Smartwatches haven’t had the best 2016. While the Apple Watch has made its comeback in Q4, it continues to dominate the segment with over 80 per cent share if you go by the latest Canalys numbers. We’ve not seen any new Android Wear watches, though the new versions are expected soon. But one player that’s been consistent in the space is Samsung with its Tizen-based Gear watches. The latest Gear S3 is finally in India after being launched in September at IFA 2016.
The Gear S3 now comes with GPS, though India is not getting the LTE version. It comes in two variants: frontier and classic. The ‘frontier’ is slightly more bulky, and rugged in design; the classic minimalist and closer to a real watch. Personally, I’d prefer the latter, but I have reviewed the frontier here.
Specifications: 1.3” Circular Super AMOLED display (360 x 360) 278ppi, Always On Display|Corning Gorilla Glass SR+ | Dual core 1.0 GHz processor | 4GB storage, 768MB RAM | Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi b/g/n, NFC, MST, A-GPS/Glonass | Tizen Based Wearable Platform 2.3.2| Sensors: Accelerometer, Gyro, Barometer, HRM, Ambient light | Battery 380mAh | Wireless charging (WPC Inductive) | IP68 water & dust resistance | Size: 46 x 49 x 12.9 mm, 63g (without band)
Gear S3 frontier
I’ve used the Gear S2 in the past, and it was a watch I really liked. The new Gear S3 frontier, though a bulkier version, comes with IP68 rating for water and dust resistance. This is good news, but that doesn’t mean you can take this for a swim just yet.
The Gear S3 has the familiar circular design we saw with the older version. There’s a rotating bezel on top, which can be used to control applications on the watch. For Android users, the Gear S3 now supports the capability of taking calls from the device itself; previously the call had to be continued on the phone with the Gear S2.
It has a built-in heart-rate monitor, and can record a number of fitness functions including gym, cycling. There’s even a pilates and yoga mode for those who participate in these activities. The Gear S3 also works on iOS now, and I primarily used the watch with an iPhone 6s, and later switched to a OnePlus 3.
So what’s good?
For Android users, especially those on Samsung phones, Gear S3 has enhanced functionality. Given that smartwatches still are a niche product, with people wondering what’s the overall purpose, this ability to take calls is a welcome addition.
Just swipe on the green call symbol, and you can take the call from the watch — or reject the call. The call feature works nicely, provided the watch isn’t too far from the phone. The person on the other end could hear me quite clearly, and it was same on my end. If you’re one of those who don’t mind taking calls on your wrist, then Gear S3 is perfect.
Of course, like any other smartwatch, Gear S3 will also let you manage incoming notifications from your phone. You can reply to WhatsApp, Facebook Messages, tweets, etc There’s also the option of sending images from your phone to the Gear S3 and view them on the smaller 1.3-inch display.
If you obsess about the weather, the watch also lets you set your city, location. One has to give access on the Gear app on the phone, the daily weather updates will appear. There’s an option to use the voice function for replies, in case you don’t want to type, which on a watch is still a tedious task. The voice function was surprisingly accurate, though the text takes a couple of extra seconds to appear on the screen.
Like I’ve mentioned, the bezel on top can be used to rotate and move from one app to another. I still think this is one of the best features on the Gear, and Samsung’s S3 is still a much easier watch to figure out than the Apple Watch with its complicated crown.
The Gear S3 frontier also comes with GPS along with a built-in altimeter and barometer. GPS functionality means you can take the ‘frontier’ on your hiking trips and get some directions. Of course, I’ve not had a chance to take the watch hiking, but during my outdoor cycling sessions, the Watch was squeaking out some directions to me, which I chose to ignore.
Gear S3 continues with the fitness focus of the previous watch. Frankly, this will be the feature that will be the major interest point for most users, who are considering a smartwatch. Samsung has designed Gear to work for a variety of fitness activities: running, gym, cycling outside, etc. It can also record your heart rate, sleep data, and yes, daily steps.
On the sleep data front, I found the Gear S3 to be pretty accurate. Just make sure you’re syncing the watch data with the app on the phone as well. For daily steps, Gear S3 is also much more in line, though a little on the higher side compared to my iPhone, (which I trust) or the Apple Watch. Of course, the watch will prompt you if you’ve been idle for more than an hour, but hey you can always ignore that, and let the thing buzz.
Now for ‘real exercise’ sessions’, the Gear S3 works well. Since I’m on a cycling spree till the horrors of summer set in, that’s where I ended up testing the watch. So I used Gear S3 along with the Strava app on my iPhone for couple of cycling sessions, and in most cases the data (distance) matched up. But you need to make sure before starting an outdoor activity, that the watch has a GPS signal, else it will stay stuck at 0.00 km as it happened with me. One particularly long cycling session last weekend, the Gear S3 only started recording distance data halfway, while Strava was already way ahead.
So what’s not good?
On the battery front, the Gear S3 is an improvement but it has a long way to go. I’d say give or take around two or two and a half days on a single charge, and this is if you’re not highly active during the week. But this is still better than the Apple Watch. Of course, a lot of users will find this as another device that needs to be charged, and frankly no one needs that in their life.
The other issue is with recording activity data. Like I mentioned earlier, the watch showed distance as zero, even though I cycled ahead, and it can be frustrating. Especially for those who are looking for accurate data as they exercise or go on a long run outdoors. Also I’m not sure this is most comfortable watch to wear, especially when you’re on a run.
The Gear S3 works with iOS. But it’s so buggy and limited, that it’s not always the best experience. Gear would disconnect way too often on the iPhone, and the functions are limited at best. No calls, with notifications the best you can do is dismiss them, the weather update doesn’t show on the Watch when using an iOS device. Also the Gear app on iOS is prone to crashes, which is never a good sign.
The other issue, and this applies to Android users on non-Samsung phones: If you want to add more apps, the Galaxy app store opens up in browser mode. The big problem: It’s all in Hindi, and there’s no way to change this. It appears to be a problem across the world for Samsung. Apparently, Samsung sticks with one language per country for the Galaxy Store on the browser, and you can’t change it, period. In India, Hindi is this language, so good luck to anyone who doesn’t understand the devanagari script.
For Gear S3, I’d say the software, especially the app support for the watch is far from perfect. Plus the Galaxy App store makes it hard to figure out which app developer to trust, and which ones should you ignore. TizenOS still needs to do better on the app developer front.
Samsung Gear S3 has a lot of features going for it. The Watch has more functionality, fitness bit works well and the multiple options in this category should appeal to most people. It is also still a really simple watch to use. But the app functionality is far from perfect, and battery is still a pain point.
Gear S2 users might not feel the need to upgrade and they’d be right. But if you are looking for a smartwatch and don’t want the older Android Wear stuff, then Gear S3 is an option to keep in mind, especially from a fitness perspective. But for iOS users, the Apple Watch is still the best bet.