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Samsung Gear S3 review: Now an absolute bargain

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
350
inc VAT

The OS isn't as mature as Wear OS, but the Gear S3 offers sumptuous design and great health-tracking capabilities

Pros 
Fantastic five-day battery life
Great fitness-tracking capabilities
Classy design with a neat interface
Cons 
Undeniably chunky
Unsuitable for swimmers
Limited app support
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The good thing about new hardware is that it makes the older generations more appealingly priced. This counts double for wearables because the hardware moves slower than with phones. So while the new Samsung Galaxy Watch is excellent, it doesn't offer a great deal over the Gear S3 reviewed below.

Despite that, it's taken an axe to its high price. Originally retailing for £350, you can now get the Gear S3 Frontier for just £150 from John Lewis by applying the code "SAMSUNG50" at checkout.

By using the code, you do promise that you'll show up and recycle an old smartwatch at some point in the future, though how this would be policed is anybody's guess. To be honest, even £199.99 is a bit of a bargain for such a fully-featured wearable.

Buy now from John Lewis


Darien's original review continues below

We were big fans of Samsung’s Gear S2 smartwatch. Its twistable bezel was an ingenious and effective way to control the built-in apps and the watch itself was just the right size – elegant, but big enough to be clear and easily legible.

This year’s update – the Samsung Gear S3 retains the rotating bezel – but the watch itself is a bit bulkier than last year’s model. Whether you go for the smooth lines of the "Classic" model or the more rugged "Frontier" styling, the housing measures 46 x 49mm and it’s a protuberant 12.9mm thick. It looks rather absurd on more delicate wrists, and it’s liable to catch on shirt cuffs and the like.

READ NEXT: The best smartwatches

To be fair, the size increase is partly because Samsung has added standard 22mm strap fittings, so you can now attach any standard band. It’s also beefed up the battery to a 380mAh unit, up from the 300mAh cell used in the old S2.

That has a dramatic effect on stamina. We got nearly four days of regular operation between charges – with the screen in auto-timeout mode and GPS disabled – and then a further 24 hours of use in power saving mode before the battery finally conked out and we had to pop the thing back onto its wireless charging stand. For an OLED smartwatch like this, five days of continuous use is unheard of: it’s miles ahead of other premium wearables, and more than double the two-day lifespan of the Apple Watch Series 2.

Buy the Samsung Gear S3 now from Samsung

Samsung Gear S3 review: Design

As mentioned above, the Gear S3 comes in two flavours, dubbed "Classic" and "Frontier". They’re both fundamentally the same design, but the Classic goes for a clean look, while the Frontier aims more for the feel of a sports watch. I tried the Frontier, and I have to say it looks the part. It’s wrought in dark gunmetal grey, with a thick but comfortable rubber strap (both large and small options are included in the box). The buttons are knurled for easy grip, and the bezel turns with a light clicking action, just like on a diving watch.

And this is no cosmetic feature. The bezel is key to the Gear S3’s user interface: spin it and the Gear S3 cycles through its various notifications and widget screens. Once you’re into a menu or app, you can use it to scroll through options and features. There’s a touchscreen too, but we found ourselves only when absolutely necessary – the bezel is much more intuitive, offering tactile navigation while keeping the screen visible.

On that note, I should mention what a great screen it is. The AMOLED display has a resolution of 360 x 360, yielding a sharp 278ppi. It’s bright, too: I had no problem reading it outdoors at the default brightness setting (though you can turn it up if you wish), and the screen automatically dims in darker environments, so it won’t blind you in bed or annoy your fellow theatregoers. The exterior is coated with Corning Gorilla Glass SR+, a material designed to be scratch- and shatter-resistant, so you don’t need to worry too much about inadvertently smashing the Gear S3 against a doorframe.

Buy the Samsung Gear S3 now from Samsung

Samsung Gear S3 review: Features

If you were paying attention above, you’ll have noticed that the Gear S3 features a built-in GPS receiver, something its predecessor lacked. That means that, like the Apple Watch Series 2, it can track your location even if you don’t have your phone with you – handy for runners who like to travel light.

We found this worked pretty well. From turning the feature on, it took around a minute and a half to get a fix on our position, and as we circuited our local park it did a good job of tracking our path, accurately showing little detours and coming up with a very believable estimate of distance covered. It struggled more in built-up areas, though, where GPS satellites are a bit harder to keep in view. As we walked around central London, the Gear S3 seemed to think we were in the habit of taking shortcuts through the corners of buildings.

Another new addition is a built-in loudspeaker. In partnership with the microphone that’s been kept from the Gear S2, this means you can now make and answer phone calls from your wrist. This isn’t something you’ll probably want to do much while you’re out and about, unless you want to pretend to be a spy. But at home it can be genuinely useful, saving you the bother of rummaging for your phone when an incoming call starts to ring. Since the Gear S3 is able to connect to your phone over Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth, you don’t even need to be particularly near to your handset to take a call on your wrist.

The speaker also lets the watch give you audio notifications, and even encouragement when you’re exercising: it can dispense timely information as you run, and urge you on when you start to slow down. It’s not very loud though, and we found it hard to make out what it was saying over the sound of our own movements and breathing; you’re probably better off with a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

Alongside these new capabilities, all the Gear S2’s key features have been kept. The optical heart-rate monitor keeps tabs on your resting heart rate throughout the day and delivers continuous tracking during exercise sessions. The altimeter/barometer lets you track your altitude and atmospheric pressure, should such things be of interest to you. There’s NFC, 4GB of local storage for music – again, great for those who like to go running without their phone – and wireless charging via the WPC standard.

This is all good stuff, and it’s powered by a dual-core 1GHz Samsung Exynos 7270 chip with 768MB of RAM which keeps everything ticking along as smoothly as you could ask for. It might stutter a little with demanding games, but when it comes to navigating the interface, checking notifications and using the watch’s fitness features it’s impeccably responsive.

Samsung Gear S3 review: Apps

As a smartwatch, the Gear S3 handles the basics well. And the good news is that it’s not limited to working only with Samsung phones, as previous Gear watches were. You can pair it with any modern Android smartphone via the Samsung Gear app, and this is a very good thing.

It still doesn’t run Android itself, though. Like the S2 before it, it runs Samsung’s Tizen OS, so if you’re familiar with the Android Wear way of doing things you’ll find a few differences to get the hang of. Incoming notifications stack up at the left of the watch face – you can swipe or twist the bezel to view them. You can even respond to some messages using an onscreen T3 keyboard – or dictate a response using Samsung’s S Voice technology, which works well. Overall it’s a slick experience.

Weirdly, however, there doesn’t seem to be any logic to which messages you can and can’t respond to. You can have entire conversations via SMS and WhatsApp without taking your phone out of your pocket, but when a Gmail message arrives the S3 will only let you read it: if you want to reply, you’ll have to tap to open it on your phone. Similarly, access to Google Calendar is a bit rudimentary: you can view appointments and reminders, but there’s no way to select and switch between multiple calendars.

Overall, it’s still conspicuous that this is a proprietary platform, offering limited integration with services you take for granted on your phone. There’s also only a small library of third-party apps: yes, there’s a remote control app for Spotify, and an app for downloading and creating your own watch faces, and even a few games. But there’s nothing like the selection available for Android Wear or Apple’s watchOS. It’s telling that the “Editor’s Picks” in the Gear store include a calculator and a speedometer.

Buy the Samsung Gear S3 now from Samsung

Samsung Gear S3 review: S Health

Where the Gear S3 does impress is in its fitness features. It offers excellent automatic tracking: you only have to walk briskly for a few minutes for the watch to detect the activity and log it. It’ll also quickly catch in if you forget to tell it you’re going for a run. It can even automatically pause its logging for brief stops, such as waiting to cross a road. The details it records range from your average speed, distance and heart-rate data to some more unusual statistics such as average and maximum cadence.

One thing we particularly like about the Gear S3 is that you don’t necessarily have to hop onto your phone to browse all this data. There’s a good range of health-based widgets on the watch itself that can be dropped onto the right-hand side of the watch face, showing information such as calories burned, steps taken and your recent sleep record. A few cute extras include the number of floors you’ve climbed and how much coffee and water you’ve consumed. You do have to manually log the latter, though.

If you want to drill into your fitness history then it’s time to switch to the S Health app on your smartphone, which collects all this data and presents it in a digestible format. Your fitness goals are set out at the top of the main app screen, with a few graphs beneath (by default these show your steps and sleep). A set of boxes below show other measurements, including your stress levels, SpO₂ levels and so forth: tap on any one of them for more details.

It’s pretty impressive, and it makes the Gear S3 a front-runner in the field of fitness smartwatches. It does have one limitation though: while the watch is IP68 rated, which means it can be submerged to a depth of 1.5m in freshwater for up to 30 minutes, it’s not properly swim proof like the Apple Watch Series 2. Obviously, if you’re a keen swimmer, that’s a big shortcoming.

Samsung Gear S3 review: Verdict

It’s brave of Samsung to keep ploughing its own furrow with Tizen. Compared with the Apple Watch or rival smartwatches running Android Wear, you do miss out on app support and integration with third-party services can be patchy.

But the Gear S3 does a good job of basic smartwatch duties. Notifications are handled elegantly, and the twisty interface is a delight to use. The fitness side of things is particularly impressive too. Unless you’re a hardcore swimmer, you’ll find everything here you need to keep motivated and track your progress.

Factor in superb battery life and luxurious high-end design and you’re left with a highly desirable smartwatch that feels like a proper premium timepiece. It would be great if it were a little more compact and at £349 the price is steep. But quality doesn't come cheap, and if you’re looking for a smartwatch to partner your Android phone, the Samsung Gear S3 belongs at the very top of your list.