Apple and Samsung need better smartwatch controls to win athletes

Earlier this week, Samsung announced the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. It’s Samsung’s most durable smartwatch ever and in Unpacked, it was clear that the company intended this watch to appeal to outdoor athletes. Apple also revealed at WWDC that watchOS 9 will feature a lot of new operating metrics, adding fuel to rumors that a powerful Apple Watch may be on the way. The two companies are clearly looking to woo users from Garmin and Polar — but aside from battery life and durability, there’s another hurdle that could derail those efforts. touch screens.

For better or worse, Apple and Samsung have relied on touchscreen navigation in their smartwatches. This is fine for casual exercise, or for the average person who doesn’t traverse all kinds of terrain with extreme temperatures. You won’t cut it off from the outdoor enthusiasts targeted by both companies with these “Pro” watches.

I’ve tested the regular 40mm Galaxy Watch 5, and while it’s not quite the same, the Pro is basically a larger, more solid version of the Watch 5. When it comes to the user interface, they share the same design. This interests me. In the few laps I’ve had with the Watch 5 so far, it’s been hard to scroll through the screens with average strides. That’s because it’s August and as the famous Santana song says, Oh Man, it’s a hot song. My fingers are sweaty and sometimes I need to pause so I can moisturize them. To do this I have to stop and wipe my hand just so I can swipe right and hit the pause button. It sounds simple enough, but it’s not easy when the moisture is dense enough to feel like you’re swimming in soup.

New operating metrics suggest a powerful Apple Watch is coming… but it’s unclear if Apple will change the design significantly.
Photography by Victoria Song/The Verge

I had the same problem when testing watchOS 9 on my 7 series. You have to swipe up or swipe through the digital crown to view all the new play metrics. Oftentimes, I’ve had to pause to successfully navigate through multiple menus just to view one of the new stats. I wish swiping through the digital crown was easier, but it’s not.

This is not just a summer problem. If you’re a triathlete, that’s a swimming problem, too. If you do sports all year round, it will be more of a problem in the winter when you have to wear gloves. I’ve had a lot of “touchscreen compatible” gloves before, but they’ve never been as reliable on my phone, let alone on my smaller smartwatch screen.

This is not a problem when you are using a Polar or Garmin sports watch. That’s because the physical buttons aren’t dampened by moisture or gloves. Once you get used to it, you can cycle through the menus without having to look down until you absolutely need to. Some even use a combination of touch And the Button controls – which is ideal because you can always use the method that is most suitable for a particular situation.

Garmin Forerunner 255S on Women's Wrist

The screen may not be as good on the Garmin Forerunner 255S, but the buttons ensure you don’t have to worry about sweaty fingers.
Photography by Victoria Song/The Verge

It’s clear that both Apple and Samsung understand that athletes value battery life, in-depth metrics, and durability. But it’s unclear if either company really thought about why so many outdoor enthusiasts and athletes would rather snow for a fancy touch screen than physical controls.

We still don’t know much about the rugged Apple Watch. Surrounding details kept in fairly tight laps. But the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is no longer a secret. It’s out there in the world, and no matter what it has, it lacks the physical controls that many athletes are accustomed to. Given that, it’s somewhat baffling that Samsung would avoid the Pro’s rotating bezel. (Maybe that was a trade-off for greater durability.) I have to do more testing, and of course, there are many reasons why you should choose a more advanced flagship smartwatch over a dedicated multi-port GPS watch. But these days, whenever I try to scroll my Watch 5 or Series 7 with sweaty numbers, I often wish I’d worn a Garmin instead.

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