Samsung Gear S3 review: A chunky but top-notch smartwatch

£350
Price when reviewed

The Samsung Gear S3 does one thing well that most other smartwatches fail abysmally at. It has great battery life: if you charge it fully to 100%, it’ll last you almost five days. Yep, you read that right, FIVE DAYS: that’s nearly four days of normal operation (with the screen in timeout mode and no GPS usage), and then when it hits 5%, more than 24 hours of use in power-save mode.

That’s fantastic stamina for any smartwatch, let alone one with a full-colour OLED display, and it leaves the Apple Watch Series 2 in the dust. The question is, how about the rest of the watch? Is it good enough to match Apple’s wearable when it comes to developer support and ease of use?

READ NEXT: Apple Watch Series 3 review

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review: Design

I’ll answer those key questions further down in the review, but first, let me focus on the aesthetics. The Samsung Geary S3 is available in a couple of flavours – the Classic and the Frontier – and both look stunning.

I’ve been sent the Frontier for the purposes of this review, and it’s a real looker, finished in smoky, gunmetal grey, with a burly rubber wristband (both large and small sizes are included in the box), butch knurled buttons, and an aggressively notched bezel that rotates with a light clicking action, just like on a dive watch.

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The difference, in the case of the Gear S3, is that this bezel isn’t used simply for adornment or timing purposes; it’s part of the fabric of the way the watch works.

Spin it and the watch face whirls away to make way for a galaxy of different notifications and widget screens. Not only that, but it’s also used to scroll through items in lists and alter settings, depending on whereabouts in the UI you find yourself. The Gear S3 watch still has a responsive touchscreen, but I found myself using the bezel whenever possible because it leaves the screen free for reading.

And what a great screen it is. The Samsung Gear S3 has an AMOLED panel with a resolution of 360 x 360, and it’s topped with Corning’s wearables-specific scratch- and shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass SR+. It’s comfortably readable in most conditions at the default setting of seven and, handily, it automatically dims in low-light conditions, so it won’t blind you or irritate everyone in the cinema when you want to check the time.

The problem with the Samsung Gear S3 – and the only one in my book – is that it’s a bit on the beefy side. The S3 Frontier measures 46 x 12.9 x 49mm (including the lugs) and the S3 Classic is exactly the same size. That makes it thicker than most modern smartphones, and I found that with some of my shirts it wouldn’t slip under the cuffs particularly comfortably.

The payback is that Samsung has been able to fit in a larger, 380mAh battery than in most smartwatches – resulting in that fantastic battery life. However, those with wrists of a delicate persuasion may not find this watch as appealing as the Apple Watch, which is available in both small and large sizes, or indeed the Gear S3’s predecessor, the Samsung Gear S2.

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Samsung Gear S3 review: Features

Those with thicker limbs will be pleased to discover that Samsung has considerably improved on the Samsung Gear S2’s capabilities with the Gear S3, and the big upgrade is built-in GPS. This means that, as with the Apple Watch Series 2, you can have it track your run without having to take your phone.

This worked pretty well in my experience, locking onto GPS satellites in around 1min 30secs from cold in a built-up area of central London. It didn’t provide particularly accurate tracking information with buildings around, with the GPS track showing plenty of cut corners. Move out to the park for a run or a walk in a residential area, though, and it works fine. Distance covered appeared to be on the money, too.

Also new in the Samsung Gear S3 is a built-in speaker to go with the microphone the Gear S2 already had. This unlocks a couple of new capabilities, principal among which is the the ability to answer and make phone calls from your wrist.

Now, this isn’t something I’m keen on doing when I’m out and about, but it comes into its own at home. The Gear S3’s Wi-Fi connectivity means you don’t have to be within Bluetooth range of your phone to receive notifications or make/receive calls, so if the phone rings and you’ve left your phone on the other side of the house, you’ll be able to pick up or reject it as you see fit.

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The speaker also allows the watch to double as an interactive fitness coach while you’re working out. It’ll gee you up when you start to fade and deliver timely audible info as you pound the pavement. The only problem is that the speaker isn’t loud enough to hear over the rush of breath from your lungs and the blood pounding in your ears, so you’ll have to use the Samsung Gear S3’s Bluetooth connectivity to hook up a pair of headphones instead.

These new capabilities build on the Gear S2’s already-impressive collection of features. There’s an optical heart-rate monitor that continuously tracks your pulse during exercise and keeps tabs on your resting rate with spot checks during the day. There’s an altimeter/barometer and an associated app, keeping tabs on your altitude and the atmospheric pressure. There’s NFC, 4GB of storage for music storage, wireless charging via the WPC standard, and a dual-core 1GHz Samsung Exynos 7270 chip with 768MB of RAM.

This is all good stuff, and the watch runs as smoothly as you could possibly want. The only time I saw slowdown was while playing Fruit Ninja – but that’s really not what this device was made for. In every other respect, it responds smoothly and instantly to touchscreen dabs and clicks of the bezel.

What isn’t so great is that the Samsung Gear S3 isn’t properly waterproof like the Apple Watch Series 2; it’s water-resistant and rated to the IP68 standard. This means that, although the watch can be submerged to a depth of 1.5m in freshwater for up to 30 minutes, you can’t take it for a swim.

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