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Using a Gear S3 with an iPhone: Too many concessions

Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributor
  • Editors' review
  • Specs

Last week, Samsung released the iOS version of its Gear S app. With the app, users can use the Gear S2 or Gear S3 smartwatch with an iPhone for the first time.

ZDNet's Matthew Miller has already shared his impressions of the Gear S3 Frontier, when paired to an Android device and as a running companion when paired to an iPhone.

With that in mind, I'll spare you a full review of the Gear S3, but thought it was worthwhile to share my observations and experience after replacing my Apple Watch Series 2 with a Gear S3 for the past five days.

Initial setup

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The setup process is straight-forward, following the same process for most Bluetooth devices. After installing the Gear S app, you launch it and select your watch from the list of available devices.

After verifying pairing codes match, you're asked to open the Settings app on your iPhone to setup a second Bluetooth connection between your phone and the watch. Doing so makes it possible to use the watch as a speakerphone, answering and holding phone conversations.

Apps and watch faces


Time and time again, this was the end result of trying to update or install new apps on the Gear S3 when paired to an iPhone.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The default apps installed on my watch were out of date, and I was prompted to update the apps using Samsung's Galaxy App store that's bundled into the Gear S app shortly after connecting it to my phone.

One frustration point I ran into during setup, and continue to run into now, is the amount of time it takes and number of errors I receive when trying to install or update apps on the watch. I've tried updating apps with my iPhone unlocked with the Gear S app running -- or in the background with my iPhone locked -- to no avail.

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Installation issues aside, the Gear App Store included in the Gear S app lacks the same app selection found on the Android version. I searched the Gear App Store for Spotify, Uber, Glympse, and NPR with zero results.

The app selection on Android is lacking, but the app selection on iOS is desperately lacking.

Hit or miss as a smartwatch


Notifications on the Gear S3 are nice, if not limited.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Beyond acting as a fitness band, counting steps, tracking sleep (which I desperately miss when using the Apple Watch, by the way), and recording heart rate, the Gear S3 puts your smartphone's notifications on your wrist.

Each time a notification is pushed to your phone, your wrist beeps and vibrates. A quick flip of the wrist later, you can read the start of the message and decide if picking up your phone and doing more is warranted. Blocking an app from pushing alerts to your wrist is done on the watch with just a few taps. It is easy to customize the overall notification experience.

Partly due to the way iOS is structured, and the lack of further integration on Samsung's part, the Gear S3 doesn't allow users to reply to text messages or compose new messages from the watch.

Recently acquired Pebble has long had both capabilities, although some were carrier dependent with far fewer resources.

Another downside is that the Gear S app has to remain open in the background, meaning if iOS kills the app to free up resources, notifications on the watch can stop, and apps that require data such as S Voice will cease working until you relaunch the Gear S app on your phone.

Samsung's fitness platform, S Health, didn't get left behind for iPhone users. You can view important aspects about activity and other related metrics, but it's done within the Gear S app instead of through a standalone S Health app as is the case on Android.

For someone like me who doesn't run or require deep integration with third-party apps, the S Health integration on iOS isn't problematic. I can view the data I care about with a few taps. However, as Matthew Miller pointed out in his running comparison, the inability to link the watch to his Strava or Runkeeper app is a big issue for some.

Samsung Pay

For me, the most appealing aspect of the Gear S3, besides the rotating bezel and overall design, is having Samsung Pay on my wrist.

With the Gear S3 paired to Android, I use Samsung Pay almost everywhere I go to complete a purchase. The combination of NFC and Samsung's Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) technology means the Gear S3 can transmit payment data to the vast majority of credit card machines I encounter. More importantly, it actually works.

When using the Gear S3 paired to my iPhone, Samsung Pay disappears. It's as if the service doesn't even exist. There's zero mention of Samsung Pay in the Gear S app, and holding in the top button that normally activates the payment service does nothing.

I asked Samsung if there are plans to release an update enabling Samsung Pay on iOS but was told there's no further info available right now.

The lack of Samsung Pay is frustrating, given that Google has already announced that when it releases Android Wear 2.0 alongside two smartwatches of its own, Android Pay will work with iOS devices.

Too many concessions?

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

As is often the case when using anything not made by Apple with an iPhone, Samsung's smartwatch lineup is forced to make concessions.

The biggest question any iPhone user has to answer when it comes to using a Gear S3 (or S2) instead of an iPhone is if it requires too many sacrifices.

Is the trade-off of not having rich, interactive notifications and a healthy selection of third-party apps plus Apple Pay on the Apple Watch offset by the Gear S3's looks and capabilities?

It's unfortunate this is the comparison I have to make, but given the $350 price tag on the Gear S3, it's the right one. If the Gear S3, or a lesser equipped model (perhaps without a speaker), were priced around $200, any concessions would be easier to justify and overcome.

However, when someone buys the Gear S3 for nearly the same price as the Apple Watch -- a far more capable device when used with an iPhone -- it's hard to overlook just how much you have to give up.

When using the Gear S3 with an Android device, I have nothing but high praise. Unfortunately, that's not the same case when paired with an iPhone.