The Samsung Gear family of smart wearables is starting to get a little crowded – the Gear S2 brought a rotating clicky bezel and the Gear Fit 2 recently filled the fitness segment. Now we have an updated Gear S smartwatch that is basically bigger than the S2 in a lot of different ways. So how does it compare? While we won’t be able to fully answer this question until we have more time with in, let’s jump in and take a first look at the Samsung Gear S3.
Now, one of the first aspects of the Gear S3 that needs to be mentioned is that it is not replacing the Gear S2. Rather, it is sitting alongside last year’s model because it fills a different portion of the Gear spectrum. While the Gear S2 had a sportier original version and a Classic edition with more fashion-forward looks, both Gear S3 watches derive from the Classic and take it too the next level.
The Gear S3 comes in a Classic edition, as well, which is the baseline model without LTE connectivity, but there is also a Frontier edition that is more rugged and is geared toward the more hardcore outdoorsy type. Think of a high-end Tag Heuer analog watch with all of the ruggedization and you get the idea. The result in both devices is a large body that might not appeal to all users, as it looks a bit bulky on even my own wrist. This is mostly due to the 1.3 inch Super AMOLED display and the large rotating bezel that looks much like the Gear S2 classic.
With the Gear S3, the Always on Display has been enhanced to support 16 million colors so there will be plenty of room to customize the screen when the watch is not in use via the Gear Manager on the smartphone.
The entire body of the Gear S3 is IP68 certified for water and dust resistance, but extra military-grade protection gives it a boost in ruggedization. Our demo with the Gear S3 Frontier, in particular, saw the phone placed under extreme cold and extreme heat, still performing as normal even under such conditions. As for the screen, Gorilla Glass SR+ (SR means ‘scratch resistant’) will hopefully keep the touchscreen from scratching.
The more rugged Frontier version of the Gear S3 has a matted body with flatter buttons on the side, compared to the circular buttons that pop out the side of the Gear S3 Classic. Just feeling the Frontier edition does bring to mind thoughts of hiking, camping, and generally just being outside.
The tactile feel of the rotating bezel is still pleasing to click around. The bezel has also been given a few new capabilities, like rotating it in one direction or the other in order to accept or reject calls and certain other notifications. The dial is still is utilized for a lot of other functions, like changing music volume or dialing in the amount of time for alarms and timers.
Above and below are larger lugs for watch straps that take any standard 22mm strap, plenty of which will be made available from Samsung to customize the look of the watch. And of course there is the heart rate sensor found on the under portion of the watch’s body.
As mentioned earlier, the Classic edition does not come with LTE connectivity, giving the Frontier version a special advantage with this added sensor, on top of all the existing connections like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. On both models, plenty of sensors are available for typical usage, like an altimeter and barometer.
LTE makes the Gear S3 a standalone device in a lot of respects, where notifications can come straight to the watch and users can actually take calls using a built-in speaker and microphone. Yes, you can take calls right on the watch and hear the caller through the speaker that is nestled on the back portion of the phone. For a bit more privacy, using a Bluetooth headset connected straight to the Gear S3 will also allow for calls.
Speaking of Bluetooth headsets, audio is a bit of a bigger focus in this new version, which can hold local music files and play straight to any paired set of headphones. This is much like the functionality we already experienced on the Gear Fit 2, which also brought streaming capabilities with Spotify. The same streaming ability is on the Gear S3, which is especially useful on the LTE-enabled Frontier.
All of this bolsters the existing ecosystem of Samsung’s Tizen OS on the Gear smartwatches. Much of what was already introduced in the Gear S2 and the Gear Fit 2 return here, including all of the fitness capabilities. That said, the watch might be a bit too big for many people to bring to the gym or even out on a run, but those who do so will enjoy the same S Health capabilities.
The biggest addition to the Gear S3, then, is Samsung Pay. After it is set up directly on the watch, the NFC and MST (magstripe reading) tech put into the watch can be used at a majority of pay stations across major stores. To activate it, just hold the back button until Samsung Pay launches. Select which card to use and bring the watch close to the card slider or the NFC portion, if available. Being able to pay for items using the watch is pretty cool, and Samsung Pay’s wide support should make the Gear S3 appealing to people who actually want to use such a feature.
Overall, the Gear S3 is a good addition to the Gear line of smart wearables and it is nice to see that Samsung doesn’t want to just strike the Gear S2 from the record. Instead, Samsung knows that the Gear S3 appeals to a specific segment of users. Even if LTE capabilities, Samsung Pay, and the move away from proprietary watch straps on the Gear S2 might put the new devices a few steps ahead of the curve, at least those who haven’t made the leap to smartwatches can still go to last year’s Gear S2 for a more accessible size and look. As well as a more affordable price, thanks to recent price drops.
Stay tuned to Android Authority for more on the Gear S3 and even more from Berlin as we cover IFA 2016.