When I received the device, I noticed that the box was quite elegant. It follows most of the design conventions that Samsung has been using for the S7 (and has been refining since the S4 or S5). It was easy to open, but the device was safely secured within. I was pleased to see that it came with a neat magnetic charging dock/cradle, along both a wall charging adapter and a cable (as it should). For the curious, the charger is just a 700mA charger, so if you want to charge it on the go, you won't need either a Fast Charge or 2.1A charger to get the job done...any old USB plug will do.
Moving on to the device, it is definitely styled like a man's watch, with a large black-bezel, large black band (actually, two black bands; one small (in the box), and one large, already attached. For reference, I've had FitBits, and have needed, if only slightly, the large watch band, and this seems to follow the same rough sizing, though the notches are at slightly different intervals, so it's either a might snug, or rotate-around-my wrist loose.
The face of the device is black and gunmetal grey, with - as you might expect - the bezel is a stylized gear. It sports hatch marks, like on most sports watches. 5-minute increments are marked out around the inside of the round frame. There are two buttons on the right side, and the bezel rotates both ways (the 5-minute increments, of course, are fixed).
I long-pressed the bottom right button to turn it on, opened up the Samsung Gear app on my S7 (you'll need to download it if you don't have it already), and got to setting it up. This process is pretty straight-forward, though you may have to bounce around the app to get all the settings straightened out. The default watch face is analog, but there is a watch face storefront, and there are a ton of both free and paid options. I have - in addition to the stock ones - an analog Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks face, a purple Matrix-styled animated digital face, and - for $1 - an animated LCARS (Star Trek) digital face (both of these latter two show both the time, the date, my heart rate, my step count, and my calories burned). I get bored easily, so I'm sure I'll be trying others out, but the flexibility is quite nice to have, after the limited 4 or 5 utilitarian options of the Fitbit Blaze.
In many ways, the interface looks much like an Apple Watch with its little bubble icons, though the ones on the Gear S3 are around the edge, and can be highlighted by twisting the bezel (which to me is more functional). It has a ton of built-in apps: weather, calendar, tasks, email, messaging, phone, contacts, photos, music, Find My Phone, S Voice, altimeter/barometer, Flipboard, alarm, world time, settings, S Health, Samsung Pay, and reminders. It also has widgets, both already in place, and ones you can download and add.
Now, there are some oddities here: the photos app requires that the photos actually be side-loaded onto the watch from your phone, rather than viewing your phone's gallery. I'm sure this is because this thing has LTE, and can be used in a completely stand-alone mode (with a contract), but it's still odd, and something I'd like to see the option to switch between in future. I know it's possible, because the music app has a similar ability (you can load music directly on the device and play it on the watch itself), BUT can also simply be used as a remote for playback on the phone.
Additionally, because this thing is running Tizen, it really only wants to play nicely with Samsung apps. I don't use Samsung's messaging app, nor its email app, and - while S Health is pretty nice - I'm a 3-plus year FitBit user, so my data is all in that portal. Additionally, I'm more used to Google Assistant, rather than S Voice. That said...there are workarounds. I can simply get over the S Voice thing. It works well, or at least well enough, and it's not a big part of my use case. With FitBit, there's a free app called Fit and Healthy which syncs steps and other data back and forth from FitBit to S Health, and vice-versa, and that’s working very nicely (plus, I can also import data into S Health, so I may choose to switch over at some point). For email and texting, however, it’s a bit trickier. I’m thinking of switching over from the Gmail app (which works a treat) to the stock Samsung email app to get (or at least test) whatever additional functionality that would provide. Right now, I can read and reply to new emails, but not send cold emails, or read old ones.
That takes care of most of the issues, but for my texting, I use Signal, because (especially now) I have privacy concerns, and my texting with it is encrypted. This presented an issue, but there seems to be a workaround. First, as with Gmail, you will not be able to read your old texts on your watch. However, you will be able to receive and reply to current ones. Oh, and btw, the quick replies function is very helpful. Stuff like ‘OK’, or ‘No’, or ‘On my way’ are on the list, and you can also enter text using T9, or voice recognition, or something like the old Palm Pilot handwriting recognition, one letter at a time…and an emoji keyboard (critical these days).
Oh, and Facecbook Messenger notifications also come through (and can be replied to), AND I’m one of those people still using Hangouts, which I get notifications for and can reply to, but for which there isn’t an on-watch app. No biggie; as long as I get new stuff, that’s fine. I don’t want to use the watch for everything…just to make life easier for the quick notifications and stuff.
NOTE: When you clear a notification from the watch, you can choose whether it clears on the device or not, and vice-versa. Also, you can set whether notifications appear on the watch, even if you’re actively using your phone, and some other stuff, which is great.
Finding all of the features for replying and figuring out gestures for dismissing and moving around took about a day (not constant, of course…just occasional playing around), but now I can navigate things pretty quickly. To scroll a notification, run your finger upward from the bottom. To dismiss a notification, repeat until you drag the message into the trash can that appears. To perform quick actions, just look for them at the bottom of a notification. To do more, like reply or see something on your phone, tap the three dots at the right edge. To switch between apps, widgets, notifications, keyboards, adjust volume (both on the device and on the phone, as applicable), and to change time for alarms, etc., rotate the bezel. With a little practice, it becomes pretty intuitive, and I’m really enjoying it.
Okay, so that’s notifications and text-based stuff, but what about the phone?! Well…basically, at least with the Frontier, it connects over Bluetooth, and it works pretty well. You can dial or pick from a contact, or – if you must – speak the name of the person you want to call. When on the call, you can switch the call back and forth to and from the watch and phone. Today, I had a 25-minute phone conversation solely on the watch and it was clear both ways. Yesterday, I had a much flakier experience, but I think that was because I was in an area with poor reception, rather than a connection issue with the watch.
Speaking of talk time, I fully charged the device the first night I had it, but haven’t since, and – with lots of testing and that long phone call – it’s down to about 40%. The dock, btw, is classy and super-easy-to-use. It takes a microUSB cable, but can be detached and stuck in a pocket or backpack for travel, and hooked up anywhere, which is handy. Anyhow…even with 2 solid days of use, I figure I can get another day out of it, maybe two.I also like that it has Samsung Pay, the heart rate monitor seems pretty accurate, and as mentioned above, the watch bands are changeable.
Bottom line: I’m really enjoying the Gear S3 Frontier, despite a few quirks and some ecosystem limitations. With some tweaks, I’ve made it fit my lifestyle, and unlike my other/previous smart accessories, it has a great deal of practical uses (and some great show-off because-I-can features, as well). If you have the money, it’s a worthy gadget. Just remember that it’s not running Android Wear.