Samsung Gear S3 review: When it comes to making smartwatches Samsung is arguably one of the most well-versed companies in the field and its latest creation, the Gear S3, puts all of that expertise into practice for 2016.
Despite the name the Gear S3 could be considered the company’s sixth or seventh true smartwatch; with a lineage tracing back to 2013’s Samsung Galaxy Gear. The company made the shift to a circular design with 2015’s excellent Gear S2, which we deemed one of the best smartwatches of the year.
Samsung Gear S3 review: Design
Similarly to last year’s offering, the Gear S3 comes in two distinct flavours: the Gear S3 Classic and the Gear S3 Frontier. For the most part the differences are purely cosmetic, with the former opting for a design inspired by more traditional timepieces and the latter adopting stylings from watches geared towards outdoor pursuits with ruggedised elements like a rubberised strap (in place of a leather one, as on the Classic) and textured, low profile hardware controls.
As a result, the S3 Classic will likely better complement a wider array of outfits and tastes, whilst the Frontier will prove the hardier of the two designs and age more gracefully.
Irrespective of which Gear S3 takes your fancy you can expect 22mm quick-release straps, an optical heart rate sensor, wireless charging by way of a magnetic dock (much like last year’s Gear S2) and a rotating bezel.
The S3 sits larger on the wrist than its predecessor, more accurately mimicking the dimensions on the analogue watches it’s based on, which helps with the feel as well as allowing for a larger screen in the process.
Samsung Gear S3 review: Screen and interaction
Aside from the obvious fact that a circular display-laden smartwatch looks markedly more natural on the wrist than a square one, Samsung has also bestowed an exceptional 1.3-inch Super AMOLED panel on the Gear S3.
Not only is it vibrant and highly legible, with strong maximum brightness, it also boasts exceptional viewing angles that render it one of the best smartwatch displays on the market right now.
To interact with the Gear S3 you can wake the watch with a tilt of your wrist and navigate by swiping, tapping, pressing and rotating the aforementioned bezel. It feels decidedly more satisfying to use than last year’s watch, with a refined action that provides greater feedback.
Samsung Gear S3 review: OS and functionality
Whilst the rest of the Android-compatible smartwatch market continues to run on Android Wear, Samsung has chosen to stick with its own operating system, Tizen. Updates over the iteration found on the Gear S2 are slight but welcome.
Out the box you’ve got a ton of watch faces to choose from, including new offerings with additional interactive complications and an unprecedented level of detail – the simulated brushed metal back of some faces ‘react to light’ by taking into account the motion and angle of the watch, for example.
To the left of the watch face you’ll find notifications, easily readable on that small display and able to be dismissed or pushed to your connected smartphone with a single tap, what’s more, support isn’t limited by app, so you’ll never miss anything. To the right, you’ll find a host of widgets covering everything from weather to music controls and fitness tracking, all of which can also be easily rearranged or removed.
Pressing the home button brings up the apps menu, where you’ll find the meat of the Gear S3’s functionality. There are a wealth of apps installed out the box, covering basic watch and phone features like alarms, call management and a find my phone tool, but you’ll also find news updates on offer from Flipboard, reminders and more.
Thanks in part to its predecessors, the Samsung app store already offers a wealth of first and third-party watch faces and apps including games and additional handy features, but some offerings from big names like Nike are surprisingly absent. You’ll find apps to cover most of the functions you’d want to be able to leverage a smartwatch for, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll come from established companies and reputable names.
Samsung Gear S3 review: Performance and battery life
The 1GHz dual-core processor is accompanied by 768MB of RAM, a relatively large amount for a smartwatch that ensures the Gear S3 feels suitably slick in general usage whilst background data synchronisation means you’ll seldom have to sit and wait for the watch to pull information from your phone or vice versa.
Connectivity wise your phone shares WiFi passwords with the Gear S3, so even if you disconnect the Bluetooth line between watch and phone the S3 won’t lose out on functionality. The watch also features integrated GPS, a feature previously exclusive to the 3G variant of the Gear S2, meaning athletes can leave their phones at home when running, cycling or even hiking as Samsung’s also thrown in an altimeter.
There’s 4GB of internal space for local photo storage or music playback and a 380mAh battery that validates Samsung’s claims of three days of use per charge, even without resorting to power saving mode. Despite no formal fast charging technology, a full recharge of the Gear S3’s small cell is possible in around 45 minutes too.
Samsung Gear S3 review: Verdict
Samsung has once again built a fantastic smartwatch with top-tier hardware, buttery smooth software and some powerful features. It undercuts Apple’s Series 2 smartwatches whilst retaining all-important components like GPS, wrapped up in what is arguably a nicer, more approachable design in either guise: Gear S3 Classic or Frontier.
After the smartwatch-heavy wearable landscape of 2015, 2016 has been significantly quieter, with sales figures across the board suggesting that people just aren’t that into their smartwatches as companies expected, and as such even with the well-rounded offering the Gear S3 proposes, we’re left wondering who will buy it, especially when it’s only real rival comes packing better software support and waterproofing to boot.
Update 9/1/17: Samsung has added iOS support for the Samsung Gear S2, Gear S3 and Gear Fit2 wearables.