The Samsung Gear S3 retains the rotating ingenious bezel of the Gear 2.
Whether you go for the smooth lines of the "Classic" model or the more rugged "Frontier" styling, the housing measures 46 x 49mm and it’s a protuberant 12.9mm thick.
The size increase is partly because Samsung has added standard 22mm strap fittings, so you can now attach any standard band. It’s also beefed up the battery to a 380mAh unit, from the 300mAh cell used in the old Gear S2.
What an improvement! We had nearly four days of regular operation between charges – with the screen in auto-timeout mode and GPS disabled – and then a further 24 hours of use in power saving mode before the battery finally gave up. For an OLED smartwatch like this, five days of continuous use is unheard of.
Samsung Gear S3 review: Design
As mentioned above, the Gear S3 comes in two flavours, dubbed "Classic" and "Frontier". They’re both fundamentally the same design, but the Classic goes for a clean look, while the Frontier aims more for the feel of a sports watch. I tried the Frontier, and I have to say it looks the part. It’s wrought in dark gunmetal grey, with a thick but comfortable rubber strap (both large and small options are included in the box). The buttons are knurled for easy grip, and the bezel turns with a light clicking action, just like on a diving watch.
And this is no cosmetic feature. The bezel is key to the Gear S3’s user interface: spin it and the Gear S3 cycles through its various notifications and widget screens. Once you’re into a menu or app, you can use it to scroll through options and features. There’s a touchscreen too, but we found ourselves only when absolutely necessary – the bezel is much more intuitive, offering tactile navigation while keeping the screen visible.
On that note, I should mention what a great screen it is. The AMOLED display has a resolution of 360 x 360, yielding a sharp 278ppi. It’s bright, too: I had no problem reading it outdoors at the default brightness setting (though you can turn it up if you wish), and the screen automatically dims in darker environments, so it won’t blind you in bed or annoy your fellow theatregoers. The exterior is coated with Corning Gorilla Glass SR+, a material designed to be scratch- and shatter-resistant, so you don’t need to worry too much about inadvertently smashing the Gear S3 against a doorframe.
Samsung Gear S3 review: Features
If you were paying attention above, you’ll have noticed that the Gear S3 features a built-in GPS receiver, something its predecessor lacked. That means that, like the Apple Watch Series 2, it can track your location even if you don’t have your phone with you – handy for runners who like to travel light.
We found this worked pretty well. From turning the feature on, it took around a minute and a half to get a fix on our position, and as we circuited our local park it did a good job of tracking our path, accurately showing little detours and coming up with a very believable estimate of distance covered. It struggled more in built-up areas, though, where GPS satellites are a bit harder to keep in view. As we walked around central London, the Gear S3 seemed to think we were in the habit of taking shortcuts through the corners of buildings.
Another new addition is a built-in loudspeaker. In partnership with the microphone that’s been kept from the Gear S2, this means you can now make and answer phone calls from your wrist. This isn’t something you’ll probably want to do much while you’re out and about, unless you want to pretend to be a spy. But at home it can be genuinely useful, saving you the bother of rummaging for your phone when an incoming call starts to ring. Since the Gear S3 is able to connect to your phone over Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth, you don’t even need to be particularly near to your handset to take a call on your wrist.
The speaker also lets the watch give you audio notifications, and even encouragement when you’re exercising: it can dispense timely information as you run, and urge you on when you start to slow down. It’s not very loud though, and we found it hard to make out what it was saying over the sound of our own movements and breathing; you’re probably better off with a pair of Bluetooth headphones.
Alongside these new capabilities, all the Gear S2’s key features have been kept. The optical heart-rate monitor keeps tabs on your resting heart rate throughout the day and delivers continuous tracking during exercise sessions. The altimeter/barometer lets you track your altitude and atmospheric pressure, should such things be of interest to you. There’s NFC, 4GB of local storage for music – again, great for those who like to go running without their phone – and wireless charging via the WPC standard.
This is all good stuff, and it’s powered by a dual-core 1GHz Samsung Exynos 7270 chip with 768MB of RAM which keeps everything ticking along as smoothly as you could ask for. It might stutter a little with demanding games, but when it comes to navigating the interface, checking notifications and using the watch’s fitness features it’s impeccably responsive.