Hands on: Samsung Gear S3 Classic review

Going (literally) bigger and better than ever

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

Samsung's Gear smartwatch is bigger than ever in every sense of the word. That's wonderful for its capabilities and longevity, but loses it points in terms of, well, wearability.

For

  • Animated always-on display
  • Completely feature-packed
  • Larger display
  • Longer battery life

Against

  • May be too large for some

Samsung has iterated on its impressive Gear S2 smartwatch in some big ways – both literally and figuratively. The Gear S3 – in both its Frontier and Classic varieties – comes packing a larger display, a bigger battery and more features than ever before.

Here, we're talking specifically about the Classic model, but the differences between it and the Gear S3 Frontier are all but nil save for their aesthetics, weight and an LTE radio for the latter.

Despite their sameness, both versions stand to bring Samsung's smartwatch to the next level, perhaps even beyond that of certain rivals.

Here's a quick look at the Samsung Gear S3 in the flesh

Homing in on the design and display

The Gear S3 Classic, at first glance, simply looks like a much bigger version of the previous, and that largely checks out upon closer inspection. Samsung has increased its display size to 1.3 inches around from 1.2 inches, using the same Super AMOLED technology.

The screen even maintains its 360 x 360-pixel resolution, but surely loses a few pixels per inch due to its increased size, although the exact figure hasn't been provided. Regardless, the screen looks gorgeous, and we're thankful for having to touch it less in order to navigate, unlike on so many other smartwatches.

Speaking of which, we're told that Samsung has improved the magnetism within the returning rotary hinge for a better feel. Between that and its increased size, it certainly feels easier to manage.

The watch generally keeps the same design as before, but has swapped out the black metal frame for a more traditional silver one. However, where there were two buttons are now two crowns – only they don't rotate, just depress.

So, how much bigger is this version than the last? With dimensions of 46 x 49 x 12.9mm, that's around three millimeters bigger on its sides and more than a millimeter thicker. And, coming from just 42g to now 57g, you can absolutely feel the difference.

The way Samsung sees it, since the Gear S2 models aren't being discontinued but rather getting price cuts, there are smaller options available for customers. If you ask this editor in particular, he might opt for the older version on account of size and weight alone.

However, there's one feature about the Gear S3 that might entice you to go big or go home: its always-on display (AOD). This AOD isn't like the ones you've seen thus far.

Samsung Gear S3 Classic

For how similar they are on the inside, each version sports a unique look

We're told that Samsung has dedicated a sliver of the device's 768MB of RAM to push information to the AOD. This allows the AOD to not only display color – 16 million color options, to be exact – but also display the time in, well, real time.

Seeing it in action, we hope that Samsung's rivals catch on, and fast, as this handily solves the problem of smartwatches going "dumb" when the screen is off.

Overall, the design is definitely a bit more unwieldy than before in terms of weight and size – it looks a bit silly on this editor's wrist. But, those increases only net you a bigger and better screen, plus easier navigation with the rotary bezel and more battery capacity.

A bigger feature set means a bigger battery

Naturally, all of these fancy new screen features requires extra power, and Samsung has delivered in spades. Both versions of the Gear S3 house a 380mAh juice pack that's said to last for three to four days of regular use – a leap over the previous generation's two to three day figure.

What does that extra battery life get you beyond that brilliant display? Well, this time around, Samsung's smartwatches pack an altimeter and a speedometer in addition to last year's standard array of sensors, making this an even better fitness device than before. (The watch even tracks your personal use trends related to those sensors, now – including sleep!)

Samsung Gear S3 Classic

They both look a little silly on this wrist, even apart

On top of that, the Gear S3 can now operate as a phone speaker when paired with a smartphone, with the ability to answer the call from the watch. Furthermore, the Gear S3 can play back streaming music over Wi-Fi (or LTE in the Frontier's case) through a custom Spotify app for its Tizen 2.3.2 operating system.

Finally, we're told that Samsung is testing the Gear S3's ability to control navigation and interaction when using a Gear VR headset. Specifically, the firm is looking at the bezel as a navigation tool, and tapping the screen for basic interactions – but, again, it's in alpha testing.

The best of the rest

Powering the Gear S3 Classic is a 1GHz, dual-core processor that Samsung hasn't specified yet, supported by 768MB of RAM and 4GB of flash storage. Also behind the Corning Gorilla Glass, you'll find Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi b/g/n, NFC and GPS for connectivity.

On the sensor front, the new altimeter and speedometer are joined again by the accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, heart rate monitor and ambient light sensor. Finally, the Gear S3 achieves IP68 specification once again for dust, water and extreme temperature resistance, and is compatible with Android phones running 4.4 KitKat or better with at least 1.5GB of RAM.

Just as before, the Gear S3 is compatible with any 22mm watch strap, of which Samsung already has several available, thanks to designer Arik Levy. As of this writing, Samsung has yet to reveal neither pricing nor availability details.

Samsung Gear S3 Classic

Accessory nuts, Samsung is ready for you

Early verdict

The Gear S3 Classic is a logical evolution for Samsung's flagship smartwatch in that its increased size allows for increased capability and longevity. But, that increased size stands to diminish its appeal as a fashion accessory. If SNL's Sprockets taught us anything, it's that smaller is always better.

Jokes aside, the Gear S3 Classic straddles the line between function and form, but ends up further on the side of function despite its ever-more-stylish design. Whether that's a step in the right direction depends almost entirely on your preference.

Samsung Gear S3 Classic

This is Samsung's smartwatch experiment down to a science

What's for sure is that Samsung has finally found its center in creating smartwatches. What you see here is likely what you'll see next September, only refined even further.

But, without getting too far ahead of ourselves, the Gear S3 Classic is one of the most attractive, capable smartwatches we've seen yet. We can't wait to strap it on our wrists for longer than 10 minutes in a full review.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.