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Hands-On with the Samsung Gear S3

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Aug 31, 2016, 11:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @zeman_e

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Samsung Gear S3

Samsung is back with a new Tizen-based wearable. The Gear S3 takes last year's model and makes numerous refinements. Here are our first impressions of Samsung's latest smartwatch.

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Gear S3 

The Gear S3 is the most fully-realized smartwatch to come from Samsung. it feels as though Samsung spent the first few years weeding through different form factors by testing them on the public. It settled in the Gear S2 design last year, and this year makes the logical and expected step by sticking to what works.

The Gear S3 will be sold in two versions: Classic and Frontier. The Classic version is the classy, out-on-the-town version that will look nice with your suit and tie, while the Frontier version is more for the athlete, fitness buff, or aviator watch enthusiast. Both devices share stainless steel designs with notched, rotating bezels. The Classic will ship with leather bands and the Frontier will ship with plastic bands. Samsung plans to make several dozen alternate bands available for those who prefer to customize the look of their watch. Moreover, the Gear S3 will work with most any standard strap.

Whichever one you pick, the watch looks good. It's got a beefy profile and plenty of weight. The quality of the hardware is excellent. The Frontier version, particularly, feels much better than the Gear S2 Sport did last year. The watches were comfortable to wear on my wrist. The bezels turn from tick to tick easily, giving you total control over the user interface. The buttons on the side of the watch are easy enough to find, and travel and feedback are quite good. The Classic model features more traditional round buttons. The Frontier has rectangular buttons covered with a plastic material to give them some texture.

The Gear S3 smartwatches are tough. They are rated IP68 for water and dust protection. Further, Samsung is certifying them to military grade specifications (810G) for protection from temperature extremes, drops and bumps, salt fog, and so on.

Gear S3 Hardware  

Under the hood, these things pack some serious technology. The wearables run on Samsung's own Exynos 7270 processor with 768MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage. The screen measures 1.3 inches with 360 by 360 resolution. The standard Bluetooth model includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, and altimeter. The LTE model adds GPS and a speedometer. Both the Bluetooth and LTE models carry a 380mAh battery that Samsung claims will deliver three to four days of battery life. (A power-saving mode will show only the time for up to 10 hours.)

Tizen OS 2.3.1 will put all these specs to the test. The user interface is mostly carried over from last year. It relies on a circular app selector that you control with the bezel. The bezel and buttons together help you select and activate all the different apps.

Samsung said it spent a lot of time working on its health and fitness tools. The LTE Gear S3, in particular, will be a fitness beast. The speedometer and GPS, for example, will help provide far more accurate and informative data about bike rides. Speaking of which, all versions of the Classic and Frontier can automatically sense and begin tracking bike rides, runs, hikes, walks, and rowing sessions.

The LTE/WiFi radios will allow owners to make phone calls without a nearby phone. You'll be able to hold a call on the watch itself thanks to the loudspeaker, or via Bluetooth headphones. What's more, the radios will enable owners to stream Spotify directly on their watch. That's pretty cool.

User Interface  

Samsung is going all-in with watch faces. First, the always-on display has been improved. Not only is it protected by Gorilla Glass SR+, but Samsung has expanded the number of watch faces that are compatible with the always-on function. Before, users had to select with faces from only eight different colors. The Gear S3 will support all colors — meaning pretty much any watch face you want.

You might be nervous that the Gear S3 runs Tizen and not Android Wear. Samsung claims the Gear watches already have some 10,000 apps from third-party developers. Samsung plans to release a new set of tools to developers so they can upgrade their apps to Tizen OS 2.3.1 before the wearable goes on sale. Samsung makes an app allowing Android device owners to use all the features of the Gear wearables.

Samsung didn't reveal pricing nor availability just yet. It said the Gear S3 would launch during the fourth quarter, but wouldn't be more specific than that.

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About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.

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