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

£350
Price when reviewed

Samsung Gear S3 review: Fitness, S Health

That sets the Samsung Gear S3 at an immediate disadvantage to the Apple Watch Series 2, which has a decent swim-tracking mode in addition to GPS and heart-rate monitoring. But the Samsung hits back with excellent automatic tracking and stats-packed activity monitoring.

Walk briskly for a few minutes and the watch will quickly pick that up and log it as an activity. The same happens if you take it for a run and forget to manually hit start – excellent if you’re a forgetful soul like me. It’ll also auto-pause when you stop to cross the road, which is nice, and it reports a fully comprehensive bank of data to your phone once you’re done, from the usual average speed, distance and average heart-rate data to the more unusual average and maximum cadence.

What’s also excellent is the series of health-based widgets you can view your stats on, which look great and present data in a surprising amount of detail. These can be dropped in on the right-hand side of the watch face, and show all the usual stuff – calories burned, steps taken and your recent sleep record – plus a couple of extras, including the number of floors you’ve climbed and a screen that lets you monitor the number of cups of coffee and glasses of water you’ve consumed.

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It all feeds into the S Health app on your smartphone, which syncs the data and presents it in a more digestible manner. If you’re familiar with the app through owning a Samsung phone, there will be no surprises here: the app presents your goals at the top of the main page with a couple of key stats on graphs beneath (steps and sleep by default), with specific data, from your stress levels through SpO2 and floors climbed, encapsulated in a series of square panels below that. Tap one of those and you can drill down into the nitty gritty.

This is all rather impressive, and as far as Android-based fitness smartwatches go, it’s the best out there, and certainly a long way out in front of the Motorola Moto 360 Sport.

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Samsung Gear S3 review: Communications and apps

When it comes to core smartwatch features, the Samsung Gear S3 is a bit more of a mixed bag. The first thing to note is that Samsung’s Gear watches are no longer limited to working with only Samsung phones. Although the Samsung Gear S3 runs Samsung’s Tizen wearables OS, you can pair it on any modern Android smartphone via the Samsung Gear app, and this is a very good thing.

Generally, the watch’s notifications system works well. As they’re delivered, all notifications are stacked up to the left of the watch face – just swipe left or twist the bezel anti-clockwise to get to them. And just as it’s possible to answer calls on the watch, it’s also possible to respond to SMS and WhatsApp messages directly on the watch face. You can either tap out words and emoji using the onscreen T3 keypad or, if you’re feeling brave, have Samsung’s S Voice transcribe for you.

This all works beautifully. Even S Voice seems to have improved in the past year, to the point at which it managed to accurately transcribe the basic messages I dictated to it reasonably reliably. Thumbs up.

However, it’s weirdly inconsistent in what you can respond to and what you can’t. I had the Gear app installed on a Google Pixel XL, and while notifications for email received via the Gmail app were sucked onto the watch, there was no way to act on those emails other than to read them (in full) on the watch or to open them and respond on the phone.

Also, the way it interacts with Google Calendar leaves something to be desired. It’ll display your appointments and reminders, but there’s no way of filtering the view if you have multiple calendars and want to exclude one or two.

And then there are the third-party apps, which is where things begin to look properly shaky. This is not an Android Wear or watchOS timepiece: it’s based on a proprietary, single-company platform, and that means the number of third-party apps available is always going to be more limited.

There is a Spotify remote controller app and a Facer app for downloading or creating your own watch faces, plus a healthy selection of games, but there’s nothing like the selection available to its rivals. When the Editor’s Picks in the Gear store includes a speedometer, a couple of games and a calculator, you know you’re in trouble.

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Samsung Gear S3 review: Verdict

The question is, should you care? In some respects, I’d argue you shouldn’t. The watch’s core apps and general all-round capabilities are so good that it’s worth the asking price anyway, without the addition of third-party apps.

The fitness side of things is particularly impressive, offering most of the tools (aside from swim tracking) that the modern fitness fanatic needs to log exercise and keep motivated. And the notifications side of things works just as well, a couple of niggles aside, as it does on Android Wear smartwatches.

The big bonus, though, is that the Samsung Gear S3 combines all of those things with superb battery life and luxurious high-end design.

For those reasons, I’m giving the Samsung Gear S3 a big thumbs up. It feels like a proper, luxury watch and a high-end smartwatch in one. It’s a pleasure to use, to wear (as long as your wrists aren’t too slim) and to train with, and even at a price of £349, I feel it’s now the Apple Watch alternative to beat. If you own an Android smartphone and you’re looking to invest in a smartwatch, you should put the Samsung Gear S3 at the very top of your list.

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