Samsung Gear S3 Smartwatch: Australian Hands-On

Image: Gizmodo

Samsung's Gear S3 is a small evolution from the Gear S2 announced exactly one year ago. The software is very similar, and the processing hardware hidden away inside the watch's casing is nearly identical as well. But small evolutions can still be significant, and the Gear S3 is the first Samsung smartwatch that I'd consider wearing for more than a couple of weeks at a time.

Samsung's New Gear S3 Could Be The Toughest Smartwatch Yet

Design: More An Actual Watch Than A Smartwatch

Images: Gizmodo

The reason for that is that, by putting some thought into building a timepiece that looks more like a watch than it does a smartwatch, Samsung has made the Gear S3 look normal. It's the same X-factor that makes the Tag Heuer Connected outshine most of its Android Wear brethren -- the Gear S3, in both its slightly understated and conservative Classic and more rugged Frontier variants, looks like a watch that you'd see normal people wear. And that's a good thing.

On the wrist, the Gear S3 definitely feels bigger -- but not much bulkier -- than the comparatively sleek Gear S2. It's a wider casing with a slightly larger screen -- 1.3 inches versus 1.2 inches, or 33mm versus 30mm -- that suits larger wrists more than the old model. The steel that the Gear S3 is hewn from is probably its biggest advantage over the S2, because it doesn't feel like a toy any more. Like the Huawei Watch that has lived on my wrist since I got it, the face of the S3 looks adult and feels adult.

The two variants of the Gear S3 suit different tastes; I definitely like the Frontier more, with its chunkier and darker bezel with more obvious serrations, but the Classic is probably more palatable if you wear a suit to work every day. The Frontier has a sweatproof rubber strap that integrates more smoothly into the lugs, the Classic is leather. Both have precisely the same feature-set -- there's a 4G-enabled variant of the Frontier, but that won't be coming to Australia -- so the difference only comes down to taste.

When it does launch in Australia, before Christmas with a price tag as yet unconfirmed but likely within the Gear S2's $499 range, the Gear S3 is going to have some tough competition. Maybe a new Apple Watch, maybe a new Huawei Watch, but also the fleet of fitness-trackers-with-watches like the Fitbit Charge 2. While its Tizen OS isn't some peoples' cup of tea -- especially if you're not already a Samsung smartphone user -- the design more than stands up to competitors.

Hardware: A Bigger, Brighter Screen And Built-In GPS

Images: Gizmodo

The spec sheets of the Gear S2 and Gear S3, viewed alongside each other, are largely identical. The same 1.0GHz dual-core processor, 4GB of onboard storage, 768MB of RAM in the S3 versus the S2; all these are adequate specs for building a smartwatch that runs smoothly and looks pretty with its Tizen operating system as the Gear S3 does. The watch's 1.3-inch face, though, is around 20 per cent brighter, and that makes a significant difference to viewability in bright areas and to the persistence of Samsung's always-on watchfaces.

While the watchface is bigger and better, it's also much more resistant to damage than the S2's Gorilla Glass 3 slice. Corning's new Gorilla Glass SR+ is smash resistant and scratch resistant, and should provide a genuine alternative to the sapphire glass used in other high-end smartwatches like the Huawei. The glass itself is also now slightly recessed behind a chunkier steel bezel, which should also protect it from accidental bumps.

Built-in GPS is probably the most useful in a list of small, subtle inclusions in the Gear S3's hardware stack. That means you'll be able to take the S3 for a run and have it track your metrics with a little bit more finesse than just step tracking and heart rate monitoring, and it goes 90 per cent of the way to a proper fitness tracker -- probably the 90 per cent that almost all buyers will be more than adequately served by.

Samsung Pay, though, is probably the most flashy addition. It's a useful one, too -- combined with the GPS, it's not hard to imagine leaving your phone and wallet at home while you're out for a run or a bike ride, but still being able to pick up a coffee en route by tapping your watch against a NFC credit card reader. The Gear S3 also has MST -- magnetic stripe emulation -- but I can't think of the last time I swiped a card so it's an inconsequential inclusion for Aussies.

Beyond that, the watch's software is the same generally good experience as the Gear S2. Tizen is clean, is built to run equally well on bezel clicks as it is on swipes and taps, and doesn't get in the way of actually telling time and reading notifications for the most part. If you throw away all the widgets and only add back the ones you want, it's a good experience. We'll have more time to pass judgment on the Gear S3's software in the coming days.

Gizmodo travelled to IFA 2016 as a guest of Samsung.


    While its Tizen OS isn’t some peoples’ cup of tea — especially if you’re not already a Samsung smartphone user

    I thought their tizen watches were compatible with all Android phones?

      The S2 series is, however you apparently miss out on some functionality... I guess S Health etc

      The Gear software is needed for it to sync notifications and updates. And that's limited to samsung phones.

      The GPS and NFC features in the S2 aren't all that flash anyway (Gear S2 in korea has a sim-card model with GPS and mobile-data access when not in bluetooth or wifi range.), as you need the tizen apps built for the korean or US/UK market, which australia doesn't get access to.

      Unfortunately. What's available works. It's just not as feature packed as the korean marketplace.

      I've had my S2 Classic for ~9 months, using a black/chrome ceramic watch band off ebay for $40. looks just like their revamped S2 with the ceramic, South korea also has a pink gold model, and it's about $200 cheaper there.

      The watch OS and Software works, but it's not great. Apps are limited, you can only get a handful of non-regional apps, i.e. NFC and QI codes work with asian/european airline apps, the downside is that while the Gear S3 has improved NFC (as long as the app support is there for AU apps), it means little until the app can support it. It's very tied into the gear marketplace for apps, as well as watchfaces.

      some of the better faces are free, anything that has a classic analogue face usually works very neatly on the black surface under the panel. And the "lite" / "full" faces are usually between garish, mediocre or classy, i.e. want a citizen or tag heuer lookalike ? easy. Snoopy ? there's 6 different ones.

      if i wanted a larger model, i'd get the Huawei W1 which has Android support and headset support, i.e. have a conversation over your phone using the watch microphone and speaker, dick tracy style, again, cheaper in some places than the Gear S2 or S3 in Australia.

    It is disappointing to read in the article that the 4G/LTE-enabled variant of the Frontier won’t be coming to Australia. Did you get this from a reliable source? I sincerely hope you are wrong. It is the same disappointment we had with the S2 when Samsung launched the 4G variant in the US and some countries in Asia but not Australia. Isn't there anything we can do as consumers to voice our disappointment? I personally know few blokes who didn't buy S2 hoping they will be able to buy the LTE variant of the S3 with a local warranty.

      My source is Samsung, yup. Australia's telcos aren't ready to support its virtual SIM. Vodafone will have eSIM support in early 2017, and Telstra should be soon after. That's when we'll start seeing these kind of gadgets appearing, if the telcos think they can sell enough of them to justify the order.

        THIS SUCKS!!!... So this means I'm going to have to wait another 12 months before I can get a smart watch that wont have to be tethered to my phone.....

        Why is Australia always stuck in a technology backwater?

          Original Gear S I own - no need to tether to phone. Always have the sim in watch now. Phone is a camera now that I sometimes take with me.

    Pity, I've been looking for a Smartwatch, and pretty much the only thing holding me back now is 4G support. Looks like I'll be waiting until next year.

    It has a NANO SIM, not sure why my nano sim wont work in the 4G?

      NO IT TAKES E SIM. Electronic sim and for some reason no au carriers are willing to buy the software/hardware to import the imei number to the watch. I'm not sure exactly what's involved in that process but obviously its more than a simple software program or they would've adopted it with the s2 3g. I was looking at getting the 3g classic from Korea till my research showed nothing on any au carriers supporting it. Shame but at least vfone is saying early next yr which isn't too far off. This has fixed all the issues I had with the s2 being too small & a tad feminine looking

        how does the e sim work?

    I don't know if this is off topic but I *love* the super cheap Chinese phones from Gearbest, Everbuying,etc.
    Two months ago I got an Aiwatch G3 for $60 and put a microSIM in it and can call directly from my wrist (it has surprisingly loud speaker). It is only 2G so late this year it will only be useful as smartwatch linked to my phone via bluetooth, which is why I'm researching my next 3G enabled smartwatch which currently cost about $180.
    So, the S3 sounds great, but given the price and the speed of improvements I'm happy to take a chance on some lesser known smartwatches.

    Last edited 04/09/16 4:58 pm

      I was going to make a comment about price. $500 seems pretty steep considering it will probably only last 2-3 years before the battery gets too bad. I get it's a lot of technology in a small package but it seems more gimmicky than functional and I can't justify that cost for myself!

      Last edited 10/09/16 5:30 pm

    Original Gear S I own - no need to tether to phone. Always have the sim in watch now. Phone is a camera now that I sometimes take with me.

    It is 20.00 cheaper to buy an LTE variant from America and have it shipped to me, will it work with my Optus Nano Sim?

    Looks like a nice but if gear to me , and for what you get in functionality compared to the old style watches it seems cheap to me .

    That should have read nice bit of gear ..... Bloody error correction :(.

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