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Samsung’s new Galaxy Watch 6 can serve as a personal wellness buddy – if you use it right. It’s packed with heart health monitoring, sleep tracking, and cycle logging features, as well as expanded fitness options meant to better compete with sports watches from brands like Fitbit and Garmin. That said, while the Watch 6 introduces smart sleep coaching and medical-grade irregular heart monitoring, it’s ultimately a modest upgrade over its predecessor.

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Video Transcript

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MALAK SALEH: For the launch of Samsung’s new Galaxy Watch 6, we here at Engadget wanted to try something a little different. Instead of rehashing smartphone notifications, talking about how the user interface works, et cetera, et cetera, we wanted to focus on the health and fitness features since that seems to be where most of the updates are concentrated.

Fitness– Samsung expanded the number of workouts that can be tracked. With over 100 activities to monitor and more customization options, the watch seems to be casting a wider net for users looking to track niche sports. Think skiing, beach volleyball, bowling, cricket. For all the avid runners among us, there’s the added perk of untethered GPS connection. But more notably, the personalized heart rate zones puts the Watch 6 more on par with competitors like Garmin.

When you run for at least 10 minutes, your heart rate zones are automatically detected. But you can also set up custom brackets. This will be important for runners and athletes who want to stay within a targeted range based on aerobic capabilities and hit a fat-burning zone. When I put it to the test, I came away impressed with the execution.

Initiating a run requires a single tap on the Settings icon, which enabled me to pick my desired zone. The pop-up graphic gave me a pretty clear snapshot of how my activity was matching up with my heart-rate goals. And this was pretty easy to monitor mid-run. I tailored my custom range to mirror the standard anaerobic zone, which is about 155 to 173 beats per minute, which would help me build endurance and maximize the amount of oxygen my body can convert for energy.

While it did accurately monitor my heart-rate activity, I was constantly buzzed and notified when the zone I was in was below my target. So I had to keep adjusting my goal for that bracket that was more easily achievable in low-intensity workouts. But when I did that, I found that I was constantly above my target. So the watch did a good job of coaching me on when to push harder and when to let up, but I was only able to stay in my targeted zones for short periods. So while I see the value in being able to create custom heart-rate zone brackets, this tool might not be super useful for a general user that’s not into super-competitive sports– or even just running, for that matter.

Period tracking– similarly, Samsung’s menstrual cycle tracking feature was not super helpful for me, personally. My menstrual cycle is irregular, so the predictions for my period week were basically useless. However, the tool, which is powered by the Natural Cycles period-tracking app, has a user-friendly interface. It also can go above and beyond providing predictions for upcoming periods by offering forecasts for fertile and ovulation windows.

Back in April, Samsung added a skin temperature measurement capability within its sensor technology, which makes the calendar-based cycle tracking feature smarter. So this is important because body temperature fluctuates throughout the menstrual cycle. So any cycle-tracking app that takes that data into account is going to be more accurate.

So, despite my disappointment that my cycle predictions were off, more than anything, I was impressed with the interface on the actual watch. I like that you can enter symptoms like bloating and fatigue directly, which could help making logging a daily habit. That said, the watch face also did a good job of giving snapshots of its cycle predictions with the expected dates for my period, fertile window, and ovulation clearly laid out onto one screen.

Heart– in terms of heart health monitoring, the Watch 6’s irregular heart rhythm notification alerts received FDA clearance for this tool in May. It’s worth noting that competitors in the wearable space, like Google, Fitbit, and Apple, have long had a similar FDA approval for their respective heart-monitoring tools. Still, better late than never, right?

When the Watch 6 notices irregular heart activity, it alerts the wearer to seek medical attention. Specifically, it can check for AFib, or Atrial Fibrillation, a condition that can lead to stroke or heart failure. This alone might make the watch worthwhile if you have a family history of heart problems. But since I don’t have AFib, I couldn’t test it using the traditional pathway. But hypothetically, when a user measures ECG and heart rate, any reports with concerning results can be shared with a doctor and/or loved ones at no extra charge.

Samsung gets brownie points for providing users with the ease of sharing health data from the jump. When getting actual ECG readings, I do think that Samsung could do a better job of breaking down results. While the wearable is calibrating results, some of the live ECG diagrams can look concerning. Those live readings are, well, live, and they’re not an accurate representation of the final reading.

When the results turn up, the watch reports sinus rhythm– this ECG does not show signs of atrial fibrillation– for a very normal reading. Feels pretty jargony and leaves room for worry. Samsung might want to visually condense its ECG reading and analysis to give a user a clearer idea of how they’re doing. That aside, it’s nice to be able to set up alerts for high and low heart rates of your choosing. This might be useful for someone who wants to track how a specific medication is affecting them at rest. Once a benchmark for a high heart rate is created– say, 150 beats per minute– you can elicit a notification to a paired device later in the Samsung Health app.

Fall detection– let’s also talk about Samsung’s fall detection feature, which you’ll need to manually activate if you’re interested in giving it a try. You have to select when to detect falls. It can be on all the time, during workouts, or, quote, “during any activity or movements not registered as an exercise,” according to Samsung. This updated SOS feature is supposed to immediately share your location with emergency services and call 911 or a number that you set– say, a loved one.

This obviously could be helpful for older people and those with disabilities, but for testing purposes, I set it up and, well, fell. I fell a few times. I laid on the floor for at least 30 seconds with each fall. I held my breath for some, and others, I didn’t. But it never detected my fall and triggered the SOS system. I asked Samsung why that might be, but I was told the parameters for fall detection is what matters for the alert system to actually trigger. But, if we’re being really fair, when I testing the Apple Watch fall detection feature, it also failed to detect my falls.

Sleep– for the first time in a while, I can say I slept pretty comfortably with a smartwatch on. That’s huge for me. I’ve tried sleeping with an Apple Watch on, but I’ve always ended up tossing it to my nightstand. It also might help that Samsung’s sleep mode automatically disables notifications and dims the screen to minimize all distractions. That’s great for light sleepers like me. But more immediately, at least, the Galaxy Watch 6’s sleek and soft wristband made it so that I could actually keep it on all night. I couldn’t even feel it.

I did appreciate how convenient it was to view my sleep score on the actual watch face and get a condensed version of my report every morning. The reports on the watch’s small screen felt pretty sufficient too. The upgraded software also hosts a sleep coach, where you can get a personalized analysis– say, on how much REM sleep you got and why it’s crucial for memory and learning.

You need to sleep with the watch for at least seven days straight in order to get your data crunched and get paired with a sleep animal. Samsung Health will design a customized four- to five-week coaching plan, which includes missions, checklists, articles, meditation guides, and sleep reports, to help a user establish a new sleep routine. However, I couldn’t fully test this feature because of time constraints. This is all offered for free. While some of Samsung’s competitors have historically paywalled their sleep reports, restricting them to premium users, here, Samsung might have a leg up.

The verdict– there are other features we didn’t get into but are pretty self-explanatory, like the body composition measuring tool and the skin temperature API, that holistically makes the Watch 6 feel more health-centric than its predecessors. If your family tree is littered with heart conditions or, say, you’re an avid runner, this smartwatch could be a good choice. But beyond that, the upgrades from the last model are pretty modest. And it’s worth noting that most of Samsung’s new health and wellness tracking capabilities will be available on previous generations.

With that in mind, now the Watch 5 should be cheaper to pick up too. If you don’t already own a smartwatch or want to upgrade from an older model, the Galaxy Watch 6 isn’t a bad choice, especially if your primary concern is getting a holistic, health-centric, and fitness-centric watch. Thanks for watching. And for more on the Galaxy Watch 6, check out engadget.com. Like, comment, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more updates.

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