One of the main reasons to wear a smartwatch is to track your health, exercise and sleep. Both Apple and Samsung have comprehensive health platforms, Apple Health and Samsung Health, but are they really that different from each other?
We used both, paired with the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5, to find out.
The apps installed on your phone are very important not only to connect it to your smartwatch but also to see all your data, so which one is the best? Well, neither system requires just one app. On an iPhone, the default Watch app connects the phone to your Apple Watch, while you need both Apple Health and Apple Fitness to see your data. All are pre-installed on your phone. The Apple Watch only works with the iPhone, remember.
To use the Galaxy Watch 5, you need Samsung’s Wear app to connect the smartwatch to your phone. Additionally, you need Samsung Health for all your exercise and health data, and there’s a one-time install of a plugin for the Galaxy Watch 5 if you’re not using a Samsung phone. Both the Health and Wear apps come pre-installed on Samsung phones, and can be downloaded through Google Play for other Android phones.
It’s a bit confusing to use Apple Health and Apple Fitness, and I’d really like to see Apple combine the two together into one, single app in the future. That would make it more streamlined. Having just one app, like with Samsung Health, makes more sense, but there’s a potential problem with this, as we’ll see later. Connecting and setting up both smartwatches is simple and doesn’t take long, although you need to pay more attention to the Samsung platform after pairing the watch.
Why? Some features are turned off by default or require some kind of activation to work, including blood oxygen monitoring, stress monitoring, and the always-on display. All of these must be configured individually, and may not work until you do. There are fewer steps required to activate all of the Apple Watch’s features since most are on by default, making it a more user-friendly smartwatch out of the box.
This is the main screen you see when you want to check how active (or not) you were during the day. It should be informative, but not too dense. Apple’s “ring” system has three rings to lock daily, covering your movement goal, which is based on calorie burn, the amount of exercise you’ve done in minutes, and an hourly standing goal.
It’s very clear how far you are from reaching your targets, and there’s a full breakdown of each category below the ring screen if you want more detail. This is excellent.
Samsung uses a similar three-goal system that covers activity/calorie burn, active time in minutes and steps. They are displayed in the shape of a heart rather than a circle. Apple doesn’t emphasize step counting at all. It’s there in the app, but you really have to look for it, while Samsung incorporates it into its daily set of goals. I personally like knowing my step count as it’s an easy metric to understand, but I realize that calorie burn is a better, more motivating figure to track.
The Apple Watch clearly shows your progress towards your goals using the ring system when you open Apple Fitness on the watch, while Samsung’s heart system is the first Tile to the right of the main watch face. The way Apple and Samsung’s Daily Activity Goals data is displayed is very similar, and both are equally effective.
Fitness tracking data
There are some interesting design differences in the app, but otherwise the way the two record data during a workout is very similar. Tracking a workout on both smartwatches is easy, and there are several different modes to choose from.
I found the GPS tracking on both smartwatches to be equally accurate, and the display on both equally informative during and after exercise. Samsung’s auto-pause when walking or running is a distinct difference between the two, and it’s useful and highly accurate.
The Galaxy Watch 5 does provide a lot more information about your activity during and after, but the way it’s presented is long-winded. The Apple Watch may show a little less data immediately after you finish a workout, but it’s presented more concisely, and you don’t have to scroll very far to see everything you need to know.
After syncing the data with the app – something that happens automatically on both smartwatches and was completely reliable on both – Apple manages to pull ahead of Samsung. In the Apple Fitness app, each workout clearly shows the data you want at the top of the screen. You immediately see what kind of workout it was, how long you worked out, calorie burn and average heart rate.
If you walked or ran, you also get pace, elevation, split time and more additional data. Each section can be tapped to show more information, and you scroll down the page for GPS and weather data. It’s all very clear, and you really don’t have to dig for important information. Strangely, Samsung buries a lot of information further down the page, opting to use a massive amount of space for the time, calorie burn and heart rate charts. If GPS was active, the map dominates the top of the page.
It’s a shame because there’s a lot of rich data in the Samsung Health app, but you have to scroll to find it. It adds recovery time, VO2 max information, speed, cadence and pace, plus much more.
Samsung just seems to have no idea how to organize it, and instead creates a big, long list for you to dig through. With better organization, Samsung Health would match and possibly beat Apple Fitness, but as it is, Apple’s app is more engaging, less complicated, and a lot less work.
Sleep data is found in the Apple Health app, not Apple Fitness. While the division makes sense when you consider the names of the apps, it’s not particularly user-friendly. Again, however, the way Apple presents the data is more visually appealing and logical than the long-winded way Samsung shows the data in the Samsung Health app.
Apple puts the graph showing your sleep stages at the top of the page, along with your time to sleep and time in bed. You can immediately see the quality of your sleep, and then continue to look at more information below. The more you wear your Apple Watch and track your sleep, the greater the insights. However, you have to explore the rest of the Health app to find individual reports on blood oxygen levels and heart rate.
The Samsung Health app shows your sleep time at the top of the page, but you have to scroll down to see the different stages. When you do, the app also shows blood oxygen and any snoring data, if you have the feature active. It’s a shame the page design has so much wasted space because all the data you want is there. It would just be preferable not to scroll around to see it all.
What about wearing the smartwatches at night? I found the smooth, curved Apple Watch with a Sport Loop or Braided Sport Loop band very comfortable to wear overnight, barely noticing it on my wrist. The standard Sportband, or the leather and metal bands, are less comfortable. I found wearing the Galaxy Watch 5 overnight took longer to get used to, but the soft, standard Sport Band doesn’t get hot or sweaty. However, the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is too big and heavy for me to wear overnight, just like the Apple Watch Ultra.
All the extras
Daily activity, workouts and sleep are the core functions of both Samsung and Apple’s apps, but there are many additional features that help give a better picture of your health. There are feature differences between the smartwatches; for example, the Galaxy Watch 5 provides a body composition measurement and stress measurement, and the Apple Watch has Crash Protection and noise level alerts.
Delve into the Apple Health app, and there’s a wealth of information based on data the iPhone collects as you move around, with insight into everything from the way you walk to your body temperature taken from your wrist. You won’t want to see the data every day, but over time it becomes interesting to see how your body changes.
Apple Health is better at connecting to other platforms and apps than Samsung Health, which is limited to just a few. There’s a third-party app called Health Sync that connects Samsung Health with other products, including Fitbit, Garmin and Coros watches. It also works with the Oura Ring and Withings products, but it does come with a subscription fee. Apple Health is much better at connecting to other devices through Apple’s API program.
What is the best to use?
Both Samsung Health and Apple’s Health and Fitness platforms are excellent, but there are subtle differences between them. Samsung tends to show a lot more information, or at least doesn’t hide it like Apple, but it makes the platform denser and less user-friendly. It’s a shame that Apple has two apps, but that may be why both are better designed than Samsung Health – it can spread data out to make it easier to digest.
Apple Health and Fitness apps make it easy to understand your daily activity and exercise, and are ideal for casual or semi-serious athletes, along with people with specific needs, including if you’re in a wheelchair. Apple’s accessibility features also make the Apple Watch very easy to use, and while Samsung also has an extensive accessibility suite, it doesn’t seem quite as intuitive as Apple’s.
It’s a very close thing between these two. The Apple Watch Series 8 is the best smartwatch you can buy, and while Apple’s health and fitness apps can be confusing, the data they show is concise and useful. WatchOS 9 is packed with great exercise and health features, all of which make it my go-to smartwatch and workout companion. However, the Galaxy Watch 5 and Samsung Health are a very close second, mostly let down by the app design and Wear OS quirks.
If you’re picking a new phone and smartwatch combo and are focused on health and fitness, we recommend the Apple Watch and an iPhone, but a Samsung phone and the Galaxy Watch 5 come in a very close second.