Hands on: Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review

Well connected for the sporty types

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The Gear S3 Frontier looks to be Samsung's best active wearable yet, but also its biggest. The size may be divisive, but no one will question this smartwatch's style and capability.

For

  • Rugged, waterproof design
  • LTE radio
  • Always-on display
  • Strong battery life

Against

  • May be too large for some

The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is a rugged smartwatch with LTE connectivity, allowing you to leave your phone at home as you venture out into the world.

Samsung launched two new smartwatches at IFA 2016, the Gear S3 Frontier and the Gear S3 Classic, and it's rather confusing that both sport the 'Gear S3' name and have almost identical specs.

There are a few key differences between the two watches, however, with the Gear S3 Frontier aimed firmly at those who spend most of their time outdoors.

While the Gear S3 Frontier has the same dimensions as the 57g S3 Classic at 46 x 49 x 12.9mm, it's slightly heavier at 62g. That also makes it quite a bit heavier than the standard Apple Watch and the Apple Watch Sport.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review

Chock full of features

On-screen, you'll see the Frontier runs Samsung's own Tizen operating system (version 2.3.2), rather than Android Wear, which means applications will be limited in comparison to Google's platform – although Samsung is fully behind its wearable offering.

The good news is that you don't have to own a Samsung phone to use the Gear S3 Frontier, as it will work with any handset running Android 4.4 and above with at least 1.5GB of RAM. To use the Samsung Pay contactless payment technology, though, you will need one of the South Korean's compatible handsets, and for the service to be available in your country.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review

Always-on means a 'never dumb' smartwatch

Samsung has equipped the Gear S3 Frontier with the same 360 x 360-pixel resolution, Super AMOLED display as its sibling and the previous generation, but increased the display size to 1.3 inches. While it makes for a roomier interface and easier navigation, it also makes for a simply bigger watch, which you may or may not appreciate.

That screen also sports always-on technology, using a sliver of the smartwatch's 768MB of RAM to allow the screen to display the time, in real time, in up to 16 million colors when it's "off". This handily solves the problem of a smartwatch going "dumb" whenever the screen isn't active.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review

More capability calls for a bigger battery

Samsung also brought two all-new sensors to its wearable array on top of what was already there in the S2 series: an altimeter and a speedometer. Naturally, this couple with the LTE radio make for an appealing option for hikers and the like.

Of course, all of these new features called for more power, and Samsung seems to have delivered on that in spades. The Gear S3 Frontier houses a 380mAh battery, a huge improvement over the Gear S2's 250mAh one.

This is the easiest culprit for the devices very noticeable increased weight, but the trade-off is three to four days of battery life, Samsung claims. That's a huge leap over the previous generation's two-to-three-day figure.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review

The best of the rest

Powering the whole experience here is a dual-core, 1GHz processor which Samsung has yet to specify the make of, supported by that 768MB of RAM and 4GB of flash storage. In addition to LTE, the Gear S3 Frontier features 3G, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi b/g/n, NFC and GPS connectivity.

As for sensors, the new altimeter and speedometer join the standard array of an accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, heart rate monitor and ambient light sensor. And, to give an idea of just how rugged this smartwatch is, the Gear S3 Frontier passes an IP68 specification for dust, water and extreme temperature resistance.

As for customization options, you can slap any old 22mm watch band onto the Gear S3 Frontier, though Samsung has several available to purchase, thanks to designer Arik Levy.

Finally, as of this writing, Samsung has yet to issue neither pricing nor availability details.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review

Early verdict

The Gear S3 Frontier is an impressive evolution of its wearable offerings for the active crowd, bringing the capability they need in a design you wouldn't be surprised to find in, say, a Fossil store. It's increased size and heft from the Gear S2 generation allows for increased capability and longevity, but stands to diminish its appeal as a active wear accessory.

Samsung has made a huge leap in its wearable offerings for active folks with the Gear S3 Frontier, both literally and figuratively. However, its size and weight is sure to be divisive, perhaps enough to push would-be buyers away despite its gorgeous design. (Trust us, you can feel those extra 5 grams next to the Gear S3 Classic.)

Regardless, what's clear here is that Samsung has finally found its center in creating smartwatches. What you see here is probably what you'll see next year, only further improved.

Here's a quick look at the Samsung Gear S3

But, without getting ahead of ourselves, the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is one of the most capable and attractive active-focused wearables we've seen yet. Stay tuned for our full review.

John McCann also contributed to this hands-on 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.