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Easy to manipulate with OS designed for a wearable
4G LTE service
Integrated GPS, water resistance, and improved S Health
Two or more days of battery life
Automatic sleep and specific activity tracking
S Voice needs to go
Some advertised apps still missing
While wearables still haven't achieved must-have status like phones, for those of us who have been using them for years they have become an essential companion and when they are as good as the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier it's easy to justify their cost.
I've now spent over three weeks with the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier, both with my own T-Mobile version and a Samsung AT&T loaner complete with NumberSync paired to a Galaxy S7. As discussed in my first impressions there is a ton of potential here and a couple weeks later we are already seeing some of that materialize.
The Garmin Fenix 3HR has been set aside and the Gear S3 has shown me I actually can find a single device that meets my smartwatch, GPS sports watch, and 24/7 activity tracker needs. The great thing is that Samsung achieves this with a high quality, elegant piece of gear that is available for a reasonable $400 price.
Specifications of the Samsung Gear S3 include:
Processor: Samsung Exynos 7270 1GHz dual-core/li>
Display: 1.3 inch 360x360 pixels resolution Super AMOLED, 278 ppi, Gorilla Glass SR+
Operating system: Tizen OS 2.3.x
Storage: 4 GB internal storage
Wireless technology: NFC, MST, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, and LTE
Other features: IP68 dust and water resistant, MIL-STD-810G rated, integrated microphone and speaker, Samsung Pay without a phone
Battery: 380 mAh battery with wireless charging dock
Dimensions: 46 x 49 x 12.9 mm and 62 grams
The Gear S3 Frontier comes with a couple silicone bands that are malleable and well designed. It also uses a standard 22mm strap configuration so you can purchase replacement bands to match your needs and style.
Last year I bought the Gear S2 3G and was not impressed by the basic plastic look and feel with a bezel that was nearly impossible to rotate. The new Gear S3 blows the Gear S2 out of the water in terms of quality and design. I understand the Gear S2 Classic was a better design than the Gear S2, but the Gear S3 Frontier is better than both.
I've read several complaints about the size of the Gear S3 Frontier, but don't agree with those comments. The Gear S3 is quite a bit smaller than my Garmin Fenix 3HR and is just a bit smaller than my Citizen Ecodrive. It's smaller than many G-Shock watches so if you already wear a bit watch then you may actually find the Gear S3 to be a nice reduction in size.
Given the massive amount of technology inside and capability of the Gear S3, I am in awe of what Samsung has been able to include in such a small package. It fits my wrist well and I barely even notice it is mounted on my wrist 24 hours a day.
The stainless steel rotating bezel is a work of art and function. A mixture of matte and glossy finish features smoothly rotate left and right around the display with satisfying click feedback at various measured intervals around the display. It's fun just to spin the bezel and enjoy the quality of the construction.
The AMOLED display looks fantastic and I have yet to run into a case where I cannot see the display. It's also composed of Gorilla Glass SR+ and after more than three weeks my display remains flawless.
Samsung Gear S3 smartwatch first impressions: in pictures
There are two hardware buttons, with textured faces, on the right side for back and an app launcher. You can also interact with the touchscreen and rotating bezel.
The black stainless steel sides of the watch are substantial, giving you the feeling the Gear S3 can handle whatever you throw at it. The heart rate monitor is on the flat smooth back while thick rubber watch bands can easily be removed and exchanged for dressier bands if you desire.
I've been experiencing at least two days of battery life with the connection in auto (BT or LTE) mode while the display is set to turn on when rotated. Battery life goes down considerably if you stream music via Bluetooth, track a run via GPS, and make a few calls.
The Samsung Gear S3 runs Tizen and is optimized for wearables so it is a smooth and efficient operating system. Awesome watch faces are available out of the box while the ability to download and install more from the store is also supported.
A swipe from left to right takes you to the notification area, a swipe down shows you the status and gives one tap access to key settings, and a swipe or rotation to the right takes you through the widgets you have enabled.
Pressing the app launcher button brings you to the circular format app launcher where you can tap and launch apps. A press and hold of the top right back button launches Samsung Pay. A double press of the bottom button launches S Voice while a press and hold of that bottom button gives you the option to turn off the watch.
Samsung Pay on the Gear S3 can be used as a true credit card replacement with support for NFC and MST terminals. Even better, you can now use Samsung Pay on a non-Samsung Android phone with support for the Google Pixel made available just this week. For people like me who run without a phone, you can even use Samsung Pay several times without connecting to a phone directly. For my longer runs, I stop at a store to get a Gatorade and the Gear S3 lets me do that without having to carry cash.
The key essential apps used most of the time on a smartwatch are present on the Gear S3. These include watch faces, S Health for activity tracking, a phone dialer, messaging app, weather, reminders, calendar, alarm, contacts, and the ability to find your phone. There are quite a few other apps in the app store as well.
There are currently no music streaming services, although Spotify appears on the Gear S3 website and may be launching in the next week or two. You can load up music in the internal storage and play it via the integrated speaker or via Bluetooth.
S Health has come a long way over the years and now supports several connected services, including RunKeeper, Strava, Misfit, and Jawbone. Even better, you can finally now export your GPS run and bike data via .GPX.
Samsung built intelligence into the Gear S3 so that sleep tracking is automatic and from my experiences also seems to be fairly accurate. In addition, focused physical activity (running, walking, cycling, elliptical, rowing machine, and other workout) is automatically tracked by the Gear S3 when you perform an activity for about 10 minutes or more. For example, I walk briskly to and from the train to my office about a mile each way every day and with my Apple Watch these walks just show up as steps taken. The Gear S3 automatically recognizes that these are more intense than just walking around the office and thus captures these walks, while also tracking my heart rate, and then records these events in S Health. The Gear S3 will also count reps for lunges, crunches, squats, and burpee jumps. This kind of intelligence is exactly what I expect from a wearable device so it is great to see Samsung provide this in the Gear S3.
The Samsung Gear app is used to manage everything on your watch, including third party apps, watch status, notifications, SOS requests, quick messages, and more.
If you are using a non-Samsung phone, then you will also have to install the Gear S plugin and Samsung Accessory service app, and the S Health app to take full advantage of the Gear S3. All the apps you need are available for free in the Google Play Store and installation will be initiated through the Gear app.
Samsung Pay setup must take place through the Android app and if you do not have a Samsung phone then Samsung Pay setup is handled through the Gear app itself as you will not see a Samsung Pay app on your phone. If you have a Samsung phone, then its even easier to set up Samsung Pay.
I've been testing a leaked, aka not official from Samsung, beta version of the iOS software and most things work well. Samsung Pay is not supported on iOS and I'm not sure if we will see that support in the future or not. You can have notifications appear and even install apps from the Samsung Gear store while an embedded version of Samsung Health shows your activity data.
Given that the watch works well as a stand-alone mobile device and has the ability to function via a cellular network the phone OS you pair with doesn't mean as much.
Battery life is not as good on the Gear S3 when I am running it with an iPhone connected, but that's a function of a leaked early beta on iOS and not the watch itself.
The Apple Watch and Android Wear watches are the main competition for the Gear S3. The Apple Watch is limited just to iOS devices so if you are an Android user then its not even an option. Android Wear watches now work with iOS and Android, which will soon also be the case for the Gear S3.
The Apple Watch Series 2 ranges in price from $369 up to more than $1,299. The Series 2 watches have integrated GPS and are water resistant, along with vibrant color displays.
There has been a hiatus in the Android Wear world lately with manufacturers looking towards 2017 and a new update to Android Wear. The best current Android Wear watch is the Polar M600, available for $329.95. It cannot compare to the Gear S3 in terms of elegance and comfort, but it does provide a solid fitness experience.
Daily usage experiences and conclusions
I had a bit of a hiccup with short battery life at first, but after a factory reset I am now easily able to go a couple of days with the Gear S3. Considering most every smartwatch needs to be charged once a day, I am fully satisfied with the Gear S3 battery performance.
AT&T NumberSync works well, especially when the Gear S3 is paired to a Samsung phone. For the last couple of days I have been using my own T-Mobile Gear S3 with the new Digits service and this is exactly what I need to make the Gear S3 a must-have companion device in my life.
My phone comes out of my pocket less as I handle immediate communications all through my watch. It's awesome to simply spin the bezel to answer a call and handle it all from my wrist with a loud and clear speaker. I am confident when I run without my phone and as I get older and train for longer runs there is a safety net around me with quick SOS connectivity to my family.
The Gear S2 was almost there last year, but the Gear S3 brings a much better piece of hardware with the advanced functionality I need. It's an amazing smartwatch that now lives on my wrist in comfort and will not be going anywhere soon.