Apple Watch Series 2 vs Samsung Gear S3: Whilst fitness trackers are still all the rage, 2016 was a comparatively quiet year for smartwatches, with the exception of two of the market’s biggest players: Apple and Samsung.
Apple Watch Series 2 vs Samsung Gear S3: Design
The Apple Watch has become the poster child for the smartwatch scene and if you’re at all familiar with the original, you’ve basically seen its successor too. Cosmetically it’s unchanged from the first generation; a rectangular body comprised of metal and glass with rounded edges, removable straps, a single physical button and the all-important digital crown.
As with last year’s Gear S2, Samsung’s 2016 star wearable is more traditionally watch-like in its appearance. Its round display is surrounded by a rotating bezel, two hardware controls reside on the right side of its body and it too boasts removable straps.
Samsung offers customisation by way of two distinct models; the S3 Classic and the decidedly more rugged looking S3 Frontier, both of which also accommodate 22mm straps using conventional quick-release spring bars, making replacement and customisation readily accessible. Apple meanwhile has revamped the material choices the body of its latest smartwatch comes in (including the distinctive, but expensive, ceramic Edition) and it offers a plethora of bands, all of which use a proprietary locking mechanism, the reliability of which is a little hit-and-miss in practice.
Both come with dedicated wireless charging docks that attach to the back of their respective cases, although Apple’s solution lets you handle the watch while charging more readily.
As for durability, both skews of Gear S3 offer IP68-certification, meaning they shrug off dust and fresh water up to five feet deep for a maximum of thirty minutes. Whilst Apple isn't as forthcoming with specific figures on the Series 2’s water resistance, its design, marketing and the fact that it adheres to ISO standard 22810:2010, mean that you can swim with it in shallow water without needing to worry, which is a huge plus for fitness fanatics.
Apple Watch Series 2 vs Samsung Gear S3: Screens and interaction
Whichever wearable takes your fancy you can expect an excellent display with regards to brightness, legibility, viewing angles and vibrant colours. The Apple Watch’s rectangular screen is more exposed as a result of its design, and so might be more susceptible to bumps and scrapes over time, however, it is protected by either toughened Ion-X glass or sapphire crystal (depending on the model). The Gear S3’s fully circular display is recessed below its rotating bezel and covered in Corning’s Gorilla Glass SR+, likely ensuring that it'll weather more gracefully.
The 1.3-inch Super AMOLED display on Samsung's smartwatch also technically packs more pixels-per-inch than Apple's, however, it's hard to discern any real advantage in day-to-day use.
As for navigating around these wearables, both feature interfaces driven by a mix of touch and hardware input. The digital crown and rotating bezel mirror each other’s functionality, for the most part, serving as the primary means of scrolling or zooming through menus and apps without obscuring the display. The Apple Watch’s side button lets you quickly access the dock (a selection of your favourite apps) or quick-launch Apple Pay (if set up), whilst the Gear S3 features back and menu buttons to quickly access the watch’s app menu or jump back to the main watch face.
Apple Watch Series 2 vs Samsung Gear S3: OS and functionality
Despite only being the company’s second-generation smartwatch, the Series 2 Apple Watch is already running the third revision of watchOS and it’s a notable improvement on earlier releases. Whilst it still features an app-based homescreen Apple has expanded the number of complications that can relay real-time information directly from the watch face and tapping on them lets you jump into their respective apps easily. The dock too helps keep the functionality you readily want access to just a tap away, without having to navigate through a field of icons.
The Tizen-based experience offered up by the Gear S3 isn't a massive departure from the one found on 2015’s Gear S2. Twisting the bezel clockwise lets you quickly get at your widgets, whilst anticlockwise presents any pending notifications, with apps confined to multiple pages of radial menus. A major strength is that like Android Wear, the Gear S3 is compatible with a whole host of Android smartphones, not just Samsung's own blowers, whilst the Apple Watch is unsurprisingly tied to iOS devices only.
Apple's efforts earn watchOS 3 the award for ‘most improved’ but you could argue that Samsung's wearable OS offered a better user experience to begin with. Despite this, Samsung appears to be struggling to entice developers to continue creating experiences for its Gear smartwatches, whilst the ecosystem behind the Apple Watch family appears far more robust.
Apple Watch Series 2 vs Samsung Gear S3: Performance and battery life
Whilst Apple's latest wearable comes in two sizes (38mm and 42mm cases) with two different battery capacities (273mAh and 334mAh respectively), both are quoted as offering up to approximately 18 hours of use per charge, which in real-world usage translates to up to two days of wear at a time. It's a respectable effort made all the more impressive by the fact that it's comparable to the original Apple Watch’s longevity, despite boasting a beefier processor, brighter screen and GPS.
The Gear S3 manages around three days of use from a single charge thanks to an even larger 380mAh cell that charges in almost half the time of the Apple Watch at around 45 minutes. It also keeps pace with the Series 2’s fitness chops by packing in GPS, an optical heart rate sensor and an altimeter, amongst other sensors, allowing for phone-free fitness tracking (depending on the activity). In select markets, an LTE model of the S3 Frontier is also on the cards, meaning truly dependent operation from your phone.
For Brits, the Apple Watch also supports Apple Pay, whilst Samsung Pay is still some way off, even though the Gear S3 packs the hardware necessary to support it.
Apple Watch Series 2 vs Samsung Gear S3: Verdict
If you’re after a top-tier smartwatch that masquerades as a conventional timepiece, then Samsung’s Gear S3 is the obvious choice. It’s more readily customisable than Apple’s watch thanks to those standardised quick-release bands, meets or surpasses the Series 2’s technical abilities in practically every aspect and comes in at around the £300 mark, whichever skew takes your fancy.
Apple appears to have conceded on its efforts to push the Apple Watch as a fashionable timepiece in the traditional sense, focusing more on fitness, but the Series 2 seems all the better for it. It’s an unapologetically beautiful piece of technology and engineering, supported by an expansive closed ecosystem of accessories and apps that are supported by top developers in a way that only Apple seems to be able to pull off.
Offering two size options also broadens its market appeal to slighter-wristed folk, who would have previously been limited by the chunkier smartwatches that dominated the market in the product category’s early days. As ever with Apple’s wares though, the biggest sticking point is price, with even the smallest, most basic Series 2 watch costing £369 and shooting up to a whopping £1399 for the top-tier 42mm stainless steel Apple Watch Hermès with Fauve Barenia Leather Single Tour Deployment Buckle.
Update 9/1/17: Samsung has added iOS 9 (or newer) support for the Samsung Gear S2, Gear S3 and Gear Fit2 wearables.