February 26, 2024

Practical with the groundbreaking new wearable

Samsung just revealed that it has a cool new gadget waiting for release: the Samsung Galaxy Ring. You can already guess a bit about it from the name (for example, it is round and fits around your finger), but not much else is known.

February 12 update below. This post was first published on February 10, 2024.

Shortly after it was announced in January, I got to see it, try it out, and ask a bunch of questions about it. This is what I learned.

First, nothing is set in stone yet, warned Dr. Hon Pak, head of Samsung Electronics’ digital health team. The design of the rings that I tried on my finger could change beyond recognition, with a different look, different colors, different materials. Then consider them as prototypes.

Look and feel

The rings I saw and felt came in multiple colors and finishes, including garish gold and subtle dark shades. I was told the ring was made of titanium, which would explain why it was so light. It felt about the same weight as the Oura ring I wear every day which is 0.14 ounces or 4 grams, so this felt in the same ballpark. That’s important: one of the key features of a smart ring is that it should be light and unobtrusive enough to wear at night, so that people who find a smartwatch too heavy to wear at night can still check their stats keep it tracked.

This is part of Samsung’s goal. As Dr. Pak explained: “Specifically with the Ring, as you can imagine, a wearable is only as good as the people wearing it. If people don’t wear it, it doesn’t matter.”

The design was understated, yet distinctive with – for now at least – a soft concave channel running around the outside. This felt good. So good, in fact, that I can imagine playing with it on my finger as I dip my thumbnail into the indentation of the Oura ring. On the Oura, this has the added benefit of helping me keep the ring in the optimal orientation on my finger for the sensors to work. There is no similar anchor on the Galaxy Ring prototype.

The channel felt subtle and less pronounced than it appears in the image above, and this is what it looked like at the launch event.

Functions

Samsung has remained tight-lipped about exactly what metrics the Ring will measure. Tracking sleep seems to be a given, and perhaps so does monitoring blood oxygen. The Korean FDA has approved Samsung’s techniques for monitoring sleep apnea, so it’s likely this will be a target for the Ring as well.

Dr. Pak says the measurements on the Ring are of similar accuracy to those on the Galaxy Watch, though he wouldn’t say which of the many metrics the Watch will filter to the Ring.

What is clear is that Samsung is serious about tracking our health in detail. Dr. Pak said: “The trend in general with wearables is that what was on-demand is becoming more passive, rather than measuring in the background. As more of that happens with more features, I think patterns we don’t even know about will become clearer. What’s happening is the wearable is giving us context in ways we’ve never known before.”

Date of publication

Samsung’s official line is that this will be this year. In response to the question: “Will it be the first half or the second half?” the answer was yes. More seriously: Dr. Pak said it would be more likely to be the second half of 2024. No guidance was given on pricing.

You can also read an in-depth opinion piece on the Galaxy Ring by Janhoi McGregor, here on Forbes.


Update from February 11. As you’ll see, I just signed above with the expected release date for the Samsung Galaxy Ring. Dr. Pak would not want to delve into too many details. This year for sure, and more likely the second half than the first half, but no more detailed than that.

A new report from Android Police has provided a little more clarity, although it is still not enough to put a reminder in your calendar. The new report cites a LinkedIn post from Daniel Seung, the global head of B3B Wearable/IoT/Accessory, according to SamMobile. That post has now been deleted, but according to SamMobile it contained the phrase: “new wearable health and wellness product in the 2NL half” of this year.

That confirms what I was told, but isn’t more specific. However, as SamMobile notes, the new Ring is a very big deal for Samsung, so it’s not likely to appear in a press release.

That means it will likely appear at one of Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked events. The company typically has two per year. One comes early in the year, like the January reveal of the Galaxy S24 series, where the Ring was first teased. And the second in late summer. Last year this took place for the first time in Seoul, the company’s home base, in the last week of July. The company’s latest foldable phones were announced on Wednesday, July 26.

So it looks like it might be a favorite to appear alongside this year’s folders. The timing of Summer Unpacked varies, although I think it will be no earlier than last year, i.e. late July. Since so many people are on vacation in August, I think this won’t be in the first few weeks of that month, so late August or early September are possibilities. Although there is also the small matter of Apple’s regular iPhone launch in early to mid-September to consider. Either way, it looks like there probably won’t be more than a six-month wait for this intriguing new product.


Update from February 12. When I saw Dr. Pak, he also revealed a few more details about the Ring, keeping his cards close to his chest. He came close to confirming that the Ring will track sleep, which many expect. This makes sense, because wearing a ring at night is much less intrusive than a smartwatch. And it’s the signature feature of competing rings like the excellent Oura, which tracks multiple metrics while you sleep.

But Dr. Pak did point out that “sleep tracking has been a very important focus for us,” with sleep apnea screening detection now approved by the Korean FDA, thanks to the Galaxy Watch that tracks blood oxygen levels, called SPO2. “We can now say, using SPO2 dips that occur at night, that we think you are at quite a high risk of developing sleep apnea. As you know, sleep apnea is a major problem. It is extremely underdiagnosed and the implications of sleep apnea for heart and other diseases are quite significant.”

He also said that the accuracy of the data that can be extracted from the finger is “fairly comparable” to that from the wrist. “There are certain thresholds that we have to meet. Otherwise we would not introduce the product.” That doesn’t confirm that SPO2 tracking will be available, but given that Samsung has technology for this area and rival devices like Oura offer it in a ring, I’m sure it will be on board.

As for sleep tracking on the Ring, Dr. Pak said: “Some of the signals would be cleaner from one wearable to another, and then there are anatomical variations between individuals, but overall sleep is an activity that is is largely the initial power. we don’t see any major differences.”

The benefits for a wearable that tracks details in the background are significant. “I think the general trend with wearables is that what was on-demand becomes more passive, with measurement in the background. As more of that happens with more features, I think patterns we don’t even know about yet will become apparent. Wearables give us context in ways we’ve never known. Now we go to a doctor and take a test once every six months and see the results as normal. But in between things have changed, gone up and down. The context would change: if the doctors knew, if the individual knew, it would fundamentally change some management and lifestyle choices. For the first time, it gives us opportunities for change in ways that weren’t possible.”

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