Samsung Gear S3 Frontier Review – Not perfect, but darn close

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The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is one of best smartwatches Samsung has ever put out. It works for both Android and iOS, but for my review, I had it paired with an Android phone. I’ve always been a fan of smartwatches, but this is my first experience with one that is not running Android Wear. Read on to find out what kind of experience the Gear S3 Frontier serves up.


Design

Style is subjective but in my opinion, this is one of the best looking smartwatches you can buy. It has a classic yet modern design and for all of the features the S3 Frontier packs in, it does so with a relatively slim profile. This is very important when it comes to something worn on your wrist.



The Dark Grey color looks fantastic and it makes the hash marks around the bezel look more subtle. The bezel has a distinctive gear design that is also functional because it rotates. It won’t spin freely, but you can feel it click as it rotates. This works well because you don’t want it spinning out of control due to the placement. The two buttons on the side are fairly flush to the body making sure they aren’t accidentally pressed by the back of your hand.

The top one is used as a back button and a long press activates Samsung Pay. While the bottom button returns you to the home screen or gives you the option to power off the watch with a long press.

The screen is a gorgeous 1.3 inch Super AMOLED screen. I always love Samsung displays and this watch is no exception. It looks great outdoors in sunlight and won’t disappoint you with its deep blacks and vibrant colors.

The band is made of a silicone rubber and is not my favorite but it is comfortable and easily replaceable. The back offers you a heart rate monitor but no charging pins because this uses wireless charging like every watch should.

The Gear S3 Frontier carries an IP68 rating making it safe from water and dust. Splashes of water will be fine, but I’d still never suggest wearing it in the shower or the pool. Despite being rated for 1.5 meters for up to 30 minutes, with something this expensive I wouldn’t want to risk it.

Software

Now that we’ve established it’s a great looking watch, how does it actually perform. The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is running Tizen, unlike most smartwatches that run Android Wear. Making the switch to Tizen has been a huge adjustment for me.

I’m not a very demanding smartwatch user. I simply want to view my notifications, control music, check the weather, use my voice to set timers, reminders, and alarms, and ask the occasional question. I also enjoy checking some fitness data even though I find it to be pretty inaccurate on most watches.

The S3 Frontier can do all of this which is great, but the problem is I didn’t quite like the way it does it. The interface makes great use of the rotating dial and it helps keep your finger off the display most of the time. Yet the interface just feels clunky and it takes more effort to access the information and apps I want.

Some prime examples of this would be how the music controls don’t jump to the foreground when you play music. There are no wrist gestures to cycle through notifications like in Android Wear. The app drawer also isn’t continuous and requires you to go to the next page to see more apps. Speaking of apps, you miss out on Android Wear’s library of apps, but there are still many to choose from in the Galaxy app store.

You’ll definitely need the Galaxy app store, as some simple watch apps like timer and stopwatch aren’t even included out of the box. This was an annoying discovery I made while cooking the first night and trying to set a timer. Overall I’m not a big app user on the watch, besides the lack of a timer I didn’t find much use for many other third party apps.

GalaxyApps offers a wide selection of watch faces. You even have access to free third party plugins for the popular WatchMaker and Facer Android Wear watch face apps. This ensures you have plenty of watch faces to choose from.

The notifications are on the left and you access them by rotating the bezel counterclockwise. Swiping up on a notification will remove it. Clicking on a notification will open it, and anytime you see three dots on the right side you can click it for more options. For example deleting an email or opening it on your phone.

Rotating the bezel clockwise feels so much more natural to me and I wish this is how you accessed your notifications. Instead, when rotating clockwise it reveals widgets such as weather, S-Health, calendar, and more. You have the option to add, remove, or rearrange the widgets by long pressing on one.

S-Health tracks your calories burned, steps, heart rate, and sleep. You can manually track your water and coffee intake, as well as track your workout from a list of exercises. Wrist-worn trackers have never been accurate in my experience and the Gear S3 Frontier is no exception. One nice feature is it checks your heart rate periodically during the day.

S-Voice does some of what I want and it’s adequate for some simple tasks, but it falls behind Google Now and far behind Assistant. Many times I was given search results to open on a phone for simple questions. Pretty much negating the reason to ask your smartwatch questions at all. There is also no way to control your smart home like Assistant can. Besides setting alarms, timers, or reminders I stopped using it entirely because it was so unreliable.

One fantastic feature of S-Voice is the ability to set your own wake word phrase. This is so much better than being locked into whatever phrase Google decides you should be using. This was overshadowed some by the audible feedback from an annoying robotic voice. Thankfully this can be disabled in the settings.

Samsung Pay

The most fantastic of all its features is Samsung Pay that works not only with NFC but MST payments. Making payments with the LG Watch Sport was fantastic, but also frustrating. Due to the lack of support for NFC payments from many retailers. Magnetic Secure Transmission payments open up a whole new world for mobile payments. MST is supported by almost all credit card readers and makes paying so quick and simple. This by far is the best part of the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier.

LTE

This is an LTE watch so yes you can make calls standalone without your phone. I still don’t find this very useful and don’t enjoy having a speakerphone call on my watch. Even if you pair Bluetooth headphones, I don’t find this useful enough to justify the cost of a plan just for your watch.

Battery

Battery life was impressive for an LTE watch, the 380 mAh battery gave me around two days of use. I still chose to charge it every night, but was constantly impressed the battery life was in the 40-50% range at the end of the day. I also have to give Samsung credit for making the smart choice by using a wireless charging dock. This is so much more pleasant to use than lining up pins on the back. However, I found the charging it up took hours and was slower than I’m used to with other watches.

Conclusion

The Gear S3 Frontier is definitely one of the best looking and most impressive watches you can get for Android. I love the design, battery life, and especially Samsung Pay. It’s so nice to not be limited to NFC only terminals. The worst part for me was Tizen. I found it packed full of settings and features but also clumsy and cluttered. It reminds me a lot of TouchWiz in that respect.

If you’ve never used Android Wear before you might not miss it. Personally I found myself missing the interface and Google Now or Assistant depending on your software version. Despite some minor complaints the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is a fantastic watch. It’s hard not to love a device when it gets so much right.

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