Samsung Gear S3 preview: The final Frontier for smartwatches?
The Samsung Gear S smartwatch is back for round three and it’s bigger, bulkier and better than ever before. It’s also available in two varieties: the Gear S3 Frontier and the Gear S3 Classic.
So what’s the deal with Frontier and Classic choices? Not a great deal, really. The Frontier weighs 62g, compared to the Classic’s 57g, comes with the rubberised rather than leather strap by default and has different button finishes for a more rugged look and feel. Otherwise both models measure the same size and have identical specs.
Whichever you may choose the Gear S3 is pitched as a watch first and foremost. Both models mimic the earlier S2 Classic, complete with rotational dial control and Tizen operating system, albeit on a much larger scale given the new devices’ 1.3in screen size. And it’s that physical size that makes the Gear S3 very “Huawei Watch” and, therefore, probably not to everyone’s tastes.
Saying that, having spent some time with both devices, they are of a formidable build. And that extra size pays dividends to battery capacity: it’s 380mAh this time around, delivering what Samsung claims is a three to four day battery life on one charge. When it has run low, pop it onto the magnetic charger and it’ll wirelessly recoup. If you want even longer battery life then a Power Saving mode limits the device’s functionality to a watch with messages and calls.
The S3’s new, larger screen, which has a 360 x 360 pixel resolution, has seen an upgrade in its dormant state too: the always-on display can display a full range of 16-million colours, even when the device is not actively in use. That means you’ll always be able to see the watch face and tell the time, even when not drawing on battery life as heavily. New faces even include the second hand, which displays in real-time even via the always-on display. A great touch – although it can’t quite beat a genuine analogue watch design in our view.
Keeping with the true watch theme, gone are the Gear’s days of fussy watch straps. Instead, in addition to the standard rubberised/leather options from Samsung (in small or large sizes), you can attach any standard 22mm watch strap to the Gear S3. Mix and match, do as you will, the choice is yours.
Of course the Gear S3 Frontier and S3 Classic are so much more than just watches. Core to their feature sets are a gyro, accelerometer, barometer, GPS and optical heart-rate monitor. Which sounds all very “sportswatch”. Because it is: Samsung wants these features to be available to all, in both S3 models, to provide a window into its S Health app for step-tracking, running, cycling, climbing and all manner of other fitness tracking. Anyone with S Health can even compete against one another to achieve the most activity – which, as it’s an Android app, doesn’t lock people into the Tizen OS watch system only.
It could be easy to try and speak foul of Tizen as an operating system, given its infancy, but Samsung has persevered in the area and now offers a legitimate alternative to Android Wear. One that many will prefer (it splits the Pocket-lint team, for example). Having pushed the OS onto the original Galaxy Gear back in 2014, there have been refinements plus, crucially, a lot more apps are now available to get your teeth into – from messaging, to emails, even to Spotify and beyond.
Yep, Spotify. The new Gear S3 even has a speaker output so you can listen to your favourite tunes, albeit via a Bluetooth connection with your phone, which renders that Spotify feature effectively pointless because you might as well just stick with the phone. Only a Gear S3 Frontier LTE will work around that problem, but that third phone iteration won’t be available in the UK or Europe, according to Samsung.
The Samsung Gear S3, in both Frontier and Classic models, looks to be a step forward for the Gear smartwatch range. And a good looking one at that. But the step-up in size means this chunky slice of wristwear won’t suit all.
Still, the boost in battery life associated with the size gain ought to make a big impression, if its three-to-four days per charge rings true. The “watch first” approach – with features such as the always-on display and solid build quality – will also help give Samsung a fighting chance to keep the high-end watch makers with an eye on this market, such as Fossil, at a distance too.
As feature set goes, the Gear S3’s Tizen OS makes a point of difference over current Android Wear devices – and we think it’s actually more intuitive to use with its rotational dial bezel and button controls, rather than constant screen-jabbing (although the S3 does have a touchscreen too). And with features that encompass sportswatch, smartwatch and, well, just plain ol’ watch, Samsung is certainly taking no chances.
The last piece of the puzzle, however, is price. And without a pound-sign associated to this wearable we can’t yet make a final judgement call on just how much of an impact it will make. With the Gear S2 remaining in the line-up, we suspect the premium S3 options will come bearing a more significant price tag – up there and beyond that of even the Huawei Watch, we suspect.