Samsung used IFA 2016 as the stage to present two more smartwatch models, thus expanding its wearables portfolio. The Gear S3 Classic and the Gear S3 Frontier combine the features we already had the pleasure of using on the Gear S2 in 2015, in addition to the more recent fitness tracker functions found on the Gear Fit2. In today’s review, we’ll take a look at what other innovations Samsung has integrated into its latest newcomer.
- long battery life
- simple controls thanks to the bezel
- water and dust-proof with IP68 certification
- variety of apps limited
- the bezel rattles slightly
Samsung Gear S3 release date and price
Despite the arrival of the Galaxy S3 Classic and the Gear S3 Frontier, Samsung decided to keep its 2015 models available on the market - the Gear S2 and the Gear S2 Classic. Both Gear S3 models are offered for a retail price of $349.99, while the Gear S2 continues to go for the price of $299.99 and the Gear S2 Classic for $349.99. There is, however, the possibility of getting the latter devices for a reduced price depending on the provider.
The rather limited choice of color options for the Gear S3 models differs greatly from the bigger selection made available with the Gear S2 and Gear S2 classic. Upon the release of the Gear S3 Classic, the smartwatch only came in silver, while the Gear S3 Frontier was only available in black. The slim choice of colors goes to show just how much Samsung is targeting men, while the Gear S2 models were intended for the female audience.
Samsung has made an LTE version of the Gear S3 Frontier available in both North America and Asia and has yet again put eSIMs to use for both markets. There is also a good chance that this model will be distributed in Europe as well, seeing as a 3G version of the Gear S2 was pushed out several months after the product launch.
Samsung Gear S3 design and build quality
When looking at the design and size of the Gear S3, it’s quite evident that Samsung had a male target group in mind when building the smartwatch. The display grew from 1.2 to 1.3 inches and even the dimensions and the weight have been increased accordingly. In terms of appearance, the Classic model, as its name foretells, has a very classic menswear-type look, while the Frontier has much more sporty chronometer style and includes a rotating navigation bezel.
The build of both models meets high standards, however there is one drawback: the bezel on both devices doesn’t sit firmly. There seems to be a just a sliver of extra space between the two parts, causing a slight but tangible rattling sound when you tap on the display. That being said, the bezel feels more secure on the newer models than it does on the Gear S2.
Just like the Gear S2 and Gear Fit2, both Gear S3 models have two physical buttons on the right side of the watch. The button on the Classic model reminds me of a digital sports watch. Samsung made the call to have a much flatter surface on the Frontier version, while simultaneously opting for a textured material to allow the user to feel for the button without having to look for it. The top button functions as the usual back button, while the bottom one brings the user back to the home screen.
Both Gear S3 models are delivered with the same extras: there’s a wireless charging dock, a power supply with a hard-wired microUSB cable and a short watchband for smaller wrists. The watchband for the Classic is made of leather, while the Frontier comes with a silicone band. Both models are IP68 certified, meaning that they are dust and water-resistant. Samsung has specified that the Gear S3 can be dunked into 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes at a time.
Samsung Gear S3 display
As previously mentioned, the Gear S3 of 1.3 inches is 0.1 inch larger than its predecessor, the S2. The resolution stays the same at 360 x 360 pixels. A Korean spokesperson also told us that the S3 is antialiased, meaning that any overly pixelated effects or step effect that sometimes happens in the edges of images or dials are smoothed out.
The brightness of the Super AMOLED display is excellent and even in direct sunlight the content on the display is legible. In comparison to the Gear S2, the maximum display brightness on both Gear S3 models is noticeably higher. There is, however, no ambient light sensor on the Gear S3 as there is on the Moto 360, meaning that you often need to manually adjust the brightness. Though the lack of this feature is a shame, you get used to it after a while.
Samsung Gear S3 software
Samsung uses their homemade operating system Tizen on both models of the Gear S3, just like they did on the Gear Fit2 and both versions of the Gear S2. Samsung claims that there are now around 10,000 apps available for the smartwatch platform. The Gear S3 also brought some improvements in terms of software, for example, you can now install apps directly from the smartwatch. This will save users having to use the companion app to get apps on their wearable.
Operating and navigating haven’t changed in that they are accessed via the menus. Thanks to the combination of the touchscreen, the bezel and the physical button, I found that operating the Gear S3 was very easy, as was the Gear S2 before it. Samsung set up Tizen on the Gear S3 so well that you barely need a user manual to figure out how to use it.
There is of course the addition of many new sensors in the the latest Tizen version, which allows the smartwatch to collect and calculate a wide range of fitness data. The barometer can even sense height and speed. The GPS module, in combination with the correct app, are able to track distances so that you can use the Gear S3 as an independant navigation device or speed calculator. These functions also have corresponding apps.
It’s also worth noting that it's possible to make an emergency call and send your location by just pressing a button. This means that if you are in a state of emergency, you press the lower button three times to call for assistance and your position will be sent as well.
I was also impressed by the fact that you can connect the Galaxy Gear S3 with Android smartphones produced by other manufacturers. For those who own an iPhone from Apple, you too have the possibility to use a Galaxy Gear S3 with your phone as opposed to the Apple Watch. An iOS app for this purpose was recently leaked and is currently in beta testing in South Korea. If testing proves to be successful, this iOS app will be officially released. While testing the Gear S3, we were also able to download a leaked version of the iOS app and we gave it a try. While the connection between both devices worked without problem, there were still issues with regards to the App Store on the Gear S3. Updates and new apps were difficult to install, and often it was impossible to install apps at all.
Samsung Gear S3 performance
As I mentioned a few times already in this review, Samsung has made some small changes to their new smartwatch in comparison to the previous model. This also applies to the hardware running within the smartwatch. It may seem like that Samsung didn’t change anything when you look at the a 1 GHz dual-core processor, however the changes can be found in the details. The processor is now an Exynos and is LTE-compatible.
The new processor is now also paired with 769 MB of memory. 4 GB of internal storage are also available for the operating system, apps and audio data. This means that joggers will be able to go out for a run without needing to lug a smartphone around with them. You can use your Bluetooth headphones for listening and the Gear S3 as an MP3 player.
At no point did we notice any lags or glitches on the Gear S3 Classic and Gear S3 Frontier. The menus and apps worked smoothly, navigating effortlessly from one screen to another when swiping.
Samsung Gear S3 audio
Another new feature is the possibility of making calls thanks to the integration of a microphone and speaker. Whether you would actually ever use this out in the open is questionable though. This could be useful in the comfort of your own home though so that you don’t always have to carry your phone around with you.
You can also use the Gear S3 as an MP3 player with the integrated speaker. You might not use this every day though seeing as the sound that comes from the integrated mono speaker is rather lousy. If anything, it could work as a party favor or to entertain children.
Samsung Gear S3 battery
Thanks to the larger housing on the Gear S3, Samsung was able to use a larger battery. The Gear S2 had 250 mAh, so both Gear S3’s will last quite a bit longer with 380 mAh. This is 50 percent increase in battery capacity, which is quite impressive.
With the help of its large battery, both the Gear S3 Frontier and Classic with their optimized 1.3-inch Super AMOLED displays, improved processor and numerous additional sensors were able to run for 2.5 days. If you activate the WiFi toggle so that it is constantly on the lookout for a connection, the battery life will drop down to 1.5 days.
Samsung Gear S3 technical specifications
At first glance, both Gear S3 models put on a good show thanks to the combination of its fitness features like on the Gear Fit2 and smartwatch functions as on the Gear S2, wrapped up in one single device. The Gear S3 has allowed Samsung to further expand their portfolio, especially for the male target group. They now have a complete lineup of wearables for a variety of users.
The Gear S3 versions, however, did not revolutionize the smartwatch market but they have made some worthwhile improvements. The iOS compatibility just needs to be ironed out, at which point I believe many Apple Watch users will switch to the Gear S3.
Is the Gear S3 better than the Gear S2? Technically and functionally-speaking, it only improves over the previous model to a limited extent. I could live without the GPS feature and I prefer the size and weight of the Gear S2, even if that means I need to take it off to recharge every night.
What do you think of the Gear S3? Would you consider buying it, and if so, which one?