Samsung has had an explosive year, and not in the way it would have hoped. The recall of both the Galaxy Note 7 and certain washing machines run the risk of being the standout points from a year the firm will want to forget. As a result, its other releases have been eclipsed by its failures (financial results already attest to this).
Among these new offerings from the South Korean firm is the Gear S3 Frontier. The smartwatch, revealed in August and released in October, is one design of the S3 watch range; the other being the Classic.
The Frontier is slightly heavier (63g, minus strap, compared to 59g) than the Classic. It offers an LTE version, and has a more rugged design than its sibling. Elsewhere, the two watches are similar in spec and both have two buttons, a bezel, 1.3-inch screen, gorilla glass, 768MB memory + 4GB, wireless charging, an accelerometer, Gyro, barometer, plus a heart rate monitor. WIRED has been testing the Android-only watch for the past fortnight; does it do enough to save Samsung’s
To wear, the Frontier is comfortable but bold. Its 12.9mm depth is noticeable the first time it is put on (both for the wearer and strangers), but with time the device begins to feel natural. For dainty wrists, though, the Classic may be a better option.
The watch’s bezel, which can be turned to scroll through menus and apps, works well. It is simple, speedy and intuitive to spin through apps and a practical alternative to constantly swiping the screen. However, at times and particularly in bright light, the reflectiveness of the bezel can take away from the watch’s industrial design.
The device is water resistant for everyday activities, with an IP68 rating, letting notifications, time-keeping and other functions be used in the typically wet British weather, and more importantly the shower. In the wet, the screen is responsive but often requires two swipes to move between screens. It should also be noted that the Frontier’s IP68 rating only allows for it to be used in water with a depth of up to 1.5 metres so it shouldn’t be taken swimming.
Samsung’s creation of a range of 22mm wristbands means the watch can be personalised depending on an event or occasion.
Generally, the screen is incredibly quick to respond to touch and we didn’t see any obvious lag throughout the time using it.
Inbuilt GPS works well for running, but WIRED questions how often the barometer within the device will be used to detect the changes in the weather. There’s also the query of how often, despite the feature working perfectly well, phone calls will be made through the watch’s speaker/microphone. Among the most satisfying features was the vibrating alarm. It has numerous modes and woke us up with ease. It is also easy to snooze the alarm with either the bezel or a swipe. The ability for the 4GB of internal storage to be used for music and connecting directly to Bluetooth headphones means you can listen to music when exercising without a mobile phone, or when your phone’s battery dies.
Despite the potential of this onboard storage, in terms of apps the watch feels light. Uber, ESPN, and Flipboard are three of the big names that can easily be downloaded and used simply. Android Pay is enabled, too, but there could be a lot more. However, credit to Samsung for not installing stock timers, and monthly calendar views as default; a significant move away from the firm’s annoying habit of loading new devices with bloatware.
The S Voice feature (which is likely be expanded on future product iterations) hears commands well and is able to set reminders and provide responses to messages with speed.
Compared to the Gear S2, there’s more embedded inside the Frontier and S3, and it has a more watch-like feel, with brushed and polished elements across the range improving upon the uniform finish. The biggest gripe during WIRED’s testing was how notifications are displayed with the text of some messages being cut-off at the sides of the screen. Too often, the watch does not wake when the wrist is raised, either.
That said, the screen (360×360 pixels for 278ppi) is clear and crisp to look at, can be turned to a high brightness setting, and doesn’t appear to suffer in the UK’s, limited, winter sunlight.
Overall the latest Samsung offering is high quality. It’s not possible to dock review points from a device for being Android only; the Apple Watch is equally locked into an operating system. During testing, WIRED used the new Google Pixel XL and found the Frontier easy to connect to the device and the Bluetoothconnection didn’t drop out.
The Frontier isn’t without flaws. But if you’re looking for an Android-based smartwatch that’s able to show notifications from your phone as well as monitoring your sleep, movement, and other health-based metrics – Samsung’s device is a great companion.