After a year with the Apple Watch; a year in which I was forced to eat my own words on the wearable; I have decided to give another contender in the smartwatch market a try. Though I flirted with the idea of getting a Pebble(and I will at some point) I opted to give Samsung’s Gear lineup a shot. And it just so happens that the companies newest watch; the Gear S3; was released late week. Perfect timing right?
All joking aside, the moment Samsung announced the Gear S3 I decided to purchase one. Partly because I like the idea of trying something new every now and then. But also because the company has made not only an attractive Apple Watch alternative; but what looks like a full-featured competitor that is posed to go round-for-round with the Titan. So what do I think after a few days with the Gear S3? Read my first impressions to find out.
Let’s start with talking a little about how the Gear S3 looks.I grabbed the Frontier version. To be honest, even if the Classic came in a LTE variant I would probably have still picked this one. Something about the black 316L Stainless Steel frame and flatter buttons with that Super AMOLED screen is just a sexy combo. The use of different textures throughout also leads to the watches appeal to me. The distinct feeling of the matte bezel, the smooth casing, and grid textured buttons gives each element its own character and shows that Samsung put thought into each one. The one piece of the watch I am not that fond of is the band. This is probably because I am a bit spoiled by the sports band on the Apple Watch; but it just feels cheap in comparison. This is one of the rare times I really wished a company copied another; at least when I came to material choice. On the plus side, the Gear S3 uses a standard 22mm watch band. So I switched mines out for something more my speed from my watch collection. If this was the Apple Watch I would have had to waited to purchase a proprietary one. So thats a win in my book.
My first experience with the watch was not a pleasant one. Now, this had nothing to do with Samsung themselves. Instead my first day was hampered by T-Mobile; who I purchased the LTE Frontier from. For the first day I was unable to use the watch because T-Mobile claimed it was not an eligible wearable device and blocked the internal SIM card from accessing the network. After a day of calling T-Mobile the issue was finally cleared and the Watch got full service. But the experience left a sour taste in my mouth.
Setting up and using are two different things…
Initially I paired the Gear S3 to the LG V20. It is nice that unlike one of its competitors the Samsung Gear S3 does play well with others. In fact, the company is working on an iOS companion app. It is currently in the beta phase but this means that sooner rather than later the watch could end up on the wrist of those with iPhones. I just hope the experience of using it on a non-Samsung device is fixed before that.
So what do I mean? Well, lets start with the positives. The watch will pair with any Android phone running Android 4.4 or higher with 1.5GB of RAM. This means a large number of consumers could enjoy Samsung’s offering. The pairing process is simple and work mostly the same between a Samsung and non-Samsung device; save for the need to download plugins to non-Samsung devices so the phone will support it. But the process is painless. Forwarded calls to the watch is also a quick and easy process(once your carrier start acting right). Samsung Pay also works great with non-Samsung devices. You add and manage cards through a section in the Gear Manager App. It lacks the gift card, loyalty card, and reward program found in the Samsung Pay App on flagship Samsung phones. But MST(Magnetic Secure Transmission) on a watch gives you freedom that is no given by those with NFC; which is limited by store supports.
But after that, things get a bit more annoying. I attempted to download Uber to the watch only to find that you also needed to download an Uber for Gear Companion app. Not a huge deal and well worth it to be able to use one of the few apps available on the watch. But this turned out to be an impossible task. See, the companion app refused to download to the V20. No matter how many attempts I made, no matter how many times a performed a light reset and repaired the watch to the phone, I continued to run into the same issue. The app is unavailable in the Google Play Store. You have to downloaded it from the Galaxy App Store. But the Galaxy Store you get on non-Samsung phones is extremely limited in what you are given access to. So when the companion app tries to download and can’t reach that area of the Galaxy App Store you are redirected to the Google Play Store. Which like I said does not have the app needed to run Uber on the watch.
This issue appears to also extend to updating apps. I attempted to update the S Health and S Voice apps; the latter of the two I personally would love to swap out for Google Search; hell I would take Siri over S Voice. But I digress. No matter how many times I tried I was unable to get the apps to update on the watch. Instead being taunted with a “Failed to Download” message. Again, this is problem that Samsung can fix. But the fact that is wasn’t addressed before releasing the watch either shows a lack of testing or the hopes that no one would be pairing it to a non-Samsung phone.
After numerous attempts I finally devices to change to my Galaxy S7. When paired to their flagship every thing runs like, well, clockwork. But here is the issue. I happen to be a crazy person with numerous phones. Your average consumer I am not. So what happens when you spend all of this money on a shiny new smartwatch only to find out it doesn’t play nice with your phone? Even though the company claims it will work just the same on it. It would be completely understandable if you felt a little burned by the company.
Now, I know this is something that could and more than likely will be addressed in an app update. And I will revisit pairing to a different phone once one if available for the Gear Manager. But when you release a product you should have an major issue like this ironed out beforehand. For a company that has had some REALLY bad press this year to not cross all their “t’s” and dot all their “i’s” isn’t the best idea.
But all of this may not bother you too much given the fact the app library for the Gear S3 is a bit sparse. The store has plethora of watch faces to choose from. But there is a lack of major third-party apps. Things that I have become accustomed to on the Apple Watch like Tile, Transit, and banking apps are nowhere to be found. And I’m still trying to figure out if this is something they are trying to address or if their vision of the smartwatch just doesn’t involve things like this. They could be trying to make a more self-contained experience where you have third-party apps that makes sense for a watch but for the most part the first-party applications are the stars.
Battery life so far
Samsung claims up to 3 days of battery life on the Gear S3. And when I first got the watch it feel WAY below that mark. I found that within 6 hours the watch was at 10%. The next day it lasted a bit longer but I still ended up with a 30% charger by the end of the day. But then I went into the settings. I found that cellular data and Wi-Fi were both on Always On. Which for something with a 380mAh battery is not going to lend to the best battery life. So I changed all of this things to Auto On/Off. This means that depending on the situation the watch will chose which connection type is best. Now, I have not hit the 3 day mark but that is mainly because it hasn’t been 3 days since I did this. As I type this It has been on for 1 day, 19 hours and the battery is at 54 percent. That three-day claim is more believable now.
More to come!
I will be spending some more time with the Gear S3 before sharing my review on it. Of course, I will also be comparing to the Apple Watch. Which means I will be wearing two watches for a while. That should be fun! I will be sharing my thoughts online periodically so if you aren’t following me on social media you really should.