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Monday, February 13, 2017

Do Gear S3 smartwatches have a future?

Samsung's third generation smartwatch has already arrived in New Zealand stores. As its been tested, one question remained in the back of my mind:
with the smartwatch market contracting, do smartwatches have what it takes to thrive?

The Gear S3 smartwatch comes in two styles, the Classic and the Frontier, and both cost $599. As the name suggests, the Frontier is aimed at rugged outdoorsy types while the Classic is more for urbanites. Both watches are compatible with Android and Apple devices.

WHAT'S NEW

There's now built-in GPS which tracks runs and workouts and can send out location details with the Gear's SOS alert feature. Dick Tracey fans will also like the S3's built-in speaker, which allows the wearer to make and receive phone calls. A built-in barometer counts floors/stairs climbed and helps with weather forecasting.

The Frontier also has 4G which in theory allows you to use it without a phone. Unfortunately, it was disabled in my review unit as I suspect this may be because enabling it would require negotiations with telcos. It'll be a killer feature that fitness fanatics (sick of lugging a phone when on a run) will pay a premium for.

LOOK AND FEEL The S3 isn't small. The Frontier's 46mm body is chunky and heavier than the Gear S2. This is most likely because of the extra sensors, its bigger battery and 4G. It feels like the sort of smartwatch Rambo would wear. 

Its size may not suit everyone, but the smaller Gear S2 is still available. The watch is waterproof up to 1.5m for up to 30 minutes. Unlike Apple's latest watch, it's not recommended for swimming.

 USABILITY
Samsung chose to stick with the same usability formula that made the Gear S2 such a success. The primary means of navigation involves spinning the watch's bezel to scroll through widgets and notifications Tapping its bottom button fires up a list of installed apps. Selecting an app is as simple as tapping its on-screen icon. 

Input options range from a workable on-screen keyboard to speech recognition. The S3 also did well when it came to battery life. This is a pretty big deal. Nightly charges and dead smartwatches halfway through the day have seen many a shiny new device consigned to the bottom of the sock drawer. Not so with the S3. 

One of the key benefits of the S3's chunky form factor is its big 380mAh battery. This delivered 2-3 days of use with the S3's screen brightness set to high and GPS tracking turned on. Disabling the always-on screen mode extends battery life to 3-4 days. Compared to the battery life of both Android Wear and the Apple watch, this is pretty impressive. 

About the only real criticism is the lack of apps available for the operating system, Tizen. But for most this isn't going to be a big deal as long as the basics are there. However, the big question though is this: can it survive and thrive in a challenging smartwatch market?

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The S3 also has military-grade durability (MIL- STD-810G). In non-geek speak, that means it'll also take temperature extremes and still function.You can also add straps to customise the S3's looks. The supplied silicon strap can get released via a pin mechanism.

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