Samsung Galaxy Watch 3: All show and (mostly) go
I have a very romantic idea of smartwatches. I imagine a future where the smartphone is dead and like in spy movies, we communicate via a hi-tech device that we simply wear on our wrists.
Maybe further down the line, they can invent a pop-up holographic screen for it. But the reality is the smartwatch is, for now, an accessory or add-on experience to the smartphone. Manufacturers are working to make their products as versatile as possible with the hope of them becoming more and more useful and accessible.
Enter the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, successor to the original Galaxy Watch and who sits on Samsung’s mantle alongside its fitness-oriented Galaxy Active 2 counterpart. Unveiled at the Unpacked event in August, the Watch 3 promises an improved overall experience for users. We spent some time with one to see if that’s true.
One of the best things about it, the Watch 3 is a very stylish device. Less to go with the tracksuit and more the casual suit or dress, the watch boasts a classic design with a traditional leather strap and stainless steel case, as well as a set of Home and Back side buttons that emit a very satisfying click when you press them, available in Mystic shades of Black, Silver, and Bronze (a titanium case version is expected to launch later as well).
Extra details such as the timer indentations on the bezel nail down what is definitely one of the best-looking smartwatches available. Available in both 41mm and 45mm sizes, the larger watch is very domineering and can very easily dwarf the wrist it sits on. The 41mm one looks and feels much more proportioned, though the prominent bezel does impact one’s ability to comfortably use the touch display.
But that can be forgiven as the bezel itself, which serves as a swivel dial for going through apps, music and scrolling through your text messages, is a very clever design choice and makes the whole device very easy to navigate and use daily. Finding a watch that suits you is no problem too thanks to a diverse collection of both pre-installed and downloadable options.
Manufacturers have a real challenge of proving the functionality of smartwatches beyond the established health and fitness capabilities that are offered, and it can be a real barrier to customers who may want something more than that.
Don’t get me wrong, the Watch 3 does cater to the former demographic and there’s a real push to cater to the latter.
The Watch 3 boasts a full complement of health and fitness hardware enabled by the Samsung Health suite software. This includes an accelerometer, barometer, Electrical Heart Sensor(ECG), Optical Heart Rate Sensor(HRM), and gyro and light sensors. You can check your heart rate and blood oxygenation, count your steps, track sleeping patterns, and log your calorie intake. Your mileage may vary on the software’s level of intrusion, for example it’s a bit misleading that a few minutes of power walking to the corner shop is read and interpreted as a workout session, but I’ll take whatever I can get these days.
A notable tracking feature is an analysis breakdown when the user is running, providing information such as foot contact time, flight time, and stiffness measurements. Though it is worth mentioning that if you are an enthusiast of the track, the Galaxy Active 2 is still available and for a considerably lower price (more on that in a bit).
For the rest of us, the Watch 3 serves as a strap-on portal to our phones (sort of). The interface offers access to message and phone call notifications (via a very sturdy Bluetooth; the Watch 3 is also available as a standalone LTE device if preferred) from the full host of apps. Reading your Whatsapp messages and emails while on the go is great and easy to read on the AMOLED 360x360 display, though responding to them can be a hassle if you don’t want to use any of the default reply phrases.
Standard functions such as calendar, calculator and internet browser, as well as a dedicated music portal through which you can stream music. Spotify is available as a standalone app on the watch, provided you have a Wi-Fi connection to stream your beats, but the connectivity when streaming via your phone is very sluggish.
The app takes its time to boot up and I found it much easier just to reach for my phone instead and select tracks from there. There’s also Samsung’s signature software services such as Samsung Pay, allowing you to make payments via the watch itself, and the company’s Bixby voice assistant who still has a long way to go before being as good as Apple’s Siri. Hang in there, buddy.
In terms of the overall package, and unless you’re using the LTE variant that then serves as your phone, the Watch 3’s best utility is its fitness related capabilities. It’s very comprehensive and great in that respect, but it’s not the only smartwatch out there with these capabilities and not for the same price. This problem extends into the number of third-party apps available for the Watch 3, which remains limited.
The Galaxy Watch 3 shares the same processor as the Galaxy Watch Active 2, an Exynos 9110 Dual core chipset. The 1.15GHz dual core chip results in very fluid performance.
While third-party apps like Spotify are hesitant off the mark, the rest of Samsung’s pre-built suite of apps are quick to navigate to and access. The whole interface is quick and smooth thanks especially to the watch’s bezel dial. The CPU is propelled by 1GB of RAM, which is an increase from the amount in the Active 2, and users benefit from 8GB of storage space on the device.
Bluetooth connectivity from the watch to the phone is also very responsive, snapping right back on if you’ve moved too far away from your phone while wearing it.
Though it’s not all well and good when it comes to battery range. Expect to put the Watch 3 and its 24mAh battery (340mAh for the 45mm variants on the daily charge with the range not extending beyond two days and that’s bordering on generous. On the first cycle, the watch just fell short of 36 hours with non-heavy usage. There are workarounds such as Goodnight and Power Saving modes, but they limit app functionality.
The Galaxy Watch 3 range starts from R8,999 for the 41mm Bluetooth variant, all the way up to R10,499 for the 45mm LTE variant. A large step up from the Active 2, the pricing puts the Watch 3 at loggerheads with the Apple Watch Series 5. It’s a lot of money for a watch that boasts a good quality build, but remains limited in the software department.
Samsung’s smartwatches have come a long way since the Galaxy Gear was first launched in 2014. The Galaxy Watch 3 extends the capabilities of the technology to a new standard with optimal performance and excellent design characteristics.
It is a nice device to use throughout the day. But it is held back by elemental setbacks such as a low battery range and limited functionality beyond the collection of fitness features. And you’re also paying a high price for it.