Samsung Gear S3 frontier smartwatch review
Interface and user experience
The Gear S3 frontier is fast and intuitive to use, but limited app availability is still holding Tizen back.
Having total control over both hardware and software has allowed Samsung to create a smartwatch that’s intuitive and easy to use. The Gear S3 frontier runs Samsung’s Tizen operating system, which is designed to look great on the circular touchscreen and to work in unison with the rotating bezel. At the same time, the Samsung-made Exynos chip inside the device is powerful enough to ensure the excellent responsiveness of the interface. It can even run some simple games, even though playing on a tiny touchscreen is anything but comfortable.
Gear S3 frontier, I had to pair it with a smartphone – in my case, a Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. The whole process was mostly painless. It took about 10 minutes, which also included setting up a Samsung account. I must note that the wearable is compatible with non-Samsung phones as well – any recent and moderately powerful Android phone should do – but certain features may be limited. For example, there’s no email sync capability for non-Samsung phones. Issues with notifications delivery and replying to messages may also occur, Samsung warns.
All in all, using the Gear S3 frontier as a smartwatch is pretty fun. In fact, the experience is nearly identical to using last year’s Gear S2. The first time I turned the device on, I was given a quick tutorial explaining the interface and its specifics. I had no troubles customizing the layout of my widgets and selecting the watchface I liked best. Notifications arrive almost instantly, and I can quickly reply to instant messages with a few flicks of the bezel or by speaking out my response. Alternatively, I can type it in using an on-screen keyboard or the option to draw letters one by one. Sure, text input on a screen this small is uncomfortable, but that’s better than not having the option at all.
But the Gear S3 frontier is not without its flaws. One of them is that the selection of apps still feels very limited. I was disappointed to find out that a Spotify app still isn’t available, even though it is clearly advertised on the Gear S3 web page. Samsung confirmed to me that the app was coming soon. Other popular apps, such as Yelp and iHeart Radio, are only available in a small number of countries. Yet I did find a few apps that had potential. HERE Navigator is a GPS navigation software that actually works, and Glympse is an app that lets me quickly share my location with others. I also had to download the Timer and Stopwatch apps. Samsung’s decision to not include these out of the box is odd, to say the least.
As most other smartwatches, the Gear S3 frontier can respond to voice commands – just double press the home button and state your wish. The feature does work, but is not as broad in capabilities as Siri or Google Now. It can do basic things like to call a specific contact, to set an alarm, or to perform a simple online search. However, it can’t handle more complicated queries, such as unit conversions or trivia questions like “How tall is the highest mountain in the world?”.
A key selling point for the Gear S3 are its fitness tracking capabilities. Equipped with an array of sensors and a GPS, it is supposed to be a powerful tool for activity logging, but is that really the case?
As expected, the Gear S3 frontier handles the basics just right. It can accurately track my steps, the floors I’ve climbed, and it automatically takes occasional heart rate readings throughout the day. It will also give me a nudge every time I sit on my desk for over an hour – annoying, but for my own good. All the data gathered by the timepiece is synced with S Health on my phone, of course, where I’m given an overview of my progress. But to use the more advanced tracking features correctly, I had to go through a few “trial and error” sessions to get the hang of it all. Here follows an example of what I mean.
Although the Gear S3 frontier can detect some basic activities automatically, I prefer to choose the kind of exercise I’ll be doing before I start. This tells the watch to start actively logging my location and pulse to calculate the distance I’ve ran, the calories I’ve burned, the heart rate I’ve maintained, and so on. I played soccer this weekend, and since there was no preset for that, I chose running mode and disabled the auto-pause feature. An hour later, I had supposedly burned only 77 calories and ran only half a mile. A few days earlier, I did some archery practice, which is a much lighter exercise. There was no preset for that either, so I chose “Other Workout”. After 45 minutes of shooting, the Gear S3 frontier estimated that I had burned a whopping 258 calories. These calculations just couldn’t be right.
I’m not trying to present the Gear S3 as a poor fitness tracker, but obviously, it isn’t perfect either. The thing is that the wearable is only accurate and reliable in environments with less variables, such as when using the stepper in the gym or when running in the park. But I see no excuse for it being unable to properly track my activity during a sports game, especially when it is the most popular sport in the world.
UPDATE: Apparently, I've been using the Gear S3 frontier incorrectly. After reaching out to Samsung, I was told that the Running mode was made specifically for running, and the smartwatch's auto detection abilities should be relied on during activities like soccer, table tennis, badminton. I tested the S3 frontier a few more times, and indeed, it automatically started tracking my activity during my soccer practices. The estimate for calories burned was much more realistic this time around. But my exercise was logged as "Other Workout", and the downside of that is that my pulse or distance traveled aren't recorded. Oddly, the S Health app on my smartphone has "Soccer" listed as an exercise type, but the Gear S3 doesn't.
The Samsung Gear S3 frontier that I’m reviewing connects to a smartphone over Bluetooth and maintains the connection at a distance of up to 30 feet, as long as there’s nothing in the way – a typical distance for the wireless standard. Wi-Fi connectivity is also available, in case the Bluetooth connection drops. Passwords stored on your phone are synced with the wearable, meaning that it will automatically connect to every Wi-Fi network your phone has access to. Neat!
Having Wi-Fi connectivity allows the Gear S3 frontier to work independently – at the cost of increased battery consumption. The watch will keep on delivering notifications that you receive on your phone. You’ll be also able to stream music, to respond to incoming emails and instant messages, and to exchange regular texts. However, I couldn’t get phone calls to route over Wi-Fi, even though there should be a way of doing that, according to Samsung’s web page. After reaching out to Samsung, it was clarified to me that the feature may not work with certain carriers.
Speaking of phone calls, you can make them straight from your Gear S3 frontier, as long as you have the LTE version of the device. Needless to say, that model can also connect to the carrier’s cellular network for anytime, anywhere internet access.
Samsung Pay – Samsung's mobile payments platform – can be used straight from the Gear S3 frontier. The wearable supports both the MST and NFC standards, so it can be used to make contactless purchases from your wrist at terminals where swiping or tapping is possible. What's more, you're not required to have the watch paired to a Samsung smartphone in order to use Samsung Pay. Any compatible Android phone will do. Also, you should be able to make payments without your phone nearby, although some limitations will apply in this case. Samsung Pay is currently available in the following markets: USA, Korea, China, Australia, Spain, Singapore, Brazil, and Puerto Rico.