A year after the launch of the Samsung Gear S2, we were expecting a Samsung Gear S3 to show up, and it did appear like clockwork. The thing is, the Samsung Gear S3 is not going to replace its predecessor, but to supplement it. Both products will continue to exist on the market, and you’re going to understand why.
The Gear S3 is a larger watch that comes in two main variants: the Gear S3 Classic and the Gear S3 Frontier. The Gear S3 Classic is meant to be a fully-featured watch that has all the main functionalities that the overwhelming majority of people use, including Bluetooth connectivity. The Gear S3 Frontier can go further with an LTE version, and that, along with some aesthetic differences, is the main difference between the two models.
Samsung has pushed the industrial design of the Gear S3 to new heights (from the S2), and the result looks great. The materials look better, more “premium”, and small details such as how the steel is brushed or polished is more obvious than one may initially think. Samsung is using standard 22mm watch straps, in case you want to shop with 3rd parties, but will provide a good selection as well.
The display is noticeably bigger since it went from 1.2-inch to 1.3-inch since the Gear S2. It doesn’t seem like much, but the difference is in surface area is big enough that you would spot it immediately. The new display is capable of reproducing 16M colors, which opens the doors to new, more beautiful, watch faces.
The Gear S3 is water and dust resistant and is rated IP68* (learn more about IP ratings). The IP68 rating means that you can easily go to the swimming pool, shower or do most sports activities with it. In fact, Samsung says that the design has a “military-level” durability so that users wouldn’t have to worry about it. For example, it can resist wide variations of temperatures going from near-freezing to very hot, desert-like conditions.
*IP68: Dust-tight, no dust can penetrate. Strong water jets (~12.5mm nozzle) won’t harm the device. 3mn test, 100L/mn at 100 kPa, 3 meters away.
To that end, the watch has a Gorilla Glass which is highly resistant to scratches. Since the display is very small and protected all around by a metal ring, it is less likely to break during a drop, although it is not impossible, if it was to land directly on the glass.
The Samsung Gear S3 has a wireless charging cradle which is a little larger than the S2’s but remains compatible, so if you have an existing charger or want to use your S2 watch on the new charger, it should work.
The industrial design also has an impact on the interface. The Gear S3 mechanical wheel can often be used to replace the left/right swipes, it can be used with gloves and can bypass the need for the touch interface. It’s a small detail, unless you ride a bike, are on a ski trip or simply wear gloves because it’s cold.
The Gear S3 can run Samsung Pay, which makes it even more convenient than your phone since you don’t have to take it out of your pocket/bag. Although the watch doesn’t require the phone to be connected for up to 10 transactions, you will need to initialize the payment token with a connection and refresh it from time to time. The ten transactions are a good tradeoff between security and usability.
Samsung Pay on the Gear S3 can use NFC or Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST), a Samsung technology which emulates a credit card swipe. MST ensures that Samsung Pay works at an estimated 90% of the available point of sales (POS) because the POS thinks that it is an actual plastic credit card. NFC POS are not yet as common as the industry would like it to be.
The Watch faces have evolved in features a bit. Now, even in screen saving mode, watch faces can be animated. Some also look pretty fancy, even in saving move. I like this because, at a glance, they look more like classic watches that way.
Samsung has also added the ability to reply to a message with a quick hand-drawing. This is something that we’ve seen on the Apple Watch before. We’ll have to try it and get a sense for how useful it is. Honestly, this is not something that I’ve been using on the Apple Watch.
Interestingly, Samsung has made the messages auto-reply smarter. For example, when it understands the context of a question such as “Hey, were are you”? the watch can propose a pre-baked message with a location obtained from your current coordinates “I’m at/near <location>.” You just need to hit “send”.
The Gear S3 LTE is capable of functioning without having a phone around. You can emit and receive HD audio calls (BT or Speaker). There’s also an SOS mode for this model, and it works this way: with a triple tap, you can send a preset notification message (“I’m in trouble!”) with your GPS coordinates to a preset number of contacts.
Calls aside, the Gear S3 (all models) has an array of sensors that include Altimeter, Barometer (offline bad weather alert), GPS. This will allow you to enjoy some activities, record your performance – and sync with a phone, or to the cloud later.
The Gear S3 runs on a hardware platform that is similar to the S2. It has the same processor and runs on Tizen (2.3.1), Samsung’s operating system based on Linux. The one internal piece of hardware that got upgraded is the battery, whose capacity went from 250 mAh to 380 mAh.
That is a 52% increase in one generation. Of course, some of this extra capacity is going towards a larger, more sophisticated screen but Samsung estimate that users will get about one extra day when compared to the Gear S2. That’s about 3-4 days of battery life, which is very good for a smartwatch like this.
The Gear S3 has 4GB of internal storage that can be used to load music for streaming directly to Bluetooth headphones. The same storage also serves as a transit place for all the fitness data, which generally end up in the cloud.
More app partners
For the launch of the Gear S3, Samsung has worked with more app partners to provide new apps or updated apps that will push the envelope a bit further. The ADT Home Security app has a triple-tap on the watch function that can send a help to request to ADT with all the information you provided during setup (medical, personal description, age, etc…) and put you in contact with an ADT operator.
The Nest app for Gear S3 will let you control the heating system from your watch. The Uber app lets you call a car quickly, while the BMW app lets you remotely start your car, check the temperature, etc. (in some places, people do that without the cars being stolen. Amazing.)
Gear S2 Comparison
The Samsung Gear S3 seems like an excellent smartwatch that pushes the boundaries of industrial design and usability. The presence of a wheel and two buttons make the user experience fast, efficient, and pragmatic. We already considered the Gear S2 as one of the best smartwatches on the market, and the Gear S3 is set to surpass it.
That said, Gear S2 users should not feel too bad since Samsung will probably do its best to port the software improvements of the S3 back to the S2, as long as no new hardware is required.
At this point, Samsung has not announced the pricing of the Gear S3. We expect that when it does, the whole Gear S lineup will re-align with the new Gear S3 reality, which means a slight dip in price for the S2 model.