Samsung’s latest effort though to win users with this sort of device, is the Gear S3, a watch that is trying to compete with the Apple Watch 2 by offering a slightly lower price and about the same bundle of features.
The Gear S3 is a versatile watch that offers a slew of functionalities packed with performance and long battery life. All pieced together with a high-resolution OLED screen and encased in a well-crafted stainless steel design with a turning bezel interface.
Available in two models – the Classic and the Frontier – both S3s have the same functionality, but the difference is in the look and feel. The Classic wears a more traditional look with a leather strap, the Frontier, on the other hand, is more geared toward those who have a more active lifestyle and spend more time outdoors.
For about two weeks recently, we were given a Frontier model to wear, play with and use so as to get a feel of what the Gear S3 can bring to a user and here is what we found.
At first glance, the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier looks like a classic, rugged analogue watch with a fairly big 1.3-inch Super AMOLED screen and a weather-resistant silicone band. I am not a big fan of the band because of the rubbery feel and look, but you do have the option to switch to another band using standard 22mm bands.
When I first showed the S3 Frontier to friends, the reaction I received was the same that I felt when I first cast my eyes on it – too big and bulky. At 63 grammes, the Frontier is a somewhat heavy watch as compared to the others on the market today. For example, the Apple Watch 2 is about 20 grammes lighter. But with its bigger size, the S3 houses a larger screen than the S2 and gives ample room to view email notifications, messages, sleep record, weather, create reminders, view upcoming activities, check health tracking info, get the latest news, play music and other information.
The big size when fused with the bright and vibrant colours of the 360×360 resolution screen, make the S3 stands out on your wrist. This is further amplified by the “watch always on” feature which keeps the watch face on without timing out, however, this reduces the battery life by almost half.
The S3 has a few pre-installed watch faces that can be easily switched to match the occasion. By simply pressing and holding the the current watch face for about a second or two gives you the option to flick through the selection or even install new free and paid faces from the Gear App Store.
Another improvement over the S2 is the modified turning bezel which gives a more natural feel and makes it easier to use. On the side are two buttons, the lower button is used to access home or apps while the upper button functions as the back or return.
These two buttons which are on the right provide the functions of accessing the apps interface and to go back. In the app interface, you can move through apps by turning the bezel which is handy and intuitive. By rotating the bezel a white dot shows you the app you are currently on along with the name in the centre. Opening an app is as easy as tapping the centre. To go back to the previous screen, a simple press of the upper button will let you do so.
The turning bezel or spinning wheel makes it easy to navigate through the different functions and is way better than the S2 which has a smooth wheel. definitely is a feature that we really like in the S3.
We’ve used the S3 to make calls, send messages and even listen to music. Making calls on the watch seemed a little odd but it does provide that functionality. For the audio functions, though, it is better to use a Bluetooth headphone rather than shouting into your watch, unless you want to be Dick Tracy.
The S3 also functions as a fitness tracker. I like the way it prompts me to get moving after I have been sitting for an hour. It works well with the S Health app from Samsung. One thing we found, though, is the results were not accurate which is quite common among fitness tracking gears. For example, one time I noticed after sitting and watching TV for a little while my steps reading improved by over 200 and I didn’t even move. On another occasion, I left the S3 in my bag and it recorded that time as sleep – it was mid-morning during a busy work day – my publisher had a hard time believing me but seriously, I was working.
The heart rate monitor is a little off as well giving readings of approximately 10 beats more than when I checked my own pulse with a finger. Overall, though, the addition of the fitness tracking option on the S3 really adds to the watch making it more an all-encompassing smartwatch.
Another function that I like is adding a reminder with S Voice. I set a few reminders to pick up items after work and it alerted me to do so. This is especially handy if you have to get things on the way home.
Powered by a 380mAh battery, the S3 can stay running up to four days which is phenomenal considering that the Apple Watch 2 only lasts for half that time. During the time of our review, we had to charge it once every 4 days after moderate use.
Charging is done by a wireless charging dock. During our tests after allowing the battery to drain, the S3 went up to 20 per cent in just 20 minutes. It reached full charge at just over 2 hours. So, the option to charge once every four days is good to have or even going with a tap up every morning for about 20 to 30 minutes can get you through the next 24 hours comfortably.
Under the hood, the S3 has an internal storage of 4GB which can be used to store music files that you can listen to while running or going on that hike. It operates on the Tizen OS which is one of the factors that some are shying away from this watch due to the limited amount of apps that are available on this platform. Its performance is boosted by the Exynos 7270 processor and 768 MB of RAM.
The S3 has an IP68 rating which makes it easy to withstand dust and dirt and can be submerged in water up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes. But Samsung advises against swimming and diving with it. One of the things we would have like to see on this watch is a smudged-free screen, maybe it will be in the next gen.
This latest watch from Samsung is compatible with smartphones running Android 4.4 and higher with over 1.5GB RAM and works the iPhone 5th generation and higher. One thing to note though is that there is some instability with the 6th gen of iPhones. For a full list of compatible phones, go here.
Long lasting battery life
Turning bezel wheel is easy to navigate
A little too bulky and on the heavier side
Limited apps because of the Tizen OS
Inaccurate readings in fitness and health tracking
A little too pricey
The S3’s quick performance, design and battery are all good selling features making it one of the better smartwatches available today, but that is changing with Android 2.0, as a whole new range of smartwatches will soon hit the market. If you can’t wait and don’t mind the lack of apps, have a big wrist and the money to spend, then the Samsung Gear S3 is one to definitely consider.
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