As a runner and a mobile device fan, you will always find at least one wearable on my wrist to track the details of each and every run. While the Garmin Fenix 3 HR provides the most comprehensive data experience, I am also a fan of smartwatches that help me triage email, communicate with people, and aid in my quest for a healthy lifestyle.
The original Apple Watch was my favorite Apple device, and the Apple Watch Series 2 offers an even better experience for runners. I'm training for my first full marathon, and the Apple Watch is my prime candidate to help me achieve my goals.
A couple months ago, I purchased the fantastic Samsung Gear S3 Frontier, with the idea it would serve as my primary GPS sports watch due to the more open nature of S Health and integrated LTE that would allow me to call for help in an emergency.
I previously tested a leaked beta of the iOS Samsung Gear S application but couldn't wait to finally see the official release of Samsung Gear S for the Gear S2, Gear S3, and Gear Fit2 devices. I installed the new iOS app, connected my Gear S3 Frontier, attempted to load up some music, and took it and the Apple Watch Series 2 for a short run on the icy sidewalks of Puyallup, Wash.
ZDNet's Jason Cipriani is working on a full walkthrough of using an iPhone with the Samsung Gear S application, so stay tuned for all of those details. I am particularly concerned about the ability to use the Gear S3 Frontier with an iPhone for GPS run tracking and motivation, so let's take a closer look at just that experience.
If you have an iPhone and a Gear S2, S3, or Gear Fit2, then you can download and install the new Samsung Gear S app from the App Store. Connections are acknowledged on the iPhone and Gear S3. You have to pair up twice to the iPhone if you want to use your Gear S3 to initiate calls through your iPhone.
There is no S Health app for iOS. Similar to how Samsung Pay is integrated into the Gear app on Android, the S Health app is integrated into the Samsung Gear S app on iOS. That is where things go wrong every single time for me, as I will describe in the next section.
Once you are paired up, then the Gear S3 is ready to go, so get outside and get ready to run. If you want to attempt to load music, then you are supposed to be able to do so through your computer and a Wi-Fi connection to the Gear S3. I could not get it to move a single song to the Gear S3 so gave up on that after 15 minutes of frustration.
Given that the Gear S3 runs Tizen, the app gap is a real issue on the smartwatch. You won't find RunKeeper, Strava, or other popular run tracking apps on the platform. Thankfully, Samsung has opened up S Health to work with connected services like RunKeeper, Strava, Misfit, Jawbone, and Fitbit. Sadly, this is not available for iOS users.
Thus, you are limited to using the S Health app for run tracking, so open up the exercise module, choose running as your activity, and get going. The Gear S3 Frontier is a solid GPS sports watch with the ability to simply spin the bezel around to switch between status screens and see all of your captured data as you run. This beats the Apple Watch touchscreen or crown twist experience and is one reason I was excited about the possibility of using the Gear S3 with an iPhone.
After the run was complete, I chose to finish and save it on the Gear S3. I then tapped on the Open S Health option on the main display of the Samsung Gear S app and was taken to the embedded S Health app experience. I saw my run down in one of the activity boxes and tapped the running box. I then saw my total mileage and elapsed time with a plot of the time on a day chart.
I was getting quite excited about the entire experience, and then I tapped on the line containing my run to dive into all of the wonderful details of splits, elevation, heart rate, and more. Tapping on this line quit the Gear S app. I launched it all again, then tapped the run again (this is the same thing you do on Android), and the app quit again.
So, that's it. You cannot see any details of your captured run data in S Health on the iPhone. It also turns out that captured data is not syncing up to the S Health servers, so even when I open up S Health on an Android device, that run captured from the Gear S3 and synced to the iPhone does not show up. Something serious here is broken, and without the ability to see any of my run details, the Gear S3 is a failure when connected to iOS.
The new Apple Watch also has an integrated GPS receiver, and so I had it mounted on my other wrist. The default option is to use the Apple Workout app to capture run data, and that option actually gives you the best experience for viewing your data on the run with customizable displays. In typical fashion though, data captured with Workout is also kept within the Apple ecosystem, so you cannot export to other services.
Thankfully, RunKeeper now has an Apple Watch app that works with GPS and the heart-rate monitor. I fired up RunKeeper (the data viewing experience is limited while you run) and captured all of that data during my run. You won't see elevation data or other advanced data like you would with a GPS sports watch, but there is enough there for the typical runner. That data then syncs up to the RunKeeper servers after the run and also syncs through to the Apple Health application.
Normally when I pick a "best" smartphone in a list, I discuss several caveats about it being my personal choice based on subjective factors. When it comes to the current implementation of the Gear S3 with the iPhone, it is clear to me that one wearable stands out from the other, based on the facts.
Neither the Gear S3 Frontier or Apple Watch Series 2 offers enough for those who want to track and improve upon minute details of their performance (vertical ratio, ground contact time, etc) or want to use these devices for serious multi-sport tracking. These smartwatches are definitely smartphone companions first and fitness-tracking devices second. Neither can beat a GPS sports watch from Garmin, Polar, Suunto, TomTom, or others. However, they can provide what the majority of casual athletes need in a GPS sports watch. The challenge is working with a phone that they were not primarily designed to work with.
Apple iPhone owners should stick with the Apple Watch for running, while Android smartphone users should consider the Samsung Gear S3. The Gear S3 experience is extremely limited on the iPhone, and right now, S Health is broken. There has not been a single aspect of my experience running with the Gear S3 connected to my iPhone that's satisfied me in any way. There is the potential for the experience to improve, but Samsung is going to have to do a lot of work to get there.
The Gear S3 experience on Android is awesome for running, with the ability to sync to multiple services and play loaded music (or even stream Spotify music), as well as the functionality to call for help if something bad happens on your run.