Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review: Outclassing most smartwatches in the market
Samsung completely rethought its smartwatch strategy last year starting with the Gear S2. Unlike the company’s earlier watches, the Gear S2 looked more like mechanical timepieces rather than a screen slapped onto a wrist. The Gear S2 looked beautiful, and it came with a completely new interaction tool – a rotatable bezel – which impressed even Samsung’s toughest critics. This year, Samsung is upping its game with the Gear S3.
While Apple focused on improving existing features with its second-generation smartwatch, Samsung chose to go all guns blazing with features. The company understands its smartwatches not only compete with other smartwatches but also with fitness trackers from the likes of Fitbit, so it added GPS for improved fitness and activity tracking. Other new features include a loudspeaker (in all variants), Full Color Always On Display mode, compatibility with a wider range of smartphones, and a larger battery.
We have already reviewed the Gear S3 classic, which we found to be a very classy smartwatch. What does the Gear S3 Frontier fare? Let’s dive into the review to find out.
Design and Build Quality
One thing you’ll immediately notice is that the Gear S3 Frontier is a big watch. Not only is the screen larger, but even the case is thicker than that of the Gear S2. The Gear S3 Frontier is designed for sports and fitness enthusiasts, so it has a considerably more rugged look than the classic variant. Its 46mm case is made of 316L stainless steel and the band is made of silicon. It’s IP68-certified for dust and water resistance. Since the watch is compatible with standard 22mm bands, there’s scope for endless customization options.
The build quality has improved a lot over last year’s Gear S2. The signature rotating bezel now comes with added grooves, which makes for easier rotation. There are two buttons (Back and Home) on the right side, both of which are very easy to locate and press. The supplied band is quite rugged and chunky, but it sometimes rubs with the skin to cause rashes. There’s a heart rate monitor on its glass back, while the loudspeaker is on the left side of the casing. It is MIL-STD 810G certified as well, so there’s added protection from cold, heat, and shock.
Overall, the Gear S3 Frontier looks quite nice and blends well with various types of clothing. However, the watch can be too big for some users, and people with smaller wrists would definitely miss the compact design of the Gear S2. It’s surprising that Samsung didn’t consider releasing a smaller sized variant of its latest smartwatch, and the Gear S3 classic is the one to get if you must have the latest iteration of Samsung’s smartwatch in a more compact form factor.
The 1.3-inch circular Super AMOLED display on the Gear S3 Frontier is slightly bigger than the Gear S2’s, and this time it is hidden beneath a stronger Gorilla Glass SR+ protection panel. It has a resolution of 360 x 360 pixels. Thanks to a pixel density of 278 ppi, it looks quite sharp from a standard viewing distance. It is not only colorful, but quite bright, too. At 1000 nits, the screen is far brighter than the screen on its predecessor (the Gear S2 had a screen with up to 600 nits brightness). There’s an ambient light sensor, too, so the screen on the Gear S3 Frontier adjusts the brightness automatically to more clearly display content depending on the surrounding light.
Another useful addition to the Gear S3’s excellent screen is its Full Color Always On Display (AOD) mode. This feature allows the smartwatch to showcase a full watch face at all times. What’s more, it can even display a rotating seconds hand at all times, à la a real watch. This brings the Gear S3 even closer to a mechanical watch in resemblance. Samsung has designed a good amount of attractive watch faces which make use of the new Full Color AOD mode on the Gear S3. Samsung recently released a newer version of its Gear Watch Designer software so that developers can make more complex AOD watch faces to go with the beautiful display.
There’s a special mode that you can activate to make the screen more sensitive to touches so that you can use the Gear S3 while wearing gloves.
The Gear S3 is equipped with a 1GHZ Exynos 7270 processor, 768MB RAM, and 4GB of internal storage. As opposed to last year’s Exynos 3250 processor, the new Exynos 7270 is based on 14nm FinFET architecture, so it is relatively smaller in size and more power efficient. The watch performs every task swiftly, and you will never notice a hint of lag. Notifications are mirrored fast, animations are smooth, and apps launch fast.
The loudspeaker isn’t loud enough, and the sound crackles at its highest setting. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections were generally stable. However, there was one instance when the Gear S3 wasn’t able to connect to the paired smartphone, so I had to disable the Bluetooth connection and then enable it again, which solved the problem. I was able to store music tracks on the watch’s 4GB internal storage and listen to them on Bluetooth earphones connected to the Gear S3, and it was a really useful feature as I could leave my smartphone in my bag when needed.
Software and User Interface
The Gear Manager app can be used to arrange apps, disable or enable app-level notification mirroring, and set and edit watch faces. The app now shows battery life as well as RAM and storage used. It even shows estimated battery life based on remaining battery charge. You can also add pictures and music tracks from your smartphone to your Gear S3 to consume them on the watch at a later time. It can also be used to find the smartwatch should you forget where you left it, send SOS requests, and install latest software updates.
You can interact with notifications and reply to mails or messages using a T9 keyboard, preset responses, emojis, or a voice dictation system. The reply mechanism on the Gear S3 is compatible with most of the widely used apps such as Facebook Messenger, Gmail, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and even Slack. I frankly didn’t miss Android Wear. Samsung is also working with watch face designers such as WatchMaster and Facer to bring popular watch faces from Android Wear.
S Voice, Samsung’s voice recognition and smart digital assistant, still can’t match Apple’s and Google’s offerings. The company needs to do a lot more work if it wants to defeat or match its rivals in this aspect. Maybe Samsung’s latest acquisition of Viv will help it it achieve the feat. It is rumored that Samsung will bring a voice/digital assistant called Bixby to its upcoming devices, and we hope it will make its way to the company’s smartwatches as well. Also, while the catalog of apps is growing slowly, at this pace it won’t ever reach the breadth and depth of apps available for the Apple Watch.
The rotating bezel is still the best interaction tool on any smartwatch. It’s a unique feature that differentiates Samsung’s smartwatches from its rivals’ offerings. The combination of a touchscreen, a rotating bezel, two physical buttons, and a user interface that’s arranged around the circular display makes the Gear S3’s user interface the most intuitive on the market.
Fitness and Activity Tracking
Moving onto fitness and activity tracking aspects of the Gear S3, Samsung has equipped it with GPS, something that was missing on the Gear S2. This makes the watch more accurate for tracking activity. Other sensors such as accelerometer and gyro are present as well. GPS took quite some time to lock my position, so it’s best to wait a few minutes before starting outdoor activities like running, jogging, walking, or cycling. Activity tracking is quite accurate most of the time. It was able to accurately detect that I was using an elliptical machine at the gym and had then run on the treadmill for a bit, complete with an accurate duration count.
Since there’s a loudspeaker on the watch, you can hear a virtual assistant read out vital information such as calories burnt and elapsed time during workouts. Heart rate monitoring was as accurate as it can get on optical heart rate monitors, which aren’t as accurate as some chest strap monitors, especially when there’s a lot of movement. Sleep tracking on the smartwatch missed its mark sometimes, and there was no option to edit sleep timings as it would deem them “out of range”. But at other times, the Gear S3 was able to accurately track my mid-afternoon naps. Overall, sleep tracking was more of a hit and miss affair.
Even though it’s IP68-certified for water and dust resistance, we wouldn’t recommend you to go swim with the Gear S3 since it is not as resistant to water as the Apple Watch Series 2 (which can sustain up to 50 meters deep under water). However, dunking your watch in standing water, washing your hands with your Gear S3 on your wrist, or using it out in light rain should do no harm to the watch.
The main reason behind the increase in the physical size of the Gear S3 is the large battery inside. Samsung managed to fit a 400mAh battery inside the smartwatch, and the company claims that it can last up to four days after a single charge. Samsung has thrown in wireless charging and a magnetic charging dock that attaches to a plastic base plate, making the whole setup look great while it charges the watch.
In my experience with the watch over ten days, the watch lasted me 2 days with the Always On Display mode active. If you’re someone who gets a lot of notifications, expect the watch to last a day and a half on a single charge. If you disable the Always On Display mode, you can achieve more than three days with a single charge. Four days might not be possible, however, unless you keep the watch on power saving mode at all times. We did see battery life of four days on the Gear S3 classic, but that might have been more of a fluke than something permanent.
Overall, all is well except that it takes 2.5 hours to charge the device, that too if the smartwatch is turned off while charging. In comparison, the Gear S2 takes around two hours to charge its 300mAh battery, which means that Samsung hasn’t implemented any kind of rapid charging. There’s a power saving mode that can be activated to keep the watch running till you get home or work, especially when the battery is about to die.
So, did the Gear S3 managed to impress us? Well, mostly. Apart from a few downsides, such as being too big for some wrists and a quiet loudspeaker, the watch managed to tick most important check boxes. It looks great and it can be customized using beautiful third-party watch faces and standard 22 mm watch bands. It has a bright and colorful screen. The Full Color AOD feature makes it look as close to a mechanical watch as it can get.
Samsung’s combination of Tizen and the iconic rotatable bezel makes the Gear S3 the best smartwatch when it comes to the software experience. It even has GPS for accurate activity tracking, a loudspeaker for taking calls, and excellent battery life. Well, the app catalog isn’t as big as that for Apple’s watchOS or Android Wear, but it’s improving slowly and steadily. All things considered, the Gear S3 gets a hearty recommendation, and the Gear S3 Frontier is the variant you should choose if you prefer a sporty and rugged look for your smartwatch.
|Excellent design||Size could be too big for some wrists|
|Immense customizability options||Sleep tracking is a hit or miss affair|
|Big, bright, and colourful screen||Loudspeaker is not clear|
|Great watch faces||S Voice can’t match Siri or Google’s voice recognition|
|Full Colour Always On Display is excellent||App support still can’t match Android Wear or Apple Watch|
|Rotating bezel is still the best interaction tool for smartwatches|
|GPS and loudspeaker are added advantages|
|Excellent battery life|