It's that time of the year again. Apple and Samsung have both released brand new smartwatches with the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Samsung Gear Sport.
The Gear Sport isn't exactly Samsung's big flagship going into 2018 – that's still the Samsung Gear S3 – but it is a more health-focused smartwatch than Samsung's other efforts. Apple, slowly but surely, has been transitioning its flagship into more of a fitness and health device as well.
If you're out and about looking for a new watch this holiday, these two are going to be calling out to you. The only question is which of these rivals deserves that spot on your wrist.
Apple Watch Series 3 v Samsung Gear Sport: Design
There are a couple of things these two watches have in common, but for the most part they couldn't be more different. For one, the Gear Sport has a round display sitting on top of a square backdrop, giving it an unconventional layered look.
The Apple Watch, on the other hand, sports its now familiar rounded square design. There isn't much change here compared to other Apple Watches, other than it's a hair thicker and – if you have the LTE edition – has an odd red circle on the Digital Crown.
The Gear Sport is a little bigger and considerably more chunky than the aluminum Apple Watch. The Sport features a 42.9mm case while the Watch has a 42.5mm case. The Sport weighs in at 67g while the Watch comes in at 34.9g (if you have the stainless steel, it jumps up to 52.8g).
This actually highlights the major design difference between the Gear Sport and Apple Watch. The Apple Watch comes in a wider variety of styles, weights and sizes. If the 42mm frame is too bulky for you, you can go with the smaller, and lighter, 38mm. That's not an option with the Gear Sport, which is also only available in two colours, black and blue. On the Apple Watch, you'll get multiple materials, from aluminum to stainless steel to ceramic, but you'll have to pay much, much more for those options.
Speaking of customisation, with the Gear Sport you'll be able to swap out 20mm bands, while on the Apple Watch you'll have to stick to Apple's proprietary lugs and either go with Apple's ever-expanding band options or third-party alternatives.
As for specs, both watches feature water resistance up to 50 metres, so you won't have to worry if you want to go for a swim or a surf. The Gear Sport has a 1.2-inch super AMOLED display with 360 x 360 resolution while the Apple Watch has an OLED display with 312 x 390 resolution – so they're both very sharp and vibrant. No complaints about either in that department.
As for how you use the watches, the Gear Sport features Samsung's smart and easy-to-use rotating bezel, which makes it a breeze to get through its Tizen OS-based interface. There are also two buttons on the side. The Apple Watch, on the other hand, will have you swipe and tap your way around the interface, occasionally using the Digital Crown to scroll through lists. Pressing the Digital Crown takes you to the app grid while clicking the side button underneath takes you to the dock.
The Gear Sport and Apple Watch have some different ideas about how a smartwatch should function, but the biggest differences for most people are going to be in the looks and weight. The Apple Watch definitely does not look like a traditional watch; it's pure rectangle, after all. The Gear Sport, on the other hand, takes a less conventional approach to tradition, with its circle-and-square shape. It's also heftier than the Apple Watch. If you're looking for something more traditional, the Gear Sport is your choice here.
Apple Watch Series 3 v Samsung Gear Sport: Features
The defining difference between these two is LTE support. Samsung dropped LTE support for the Gear Sport, and while there's always a chance it will come back in another version in the future that's not an option right now.
The Apple Watch does have LTE support, which will allow you to go out without your phone and still be in contact. This is super handy for going out on a workout and not having to worry about lugging along your monolithic smartphone. It's also nice when you have to run out for a quick errand and don't necessarily need your phone. You still feel connected while not necessarily being connected.
Meanwhile, the lack of LTE support does mean you'll have to keep your phone close by the vast majority of the time with the Gear Sport. The other sharp difference here is that music is affected by LTE connectivity. On the Watch, you'll be able to stream Apple Music and radio stations like NPR and Beats 1 without your phone. If you don't want to use data, or are running low, you'll also have 16GB of storage; it's 8GB if you go non-cellular.
The Gear Sport, meanwhile, has 4GB of space, but more importantly Spotify playback, something the vast majority of smartwatches and fitness trackers don't have. There's not as much space to store that music as on the Apple Watch, but Spotify will undoubtedly be a big pull for people here.
Both devices have payment platforms: Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. However, Samsung has had to forfeit its big advantage here by cutting support for magnetic strip readers, something the Gear S3 can work with. This means that you can't use Samsung Pay in any store that has a magnetic strip reader, which provided plenty of extra support for mobile payments. Instead, as with Apple Pay, you'll have to rely on stores with supported NFC readers.
Apple's ecosystem is also a little more mature than Samsung's. While it's impressive what Samsung has been able to accomplish with Tizen, bringing on Speedo and Under Armour's suite of fitness apps, it just doesn't have the breadth that the Apple Watch has.
As a smart device with smart features, the Apple Watch has the Gear Sport beat. It has a more mature ecosystem, and features like LTE support and music streaming make it more useful in a larger number of scenarios than the Gear Sport.
Apple Watch Series 3 v Samsung Gear Sport: Health and fitness
On a more basic level, the Apple Watch Series 3 and Samsung Gear Sport will both take care of your general health needs. How they go about this, of course, is what separates them.
The first, and most obvious, difference is that Apple has a host of third-party apps to help track your workouts. If there's something you can track, there's probably an app for it in the Watch App Store. This is good news because Apple's built-in Workout app needs some more love. It's not terrible, and it'll get the job done, funneling data into Apple's extensive-but-hard-to-use Apple Health platform. There are just small things, like not being able to review a run afterward on the Watch, that make us wish the Workout app was a bit more capable.
Samsung, on the other hand, will cipher all your health data into its Samsung Health platform, which can link up with Samsung phones and even TVs should you need it. Unfortunately, Samsung doesn't have as extensive an app library, though it does have the Under Armour suite, which includes MapMyRun, MitFitnessPal and Endomondo.
The Gear Sport also comes with some pretty great automatic workout tracking. So if you're walking along it'll automatically recognise that and launch a little workout for you, sending you heart-warming notifications that tell you you're doing a good job. The Apple Watch doesn't automatically track workouts, instead having you manually start workouts from the Workout app.
The Apple Watch does, however, send you notifications and try to motivate you about how you're doing in your day, reminding you to close your rings. This is nice, but there's something about Samsung's version that feels nicer and less judge-y. Hardly a deal-breaker, though. Oh, the Samsung also lets you input calories directly from the watch itself. It's not the best way to go about tracking calories, but it's better than Apple's method of not letting you do it at all, right?
Both watches will continuously track your heart rate, delivering metrics like resting heart rate. The Apple Watch will also notify you if your heart rate is abnormal. As for how these two measure up, we found the Apple Watch to be the more consistent performer. While the Gear Sport did perfectly well on its GPS test, we found the heart rate to be a little more spotty at higher intensities, noticeably having to catch up to a Polar chest strap.
As for swimming, the Apple Watch handled this all well and fine. At testing time, the Gear Sport's Speedo app wasn't available, but Samsung's own app was disappointingly off, over counting our distance by quite some way. Hopefully this will be fixed in updates.
The Gear Sport isn't a slouch when it comes to fitness. For the most part, it'll do the job right, especially when you're relying on those third-party apps. However, the Apple Watch is both a more consistent performer and offers a wider variety of third-party apps to get your workout on.
Apple Watch Series 3 v Samsung Gear Sport: Battery
This is no contest. Samsung promises between three and four days with the Gear Sport and it gets there. We feel like it's a bit of a luxury to not have to charge a watch like this for that many days, and it puts competitors to shame.
The Apple Watch is still a device that you'll have to charge every night when you head to bed, which in turn limits its ability to track your sleep. Maybe one day the Apple Watch will catch up in this regard, but for now Samsung trounces it.
Apple Watch Series 3 v Samsung Gear Sport: Price
The Gear Sport starts at $299 while the Apple Watch starts at a more expensive $399, and that's just for the 38mm version. If you want the 42mm version, you'll have to pony up an extra $29.
If you do want to keep that LTE connectivity, you'll also have to pay $10 per month to your carrier. While the Apple Watch may have a more rotund feature set, it's also significantly more expensive.
Apple Watch Series 3 v Samsung Gear Sport: Verdict
The Gear Sport is our winner here in one category, and that's if you're looking for a more casual fitness smartwatch that can do some smart things. In this case, the Gear Sport's design, price and capabilities align in a way that's going to make you the happiest. If you're an iOS user, be warned that Samsung Pay will not work for you, however.
On the other hand, if you're more interested in fitness or are looking for the standalone capabilities brought about by LTE connectivity, then the Apple Watch is the winner for you. It has a more robust ecosystem of apps, which means that it can do more in more situations. LTE and music streaming mean you can go for a run without your phone bouncing around in your workout pants, too.
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