Smartwatches have been around for five years now, but they still haven’t reached the point of being considered a tech necessity. Instead, they are luxury products that one can use to tech up the otherwise traditional watch experience. Despite the initial craze, smartwatches never really took off as the next big thing, but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers from making smartwatches. Samsung recently launched the Gear S3 smartwatch in India, a follow-up to last year’s Gear S2.
Samsung smartwatches have evolved over the years. I’ve reviewed the Galaxy Gear and the Galaxy Gear 2 before, and I’m pretty excited about the new Gear S3. The smartwatch is offered in two different variants – Classic and Frontier, both priced at Rs 28,500. In the US and other select markets, the Frontier variant also features LTE connectivity, but the same has been absent in India as there is no e-SIM support from telecom operators. Samsung sent us the Gear S3 Classic variant, and after spending a week with the smartwatch, here’s my review.
Samsung Gear S3 Design
The Gear S2 was a major change from Samsung’s previous smartwatches, bringing a new design language, full circle display and a rotating bezel with an intuitive UI. The Gear S3 follows the same design language as the Gear S2 Classic, but this time around it is slightly thicker and heavier too. For someone who is used to wearing bulky watches such as a Casio G-Shock or other sports watches, the Gear S3 would be perfectly fine, but others may find it a bit chunky.
While the Classic variant comes with a steel finish and leather strap, the Frontier variant has a rugged, armour-style design, and comes with a silicon strap. The lugs along the top and bottom make it easier to swap straps, and you can use standard 22mm aftermarket straps as well.
The top casing is made of stainless steel, including the rotating bezel, whereas the bottom half is made of plastic. At the bottom surface you also have the heart rate sensor. On the right edge, you have two circular buttons; the top one is the back button, whereas the bottom one is the menu / power button, and there is also a small opening for microphone. On the left edge, you have three small openings for the speaker – which can play songs stored on your smartwatch, play ringtones and also help you make hands-free calls without taking the phone out of your pocket.
Overall, Samsung has paid attention to the finer details to make the Gear S3 design stand out, right from the laser-marked index around the screen, to the brushed finish on the slanted surface of the rotating bezel and notched design on the bezel edges that adds grip while rotating it. In my book, the Gear S3 scores full marks for its premium look and feel.
Samsung Gear S3 Display
The Gear S3 features a 1.3-inch super AMOLED full circle touchscreen display running at a resolution of 360x360pixels (278ppi) and includes Corning Gorilla SR+ Glass protection. The display is bright, colors look vibrant, text and images are pretty sharp too. One reason why colors look so much better is because the screen is capable of displaying 16 million colors, compared to the eight million on the Gear S2. Samsung has also included the ‘Always-On’ display mode so you don’t have to wake the device to see the time and notifications. This does affect battery life, though.
Samsung Gear S3 Software, UI and Rotating Bezel
The Gear S3 runs on Samsung’s home-brewed Tizen OS for wearables. It’s a well-designed, polished and intuitive operating system. The combination of a 1GHz dual-core processor and 768MB of RAM ensures smooth functioning, and during my usage I didn’t come across a single moment where the device lagged or stuttered. One of the best things about Gear S3 is that it is compatible with all Android smartphones that are running version 4.4 KitKat and above, and have at least 1.5GB of RAM. Samsung has also added compatibility for iOS devices, but this isn’t something I was able to test during my time with the Gear S3.
I had the Gear S3 connected to the HTC U Ultra running Android 7.0 Nougat and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 running Android 6.0 Marshmallow during the review. However, the Gear Manager app that binds the Gear S3 with smartphones did not work on my HTC One M8 running an Android Marshmallow-based custom ROM.
The Gear Manager app gives you access to the Tizen app store from where you can download watch faces, apps and games. The app also lets you customize watch faces, notifications, check information such as battery percentage and amount of RAM consumed by the OS and apps. However, Tizen OS falls short when it comes to the app ecosystem compared to Android Wear and Apple Watch. But I don’t consider this a deal-breaker, as the Gear S3 does what a smartwatch is supposed to do: serve as an external accessory to provide notifications and alerts.
The Gear S3 also comes with 4GB of internal storage, out of which, 2.3GB is system reserved, and you get about 1.7GB to store music, photos and apps locally. To transfer music and photos to the Gear, the app comes in handy; it transfers data from your smartphone to the smartwatch via Bluetooth.
Now coming to the interface, the homescreen displays time, steps taken, date, heart rate, weather and other details depending on the watch face that you have chosen. A simple swipe down from top reveals quick shortcuts for music, flight mode, do-not-disturb mode, volume panel and brightness.
Rotating the bezel anti-clockwise shows you unread notifications from apps and health monitoring, such as your sleep record and number of floors climbed. Rotating clockwise from the homescreen shows you quick widgets for music, weather, reminders, calories burned and number of steps walked. You can also add other widgets such as calendar, world clock, quick contacts, altimeter and barometer, among others.
One of the best things about the intuitive rotating bezel interface is that you can access all the notifications without your fingers blocking the view. However, for input – such as replying to texts and messages on WhatsApp, Hangouts and more, you will have to use the touch input. This is done using the T9-prediction keypad for quick replies, which eliminates the need of taking the phone out of your pocket.
Samsung Gear S3 Fitness
While Samsung has its fitness-focused Gear Fit 2 in its wearable lineup, it has also included health-tracking features on its smartwatches. You will need to install Samsung’s S-Health app to log the records. The Gear S3 includes a pedometer which is fairly accurate in counting the steps you walked, and there is a sleep tracking feature too.
Sleep tracking offers details such as the total time you have been asleep, the actual (deep) sleep, and the amount of time you were restless, motionless and had light sleep. While this data is good, there is one minor issue; lets say you slept for a total of 10 hours and in between you woke up to drink water. At this time the data logging stops, and when you go back to sleep, it starts new log.
So, when you wake up in the morning, instead of showing the entire data of 10 hours, it breaks it down into two parts, which could be a little difficult to understand initially, until you get used to it. In case of Xiaomi’s Mi Band and Pebble Watch to name a few, the data logging is done from the time you sleep to the time you wake up in the morning. In the detailed data where you see the amount of light and deep sleep, you also get to see if you woke up in the middle of your sleep and for how long.
There are other things that the fitness tracking can do too – calculate the amount of calories burned and number of floors climbed. It can also track your exercise – such as running, walking, cycling, hiking, treadmill, squats, crunches and more. The built-in GPS is of great help and it can log the distance your ran, and there’s no need to carry your phone along. When you come back, the data with map details will be automatically synced with the phone. To make your workouts easier, you can copy a few songs onto your Gear S3 and listen to them on a Bluetooth headset during workouts without needing to take your phone along.
Lastly, the Gear S3 also comes with a heart-rate sensor. There is an auto-HR feature too, which measures the heart rate regularly and logs the data. I’ve never been a fan of these monitors as they are not pretty accurate. I’ve tried heart-rate sensor on smartphones such as the Galaxy S5, the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S7, as well as the Gear-series smartwatches, and the reading often used to go a bit off. The same continues here too, the reading fluctuates between 78-95bpm, which is normal, but the fluctuation occurs when you measure multiple readings in a matter of five minutes.
Samsung Gear S3 Battery Life
Let’s face it, be it a smartphone, a Bluetooth headset or a smartwatch, battery life has always been our major concerns. In fact, most smartwatches can barely last over a day before needing to be charged again. Pebble’s smartwatch range is an exception, which lasts for up to seven days, but the compromise is that you get an e-paper display, rather than a full color one.
Samsung, on the other hand, has figured out a way to tackle the battery life issues. The 380mAh battery on the Gear S3, along with good software optimization works in its favor to offer good battery life. During my usage, brightness was set at 30 percent, and connectivity options such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS were always on. The Gear S3’s battery lasted for a little over three-and-a-half-days under these conditions.
There is also a power saving mode that turns the screen to greyscale, turns off all functions except call and message notifications. With the mode on, the battery went from 100 percent to 85 percent in two days, before I finally gave up on having to compromise and turned off the mode. But, in extreme conditions, the ‘power saving’ mode can help you get up to seven days of battery life.
Samsung Pay Support
After demonetization of old currency notes, an increasing number of people are making cashless transactions using credit and debit cards, along with mobile wallets such as Paytm, Freecharge and MobiKwik among others. Samsung Pay is a cashless payment solution that uses the Near Field Communications (NFC) chip to make contactless payments. The solution also supports MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) which means that it will work with any PoS terminal that accepts contactless payment. It sends magnetic signals from the Gear S3 onto the PoS terminal, meaning it can also work like the traditional method where you swipe your credit or debit card through the reader.
Samsung Pay has just gone live in India for early testers and the formal launch is expected in the coming weeks. While the payment solution has been exclusive to flagship smartphones (Galaxy S-Series), reports suggest that it will also be available for affordable and mid-range Samsung smartphones. What’s more, Samsung Pay also includes support for Paytm, and with a lot of people already acquainted with it, they are likely to be a home using Samsung Pay.
Google and Apple have their own payment solutions in the US and other select markets, but the feature is yet to launch in India. That said, Samsung Pay will be the first NFC-based contactless solution to make its way to India, and having it on Gear S3 is good addition.
Overall, the Gear S3 is a step in the right direction. Most problems that smartwatch users had over the years, be it with the display, battery life or lack of features, have been addressed by Samsung. Essentially, the Gear S3 brings a premium and classy design, the distinct and intuitive rotating bezel and an operating system that works without any hiccups. The Gear S3 also offers up to four days of battery life on single charge, and includes an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance.
However, there are some cons too. For one, despite Samsung claiming that the Tizen OS-based smartwatch is compatible with Android version 4.4 KitKat and above, we had issues running the Gear Manager app on some devices. Secondly, the app ecosystem isn’t quite as well developed as Google’s Android Wear and Apple’s WatchOS. However, the basic task of a smartwatch is to serve as an accessory to display notifications, and the Samsung Gear S3 does this brilliantly.
The asking price of Rs 28,500 is a little high when compared to Android Wear counterparts such as the Huawei Watch, Moto 360 (2nd gen) and Asus ZenWatch 3, all of which are priced between Rs 17,000 to Rs 23,000. However, the premium styling, rotating bezel and battery life offered by the Gear S3 make it stand out among the competition. I still consider smartwatches to be a necessity, and spending Rs 1,500 more than the asking price for a Gear S3 could buy you a OnePlus 3T smartphone. However, if you have money to spend on a luxury gadget and smartwatches catch your eye, the Gear S3 is a great option to consider.