We once looked on wearables as the future, but now that they’re actually here, we haven’t been quite as enthused. Things started off well with various smartwatches from a variety of OEMs, but one-by-one those companies are either pulling out of the smartwatch market temporarily, shifting focus to other platforms or form factors, or closing their doors entirely. However, there is still hope.
We’ve long recommended Google’s Android Wear as one of the best wearable platforms, but sometimes it’s easy to forget it’s not the only one, nor is it for everyone. I’m here to tell you that Samsung’s Tizen has quietly grown into a fantastic option. Last year we saw it make a splash with the unique Gear S2 and Gear S2 Classic, but this year, we have the Gear S3 and, spoiler alert, it’s fantastic…
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The Hardware |
Just like on the Gear S2, Samsung has thankfully opted for a circular display on the Gear S3, and it has a fantastic design overall. Also like its predecessor, it comes in two models, the Gear S3 Frontier and the Gear S3 Classic.
Frontier or Classic?
I spent my time with the Gear S3 Frontier and personally speaking, it’s exactly what I love in a watch. It looks rugged, yet a little fancy at the same time. The charcoal color and subtle grooves along the bezel give this the look of a classic watch.
However, if you’re looking for something a bit classier, the Gear S3 Classic is the better bet. It has a polished stainless steel design which also looks wonderful, and even better, it ships with a leather band instead of the silicone one the Frontier comes with.
Regardless, the build on both of these smartwatches is nothing short of excellent. The stainless steel body is hefty and feels durable, all while looking like a premium device.
Size & Thickness
However, both variants of the Gear S3 have two aspects that not everyone will love — they are both thick and big. These aren’t outrageously large devices, but compared to the Gear S2 or most Android Wear devices, they are fairly big. If you have small wrists, this may not be the watch for you. But beyond that, I found the thickness to be of even bigger concern. It was tough to fit the watch under a shirt cuff or even a jacket, and the LTE variants would be even worse.
That Bezel (And Buttons Too)
The big story with the Gear S3, of course, is the bezel. Compared to other smartwatches, this is where Samsung’s options stand out. The rotating bezel on the Gear S3 provides an excellent experience when it comes to navigation, offering an intuitive and tactile way to interact with the software on your device. You can still interact with the touch screen to control most of the experience, but the addition of the bezel and two buttons make the experience that much better.
As for the band, the Gear S3 Frontier comes with a thick silicone band which is black and has a slight texture to the outside. It looks good and feels pretty decent as well, but it’s not a premium band by any measurement. I wouldn’t really hesitate to toss a leather or metal band on this watch. Luckily, that’s pretty easy with the standard 22mm size and quick release latch.
The Software |
As for its software, the Gear S3 comes with Samsung’s in-house Tizen operating system. Despite that, it works with almost any Android powered smartphone, and believe it or not, Samsung has done an absolutely fantastic job crafting this wearable OS.
This Just Makes Sense
The Gear S3 has a circular display, but it’s not the only wearable to have one. Many Android Wear devices also use circular display, but they’re never felt truly optimized for that form factor. The Gear S3, on the other hand, has software that makes sense. There’s certainly a lot different about Tizen compared to Android Wear or Pebble, so there’s a definite learning curve. However, everything on this watch makes sense.
From the watchface, there are a few actions to get to various areas of the interface. Rotating the bezel (or swiping) to the left reveals your notifications in the order they arrived. A swipe up on that notification removes it from the carousel and tapping it reveals the full text as well as several actions such as “open on phone.” Going to the right, you’ll find various customizable widgets. On my Gear S3 I have widgets such as weather, steps, calories burned, heart rate monitor, calendar, music controls, and more.
To go back, you hit the top button. Once back on the watchface, there are two other actions available. The first is the app drawer. From here you can view all of your apps in a customizable order. Navigating the apps is as simple as rotating the bezel to select the app of your choice and tapping the name to open the app. The other action from the homescreen is long-pressing the top button. This opens Samsung Pay, which we’ll get to in a moment.
Another small note I need to make on the software is about the input methods. Not only do you have voice replies, but there are also canned messages, emojis, drawing replies, and even a full keyboard (or a T9). It all works well and really comes in handy at times.
Samsung Pay is easily the standout feature of the Gear S3. Just like on recent Samsung smartphones, Samsung Pay on the Gear S3 is a mobile payments service which matches Google’s Android Pay and Apple’s Apple Pay systems beat for beat with full NFC compatibility. However, Samsung Pay’s big advantage is using MST technology to “trick” standard card readers into thinking you’re using a standard card. The tech is ridiculously cool, and easily a selling point for the device, but it’s not always reliable.
Following the setup process, which can be a pain depending on your bank, I used Samsung Pay on Gear S3 about 5 times over the course of a few days. During that time, I only got it to work 3 times. What was the issue? I’m not entirely sure. The card reader recognized the watch each and every time, MST or NFC, but in certain stores, it would be declined. From what I can tell, this was an issue related to my bank as many other Gear S3 users report much better success rates on their devices.
Best of all, though, Samsung Pay on the Gear S3 works on any Android smartphone — not just Samsung devices. Last year’s Gear S2 packs the same Samsung Pay functionality, but there it’s limited to Samsung smartphones. Needless to say, this is a massive selling point for the watch, at least in my opinion.
The Setup Process
Another thing worth noting on the Gear S3 is the setup process. If you’ve got a Samsung smartphone, you won’t have any issues here as all of the needed components are built into the OS. However, if you’re like me and have this connected to another Android device, in my case the Pixel XL, you’ll need to install all of those components. That’s expected for any wearable, but on the Gear S3, it requires far more apps.
During setup I actually lost count of how many apps the watch needed to function. You’ll start with the Gear Manager which will prompt the installation of 3-4 other apps from the Play Store. During the setup process, the app will also download a couple of apps, including Samsung Pay, directly through the Gear Manager app rather than the Play Store. Luckily most of these apps won’t appear in your app drawer, but it’s certainly annoying to have to install so many apps just to use your watch. Samsung really needs to consolidate this.
The App Gap is Real
The Gear S3’s software is great, but there’s a definite app gap on the Tizen platform compared to Android Wear or even the now-defunct Pebble. Many of the most popular apps aren’t supported yet, the watchface selection is pretty minimal and won’t suit everyone’s tastes, and exploring Samsung’s app store isn’t a great experience. It’s pretty difficult to find some apps, and it’s even worse when you’re looking for watchfaces. I found myself mainly sticking to Samsung’s built-in watchfaces on the Gear S3.
However, that’s not to say things aren’t improving. Tizen is slowly adopting new wearable apps, like Spotify, which will help the experience on the Gear S3 as a whole. Some well-known Android Wear watchfaces are also making their way over, such as Facer.
Reliability & Performance
Another area the Gear S3 shines in is where reliability and performance are concerned. Never while I was wearing this watch did I have issues with the connection to my smartphone, nor did I miss any notifications due to the software — only due to the vibrations being a tad light.
Performance on the Gear S3 is also stellar. Never on this watch did I notice dips in performance, even when playing some of the games available for it or while using third-party apps. I’ve never had good luck with watches like this, especially on Android Wear, where things would lag and stutter constantly, so I was very pleased with Samsung’s efforts.
Already, the Gear S3 wears many hats. It’s a smartwatch, a mobile payments system, and if you’ve got the LTE version, a full-fledged smartphone. However, it’s also a fitness tracker if you want it to be — and it’s a very good one.
The Gear S3 is absolutely packed with outdoor sensors and health features. The S Health suite enables the ability to track things such as calories burned, steps taken, floors climbed, specific workouts (such as a walk, run, or 14 other types of workouts), heart rate, and water/caffeine intake. It’s a generous suite, and everything works relatively well. I’m not someone who works out a ton, but I do take walks or quick runs from time to time, and the Gear S3 made it super easy to keep tabs on how far I’d gone and how many calories I had burned. The watch also has “nudges” that will remind you if you haven’t been active for a while.
Battery Life |
As for battery life, the Gear S3 goes a little above and beyond compared to other smartwatches. Samsung claims a ridiculous 4 days on a charge, but for the most part, I found myself getting about 2 days on a single charge. That’s with notifications coming in pretty regularly and the always-on display turned on. With that feature turned off, I could squeeze a little under 3 days out of the watch.
When it comes to charging, Samsung has yet again opted for wireless charging with an included magnetic dock. It works great, the dock allows you to use the watch as a bedside clock, and charging is pretty quick too. Unfortunately, Samsung has changed something in the Gear S3 to where standard wireless charging pads don’t work as they did on the S2. That’s unfortunate because it means you’ll be required to bring the included charger, or a spare, with you on trips.
When it comes down to it, the Gear S3 is a fantastic smartwatch, and there aren’t strings attached to that. Sure, it’s a little big, but if you can handle a semi-large watch, you’ll love the Gear S3. The software is excellent, the hardware is wonderful, and this watch has just about anything and everything you’d want from a wearable. It has a ton of roles to fill, but it fills each and everyone one of them nearly perfectly.
Greatness Comes at a Price
However, this fantastic smartwatch comes with a pretty hefty price tag. You’ll be paying $349 for either the Classic or the Frontier, and more if you grab an LTE version (outside of subsidies or payment plans). That LTE version is available from carriers, but also requires a $5-$10 data plan alongside it. The $349 Bluetooth version, though, is well within the range of most other premium smartwatches, it’s just not the bargain some others may be. Whether or not you’re willing to pay for that is up to you, but I certainly plan to…
Buy the Gear S3 Frontier
Buy The Gear S3 Classic
Buy The LTE Gear S3