In stark contrast to most smartwatches, the Samsung Gear S3 has great battery life: charge it to 100% and it’ll last you almost five days. The first four days with normal operation and then, when it hits 5%, more than 24 hours of use in power-save mode. That’s fantastic stamina for any smartwatch, let alone one with a colour AMOLED display. Then there’s the aesthetics. The Samsung Gear S3 is available in a couple of flavours – the Classic and the Frontier – and both look stunning. The Frontier is a real looker, finished in smoky, gunmetal grey, with a burly rubber wristband (both large and small sizes are included in the box), butch knurled buttons, and an aggressively notched bezel that rotates with a light clicking action, just like on a dive watch.
The difference is that this bezel isn’t simply for adornment or timing purposes; it’s part of the fabric of the way the watch works. Spin it and the watch face whirls away to reveal a galaxy of different notifications and widget screens. It’s also used to scroll through items in lists and alter settings, depending on whereabouts in the UI you fi nd yourself. The Gear S3 watch still has a responsive touchscreen, but I found myself using the bezel whenever possible because it leaves the screen free for reading. The 1.3in panel has a resolution of 360 x 360, and it’s topped with Corning’s wearable-specific scratch- and shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass SR+. It’s comfortably readable in most conditions at the default setting of seven and, handily, it automatically dims in low-light conditions, so it won’t annoy everyone in the cinema when you check the time. The problem with the Samsung Gear S3 is that it’s a bit beefy. At 46 x 12.9 x 49mm (including the lugs), it’s thicker than most smartphones, and I found that with some shirts it wouldn’t slip under the cuf s comfortably. If you have more slender wrists, you may prefer to stick with the Gear S2.
There’s NFC, 4GB of storage for music, wireless charging via the WPC standard, and a dual-core 1GHz Samsung Exynos 7270 chip with 768MB of RAM. It only slowed down while playing Fruit Ninja – but that’s not what the S3 was made for. In every other respect, it responds smoothly and instantly to touchscreen dabs and clicks of the bezel.
But, the Samsung Gear S3 isn’t properly waterproof like the Apple Watch Series 2; it’s water-resistant and rated to the IP68 standard. This means that, although the watch can be submerged to a depth of 1.5m in freshwater for up to 30 minutes, you can’t take it for a swim. That sets the Samsung Gear S3 at an immediate disadvantage to the Apple Watch Series 2, which has a decent swim-tracking mode in addition to GPS and heart-rate monitoring. But the Samsung hits back with excellent automatic tracking and stats-packed activity monitoring. Walk briskly for a few minutes and the watch will quickly pick that up and log it as an activity. The same happens if you take it for a run and forget to manually hit start. It will also auto-pause when you stop to cross the road, and it reports a rich bank of data to your phone once you’re done, from the usual average speed, distance and average heart-rate data to the more unusual average and maximum cadence.
It all feeds into the S Health app on your phone, which syncs the data and presents it in a more digestible manner. If you’re familiar with the app through owning a Samsung phone, there will be no surprises here: the app presents your goals at the top of the main page with a couple of key stats on graphs beneath (steps and sleep by default), with specifi c data, from your stress levels through SpO2 and floors climbed, encapsulated in a series of square panels below that.Note that Gear watches are no longer limited to working with only Samsung phones. Although the Gear S3 runs Samsung’s Tizen wearables OS, you can pair it on any modern Android phone via the Samsung Gear app.
The Gear S3’s Wi-Fi connectivity means you don’t have to be within Bluetooth range of your phone to receive notifications and make/receive calls, so if the phone rings you can answer even if you’ve left your phone by the bed. The speaker also allows the watch to double as an interactive fitness coach while you’re working out. It will gee you up when you start to fade and deliver timely audible info as you pound the pavement. The only problem is that the speaker isn’t loud enough to hear over the rush of breath from your lungs and the blood pounding in your ears, so you’ll have to use the Gear S3’s Bluetooth connectivity to hook up a pair of headphones instead. These new capabilities build on the Gear S2’s already-impressive collection. There’s an optical heart-rate monitor that continuously tracks your pulse during exercise and keeps tabs on your resting rate with spot checks during the day. There’s an altimeter/barometer and an associated app, keeping tabs on your altitude and atmospheric pressure. The fitness side of things is particularly strong, offering most tools that fitness fanatics need to log exercise and keep motivated. Notifications work just as well as on Android Wear watches. The big bonus, though, is that the Samsung Gear S3 combines all of those things with superb battery life and luxurious high-end design. It feels like a luxury watch and a high-end smartwatch combined. It’s a pleasure to use, to wear (as long as your wrists aren’t too slim) and to train with, and even at a price of $500, it’s now the Apple Watch alternative to beat. If you own an Android smartphone and you’re looking to invest in a smartwatch, you should put the Samsung Gear S3 at the very top of your list.
$499 – www.samsung.com 1.3in 360 x 360 AMOLED display • dual-core 1GHz processor • 4GB memory • 768MB RAM • GPS • 802.11n Wi-Fi • Bluetooth 4.2 • heart-rate sensor • IP68 water and dust resistance • 380mAh battery • 1yr RTB warranty • Samsung Tizen 2.3.2 OS • 46 x 12.9 x 49mm (WDH) • 62g