Samsung at IFA 2016: Gear S3 hands-on

GSMArena team, 31 August 2016.

Samsung Gear S3 Classic and Frontier - the features

If there are two complaints about smartwatches, they are looks and battery life. We already covered the looks, but there's plenty to say about the battery.

Let's start some way off the 380mAh battery - with the screen. Specifically, the Always-on screen.

Samsung developed it quite recently (with the S7 and Note7) and now it has the full 16 million colors at its disposal. Compare that to the 8 (not million, just eight) that the Gear S2 Always on screen could manage.

Better yet, the Always on screen is updated much more often than before (the second hand ticks!), so you can use it instead of waking the screen (which uses more power).

The Samsung Gear S3 Classic and Frontier are expected to last 3-4 days on average. By using the Power saving feature (which can be enabled manually), you can double that - but this mode restricts features to notifications and calls.

The Power Off Watch mode kicks in automatically at 5% battery left and only shows the time - no smart features to speak of, but it saves a ton of energy.

Gear S3 Classic and Frontier hanging out - IFA 2016 Samsung Gear S3 Classic and Frontier hanging out - IFA 2016 Samsung
Gear S3 Classic and Frontier hanging out - IFA 2016 Samsung Gear S3 Classic and Frontier hanging out - IFA 2016 Samsung
Gear S3 Classic and Frontier hanging out

The chipset definitely helps. Samsung was a bit secretive about the exact specs but did reveal that it's a 14nm chip with two CPU cores at 1.0GHz. Perhaps it's related to the Exynos 7570 chipset somehow, both are the first 14nm entries in their class. The chipset is paired with 768MB of RAM and 4GB of built-in storage.

The Gear S3 runs Tizen 3.2.1 and is fully backward compatible with apps developed for the S2.

A big feature Samsung showed off was Pay. The S3 supports both NFC terminals as well as older ones with MST (which the S2 lacked). The interface is simple enough, you scroll through all credit/debit cards you've set up by rotating the bezel. You don't need a phone on you, everything is handled by the Gear S3.

A demo PoS terminal to test Samsung Pay over both NFC and MST - IFA 2016 Samsung
A demo PoS terminal to test Samsung Pay over both NFC and MST

The Gear S3 has other ways to make you leave your phone at home. There's a 3G/LTE version of the Gear S3 frontier that can make calls on a loudspeaker and microphone (with the S2 generation, this was restricted to carrier-branded watches).

The Wi-Fi only versions - S3 frontier and S3 classic - can also work as a hands-free for your phone, so you can leave it in your pocket. You can also control Spotify on your phone, again without taking it out.

The watch has its own Spotify app so it can work independently (obviously, you'll need an Internet connection to stream tracks not in offline cache).

Much like the Fit2, the Gear S3 features sport tracking features - a heart rate monitor and GPS run tracking to name a couple. Samsung wants to kindle your competitive spirit with a feature that lets you match up against a friend in pursuit of a goal.

Samsung Gear S3 first thoughts

It's been two days since we landed in Berlin and we've seen many gadgets, including smartwatches. This is the one that won our hearts with its premium design - it looks like a proper luxury watch. We do prefer the Gear S3 frontier though - for the optional LTE, for the numbers on the bezel, even for the wrist bands. Yes, rubber is usually not the premium option, but in a way we can't convey in text it just feels better than the leather bands used on the S3 classic. Swapping bands is fast and easy, so customization is always an option if you end up liking neither.

You may scoff at Tizen, but the reality is that the Gear S3 is miles ahead of its Android Wear competition on a number of fronts. First off, the rotating bezel should be at the center of all watch interfaces. Second, the Always on screen is so much better than what other watches have to offer (yes, even the S2). And with Tizen, Samsung can sprint ahead and add new features without waiting for Google - the Gear S3 has the best wireless payment option of all watches (including the Apple Watch, MST is a big thing in the US). One area where Tizen is behind is iOS integration, but Samsung is working on it, it's already in open beta (but no ETA).

Samsung unveiled just one device at IFA, the Gear S3. We suppose, one is enough if it ends up the winner - and we believe the Samsung Gear S3 is a likely one.