Skip to main content

Samsung Gear S3 review

There's still a lot to love about the Gear S3

We're disappointed with the Samsung Gear S3 - and that's down to one thing: a severe lack of apps. We've seen how smartphones have exploded into life thanks to the crazy things app developers can do with them, but the Gear S3 relies almost solely on its inbuilt apps or ones that Samsung has commissioned to add new smartwatch features.

There are a few trickling through, but it's hard to say with confidence that this is a thriving ecosystem.

While we do understand why this watch is so expensive when you check out the spec list, it's hard to say that Samsung's optimised things for the better.

 Who’s it for? 

We've got a friend who owns the Samsung Gear S2, and rather likes it. When quizzed about the lack of apps, he just shrugged and said it was more for the notifications that he loved it the most - which seems like a waste of money.

However, if you've got a Samsung phone and like the idea of a large device on your wrist - and have a decent chunk of change to spend on it - the Gear S3 would be a good buy for you. 

There are a few foibles within, but most of them can be accepted after a while, and you'll begin to enjoy the breadth of things you can do with it.

This review hasn't touched on Samsung Pay which is now available for Gear S3 owners in the UK, but we're reliably informed, by those who've had it available in their territory for a while, that it works very well as an alternative payment method, and it's far more convenient.

Being waterproof and packing GPS will open the door to new activities, and using the rotating bezel to slide through the interface is a neat touch, despite taking a little while to get used to.

 Should I buy it? 

It's hard to recommend this watch as a good buy, simply for the lack of things you can do with it. Even the inbuilt functions aren't perfect, with the sleep tracking, activity tracking and dynamic workouts all having some form of slip during our review.

The screen is large and beautiful to look at, but that's less of a concern on a smartwatch compared to your phone, which you'll look at four billion times per day, and while you can pump on the Always On Display, it absolutely sucks the life out of the battery.

And there's the cost: this thing is SO expensive that it's hard to justify. Yes, it's the same price as an Apple Watch, but at least that has a mildly-thriving app ecosystem, where Samsung still feels like it's finding its feet with this device. 

 Verdict

The Samsung Gear S3 is effectively the fourth smartwatch from the brand, and each iteration adds in something cool - and having GPS makes a big difference to what we want to do with this watch.

The running tracking is decent enough, although a long way from perfect, and the over-sized nature means it won't appeal to a lot of watch-wearers. The battery life is good, the music playback options strong... and while it does suffer from a severe lack of third party apps, it’s hard to say they’d add a huge amount to the ecosystem anyway.

That said, having a few basic games and Uber / Under Armour as your main app is not enough to sell this watch to anyone. 

There are some 'companion' functions it can offer with apps from the Google Play Store, but disconnect the Gear S3 from your phone and it’s game over.

In short, the Samsung Gear S3 is a brilliant smartwatch in many ways - it just suffers from the fact that nobody really needs a smartwatch. It does things that Samsung has dreamed up because it suddenly had a screen on your wrist, but doesn’t do some of them very well.

There's also now the Samsung Gear Sport to consider, which has effectively replaced the Gear S3 and does offer some extra features.

If you want just notifications, then the Gear S3 will work for you really well - but you'll be paying an awful lot for the privilege. 

It's actually only really competent at dealing with your music, and things like not being able set the bezel to control your music volume when the screen is off feel like missed opportunities.

If it sounds like we're struggling to give a solid verdict to the Samsung Gear S3, that's because we really are. There are loads of functions on here we like to see, from GPS to sleep tracking to multi-day battery life to clear screens to good music playback... but they're just, well, there, and don't do anything spectacular.

For this price, a smartwatch needs to be have a genuinely excellent USP to be considered a must-buy product. 

That said, it’s easily the match of, and in some areas outstrips, the Apple Watch - if you’re an Android user (or possibly even iPhone) looking for a smartwatch and can stand the current lack of apps, this is probably the choice for you.

First reviewed: September 2016

Gareth Beavis
Gareth Beavis


Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.