Just narrowly missing out on the top spot overall, the Samsung Gear S3 scored exceptionally well in our tests. This model is very easy to use, has a fantastic display, long battery life, and is by far the best out of the entire group at being a fitness tracker. Unfortunately, it loses a ton of functionality when used with a non-Samsung phone, such as no longer being able to receive notifications.
Samsung Gear S3 Review
Pros: Easy to use, great display, best variety of trackable workouts
Cons: Slow to charge, limited app compatibility
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Our Analysis and Test Results
This stylish watch is available in two designs, with the sleeker Classic look or the sportier Frontier model. Featuring a unique rotating bezel to navigate between menus, this is definitely a model worth considering if you have a Samsung phone, or an Android phone if you don't mind limited text, call, and email notifications. This model will work with iOS phones but the capabilities are even further reduced.
We spent in excess of 160 hours researching and testing the top 8 models of smartwatches that you can buy today, conducting over 25 different tests and comparing the results side-by-side. The Samsung Gear S3 did very well as mentioned above, earning the second-highest score of the group with a 75 out of 100.
Our test was split into five weighted sections, Ease of Use, Smart Functions, Display, Fitness Impact, and Battery Life, each with a handful of different tests and comparisons. The following sections give more detail on how the Gear S3 did in each test and its subscore for each test section.
Ease of Use
Making up the largest portion of the overall score, Ease of Use was the most important metric in our test. We ranked and compared the interface, resistance to water, charging method, screen responsiveness, and the difficulty in swapping wristbands for each model. The Gear S3 tied with the Apple Watch Series 2 for the top score in this metric, with both watches earning an 8 out of 10. The following chart shows how the remaining watches compared to these two top scorers in terms of being easy to use.
The Gear S3 had one of the most responsive screens of the entire group, both at waking up and navigating using the touchscreen. This model woke almost instantly when raising your wrist to look at the screen, lighting up with practically zero delay. The touchscreen responded easily to inputs without being finicky or twitchy, making it very nice to scroll through all of the menus. This model lacks a crown scroll but has a bezel scroll — a unique feature, and a convenient way to navigate through the menus.
The Gear S3 had one of the nicest charging setups of the group, sitting securely in a cradle. This was an exceptionally reliable connection and not prone to accidental disconnects like other models.
This model is water resistant to the IP68 standard, meaning it can be submerged for up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes, but is not suitable for swimming or diving
To judge the set of smart functions on each watch, we tested compatibility with popular apps, the ability to take phone calls directly on the watch, whether or not you could control music, pay for things, and if the watch had a standalone GPS module. The Gear S3 did alright, earning a 7 out of 10 in this set of tests, which make up one-fifth of the overall score. This watch compared quite well with the others in our test in terms of smart functions.
We took 10 popular apps and attempted to install them on each watch, rating them on compatibility and functionality. The Gear S3 actually scored very poorly in this test, only working with Facebook Messenger and a very reduced form of Twitter.
The Gear S3 did allow you to make phone calls from your wrist and had average sound quality when your wrist was raised. This model did allow you to control your music, but only allows you to skip, play/pause, and adjust the volume, not thumb tracks up or down in Pandora.
It also has NFC technology, allowing you to pay for transactions with Samsung Pay. Finally, it also a built-in GPS in the unit, though it will drain the battery faster.
None of the features and functions on any of these products are useful if you can't see the screen. We compared the quality of the screens on each device, their visibility in both bright and dim lighting conditions, if the display was complete or clipped, if you could set the brightness to automatically adjust, and if you could set the display to be on all the time. The Gear S3 bounced back from its lackluster Smart functions score, tying with the Apple Watch Series 2 for the top score in this metric with an 8 out of 10.
Our rating panel rated this as having the second-highest screen quality, finishing just slightly behind the Apple Watch Series 2. The Gear S3 has a 1.3" 360x360 AMOLED screen that looks great but just isn't quite as sharp or crisp as the Retina display on the Apple Watch.
It was easy to see the Gear S3 in both bright and dim conditions, on par with the Apple Watch. The screen is also a complete circle — not a clipped, "flat tire" that many poorer-performing models had.
The Gear S3 did have a slight edge on the Apple Watch in terms of adjustability, being able to configure its display to automatically adjust and to always remain on — traits that the Apple Watch lacked.
In addition to helping you remain connected to your digital life, this product can improve your physical life as well, aiding you in tracking your fitness. We evaluated the accuracy of the heart rate monitor and step counter against controls, as well as ranking the workout tracking capabilities of each model. We also awarded extra points for being able to track flights of stairs climbed. The Samsung Gear S3 did very well, earning an 8 out of 10 in this metric — the highest score of the group.
The Gear S3 had a very accurate step counter, with a count that only differed from our manual control count by 0.8% — only about 22 steps short over a mile walk.
To test the accuracy of the heart rate monitor, we compared its measurement to a chest strap style monitor and scored the watches based on the different readings. The Gear S3 did well, usually within about 5 bpm while resting.
While it did very well in our heart rate and step counting tests, it was in workout tracking where the Gear S3 truly excelled and ran past the competition. This model will automatically detect certain workouts and record the relevant data after you have been doing them for 10 minutes and had the largest array of workout profiles to choose from. You can choose from running, walking, cycling, hiking, elliptical, stationary bike, step machine, treadmill, lunges, crunches, squats, stair jumps, pilates, yoga, and rowing, as well as an "Other" profile if you are doing an activity that doesn't fall under that above list.
The Gear S3 will track your start and stop time for your workout, duration, distance, calorie, average speed, max heart rate, intensity zones, as well as a map of where you went. This model also has an altimeter to track your elevation changes.
This model was also the only one of the entire group that tracks how many flights of stairs you climb in a day and was reasonably accurate, only missing one flight out of ten in our test.
Our final metric, Battery Life, made up 15% of the total score. We tested how long each model lasted with normal use, the time it took to charge completely, and the time to fast charge to 50% to determine the scores. The Samsung Gear S3 did exceptionally well in this test, meriting a 7 out of 10 and tying with the Asus ZenWatch 3 for the top score, as highlighted in the following graphic.
We sent an identical set of notifications and call to each model on a schedule, and the Gear S3 lasted the longest of the entire group, making it 76 hours until it died. It did charge a little on the slower side, taking about an hour to hit 50% charge and 140 minutes to completely top off, but this is understandable since it has such an impressive battery life.
The Gear S3 is a fantastic smartwatch for those with Samsung phones but does have one of the higher price tags of the bunch. If this tag is causing you to shudder, then you may want to consider the predecessor to the S3, the Samsung Gear S2, which usually retails for close to $150 less.
The Gear S3 is an overall strong performing model with an impeccable set of fitness tracking attributes. However, we would only recommend this to Samsung phone users, even though it is compatible with other Android and iOS phones. The compatibility with other phone types is reduced and if you are going to pay a premium for a top smartwatch, it's best that you have the ability to make full use of its functions.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer