The Samsung Gear S3 is a watch that’s goes big in a bid to conquer the success of the Apple Watch 2 – and that’s literally.
This is a huge timepiece that offers all the smarts nearly any other smartwatch out there can, but does so with a matching price tag and a much longer battery life.
The main features that you’d care about with the Samsung Gear S3 are, well, the fact that it does everything. It’s got that insanely long battery life, the high-resolution OLED screen, GPS, an altimeter, onboard storage for music and a host of other features that you’d expect in a modern smartwatch.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Samsung to duck out of the smartwatch game in the same way many of its competitors are: Sony has seemingly halted its work into the its watches, LG has been conspicuously quiet and HTC (sensibly) doesn’t need another product type that it can’t monetise.
Samsung Gear S3 Specs
Dimensions: 49 x 46 x 12.9 mm
Screen size: 1.3-inch
Resolution: 360 x 360
Screen type: Super AMOLED
Processor: Exynos 7270
IP rating – IP68
So what’s Samsung doing here? Is there still the audience for a watch that’s running a different operating system (Tizen), doesn’t have the burgeoning app ecosystem of Apple or even Android Wear, and still charges a premium?
One of the key selling points here is the fact the Gear S3 is compatible with the latest Samsung phones (obviously, although the exact models aren’t defined by Samsung – we’d advise Galaxy S5 and above until we hear otherwise), but also with most other Android phones running version 4.4 of the OS and later.
And now that we’re hearing that the iPhone is about to be supported, this suddenly became a much more interesting proposition.
When it comes to using the Gear S3 with non-Galaxy phones, we tested it with the Sony Xperia XZ and it performed just fine (apart from needing to install a million Samsung-specific apps to make it work. Come on, do we really need the Samsung timer app just to count how many minutes until food is cooked?)
The Gear S3 has the right credentials, that’s for sure. But there’s a bigger issue: is this too little, too late, especially for one of the world’s biggest brands, still trying to force the world into believing that smartwatches are the latest must-have things in our lives?
Samsung Gear S3 price and release date
The Gear S3 is available at a price of £349 in the UK and $349 in the US (around AU$475), which is expensive for a digital smart piece.
That said, the Apple Watch 2, by comparison, will set you back £369 / $369, so Samsung is undercutting that model (and doing so with a larger-sized device, as if you want the bigger Apple Watch it’s even more expensive) and still offering the same raft of features.
In terms of release date, you’re able to buy the Gear S3 Classic now, and the Gear S3 Frontier shouldn’t be far behind.
The Gear S3, despite only weighing 59g, still feels like a very heavy device on the wrist. To compare, the Samsung Gear S2 weighed 42g, and the Apple Watch 2 is 45.6g, so Samsung has gone meaty here with its latest smartwatch.
It’s a very well-made device though, with a metal frame housing the 1.3 screen and holding the two prominent buttons on the side, which function as the Home / Apps and Back keys.
This distinction is hard to remember initially, but over time you’ll start to get the hang of the way you’re supposed to move through the menus, which is more by swiping and swinging the bezel than by hitting the physical buttons.
The bezel is the main feature of Samsung’s recent smartwatches, with the rotating dial serving as a way to navigate through the Gear S3. Spinning it left and right on any screen will either scroll you through displays or let you select apps, or allow you to flip through a list quickly and without having to take your eyes off the screen.
It seems odd that there’s no ‘confirm’ key, as you’ll scroll through the apps you want, land on the one you were looking for, then have to stab it with a digit to open it. It’s not the most fluid way of doing things – although you can set up the Gear to be able to open an app if you hover the dot over the software you fancy.
On the rear of the Gear S3 is the now-expected heart rate monitor, which appears to be of Samsung’s own design.
This offers the ability to track your heart rate throughout the day, which is a key benefit of a device like this and designed for those that are trying to get fitter and like to monitor how their resting pulse is decreasing.
This review focuses on the Samsung Gear S3 Classic, which comes with a leather strap in the box. Like most other timepieces of this ilk, the leather is rather stiff at first and needs some heavy ‘weathering’ to get it to be a nice and flexible addition.
These straps are connected by the standard 22mm pin, which means that if you’re buying the Gear S3 for fitness purposes, you’re going to need to get a more sweat-resistant strap and probably wear it all the time, as it’s a pain to change these over if you just fancy a quick run.
The 1.3-inch Super AMOLED screen on the Samsung Gear S3 is, unsurprisingly, one of the best on the market. That lack of surprise is due to the fact Samsung has had a long history of making brilliant screens for its phones, and using that same technology here means you’ve got a clear and bright screen.
Samsung is touting that the Gear S3 uses an Always On Display, the same used in the Galaxy S7 smartphone range and enabling the user to see the time no matter what the display is up to – it’s a nice thing to turn on, but it’ll really munch down on the battery.
That said, when it is turned on, the Gear S3 has a beautifully bright and vivid screen. The debate of round vs square smartwatch displays still rages here, as while the circular face is nicer aesthetically, text at the bottom of the screen is harder to see, which is less enticing.
It’s not impossible to read, but just looks messy. It would also be good if there was an automatic ‘do not disturb’ (DND) mode here as well – that would mean when you’re wearing the watch in bed and turned on DND you’re not constantly flashing like the world’s smallest lighthouse with every slight movement.