Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Samsung’s Galaxy Ring could be the one ring to rule an ecosystem

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Samsung may have launched three new smartwatches this year, but the wearable I’ve been most excited to see from the company was the Galaxy Ring. After months of teasing, Samsung officially announced the $399.99 smart ring at today’s Unpacked event — and I finally got to play around with one. Granted, I only spent a short time with the Galaxy Ring, but so far, I like what I’ve seen.

Right off the bat, the Galaxy Ring hardware is quite nice, though its overall design doesn’t stray too far from other smart rings. (I know because I showed up to the hands-on wearing four other smart rings.) It comes in three colors: gold, silver, and black. All have a titanium frame and look fetching, but like a magpie, I found myself partial to the gold, as it had the shiniest finish. I can’t quite speak to the durability yet, but it’s got 10ATM of water resistance and an IP68 rating.

At 7mm wide and 2.6mm thick, it felt slimmer when worn right next to my Oura Ring, though that might be because the ring itself is slightly concave. It’s also lightweight, though not noticeably so compared to other smart rings. It weighs between 2.3 and 3g, depending on the size. Speaking of sizes, there are nine total, ranging from size five to 13.

But while the Galaxy Ring didn’t stand out from the other smart rings on my finger, its charging case is eye-catching. Samsung isn’t the first to put a smart ring in a charging case, but the ones I’ve seen don’t have this futuristic transparent design and LED situation going on. Not only does it look chic but it’s also very practical. Some other smart rings, like the Oura Ring and Ultrahuman Ring Air, come with easy-to-lose puck-shaped docks. A case like this is way easier to stuff into your bag if you run out of charge on the go. (It’s also more immune to naughty cats who like to bat things off your nightstand.) The case itself holds 1.5 times the charge, and the rings will get six to seven days of battery. A full charge takes about 80 minutes.

I also got to try Samsung’s sizing kit, which I highly recommend even if you know your standard ring size. You can order the kit online, and it’s worth the extra hassle since size really does matter with smart rings. Fingers can swell in hotter weather, and no two fingers are the exact same size. Case in point, I’m mostly a size 7.5 in non-smart rings, a size 8 in every other smart ring, and a size 9 for the Galaxy Ring. Not to mention, size will impact battery life. The smaller rings (sizes five to 11) get six days on a single charge, while the two largest ones get up to seven.

The sizing kit is a good idea even if you know your standard ring size.

Samsung is mostly sticking to the tried and true for the tech, too. Like the Oura Ring and the vast majority of currently available smart rings, this is primarily meant to be an alternative, more discreet health tracker. If you were hoping for something that can give notifications or has silent alarms like earlier smart rings — you’re out of luck. There are no vibration motors, LED light indicators, or anything like that. As for sensors, you get an accelerometer, optical heart rate sensor (including green, red, and infrared LEDs), and skin temperature sensor. Broadly, you’ll be able to track sleep, heart rate data, and activity, though Samsung is introducing some new Galaxy AI-powered metrics to the mix.

Those include the new Energy Score and Wellness Tips features. The former uses Galaxy AI to determine how you’re feeling based on sleep, activity, sleeping heart rate, and sleeping heart rate variability. It’s similar to the various readiness metrics other health trackers have begun incorporating over the past few years. Meanwhile, based on your data, the latter delivers personalized insights into your well-being, again very reminiscent of what’s offered by the Oura Ring and other competitors. Other health features include cycle tracking, high and low heart rate alerts, live heart rate readings, auto workout detection, and inactive alerts.

A smart ring charging case isn’t unique to Samsung, but I definitely prefer it to docks.

Also like other smart rings, the Galaxy Ring puts a big emphasis on sleep. Users will get a sleep score that takes into account metrics like movement during sleep, sleep latency, and heart and respiratory rate. But although smart rings are ideal for sleep tracking, the Galaxy Ring will not be getting the new FDA-cleared sleep apnea detection feature, nor is it capable of irregular heart rhythm notifications. Those are limited to the Galaxy Watches.

Given this was a hands-on, I didn’t get to actually test out the Galaxy Ring’s software, tracking accuracy, or battery life. That said, Samsung has some interesting ideas of how smart rings ought to work within its own gadget ecosystem.

Sorry, iOS users, but Samsung spokesperson Cole Hagedorn told The Verge that this ring is Android only (provided your Android phone can run the Samsung Health app), but you’ll get a better experience if you’re in the Samsung ecosystem. For example, the new Health AI features like Energy Score won’t be available if you have a non-Galaxy phone. Same with Find My Ring. It uses Samsung Find, which, again, requires a Galaxy phone. Meanwhile, if you use a Samsung Galaxy Watch with the Galaxy Ring, the Samsung Health app will be able to pick and choose which device it’s pulling data from. If you’re running and the signal from your watch is clearer than from the ring — it’ll go with the watch’s data. That, in turn, could lead to increased battery life.

The Galaxy Ring has a double pinch gesture that lets you control the camera or dismiss alarms, so long as you use a Samsung phone.

But the coolest example of this is that if you have a Samsung Galaxy phone, you can use a double pinch gesture to control your phone’s camera or dismiss an alarm hands-free. It’s basically the same as the double tap gesture (aka pinchy pinch) for the Apple Watch. Is it gimmicky? Yes, and it was still very cool when I tried it. Getting the gesture right takes a little trial and error, but I’ve yet to see this on any other smart ring. Unfortunately, it’ll be limited to the Z Fold 6 and Z Flip 6 at launch. Samsung told me it’ll also be coming to the S24 “very soon.”

Based on my extremely limited time with the ring, it already has a few things going for it. The hardware is slick, and despite the $400 price tag, there’s no additional subscription (looking at you, Oura). But the Galaxy Ring’s success hinges on two things: accurate tracking and good battery life. If it can do that while incorporating these ecosystem-specific ideas, Samsung could very well take the lead in the smart ring category. And if not, it’s raised an ambitious idea for where smart rings should go next.

The Samsung Galaxy Ring is available for preorder at Amazon, Best Buy, and Samsung starting today, with general availability starting on July 24th.

Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge

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