Samsung Gear S3 first look: Bigger and bolder than ever, but is it better?

IFA 2016: Hands on with the large and in charge Samsung Gear S3 smartwatch
Samsung Gear S3 first impressions

It's been a year since the Samsung Gear S2 was announced, intriguing everyone with its rotating bezel and sporty looking design. But it seems the S2 classic has been the more eye catching of the two, which probably explains why Samsung nixed the former and splurged on creating two new watches in the form of the Samsung Gear S3 Classic and Samsung Gear S3 Frontier.

Looking like larger versions of the old classic, both smartwatches are clearly made with the premium materials. Yet, the Korean company says each watch is as durable as you can get making it perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.

That remains to be tested, and with no pricing yet, it's hard to figure out who would be willing to pick up an S3. For now, these are our first impressions of the new Samsung Gear S3.

Samsung Gear S3: Design

Just like the Gear S2, there are Gear S3 variations you can choose between: Classic Gear S3 with Bluetooth/Wi-Fi or two Frontier Gear S3 versions, one with Bluetooth and one with LTE. There will be customisable watch bands where you can switch out for other standard 22m straps, both from the company and third party sellers.

Aside from a few cosmetic aspects, there isn't a major difference between the Gear S3 options, aside from the LTE offering and a small weight difference. The Classic Gear S3 is much more refined than its counterpart. And compared to its predecessor, it's ditched the smooth, plastic looking bezel, and opted for a stainless steel body with a ridged, brushed metal rotating bezel. It also has two rounded buttons on the right side.

The Frontier Gear S3 on the other hand, targets the fitness and 'exploration' types as Samsung puts it. The sportier S3 doesn't feel as polished as the Classic thanks to its slightly larger, raised bezel (also rotating and ridged) with its rectangular, textured buttons on the side.

The bezel itself has evolved a bit more allowing greater functionality than before. Various apps have integrated the bezel like Nest, for example. You can control the fan, temperature zones in different rooms and more, simply by twisting the bezel.

Both are large looking devices in person and on paper with measurements of 46mm and with a 1.3-inch display compared to the Gear S2's 42mm body and 1.2-inches display. It could come off as clunky spending more time with it, but on first glance, it's not too bad - for a man. Worn on a woman's wrist, it's reminiscent of the smartwatches from two years ago where it was clear no one was really designing for smaller wrists. Understandably, until smaller batteries and components can be used, comfort and fashion is a sacrifice that must be made for a larger screen and more features.

Speaking of batteries, the Gear S3 has a much larger battery hiding behind the giant screen. At 380mAh, the S3 it knocks the S2's 250mAh out of the park. With that amount of juice, Samsung says it's aiming for about 27% more usage time. That means you can expect about 3-4 days of life even with LTE, versus the 2-3 days of the S2 - and pretty much every other smartwatch with a large, color touchscreen.

With a longer battery life, you should be able to use the Gear S3 for fitness tracking and perhaps outdoor sports without needing to recharge so soon. That seems to be part of the whole Gear S3 concept - using the watch outdoors in varying conditions. Even though the Classic is the daintier of the two designs, it can stand alongside the Frontier as an equally ruggedized wearable, at least by Samsung's standards.

Apparently the Gear S3 underwent military level testing to ensure the smartwatch could withstand very high and very low temperatures, shock, dust and extreme vibrations. The IP68 rating means you can submerge it underwater up to 30 minutes at a depth of 5 feet. So it's not for diving and there's no word yet on whether it's ocean-worthy like the just announced Fitbit Flex 2, but it seems capable of some water sports.

Samsung Gear S3: Tracking and notifications

Despite the emphasis on the Gear S3's durability, it doesn't seem like fitness will be much different than what's already on the Samsung Gear Fit2. In fact, Samsung even said during our briefing that it would be porting over Gear Fit2 features like Challenges, leaderboards, auto-recognition of activity tracking.

Sensors on board include a heart rate monitor, altimeter, barometer, barometric sensing for weather, and GPS that makes it good for sports tracking and unlocks a new SOS emergency mode. Clearly Samsung has been paying attention to recent reports that consumers want more SOS/panic button wearables.

With the SOS tech, you'll have to pay extra for ADT services but pricing hasn't been announced. There's still a standard SOS tech where you triple tap the button to dial for help directly from the LTE smartwatch or through your phone.

Glanceable notifications are once again a big part of how you receive texts, calls, email and more. For example, taking or rejecting incoming calls require twisting the bezel. Calendar meetings can also be dismissed with a quick bezel turn, and so forth for the other notification features. Reminders can be taken on the wrist as well through the S Voice app on the smartwatch.

Samsung Gear S3: Samsung Pay

Samsung Pay is in beta for Gear S2 owners but with the latest smartwatches, it will be a standard. Using NFC and MST (magnetic secure transmission), you'll be able to tap your watch against any card reader. It was demoed during the media briefing, with the MST working quicker than the NFC. However, both seemed to send payment through pretty easily.

Using a system of tokens - never your actual credit or debit card number - the Gear S3 stores information on the watch that you can access when paying. 10 transactions can be used before you must reconnect with your phone. To access Samsung Pay, you'll need to type in a 4-digit password pin that you've created. Then it's a matter of choosing which card you want to pay with. If you're worried about the security, if the S3 is off the wrist, the payment system is locked.

Samsung emphasised that phones and even LTE aren't needed which should be great news for joggers or people who've forgotten their mobile device at home.

While NFC is on many wearables already, MST is relatively novel in that the Samsung engineers were able to cram a giant magnetic strip into such a small form factor. It's wide availability is also exciting considering not every terminal will have NFC enabled - though MST is a staple of many stores. Since it was first touted, Samsung Pay's open acceptance has been a big draw and now that it's finally out for the smartwatches, it should hopefully make paying for things easier - which we'll of course be testing.

Samsung Gear S3: Battery

There's a much larger battery sitting behind the larger screen. At 380mAh, the Gear S3 has certainly surpassed the S2's 250mAh. That means you get about 3-4 days of usage with and without LTE, compared to the usual two days the majority of smartwatches can muster.

Most wearable companies tend to create new chargers for the newest iteration of devices. Surprisingly, the S3 charger is the same as the one for Gear S2 which is a nice change of pace. So you won't have to worry about losing the S3 charger if you already own an S2 since there will be a spare lying around.

Samsung Gear S3: Early verdict

It's hard to give an early verdict considering the few hours we've had with the Gear S3. There's also no pricing right now making it even more difficult to cast judgement. That said, if Samsung manages to keep the Frontier and classic under $300, it could still be one of the standout smartwatches to look out for.

When you consider the larger screen, GPS, heart rate tracking and more premium materials used, we have a feeling the price might jump up to the $375-$400 mark. Then there's the matter of LTE. That Gear S3 version is bound to have a higher cost on top of an extra fee for the carrier plan.

Despite the unknowns, the Samsung Gear S3 is a visually appealing smartwatch on first look, and though massive, it still retains many of the qualities that made us fans of the Gear S2 and leave us looking forward to spending more time with it.

Look out for the full review of the Samsung Gear S3 when it officially launches some time in Q4.

Shop for recommended smartwatches on Amazon

Samsung Gear S2
Samsung Gear S2
Pebble Time Round
Pebble Time Round
Sony SmartWatch 3
Sony SmartWatch 3
Huawei Watch
Huawei Watch

Wareable may get a commission


  • yogibimbi says:

    "but it seems capable of some water sports" - like what? Long-distance showering?

    • l.prasuethsut says:

      Kayaking, boating, etc., but it doesn't seem like it can handle much else. 

  • Pw1 says:

    Bigger & thicker Smartwatches need to be thinner, role on moto 360 announcement. 

  • Yemi says:

    I was looking forward to this announcement the most at ifa. Can't help but feel slightly underwhelmed. Maybe I need to see it up close.

  • Jeff12p says:

    Finally a smartwatch with all my hardware requirements: GPS, IP68, speaker, and HRM.  Unfortunately, I'm not sold on Tizen.  The waiting continues.

  • jimmybernstein says:

    I agree Pw1 that big watches only really work if they're thin--that's why the mondo Suunto watches can get away with being so big (i.e., they still feel and look kind of light on the wrist.)  All said, this is a bit of a disappointment--bigger package, more sensors and radio's crammed in, but nothing qualitatively new or different.

  • CharlesV says:

    I disagree that smartwatches have to be thin. Before I bought my Pebble classic, I wore a nice looking Citizen Nighthawk that has a 12.5mm bezel. This never bothered me and honestly it was kinda nice having it be so big. Everything on the watch was easy to read and it showed up really well in pictures. Plus, you always knew if you were wearing it or not because of the weight (i.e. no forgetting it at home). I am all for big watches with a killer battery, and that does all the simple stuff well.

  • jayvisionnet says:

    Samsung is serious about it's OS for good reasons...  No version of android could run the hardware and feature set in this watch for more than a day with the same battery without needing a charge. Yes, it is mainly the OS that gives the Gear 3 its long life especially when it comes to the screen being on ALL the time.

    At first to me the Samsung OS was a joke, now years later it is proving itself to be very valuable in the wearable market and the Gear 3 will prove it! 

    As long as this smartwatch runs smoothly without being buggy, it will be the standard by which all others will be judged in the future. 

  • Fuckface says:

    Great job at packing another small ass battery into your watch!!! The S2 won't even survive 3 hours!

  • Rach says:

    I am really hoping that this will be a smartwatch with fitness tracking capabilities which are good enough to wear only this device. Im sick of being disappointed with wearables. Fitness trackers trying to be smartwatches badly and smatrwatches trying to incorporate fitness tracking badly. When will I be able to buy one device which does it all? 

  • AndreaV67 says:

    love the information 

What do you think?

Connect with Facebook, Twitter, or just enter your email to sign in and comment.