The smartwatch business has stuttered along since they became commonly available three years ago. The early adopters, those who bought the first models, myself included, found they were fun but not for long. Lack of functionality, waterproofing and useful apps made them little more than expensive extensions to our smartphones.
For Apple iPhone users the choice of a smartwatch has been a simple one, the Apple Watch but for Android users the market has been scrappy. Some major manufacturers have even withdrawn from the business as there just hasn’t been the demand they thought there would be but Korean tech giant Samsung may be on the verge of shaking things up.
The Gear S3 is Samsung’s next generation smartwatch. It arrives packaged with just a wireless charging stand and USB power cable. As soon as you take it out of the box, you realise this is a premium product. It feels like a conventional watch and deliberately so. The stainless steel body weighs in at 63 grams without a strap and has a rotating bezel and dual crowns help convey the style and elegance of a classicaly designed luxury watch.
I downloaded the Samsung Gear app, and paired the watch to my Android phone. A seamless process, the Gear app allows you to see the status of the watches battery, and lets you change the watch face, set notifications and various other functions. One of the key features of the watch, is it also has its own WiFi connectivity. This allows it to run in a ‘standalone’ mode, when your phone’s flat or out of Bluetooth range. I entered my WiFi password directly on to the phone using a tiny keyboard, which was surprisingly easy.
The screen on the S3 is remarkably crisp and clear. It’s a 1.3 inch AMOLED display and is beautifully sharp. The screen also features Gorilla Glass, a first for Gear watches which make it far more resistant to scratches and scrapes. The watch I used was the Classic version, but there’s also a more utilitarian Frontier version for the outdoor types but both are built to withstand everyday use, including using them as fitness watches and the watch has decent water-resistance so you can wear it in the shower and not worry about getting it wet.
I have found using most smart watches a fiddly affair. Samsung have ingeniously changed how we interact with the watch by using a traditional watch bezel, almost like a PC’s mouse or trackpad. You can swipe and tap the screen to open apps but the watches bezel. You can also use the rotating bezel to flick through screens, accept or reject phone calls and review emails and texts. It’s so simple, and so effective it could be the feature that defines this smartwatch.
The wireless charger is perfect for bedtime charging, but you won’t have to use it much. The battery life of this watch is another standout and you can get up to four days’ battery life from a full charge. To get that battery life you’ll probably turn off the constant heartbeat monitoring or the optional always on display, but having them on, is half the fun.
The S3 uses Samsung’s Tizen operating system and while there are thousands of apps available for this platform, the choice is not as broad as iOS apps for Apple Watch. That said, the S3 has apps to do all the crucial things, as well as plenty of fun stuff. Uber is there, appointments and emails, brilliant news and fitness apps and even fun games. You can turn your lights or heating on and off with it if you have a smart home and the promise of Spotify on my watch, as it has 4GB of built in memory, made me invest immediately in a pair of good Bluetooth headphones.
An edited version of this review appeared in The Irish Mail on Sunday, 22-January-2017.