Late last year, Samsung released the latest iteration of their smartwatch, the Gear S3 under two separate styles: Classic, and Frontier. The S3 has quickly become one of, if not the flagship smartwatch of the year to get, with Samsung baking in as many features as possible into a sturdy, yet attractive design.
All those features come at a steep price, however, with both the Classic and Frontier versions of the S3 retailing for $349.99.
The good news is that budget-minded consumers can rejoice in knowing that there are competitor devices on the market that can offer an uncompromised experience, providing many of those same features, but for a lower price.
Before we look at those other devices, let’s start by looking at what the S3 offers.
From a feature standpoint, both the Classic and the Frontier models are identical, differing only in exterior styling. The Classic has a more traditional look with a prominent silver bezel and crowns. The Frontier, on the other hand, has a more rugged look, appearing more hardened and thicker thanks to the use of darker colored metals used in lieu of the silver from the Classic.
An LTE-enabled version of the Frontier is available through some carriers, offered at the same price point as the non-LTE versions.
The first thing most people will notice about the Gear S3 is the build quality. The watch is made with premium materials, and as per the IP68 certification is both water and dust resistant. Even the included silicone strap feels premium and can still be swapped out with any 22mm standard strap.
The 360×360 Super AMOLED screen is both bright and sharp, and the 1.3-inch screen is large enough that function is not sacrificed in lieu of form. The screen is protected with Gorilla Glass SR+, which provides a hardened, and more scratch resistant display and the casing itself if made of stainless steel.
Make no mistake, the S3 is a big watch in terms of size, coming in at 46mm, but oddly enough if you’re accustomed to wearing a watch, which thanks to the advent of the smartphone, many of us aren’t anymore, this is neither too large or too heavy, weighing just 63g, or 2.2oz.
One area where Samsung has really impressed with the Gear S3 is on battery life. The 380mah battery means you can get two, or even three full days of moderate to heavy usage out of the watch before needing to charge it in the included dock. The charging process itself is simple; just drop the watch into the included dock and magnets will ensure that the watch is lined up and charges wirelessly.
Under the hood, Samsung packed a lot into the Gear S3. The device is powered by an Exynos 7270, coupled with 768mb of RAM and 4GB of storage. Samsung managed to fit an array of sensors into the watch, including a heart rate monitor, NFC, MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission, which in conjunction with NFC let’s you use the S3 to make purchases), GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, altimeter, barometer, gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, as well as both a microphone and speaker.
The microphone and speaker work great, allowing a user to utilize voice controls to accomplish tasks, or even make and receive calls when connected to a phone. Using Samsung’s S Voice is a breeze to accomplish quick tasks, such as calling or texting a contact, setting a reminder, checking the weather, reading messages, or generally performing any number of tasks that would normally require stopping what you are doing and getting your phone out.
The watch runs on Samsung’s Tizen operating system, which has matured into an efficient and simple to use operating system. While this means a smaller catalog of applications over Android Wear, Tizen is more than up to the task. Navigating menus is a breeze, thanks to the rotating bezel that Samsung first introduced in the previous generation of Gear wearables.
The recent announcement and release of Android Wear 2.0 may leave some speculating over whether a Tizen-based device is a good option, considering some of the new features of Android Wear 2.0. The truth of the matter, however, is that Tizen is very efficient, and has all of the features a mobile user needs. Similarly, Android Wear doesn’t have any feature that a Tizen user would be enviable of, perhaps save for a larger app catalog. To put it another way, Android Wear 2.0 was more about leveling the playing field with Tizen, as opposed to surpassing it.
So how exactly does Samsung’s current flagship stack up against some of the competition? Let’s look at some great alternatives from LG, Asus, and Huawei.
3 Alternatives to the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier
1. LG Watch Style vs Samsung Gear S3 – The bare-bones competitor
LG announced two new smartwatches last month, effectively starting of a new generation of smartwatches set to run on Google’s Android Wear 2.0. The two versions of the LG Watch available include the smaller sized Style, and the larger, more feature-packed, and expensive, Watch Sport.
In terms of design, the Watch Style is a smaller, less pronounced device, which may work well for those looking for a smaller, and lighter package. Admittedly, the included 18mm watch band provided from MODE may seem a little too narrow for most.
The device is enclosed in an attractive stainless steel casing, and the 1.2-inch 360×360 screen is protected with Gorilla Glass 3. A single crown emerges from the side of the device, which can be used for navigation and selection in lieu of the touchscreen by either rotating the crown or pressing it inwards.
Unfortunately, the backside of the Watch Style lacks that same attractiveness, with just a plastic cover gracing the underside. The Watch Style also has an IP67 rating for both dust and water, which is thankfully becoming commonplace with newer devices.
The Snapdragon Wear 2100 from Qualcomm powers the Watch Style and LG outfitted the Style with 512mb of RAM and 4GB of internal storage. While this is more than ample to power the device efficiently, the Watch Style comes up short with respect to connectivity and sensor options.
The Watch Style lacks NFC, GPS, and Heart-rate measuring functionality. The only sensors present in the device are an accelerometer, ambient light sensor, and gyroscope. The Watch Style also lacks a speaker but includes a microphone, which translates into being able to record, but not playback an audio message.
Moving on to the battery, the Watch Style has a smaller 240mAh battery, which despite claims to last an entire day, could leave heavy power users needing to charge up before the end of the workday.The LG Watch Style is currently priced at $249.99.
2. Asus Zenwatch 3 – Premium build with a great mix of features
The Zenwatch 3 from Asus was announced earlier this year. Gone is the rectangular display and massive bezel that the previous generations were known for, and instead Asus has opted for a circular design that has a certain air of sophistication to it.
The watch itself is gorgeous, and between the three user-customizable crown buttons, rose gold trim and the premium leather band, the Zenwatch 3 could easily be mistaken for a luxury-branded analog watch. Even better, at just 9.5mm thin, the watch should have no problem fitting nicely under a shirt cuff – something that most other wearables such as the S3 still struggle with.
Unfortunately, that premium strap could be a little thin for some, and proprietary straps are never well received.
Turning to the internals, the Zenwatch 3 has 1.39-inch AMOLED display that pushes out an impressive 400 x 400 resolution at 287-pixels per inch density, that works well under a variety of lighting conditions. The Zenwatch 3 uses the Snapdragon Wear 2100 from Qualcomm, which like the LG Watch Style offers efficient operation without the need for a massive battery.
Asus still however managed to provide a respectable 341mAh battery into the Zenwatch 3, which can provide nearly two full days of use for most users. The included charging dock can impressively provide a 60% charge within 15 minutes, something that Asus touts as Hypercharge.
The Zenwatch 3 comes with 4GB of storage, and 512mb of RAM. Unfortunately, connectivity options seem to end at Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, however, as the watch lacks a GPS sensor, heart-rate monitor or NFC radios. Asus die however add a microphone and speaker to the Zenwatch 3, allowing both voice control and calls to be taken from the device when connected to a paired phone.
Asus gave the Zenwatch an IP67 rating for water resistance, which should be more than ample for most users that need to be around water, but keep in mind that the included strap is made of leather and may not handle water as nicely as the watch itself.
3. Huawei Watch 2 – A new Premium offering
Huawei announced the second generation Watch 2 smartwatch recently during MWC 2017. Huawei unveiled two devices in the Watch 2 line: The rugged looking Watch 2, and the thinner, more elegant Watch 2 Classic. Both versions of the device come equally equipped with a full array of sensors and features, and both run Google’s new Android Wear 2.0 operating system.
In terms of first impressions, the Watch 2 fits the bill as a wearable that is sturdy enough to take to the gym or to wear to the office. The included silicone strap and ceramic bezel look neither too flashy nor too delicate, which is a breath of fresh air for those that want a smartwatch that can be used as a daily driver, without worrying about scratches. To the side of the watch are two configurable crowns, which while a great addition, lack any rotating ability seen on many other devices with larger crowns.
The bezel, while contributing to overall ruggedness of the device, may seem a little larger to many, especially as it cannot rotate. By way of comparison, the S3 Frontier has a bezel that is nearly as defined, but it doubles up as a navigational aid.
As an aside, if the raised sport-like bezel is not your thing, Huawei’s other smartwatch, the Watch 2 Classic may be more to your liking. The Classic sports a stainless-steel bezel that is smaller and less defined.
The 20mm strap that is included is of a standard size that allows near limitless possibilities for replacement, depending on your taste.
As with the other smartwatches mentioned, the Watch 2 is both water and dust resistant, carrying an IP68 rating which translates into the device surviving up to 30 minutes in 1.5m of water.
Huawei packed a 1.2 inch AMOLED screen into the Watch 2, with a resolution of 390 x 390 that provides a very dense 326 pixels per inch. While this does make the screen crisp and bright, the fact remains that the Watch 2 has a smaller screen than most watches, and especially among the wearables that pack as much as Huawei did into this sleek package. As with most other smartwatches, Gorilla Glass 3 is protecting the small screen from any form of scratching.
Huawei also opted for the Snapdragon Wear 2100 to power the Watch 2, pairing the processor with 4GB of internal storage and 768MB of RAM. In terms of connectivity, Huawei Watch 2 supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and NFC. The smartwatch also includes heart-rate monitoring, and unlike most other smartwatches, the Watch 2 includes an LTE radio.
Battery life on the Huawei Watch 2 is estimated to be around two days between charges with moderate use, which is more than adequate to get people through a busy day or two. Charging the phone is done with the included charging dock, which connects easily to juice up the 420mAh battery.
If connectivity concerns are a non-issue, and you just want a smartwatch to wear for a few hours a day, the LG Watch Style may be for you.
Similarly, if you looking more into the fitness side of a smartwatch, the Huawei Watch 2 may be more up your alley.
Ultimately, it comes down to how you intend to use the device, and what features you value.