Awesome smartwatch. Not great outdoor watch. By how much did Samsung miss the mark? Read this Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review to get the details.
I struggle with the Frontier for one very big reason and that reason is it’s not fully waterproof. This really bugs me because it’s Samsung’s outdoor rugged watch.
I understand and am fine with the Gear S3 Classic not being fully waterproof. The Classic is for everyday wear and while it would be nice for it to be fully waterproof, I can overlook that. But I can’t overlook the Frontier not being waterproof.
Aside from this major issue, the Frontier is a fabulous watch. I LOVE the Classic for reasons way beyond the design and since the Frontier offers all the same features, I can’t totally hate this watch just because it’s not waterproof. That said, if I were forced to choose one, I’d go with the Classic any day. I’m not much of a rugged watch design guy except for when a rugged watch is called for (skiing, hiking, swimming… outdoor pursuits) in which case it should be fully waterproof.
Moreover, the Frontier is NOT Samsung’s fitness/gym smartwatch. That’s what the Gear Fit 2 is for (which is excellent for the gym by the way).
And so I’m left in a quandary as to my opinion of the Frontier. Yes, overall it’s a great smartwatch with fabulous features, a solid battery life per charge and it’s blazing fast… but I just can’t get over the lack of being a waterproof issue. The irony is Samsung implemented all the rugged design elements of an outdoor watch into the Frontier except the one function it really needs, which is being waterproof. When designing a watch for specific functions/purposes (Mattress In Dubai), it MUST serve that purpose very well, and in this case, the Frontier fails.
Nevertheless, if you like the look of rugged watches for everyday use, the Frontier is a good option.
If you’re looking for a solid outdoor watch, look elsewhere, which is really too bad because the smart aspects of the watch are excellent. It’s simply a hardware failure.
At the end of the day, one important aspect of how I rate and review smartwatches is considering how well the watch serves its primary purpose. Obviously, this is subjective to a certain degree, but it’s important. It’s akin to reviewing movies. A good movie review must consider a movie’s genre and that movie in relation to other movies within the genre with an effort to set aside genre biases. For instance, a movie reviewer may despise action movies, but that doesn’t mean they should rate give all action movies bad ratings. They should assess action movies on how well they meet the purpose of being an action movie.
I take the same approach to reviewing smartwatches. Overall, I prefer more elegant smartwatches that I can wear in the office and for everyday wear. I’m not an avid golfer or hardcore back-country guy or marathon runner and so watches serving those purposes are not my preferred smartwatches. However, I will still rate some of those smartwatches highly because they do what they’re purported to do.
And so I must rate and review the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier which in many ways is an excellent watch but fails in one important regard, namely not being fully waterproof. Yes, Samsung claims it can be submerged in water, but qualifies it to 1.5 meters for a limited period of time. This isn’t going to cut it.
I should be able to swim for hours with it like the Nixon Mission or Casio WSD F10 or Garmin Fenix 3.
For this failing, I score the Frontier significantly lower than the S3 Classic.
What you get
The Frontier comes with a watch, wall charger, USB port charger, and a really great magnetic, wireless charger.
The watch comes with a rubber strap along with an extra partial strap (the strap that has the holes… which is the part of a strap that usually needs replacing first).
Here are some photos of what you get:
Setting it Up
Setting up this watch and syncing it with your mobile phone is very, very easy. Follow these steps. Actually, when you turn the watch on (hold down the lower button for a couple of seconds), the watch will step you through the Gear S3 set up process. But if you’re considering buying this watch, here are the simple steps to give you an idea of how easy it is.
Step 1: Ensure the watch is charged.
Step 2: Install the Samsung Gear app on your mobile device.
Step 3: Tap the “More” link at the top right of the app.
Step 4: Tap “Connect new Gear”.
Step 5: Wait while the mobile device discovers your S3 smartwatch. When asked to allow syncing, agree. Then agree on the watch as well.
Voila, the watch is synced. Once this is done, you can play around in the Samsung Gear app to install additional Gear apps, change watch faces, and more. It’s a great app that offers plenty of customization… however, there are not as many apps for Gear as for Android Wear smartwatches. I’m okay with this because the Gear S3 watches perform better than Android Wear and I’d take better performance and fewer apps over worse performance and more apps.
S3 Video Demos and Reviews
Frontier Video Review and Demo
S3 Classic Video Review and Demo
Here are some photos showcasing the design:
As a rugged outdoor watch, it’s slightly smaller than the Fossil Mission and Casio WSD F10 in that it’s not as thick. The diameter is similar (although the Casio has a slightly larger diameter).
Size is a tricky thing to rate because some people like huge watches while other people don’t. I don’t mind the large, just not huge.
Overall, the size of the Frontier is decent.
Unlike the Classic, which has a “classic” silver bezel, the Frontier pretty much all black with the exception of a charcoal grey bezel (almost black). It’s a very masculine design.
However, the black rubber strap it comes with can easily be changed with the quick release pin so you can swap out the black rubber band for any other bands sold by Samsung as well as Fossil (yup, Fossil straps fit well too… I’m a big fan of the leather and silicone Fossil watch straps).
The black rubber strap is much more pliable than the Classic’s thick leather strap. From a comfort and ease-of-use perspective, the Frontier’s rubber strap is better and more comfortable. It’s just not as refined as a leather strap. FYI, I don’t care for the Classic’s thick, stiff leather strap so I swapped it with Fossil straps.
However, the Frontier’s strap isn’t perfect either. I think this watch should have followed Nixon Mission, Garmin Fenix 3, and even Fitbit Blaze’s lead with a strap that “locks” into place with a rubber nub that pops into an accompanying strap hole. Here’s a photo of the Nixon Mission and Garmin Fenix 3 straps illustrating what I’m talking about:
Nixon Mission Locking Strap
While I don’t want my everyday wear Gear S3 Classic watch to have a locking strap (it is more of a hassle to put on and take off with this feature), I do like watches designed for action to have this to avoid it falling off my wrist. This is another example of how Samsung failed to really create a superb outdoor sports watch.
Fit and Comfort
I will say this about the Frontier and that is it’s an incredibly comfortable smartwatch. One of the most comfortable within my fleet of growing smartwatches. I venture to say it’s almost as comfortable as my TAG Heuer and would be except the Frontier has a tendency to slide down my wrist a bit more than the TAG when strapped on equally tightly. FYI, I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to watching fit. I dislike too snug but am also annoyed when the watch constantly slides down my wrist jamming into the top of my hand. I like watches to stay in place as much as possible without constricting blood flow to my hand.
While the watch case is nicely solid and fairly heavy, it’s not annoyingly so. In fact, it has a great weight to it; I like the solid feel on my wrist.
One popular and unique feature of the Gear S3 smartwatches is the rotating bezel. This isn’t just for providing a nervous escape so you can mindlessly spin the bezel; it actually serves the purpose of being able to navigate among and within screens on the watch. You’ll either love the rotating bezel or won’t really care and never use it. I fall in the “don’t really care and never use it” camp although I can see how and why some people would like this feature. It’s definitely a feature Samsung should continue incorporating into their round smartwatches.
Solid, Flush Buttons
I really like the size and design of the 2 side buttons on the Frontier. I also like the amount of pressure needed to activate them. Finally, I like how they’re fairly flush to the outside perimeter of the watch case; in other words, they don’t protrude much at all, unlike the Gear S3 on which the buttons protrude quite a bit (not a bad thing because the watch is using the protruding buttons as a design element which works).
The top button takes you to the previous screen. The bottom button takes you to the home screen (the clock) and from the clock screen when the bottom button is pushed, you go to the app screen. I use the buttons a lot for screen navigation.
Here are images illustrating the differences between the Frontier and Classic side buttons:
Frontier Buttons Classic Buttons
With the exception of the waterproof limitations (1.5 meters up to 30 minutes), I have nothing but praise for the performance of this smartwatch.
Relative to other smartwatches, the Gear S3 Frontier is blazing fast. Apps open quickly, screens swipe flawlessly, the buttons navigate quickly… all-in-all a very pleasant and easy-to-use watch because it is fast and accurate.
Samsung’s user interface is awesome. I can access apps far faster on this watch than Android Wear because of how the apps display in a circular fashion on the perimeter of the watch face. This means far less scrolling and when I need to scroll or move to the next screen, it responds much faster than Android Wear.
Moreover, I like how email and text messages display entirely and as notifications. As notifications, they display as a transparent flash on the screen. I can also swipe the screen to the right from the lock screen to see recent notifications.
As for reading emails and text notifications, the entire message is bowed to the contour of the round screen so more text is on the screen compared to Android Wear round smartwatches. While this may sound minor, it’s a user design I very much appreciate.
I also like that I can move to other screens via buttons, bezel, or swiping.
The Screen, Glass, and Display
The display is wicked crisp; crisper than Android Wear by a mile. It’s actually gorgeous.
Moreover, the watch face glass is not prone to smudging like some Android Wear smartwatches.
In addition to the usual features, this watch has a built-in GPS and heart rate monitor which makes it possible to provide some premium features such as the GolfNavi app which requires GPS.
Below is a table setting out a brief overview of the main apps and smart functions.
Moving among screens is super easy and fast. All navigational tools (swipe, buttons, and rotating bezel) work great.
Outstanding email interface; much better than Android Wear. The only downside is the text input keyboard is not nearly as good as Android Wear. Too bad there’s always a negative.
Making and receiving calls works flawlessly. It’s easy to use via S Voice as well. Speaker is plenty loud to have conversations… although the speaker has a bit of a tinny sound.
Like email, great user interface, but a difficult keyboard.
So-so calendar. It’s too small, but once in, it’s fine. Android Wear calendar is waaaay better
Here’s my Spotify for Gear S3 Video Demo:
Heart Rate Monitor
Overall the heart rate monitor is just so-so. I like it collects HR data throughout the day. However, when manually checking at any given time, it’s hit or miss whether it can actually read take an HR reading. On many occasions, I get a message “clean sensor” with an image showing to adjust watch placement.
Moreover, I tested the heart rate accuracy against the Polar H7 chest strap heart rate monitor. The results are so-so. When resting, the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier heart rate monitor is deadly accurate. However, when exerting effort, the Samsung Gear S3 HR monitor vastly inflated the reading. For instance, the Polar H7 gave a reading of 118 beats per minute while Samsung told me it was 147 bpm.
Health App (S Health)
Great app. Lots of offerings. Easy to use. Definitely one of the better ones I’ve used. I do tend to sync the data to Google Fit just because Google Fit syncs with all my other smartwatches so I end up with a central health app. Read here how I sync S Health.
As for the automatic exercise sensor, it’s hit and miss. I don’t count on it. For example, this past weekend, I was pushing the stroller and the S3 started a cycling workout. I prefer manually entering new workout data.
The more I use S Voice, the more I like it. I may just get to the point where I’ll totally navigate and use my Gear S3 via voice. It’s pretty accurate and gets easier the more you use it. It’s much faster than “Ok Google” on Android Wear (MUCH FASTER!!!).
With a smartwatch, there’s less to comment on about the hardware as the software. However, the design of the physical watch is important too. Here are the key good and bad aspects of the hardware.
The dark gray rotating notched bezel looks rugged (which is the watch’s intention) and rotates which offers on-screen navigation. Great design!!!
The 2 buttons are large, flush to the surface (i.e. don’t protrude too much), and are nicely responsive without being too responsive. I find the 2 button system very good and useful for navigating having both a “home” and “back” button.
This is the major disappointment that dramatically lowers this watch’s overall rating when compared to my review of the Classic. A “frontier” outdoor watch must be fully waterproof to 30 meters and being able to remain submerged for hours. The current rating is 1.5 meters deep for no more than 30 minutes with an asterisk not to swim with it. So much for being a solid outdoor adventure watch!
I covered the strap in detail above… overall very comfortable, sufficiently pliable but missing a locking mechanism.
Amazing glass quality that rarely smudges and permits for very sensitive swiping
The battery life per charge is great. I can get nearly 2 full days, although to be safe I charge it each night. It definitely gets more mileage than most other smartwatches per charge.
Another terrific battery feature is the charger which is by far, the best charger design-wise of all smartwatches I’ve used. The magnet is strong and I can attach it in less than a second confident that it’s properly attached and charging. Here’s an image of the charger:
Pros and Cons
- Performance: It’s fast and the swipe sensitivity is outstanding.
- Excellent integration with Spotify. You can read my full Spotify and S3 article here.
- Fabulous user experience and interface. I’m a big fan of the apps displaying in a circular fashion at the perimeter of the watch screen. Very smart display design for a round smartwatch.
- Excellent scrolling display of text messages and emails. Far better than the clunky, slow Android Wear smartwatches.
- The S Health app is terrific and tracks a lot of interesting and helpful info including steps, floors climbed, and heart rate.
- Includes GPS which is important for a “Frontier” smartwatch.
- Smudge-free (pretty much) screen, unlike many Android Wear smartwatches.
- Very good battery life for a smartwatch and the wireless magnetic charger is my favorite charger design of all smartwatches.
- Not waterproof enough: This is a major failing for this watch which by its very name suggests it’s designed for the outdoors.
- Lacks a locking strap which is a good feature found on competing for outdoor smartwatches such as the Nixon Mission and Garmin Fenix 3.
- Keyboard/text input options difficult to use. I much prefer the larger keyboard of Android Wear smartwatches.
If I were looking to purchase one “outdoor” smartwatch, as is the case with most people, the outdoor watches I’d consider, which are competing for the Frontier are as follows:
- Garmin Fenix 3
- Nixon Mission
- Casio WSD F10
Does it Meet its Purpose?
On the one hand, as a smartwatch, the Frontier (and Classic) are outstanding smartwatches; outperforming most other smartwatches in many respects. I love these 2 watches as smartwatches.
However, as an outdoor smartwatch, the Frontier is just okay. As I’ve repeated over and over, this watch is not as waterproof as I’d like and the strap doesn’t lock.
If the waterproof thing doesn’t bother you; in other words, you have no need for a fully waterproof smartwatch, but you like the rugged design, I can comfortably strongly recommend the Frontier.
However, if you’re looking for an outdoor watch because you hike, camp, ski, surf, swim, and are outdoors a-plenty and there’s a good chance your watch will get soaking wet frequently, this is not the smartwatch for you. You will get annoyed having to take it off when there’s a serious threat of a soaking.
In a nutshell, the Frontier does not meet its purpose, which is too bad because it’s sooooo good in so many ways.
Opinion on Price
Despite not fully meeting its purpose, you can complain about the pricing of the Samsung Gear S3 smartwatch price. At around $300 USD it’s very reasonably priced in relation to many other smartwatches and given Samsung’s outstanding performance as a smartwatch, I consider $300 a bargain.
I love my Gear S3 Classic for everyday wear. It’s almost perfect.
As for when I ski and swim, I can’t put on the Frontier. I wear my super-duper waterproof smartwatches for swimming (I go swimming a lot with my 5-year-old and he just started skiing). When I go on our family camping trip this summer, it won’t be the Frontier I take with me, unfortunately. It’ll be one of my other rugged smartwatches that can actually withstand rugged environments.
It’s really too bad the Frontier isn’t as rugged functionally as I’d like because if it were, Samsung would arguably have a lock on all 3 major smartwatch categories which are everyday wear (Classic), fitness (Fit2) and outdoor pursuits (Frontier).