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Samsung's Gear S3 watches are more elegant (and rugged) than ever

Engadget Engadget 31/08/2016 Chris Velazco
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Samsung's Gear S2 was far from perfect, but it was still a big step forward for the company's smartwatch ambitions. At last: a Tizen-powered wearable with a decent selection of apps and a control scheme focused on a rotating bezel that bordered on brilliant. Samsung couldn't just let that progress go untouched, so it just pulled back the curtain on two new neat-looking wearables: the Gear S3 Classic and the Gear S3 Frontier.

As you might have guessed by their names, the Classic and the Frontier are two nearly identical watches separated mostly by their styles. The former sports a clean, unmarked rotating bezel -- there's just a little texture around the bezel's edge to help you hang on while you're spinning it. Beyond that, it's all clean, elegant lines swirling around a 316L stainless steel body. The Frontier, meanwhile, has hour and minute marks etched into its bezel, and its Back and Home buttons are nicely knurled for both utility and look. It's definitely the more masculine of the two, the sort of smartwatch you could imagine on the wrist of a technologically obsessed lumberjack.

You'd think the Frontier would be dramatically more resilient, but it's not really. Both versions of the S3 are IP68 rated for water resistance and their 1.3-inch screens are covered with panes of super scratch resistant Gorilla Glass SR+. The list of similarities just go on from there: they share the same dual-core Exynos chipsets, 786MB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, standalone GPS radios and 380mAh batteries. Speaking of batteries, Samsung claims both S3 versions should last between three and four days on a single charge, but we'll see about that.

Not every similarity will be celebrated, though. Here's the rub: both S3s have bodies that are 46mm wide (like the big 2015 Moto 360), meaning they'll just be too big for some people's wrists. In fairness, neither was heavy enough to strain my wimpy arms and neither felt too big either, but that won't fly for everyone. Motorola got around this by offering a smaller version of the Moto 360 -- not to mention one specifically for women. Not so with Samsung. You'll be able to attach a standard 22mm band to the Frontier or Classic but there aren't any (publicly acknowledged) plans to make a smaller S3. As a result, Samsung won't discontinue the existing S2 and S2 Classic. In fact, it plans to issue a software update that will bring them up to date in terms of features shortly.

Design aside, there's only one area where the Classic and Frontier differ: connectivity. The Frontier has a built-in LTE radio to accompany its Bluetooth and WiFi transmitters; the Classic only has Bluetooth and WiFi. The move makes sense and all -- a mobile SOS sent from a Frontier watch in the wilderness could save lives -- but it's a little odd to see the Classic model get skipped like this. The Frontier also has a microphone and speaker to make HD voice calls over whatever LTE network they're connected to. Lumberjacks get all the cool stuff.

This time around, Samsung paid more attention to building stronger software partnerships. Team-ups with Spotify (for streaming over LTE or WiFi), Nest (to control thermostats via the watch), Western Union (for payments) and BMW (for... well, it's a secret) could be game-changers for some, and at least the first two examples worked pretty well. The biggest addition, though, has to be Samsung Pay. Once it's all set up, the Classic and the Frontier can use that MST tech Samsung acquired to pay for coffees and corned beef sandwiches just about anywhere.

Meanwhile, the S3s have picked up a few tricks from the Gear Fit 2 like automatically tracking workouts, and Samsung has tuned the watches to use that sweet, sweet rotating bezel more intelligently. Turning it can now pick up a phone call or silence an alarm, for example -- you had to paw at the S2's screen if you wanted to do the same.

The Classic and the Frontier won't launch until later this year, so there's plenty that could change between now and then. Still, the two Gear S3s come off as handsome timepieces that fix some of the issues that made their predecessor feel a little lacking. Who knows? This might be the year Samsung make a must-have smartwatch (or two). I'm still pretty skeptical, but with any luck, these things could exceed expectations just like the S2 did.

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