rotating bezel and larger display. That leaves the Watch 5 Pro as the only wearable remaining from last year’s lineup.

The Pro marketing of this watch was a bit over the top in 2022, but with continued software improvements, it now lives up to that branding. And compared to the Watch 6 series, it has a harder sapphire glass display, a titanium watch case, and a much larger capacity battery.

Also: 3 surprising features that sold me on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic

I’ve recently given the Watch 5 Pro a revisit and continue to be impressed by its long battery life, which now seems even better than before, among other features. There have also been a few software updates since its release that make it a very competitive option today, even if Samsung pushes the Watch 6 and Watch 6 Classic to most people.

Specifications

Hardware

The Watch 5 Pro has a sapphire glass display and after a year of use, it remains scratch free. 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.

Also: I put the Apple Watch Ultra through a Tough Mudder

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 (similar to placing an Oreo cookie on your wrist), in order to accommodate the large capacity battery, outsizing both of this year’s new Watch 6 models, but it is not very heavy 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 as it maintains contact with your body and reduces light intrusion.

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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.

Also: The best Android smartwatches you can buy right now

The watch case is made of titanium and is 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. 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.

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.

Also: How the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro may help those trying to conceive

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 that was activated with a firmware update. It is an integral sensor for tracking women’s menstrual cycles, but is also used to help with predicting health issues through measurements while you sleep. The skin temperature sensor is managed in the Samsung Health settings of the Galaxy Wearable application.

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. Wear OS 4.0 and OneUI 5.0 are provided with the latest software update.

Also: These One UI 5 features are coming to Galaxy Watches

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.

Samsung

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, but a recent update brought WhatsApp so there is hope for more applications in the future.

Also: 3 surprising features that sold me on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic

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.

Personalizing the Galaxy Watch experience

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

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.

Also: How Samsung surpassed the Apple Watch, with a little help from Google

  • 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.

Also: The best fitness trackers you can buy right now

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.

Samsung’s latest OneUI 5 release includes a host of new features and improvements. These include automatic cycling workout tracking, personalized heart rate zones for running, improved phone call controls over your connected smartphone, support for multiple timers, folder app organization, and much more.

The one real “Pro” feature: GPX tracking

The one “Pro” software feature of the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is support for GPX for hiking, biking, running, and walking. GPX, or GPS Exchange Format File, is a file type that contains geographic info such as tracks, routes, and waypoints. Trail running is a perfect application for this format and given two new exercises were added, we may see continued support for this functionality.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic vs. Watch 5 Pro: Which is best for you?

The first thing you are going to need is a GPX file for the location you plan to hike or bike. Samsung has made this a lot easier with recent updates that support turning your past exercise tracks into routes so check out our Routes Tile guide for all of the details.

You can also try searching online for GPX files, but you will quickly realize that a third-party service subscription is required to create the files. Trailforks is a fairly affordable subscription with GPX files for popular hikes. Personally, I am a Strava subscriber.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The GPX support is interesting and if you build up a library of routes, it is 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.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro or Apple Watch Ultra?

There isn’t much point in comparing the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro to the Apple Watch Ultra 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.

Also: Apple Watch Ultra vs. Garmin Enduro 2: Exploring the key differences

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro competes well with the Apple Watch Ultra in terms of battery life and health/wellness measurements. However, Apple’s WatchOS 9 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. Samsung continues to improve Samsung Health and applications continue to be released for Google Wear OS.

ZDNET’s buying advice

The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is available now for $449.99 in Black Titanium and Gray Titanium. I purchased the LTE model for an additional $50 which allows me to use the watch without a connected phone. There is also a unique black and white Watch 5 Pro Golf Edition which includes a lifetime membership to the Smart Caddie app ($100 value).

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is easily the best wearable for Android smartphone owners and it excels in all of the smartwatch categories. It’s made with materials normally reserved for high-end GPS sports watches but is still priced at $450. Samsung continues to improve the watch and it is now living up to the “Pro” label. Even with the new Watch 6 models, the Watch 5 Pro is still more compelling for my needs.

Alternatives to consider