Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

TAG Heuer’s Carrera Connected came with a cool always-on display that I heralded as being a welcome addition to the brand’s first smartwatch. However, the Connected has a less-bright and monochromatic display which isn’t as vivid and lively as that on the Samsung Gear S3. In principle, the always-on states are similar, but the Samsung Gear S3 upped the ante on this feature, and I think even traditional smartwatch naysayers will appreciate how cool it is. What’s really impactful is seeing someone else wearing a Samsung Gear S3 across the room in a brightly lit area and being able to clearly see their watch face – that’s how you know Samsung got it right, and I think this is going to be a must-have feature for serious smartwatches moving forward.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

Chips & Sensors

Samsung hasn’t quite yet managed to produce a great functioning smartwatch that is 100% independent from its host phone, but it isn’t too far from it. Oh, and I wanted to mention that you can easily pair as many Gear watches to an Android phone as you like. Apple restricts you to just one, which I can understand is limiting to some people. Samsung has, however, taken a huge leap forward in terms of “phone freedom” with the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier: it contains a built-in e-Sim card which allows you to connect to LTE (in participating countries – which is the US and Korea) without having to have a separate phone number or plan.


Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

The Samsung Gear S3 also connects via WiFi, Bluetooth, has an accelerometer, a barometric pressure sensor, GPS, proximity sensor for your hand, ambient light sensor, and heart rate monitor, along with NFC and MST (more on these below). Samsung allows you to do a ton of stuff with the Samsung Gear S3 without the phone, including data connection and things like predicting the weather, or even sending an emergency signal (via SMS) to a preset contact of yours, including your GPS location – just press the lower pusher three times in a row. The GPS combined with other sensors allows the Samsung Gear S3 to also act a speedometer and an altimeter. Now, many of these things aren’t per se new, but they are uncommon in a smart watch that is so suitable to stylish daily wear.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

Once we get a chance to review the Samsung Gear S3 we can dive a lot deeper into how all of these sensors and chips inside of the device translate into interesting functionality that we want to use. I will, however, also mention Samsung Pay which, for the first time in a smartwatch, includes both NFC and MST technology. That basically means you can scan in your credit card data and pay not only at special NFC payment terminals, but also any terminals that have magnetic strip readers (which is super cool) – but only in participating countries which currently is just the United States and Korea.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

While not wholly independent from a phone (you need to adjust some settings on the watch in your phone, etc.), the Samsung Gear S3 is designed to not require your phone for a lot of things. As I mentioned, while it depends on availability where you live, you can easily get calls on the Samsung Gear S3 when it isn’t connected to your phone and do other things like stream music. While a full review is necessary for me to say more, I do really love the promise Samsung is offering here with a smartwatch product that should be paired with your phone, but actually doesn’t need it do a great many features. This is yet another barrier many people see to wanting a smartwatch that Samsung is helping to topple. Last but not least, for when you go for a run and want to listen to music, but not bring your phone, you can just take the Samsung Gear S3 along with Samsung’s new wireless earbuds and you’ll be all set.


Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

The Software Experience

This hands-on debut of the Samsung Gear S3 watch isn’t going to get very deep into the Tizen operating system or the many apps available for download. Tizen (pronounced “tie-zen”) is Samsung’s home-brewed operating system which includes a range of products including smartwatches. It exists as a layer over Linux, which is the base operating system which speaks to the hardware. For those looking for specific tech specs, we’ll say that inside both the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier’s and Classic’s case is a Dual Core 1.0GHz processor, with 4GB of internal storage for apps and media, supported by 768MB RAM. What this means for users is a snappy user experience and large set of features, but also some potential limitations.

While the Samsung Gear S3 is designed to work on Samsung and other Google Android-based smartphones, it doesn’t run Android Wear. That means that Samsung has their own place to download for free or purchase apps for the Gear collection of watches. While functionality with the Apple iPhone does not currently exist, there is a planned official Samsung software that will come out soon which will allow for the Samsung Gear S3 to work with iPhones.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

As Tizen is a distinct operating system, software developers will have to code applications specifically to run on Samsung’s devices. This can make life complicated for developers who must carefully dedicate their resources to not only writing programs in various device languages (iOS, Android Wear, Tizen), but must also update all of this software. It really comes down to profit motive and if enough good apps on high-quality devices can earn developers money. Samsung is doing a lot to court the interest of software developers to produce apps for Tizen – part of which is trying to put more Tizen-based products on people’s wrist. It is also about being able to monetize apps, and I think especially when it comes to fitness applications as well a watch dials, Samsung can help talented developers earn good incomes.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

Unlike Apple, which currently does not allow people to download additional or third-party Apple Watch faces, Samsung (and others like Google) not only allow but encourage this behavior. Samsung still has produced a number of impressively high-quality dials to go with the Samsung Gear S3 that themselves have customization options. Apple still might be the leader in how it handles the customization of watch dials, but the system works well on Tizen, and Samsung offers a healthy assortment of options with the ability to download tons more.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

If developers can make money by selling high-quality watch dials and other smartwatch applications to people, then I think they will find the Samsung Gear S3 a very compelling platform, especially with the multitude of sensors inside the watch and other pieces of data it can natively acquire outside of having to rely on its host smartphone device.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

The Super AMOLED screen at its brightest setting

Samsung has room to improve when it comes to understanding some elements of watch dial design. For example, one thing they still seem to be shy about it putting their own brand name on the watch dials they made. Think of how nice most of your favorite watches look, and I can probably promise you that most of them have brand names on the dial. It is important not only from a “brand awareness” standpoint but also one of confidence.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

What I am saying is that I want to see Samsung put their name (or any name they like for that matter) on their watch faces. This not only will help the good dials look even better and more balanced, but also help consumers understand the growing role brands like Samsung have in the smartwatch universe. If Samsung ever wants to fulfill their dream of really “owning” the smartwatch world, then a good start would be to begin properly branding their otherwise mostly super attractive dials (which take on a cool and customizable personality as well).

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On

Comparing the Samsung Gear S3 to the Apple Watch is natural because the brands are competitors (at least when it comes to many products). With that said, the Apple Watch and the Gear S3 are not really competitors all the time. First of all, each of them is optimized to work in a distinct operating system; and second of all, you can’t even use them in the same parts of the world with the same experience. The Apple Watch is a truly a fantastic product but it has limitations. The Samsung Gear S3 isn’t as polished around the edges, but it is beautiful to look at, highly functional, and a very much like a “real watch” with the always-on display.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier & Classic Smartwatches Hands-On Debut Hands-On
Summary

Samsung wants people during Q4 of 2016 to think “Gear S3 + Note 7 phone,” and that makes sense. The brand’s mega popular Note phone collection does of course make a good companion for the watch, but the latter isn’t due to be available quite as early as the phone which is due September 2016. Samsung will, however, more than likely make the Samsung Gear S3 Classic and Frontier watches available prior to the 2016 holiday season, and with a price in the vicinity of $400, it is difficult to go wrong with this really cool and impressively vibrant smartwatch experience. Consider traditionalists who still shun smartwatches to have their contempt for progress just that much more eroded after the release of a product like this. We hope to follow up soon with a full in-depth review of the Samsung Gear S3, and thanks again to the people at Samsung for asking myself and aBlogtoWatch to help introduce this product and its story to the world. samsung.com

UPDATE: Samsung has announced that the Gear S3 watch will be available for pre-order (from a variety of retailers) on November 6th, 2016. Price in the United States will “start” at $349.99.



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