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Here’s our experience of using the Gear S3 with an iPhone

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Last updated: January 12th, 2017 at 10:50 UTC+02:00

Months after promising iOS compatibility for its latest smartwatches, Samsung has finally released the Gear S app for iPhones. You can now use your brand new Gear S3 or Gear S2 with your iPhone (find instructions on pairing the watch and iPhone here), but how well do they work with an iOS device? Is it worth the trouble? We gave it a shot (using the Gear S3 with an iPhone 7 Plus), and here is what we think.

After you pair your Gear S3 (or Gear S2) with your iPhone, you need to allow the Gear S app permissions to access the calendar, contacts, location, and photos. Samsung also asks a user to agree to the usual fare of terms and conditions. You also need to log in to your Samsung account to download watch faces, apps, and to access S Health data.

Since the Gear S3 features a built-in loudspeaker and microphone, it can be used to make and receive calls. It can act as a Bluetooth speakerphone when paired with a smartphone. However, you need to connect to a different entry of the Gear S3 (non-LE entry) from the Bluetooth settings menu of the iPhone.

Once you’re done setting up the watch, how does it all work? Here’s what we discovered:

  1. Connection stability: We don’t know whether it’s an iOS-related issue or an issue in the Gear S app itself, but the smartwatch keeps on disconnecting from the iPhone frequently. You have to open the app to reconnect the smartwatch. Sometimes it disconnected even while installing and updating apps as well as watch faces. There’s a huge connection issue right now, and it needs to be resolved.
  2. Notifications: Smartphone notifications are mirrored to the Gear S3 well, but they aren’t actionable, thanks to a limitation within iOS. This won’t change until Apple releases an API to third-party developers for actionable notifications.
  3. Galaxy Apps store: So, how does one install apps and watch faces on the Gear S3 when it is paired with an iPhone? There are two ways. Either use the web-based Galaxy Apps store within the Gear S app (it uses a web container), or use the watch directly. We first tried to install some apps and watch faces that were suggested on the watch itself, but the apps and watch faces didn’t load at all. Another major hurdle we faced is the language of the web-based Galaxy Apps store. Samsung seems to prioritize local language, and the entire app store was being showcased in Hindi. There’s no option to change the language, and we can’t fathom why Samsung would make such a move.
  4. Watch Faces: It’s just like downloading any other app on the watch.
  5. Gallery: The ‘Send Images’ feature is quite easy to use and works really well. You can select the photos that you need to transfer from the iPhone to your Gear device, and they’ll be transferred swiftly.
  6. Music Player: The feature is quite complicated. Ideally, you need to fire up your web browser and upload music tracks to the web using the IP address that’s displayed on the watch. The smartwatch and the phone need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network. Quite the hurdle, and a system that’s unlikely to change given the nature of iOS.
  7. S Health: Since the watch doesn’t need to be connected to the iPhone all the time for transferring fitness related data, it works effortlessly. Basically, it’s just like using a Fitbit or Misfit fitness tracker with an iPhone.
  8. Find My Gear: You can find your watch using the Gear S app. This worked as expected. No issues here.

The above was our experience of using the Gear S3 with an iOS device. The biggest problem is connection stability, which means notifications don’t always pass through to the watch. The notifications aren’t actionable, either, so you can’t reply to messages or emails. The next problem is the experience of installing an app or a watch face from the Galaxy Apps store.

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Overall, we think that a Gear smartwatch should be used with an Android smartphone (or better, Samsung smartphones) for the best possible experience. Accessing notifications is one of the most important aspects of a smartwatch, and if you’re not able to get the best experience in that regard, it’s not really worth it. Samsung will hopefully fix/improve other issues, but should you choose to buy a Gear smartwatch for use with your iPhone at this point in time, expect it to be a bumpy ride.

Are you using either of Samsung’s Gear smartwatches with an iPhone? If yes, how has your experience been? Let us know in the comments!

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