Galaxy Watch 5 Pro's outdoor cred proves Samsung and Apple are taking on Garmin

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro
(Image credit: Matt Evans)

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is out in the world, and I got my hands on one of the first-look devices last week. You can read my thoughts on it in the link above and the full specs here, and although I only managed to get a few minutes with the device, I liked what I saw. We also took a look at Samsung's latest slew of releases, including the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro.

Sapphire glass, titanium casing, a large screen and raised bezels gave it a chunkier, rugged feel, with the raised bezel acting as a guard against screen damage. It’s much more durable than its predecessor, and even the standard Watch 5 is 60% more durable than the previous model. 

With IP68 waterproofing, it’ll survive a dip or two in the sea, while the advanced sleep and fitness tracking of the Watch 5 range is joined by Pro-exclusive GPS features, such as haptic feedback route navigation, racing the same route against your friends, and a backtracking feature to help you return to your starting point safely. All told, the Watch 5 Pro is made for people who love adventuring. 

If some of those features are sounding familiar to you, don’t worry: you’re not alone. Anyone who’s handled a recent Garmin, Coros, Polar or Suunto watch will be familiar with this sort of list. Tough construction, both in terms of the materials used and its design? Check. GPS features to aid race-day navigation and the option to return to the start of a complicated trail? Check. Advanced endurance exercise tracking features? Check. So, why has the premium Samsung Galaxy Watch gone all rough-and-ready? 

Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro: Adventuring into new territory

It’s not just Samsung, either. Rumors have long been swirling about the upcoming Apple Watch 8 and a potential Pro model becoming something of an outdoor training watch. Search for “Apple Watch rugged” has shot up, and renders of the Apple Watch squircle with thicker titanium casings and silicone shock-resistant buffers are floating around the net. 

Ever since the debut of watchOS 9, Apple has been touting more advanced running and swimming tracking, especially its new running power metric. A more advanced method of calculating exertion than using heart rate, running power tracks your energy output during a run using motion. All this is adding to the rumors that Apple Watch 8 Pro will be a step up, an Apple Watch for serious athletes who might otherwise turn to Garmin, which caters to the triathlete and outdoorsy crowd, like runners, swimmers, surfers, cyclists and hikers.

Two surfers wearing Garmin Instinct 2 watches

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin’s premium offerings are having something of a moment right now. The Forerunner 955 Solar, Fenix 7, Epix 2 and the recently-released Garmin Enduro 2 are all phenomenal watches. Users are responding to this success: a wearables industry report on Q1 of 2022 by analysts Counterpoint Research has found that, although Apple’s total market share is far and away the biggest and Samsung occupies second place, Garmin watches are the top sellers in the “premium smartwatch” bracket. 

This could well be why the two market leaders are taking their Pro offerings outdoors: the industry is recognizing that athletes and adventurers will pay a premium for wearables that cater to their needs. After all, if you’re alone on a hike or trail run, you might not have your phone to hand, just your watch. If so, you need to make sure that watch has enough battery life, durable construction, and reliable GPS to get you to the finish line. The really good ones also have automatic incident detection and the ability to notify designated contacts in emergencies, built-in flashlights, compasses, barometers and other survival tools. You don’t want to cheap out on kit you may need in a life-or-death situation.  

The state of things to come

Even though Garmin occupies just 5% of the total wearables market, Samsung and Apple both seem to be recognizing this emerging trend. That slightly raised bezel is practically a raising of the Jolly Roger flag, as Samsung comes to steal a piece of the premium adventure watch prize. Apple is likely to follow if rumors are true, and it’s certainly watching closely.  

At under $500 in the US, the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is pitched around the same price as the mid-range Garmin Instinct 2 or Suunto 9, which means it won’t convert anyone looking at spending upwards of $1,000 on a premium endurance race watch. However, it might eat into that transitional mid-range bracket occupied by hobbyists and weekend warriors. 

The Watch 5 Pro certainly seems like a good enough watch to take the fight to Garmin at first glance, but we’ll only be able to say for sure after we’ve had a little more time to test the GPS and fitness tools on offer. It’ll be interesting to see whether, with time, the Watch 5 Pro will make our list of the best running watches

Matt Evans
Fitness, Wellness, and Wearables Editor

Matt is TechRadar's expert on all things fitness, wellness and wearable tech. A former staffer at Men's Health, he holds a Master's Degree in journalism from Cardiff and has written for brands like Runner's World, Women's Health, Men's Fitness, LiveScience and Fit&Well on everything fitness tech, exercise, nutrition and mental wellbeing.

Matt's a keen runner, ex-kickboxer, not averse to the odd yoga flow, and insists everyone should stretch every morning. When he’s not training or writing about health and fitness, he can be found reading doorstop-thick fantasy books with lots of fictional maps in them.