Leaving the phone behind: Running with the Apple Watch Series 3 and Samsung Gear S3 Frontier

Samsung smartwatches have had LTE connectivity for years, but with the release of Apple's first truly wireless Apple Watch it was time to take the two best smartwatches out on the road without a phone.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

The Apple Watch is the best smartwatch for iPhone owners and the Gear S3 is the best smartwatch for Android smartphone users.

LTE on a smartwatch will kill the small battery quickly, but runners appreciate the safety net that allows them to call for help while running without a phone.

Samsung's Gear S3 Frontier launched in November 2016 and has been my near constant companion while running and fishing. T-Mobile DIGITS made the Gear S3 even more valuable with my own number present when calling or texting from the watch.

CNET: Samsung Gear S3 review

I was not planning to buy a new Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE, but happened to be close to an Apple Store last Saturday and couldn't resist. I've taken it and my Gear S3 Frontier out running a couple of times and offer the following experiences.

CNET: Apple Watch Series 3 review

As I stated in my January post where I tried using the Gear S3 Frontier with my iPhone 7 Plus, that while this is one Samsung device that works with iOS, the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch for iPhone owners and the Gear S3 is the best smartwatch for Android smartphone users.

The Gear S3 Frontier requires a Samsung Galaxy or other Android smartphone or an iPhone to set up. The Apple Watch Series 3 requires an iPhone to set it up. Neither smartwatch can be taken out of the box and used without first connecting to a phone. With that out of the way, let's see how these two smartwatches perform with no phone connected.

Samsung Gear S3 smartwatch first impressions: in pictures

Head-to-head performance

After testing several functions and tasks on both the Apple Watch Series 3 and Samsung Gear S3 Frontier, here is how these two stack up in capability without a direct phone Bluetooth connection.

I currently have both of these smartwatches connected to my account as T-Mobile DIGITS devices and my phone number showed up when calling and texting from both so the T-Mobile DIGITS functionality works perfectly.

Function Apple Watch Series 3 Samsung Galaxy S3 Frontier
Calls from/to watch Works with iPhone on and off Works with Note 8 on and off
Text from/to watch Only works if iPhone on Works with Note 8 on and off
Music playing On board with BT headset On board and Spotify streaming with headset or speaker
Battery performance Burned 15 percent in 27 minutes Burned 20 percent in 27 minutes
Buy snacks while running Apple Pay Samsung Pay with MST
App notifications Works on LTE Works on LTE
Emergency notification Hold side button, slide to call emergency services Three quick presses of bottom button to call/text designated contacts

Apple stated that streaming Apple Music content will be coming with an updated this fall. You cannot play music via the speaker on the Apple Watch as a Bluetooth headset is required. It's nice to have the ability to play music with the watch speaker on my Gear S3 late at night when I want both ears listening for my own safety. The speaker is adequate for running.

While on my latest test run, I ran for just over 15 minutes and performed test calls and texts for about 12 minutes, approximately 5 minutes of calling on each watch. Audio was fine on both watches and my wife said I sounded fine, but the clarity was a bit better on the Gear S3. I was in a very weak T-Mobile coverage area so it was actually a bit surprising to have both watches initiate and receive calls too.

Both watches perform well for calling without a phone. The Apple Watch requires your iPhone to be on and connected in order for text messaging and iMessage to work, which it likely is at home charging if it is not on your run with you. You can text and call with the Samsung Gear S3, whether your phone is on or not.

Apple Watch and beyond: The strange history of smartwatches, in pictures

GPS tracking with both watches was accurate and heart rate monitoring was comparable. If you use Apple's Workout app, you have limited access to your GPS run data, which is why I always use Runkeeper on the Apple Watch. Samsung Health is great for the Gear S3 Frontier, especially with the extended support for many services. I use Samsung Health's app and can then see all of my GPS run data in other services without a problem. You can also use various Under Armour apps for fitness tracking.

There are now two great choices for connected smartwatches to use while running and while you won't spend hours talking on the phone, both the Apple Watch Series 3 and Samsung Gear S3 offer a safety net when you run. You also won't miss that important call or text, unless your iPhone is dead.


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