Samsung's seventh Gear S device is its most refined by a long, long way — and Samsung finally thinks it's a timepiece every bit as good at being a watch as it is a smartwatch. Taking the fight directly back to the Apple Watch — expected by some to be re-launched in a couple of days at Apple's iPhone 7 event — the Gear S3 now supports Samsung Pay, has the toughest glass watchface yet, and includes built-in GPS for accurate fitness tracking.
The Gear S3 has two similar yet slightly differentiated variants — the entry-level Gear S3 classic, with a professional and modern design that "pays homage to the minimalist, elegant style found in the most iconic timepieces", and the Gear S3 frontier, which builds upon the foundation of the classic model with a rugged outdoor- and fitness-friendly design and built-in support for 3G and 4G mobile networks — although using an eSIM, which Australia's carriers won't integrate until next year at the earliest.
The Gear S3 is very slightly larger in all dimensions than the Gear S2 it inherits its place at the top of Samsung's wearable line-up from, taking over from the similarly new Gear Fit2. At 46x49x12.9mm it's somewhat thicker than the 42x49x11.2mm Gear S2, and heavier at 57g versus 47g. The Gear S3 frontier is identically sized but is slightly heavier at 62g to accommodate that 3G/4G radio hardware inside. Both watches take a 22mm strap, and has the same IP68 water and dust resistance as its predecessor.
The S3's circular Super AMOLED capacitive glass touchscreen display is 1.3 inches in diameter versus the old 1.2, but has the same 360x360pixel resolution and similar 278ppi pixel density. Being an AMOLED panel, it can be configured to always display a watchface even if the Gear S3's higher processing functions aren't running. Samsung says the 380mAh battery will last "up to four days on a single charge" courtesy of a Samsung-built 1.0GHz dual-core processor and the company's traditionally lightweight Tizen operating system.
Tizen and the Gear S3's rotating bezel allow for a few fancy software additions to the smartwatch's existing repertoire, like cancelling alarms and accepting or rejecting calls. Those calls can come through the S3 over Bluetooth (or 3G/4G) too, with the inclusion of a microphone for the existing built-in speaker, which also works for voice dictation and spoken commands.
Using either the 3G/4G network or Bluetooth to a connected smartphone, the Gear S3 is the first Samsung smartwatch to support the company's Samsung Pay mobile payment infrastructure — which has a few key partners like American Express and Citibank in Australia. We're led to believe that Samsung Pay allows for small transactions without internet connectivity, too, so you should be able to pay for a coffee while you're out on a run or ride wearing the Gear S3.
Built-in GPS tracking without an accompanying smartphone puts the Gear S3's fitness logging abilities in the same realm as dedicated running watches from market leaders Garmin, Suunto and TomTom, with GPS/Glonass support for the Classic and A-GPS/Glonass supplemented by mobile networks for the Frontier.
The Gear S3 is the first wearable to use Corning's new Gorilla Glass SR+ — a synthetic alternative to the sapphire glass used in the scratchproof Huawei Watch — which promises lower reflection and up to 70 per cent better damage protection than competitors. We've had great results both with the Huawei and the Samsung Gear S2, which survived a Tough Mudder unscathed, so we're expecting good things from the S3's durability.
The Gear S3 will be out in Australia "before Christmas", with pricing and local stockists confirmed closer to then. We'll have a full hands-on post for the Gear S3 very soon, so stay tuned. [Samsung]
Samsung Gear S3 Classic
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier
Gizmodo travelled to IFA 2016 as a guest of Samsung.