Galaxy Watch 3 vs. Apple Watch Series 5: Similar features, different execution

Here's how Samsung's new smartwatch compares to Apple's.

Vanessa Hand Orellana CNET Senior Editor
As head of wearables at CNET, Vanessa reviews and writes about the latest smartwatches and fitness trackers. She joined the team seven years ago as an on-camera reporter for CNET's Spanish-language site and then moved on to the English side to host and produce some of CNET's videos and YouTube series. When she's not testing out smartwatches or dropping phones, you can catch her on a hike or trail run with her family.
Vanessa Hand Orellana
5 min read

Samsung's new Galaxy Watch 3 is going head-to-head against the Apple Watch with new fitness tools, an FDA-cleared ECG app and a fall-detection feature that works a lot like Apple's. But the execution of these features is different on each device and there's a lot to consider when deciding between the two. If you want a deeper dive, we tested the Galaxy Watch 3 and gave it a full review, but in the meantime, here's a look at how it compares with the Apple Watch Series 5 based on the specs.

The Galaxy Watch 3 is compatible with more devices

Unless you're willing to trade in your phone for a watch, the most important thing to consider when choosing between these two smartwatches is whether it's compatible with your smartphone. The Galaxy Watch 3 is running Samsung's own Tizen OS, which is best paired with a Galaxy phone, but it will work with most Android and Apple devices as well. The Apple Watch runs on WatchOS , which is only compatible with an iPhone

Watch this: The Galaxy Watch 3 looks great, but some health features will have to wait

The Galaxy Watch 3 looks more like an analog watch

The biggest design difference between the watches is the shape: the Galaxy Watch is round, the Apple Watch is square (ish). Which one looks better is a matter of preference, but there's no denying that the Galaxy Watch 3 looks more like a traditional analog watch. It's made of stainless steel and has a rotating bezel that allows you to control the interface without smearing the screen. The base model of the Apple Watch comes with an aluminum frame and uses the digital crown on the side to control the interface. There's also a stainless steel version of the Apple Watch, but you have to pay at least $300 extra for it. 

Both smartwatches give you two sizes to choose from: 41mm or 45mm for the Galaxy Watch and 40mm or 44mm for the Apple Watch. The upside with the Apple Watch is that the actual screen is a few millimeters larger. 

They both have always-on displays and customizable watch faces. But the Galaxy Watch 3 has more options to choose from, including the ability to customize it based on your outfit. Apple's watch faces will become a bit more customizable after the update to WatchOS 7 in the fall

They have similar fitness features 

Both the Galaxy Watch 3 and the Apple Watch Series 5 have all the basics when it comes to fitness tracking: continuous heart rate monitoring, built-in GPS, water-resistance up to 50 meters and over 30 different workouts in their catalogs. The Series 5 has a compass, and as far as we know, the Galaxy Watch 3 doesn't. 

The Galaxy Watch 3 will let you sync a workout video to the watch from the Galaxy Health app to track and control from your wrist. The Apple Watch doesn't do this natively, but there are third-party apps that can do something similar. 

Both smartwatches have designated tools for runners. The Apple Watch lets you set pace alerts, but for more detailed feedback you'd have to find a third-party app. The Galaxy Watch 3 comes with a new running coach that gives you instant feedback about your form and pace, plus a post-run analysis, but we haven't tested the feature yet and it won't be active at launch.

Both will be able to give you VO2 Max readings (maximum oxygen consumption) to gauge your fitness level, but the Apple Watch is the only one that can actually measure it right now. Samsung says this feature, as well as SPO2 (blood oxygen) tracking will arrive later this year via software update. 

Health features on the Apple Watch are more fledged out

Both smartwatches have a built-in electrocardiogram (ECG, or sometimes EKG) that lets you know if your heart rhythm is indicative of atrial fibrillation (aka aFib), but right now you'll only be able to use it on the Apple Watch. Samsung just announced it has received FDA clearance for its ECG feature, which was needed before rolling it out in the US, but it hasn't given a timeline on when we can expect it. 

The Galaxy Watch 3 also has an app that lets you monitor stress levels and blood pressure, but the latter is still pending FDA clearance in the US and will only be available in South Korea at launch. It does have an app that monitors stress levels. 

The Apple Watch has hearing health notifications that let you know when the volume on ambient noise (or headphone levels starting in WatchOS 7) is too high and could eventually cause hearing loss. It also offers female heath tracking. 

The Galaxy Watch 3 takes the lead on sleep tracking 

The Apple Watch (Series 3 and later) will get native sleep tracking with the update to WatchOS 7 in the fall, but right now it's only possible via third-party apps. 

Samsung has made sleep tracking more robust on the Galaxy Watch 3 by focusing on both quantity and quality. The watch will analyze the four stages of sleep to provide tips on how to improve from night to night. When sleep tracking does come to the Apple Watch, it will mainly revolve around establishing a better bedtime routine and the duration of sleep.

Samsung wins on battery life, but not by much

The Apple Watch lasts a full day on a charge (almost two if you disable the always-on feature). Samsung says its new Galaxy Watch 3 can last for about two days of normal use, but there are some caveats. For one, that claim only applies to the larger, 45mm watch. We tested the smaller, 41mm version, for which Samsung only promises a day-and-a-half battery life, and that's with "normal use." Read more about battery life in our Galaxy Watch 3 review.

Same price, but extras cost more on the Apple Watch

Both smartwatches start at $399 (£399, AU$649) for the smaller Bluetooth-only models, but the LTE version of the Apple Watch is more expensive; $100 more, versus $50 more for the LTE version of the Galaxy Watch.

For the full rundown on how the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 pairs up against the Apple Watch Series 5, check out the comparison chart below. And for more coverage of what Samsung announced, including the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Buds Live, check out CNET's Unpacked coverage here.

Read more: Great cheap accessories for your new Apple Watch  

Apple Watch vs. Galaxy Watch

Apple Watch Series 5Galaxy Watch 3
Shape Square-ish Round
Watch size 40mm, 44mm41mm, 45mm
Dimensions 40mm: 40mm by 34mm by 10.74mm (depth) 44mm: 44mm by 38mm by 10.74mm (depth)41mm: 41 by 42.5 by 11.3mm (depth), 45mm: 45mm by 46.2mm by 11.1mm (depth)
Weight 40mm: 30.8g, 44mm: 36.5g (aluminum)41mm: 49.2g, 45mm: 53.8g, Titanium: 43g
Materials/ finishes Aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic titaniumStainless steel, titanium
Display size, resolution 1.5 in., 1.7 in. Retina OLED 368x448 pixels1.2 in., 1.4 in. Super AMOLED 360x360 pixels
Always-on YesYes
Colors Silver, space gray, gold, white (ceramic only)Mystic Silver, Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black (45mm only)
Interchangeable bands YesYes
GPS Built-in Built-in
Automatic workout detection Yes (8 activities)Yes (7 activities)
Compass YesNo
Altimeter YesYes
Water resistance Yes, up to 50mYes, up to 50m
Calls YesYes
Notifications Text replies Text replies
Microphone YesYes
Speaker YesYes
Voice assistant Siri Bixby
Music Onboard, playback and streaming (with cellular model)Onboard, playback and streaming (with cellular model)
Mobile Payments Apple Pay Samsung Pay (NFC)
Sleep tracking No (starting in WatchOS 7)Yes
Period tracking Yes No
Special features ECG app and HR notifications, hearing health alertsRunning coach and SPO2 tracking (pending software update), ECG app and blood pressure (South Korea only for now)
Emergency features Emergency SOS, International emergency calling, fall detection, Fall detection
Compatibility iOS/iPhone onlyAndroid and iOS
Software WatchOS 6 Tizen OS 5.5
Processor S5 chip with 64-bit dual-core processor and Apple's W3 wireless chipExynos 9110 dual-core 1.15GHz
Connectivity Wi-Fi and Cellular optionWi-Fi and Cellular option
Storage 32GB8GB internal (1GB ram)
Bluetooth 5.05.0
Power Magnetic Apple charging cable and USB connector (backward compatible)Qi Wireless charging dock and travel adapter
Battery life All day (18 hrs)2 days-plus (per Samsung)
Price (USD) 40mm: $399, $499 (LTE) 44mm: $429, $529 (LTE)41mm: $400, $450 (LTE) 45mm: $430, $480 (LTE)
Price (GBP) 40mm: £399, £499 (LTE) 44mm: £429, £529 (LTE)41mm: £399, £439 (4G) 45mm: £419, £459 (LTE)
Price (AUD) 40mm: $649, $799 (LTE) 44mm: $699, $849 (LTE)41mm: $649, $799 (LTE) 45mm: $699, $849 (LTE)