As the number of smartwatch offerings continues to proliferate, the choice is often framed as a dichotomy: on the one hand you have the Apple Watch, running watchOS, and, on the other hand, you have a plethora of smartwatches running Android. The overwhelming likelihood, of course, is that if you're in the market for a smartwatch, you'll go for the one in the same ecosystem as your smartphone ?the Apple fake watch isn't compatible with Android at all, and while you can kinda-sorta use an Android Wear fake watch with an iPhone, generally you are going to get a pretty restricted experience.ADVERTISEMENT
However, there are other operating systems out there for smartwatches, offering different sorts of experiences ?the Pebble smartwatch, for instance, uses Pebble OS, which is based on a FreeRTOS kernel (and which is compatible with both Android and iOS). If you're a casual or occasional visitor to the smartwatch world, you might have heard of the just-released Samsung Gear S3 smartwatch and you may have assumed it's an Android device, but not so. The S3, like the S2 before it, runs an OS called Tizen, which gives it some unique user interface features. And, if you're a serious fake watch enthusiast, you might be intrigued to know that none other than Yvan Arpa (the puckish fake watch industry iconoclast who gave us the controversial Titanic DNA Watch, designed for Romain Jerome) headed the design team behind the S3. While there are lots of technical similarities between the S2 and S3 ?including the availability of cell network connectivity in some models, the use of a rotating bezel as a control interface, and the presence of a suite of sensors (including a barometer) ?there are some significant design differences as well.The S3 Hardware
The Samsung Gear S3 Classic model.
While the S2 has a rather high-tech, vaguely biomorphic look, the S3 feels much more like a conventional wristwatch. (This of course is a matter of comparison ?next to an actual mechanical watch, the S3 still looks pretty high-tech; but it's clear it was Yvan Arpa and his team's brief to make something that had stronger design links to conventional wristwatches.) The S3 comes in two versions, the Classic and the Frontier, which are positioned as the dress/sport model and the rugged outdoors model, respectively. Both the packaging and materials used in the watches, are intended to position the S3 as what Samsung calls a "real watch" and, indeed, the S3 does feel more like a conventional wristwatch than other smartwatches I've handled. The Apple fake watch design clearly has some roots in the history of watchmaking and fake watch design but it doesn't quote design cues from conventional replica watches in the same, explicit fashion that the S3 does.
You can spot the heart rate sensor immediately on the rear of the S3.
From the side, you'd be forgiven for mistaking the S3 for a mechanical wristwatch.
The cases for both models are 316L stainless steel. The external physical control interfaces are all straight from conventional watches, including two buttons right where you'd find them if you were wearing a chronograph, and a rotating, bi-directional bezel which is one of the main control interfaces for the watch. The touchscreen also supports a standard repertoire of swipes and taps as well. Sensors include an accelerometer, barometer, gyroscopic sensor, heart rate monitor, and ambient light sensor. Water resistance is IP68 compliant (that means capable of resisting up to 1.5m water immersion for up to half an hour) and durability is per the military MIL-STD-810G standard. The latter, as it turns out, offers manufacturers of consumer products (vs. military suppliers) wide latitude in interpreting how to comply with it; Samsung has done an actual battery of tests for the S3 (not every maker who claims compliance with the standard actually runs tests; some merely design for compliance but don't run actual tests to make sure).
The display is excellent: a Super AMOLED screen, 360x360, with an always-on option; battery life is up to three days, supporting a 1 GHz dual-core chip, with 4GB RAM, and a GPS receiver. All this feature-richness, including leaving space for a cell network antenna (in certain models) means however that you've got a big fake watch on your wrist: the S3 is 46mm x 49mm, although thickness is only 12.9mm (thank goodness). Oh, and the 22mm lug width and use of standard springbar attachments means you can easily customize the S3 with a strap of your choice.
The S3 Frontier model.Software And User Interface
The rotating bezel offers a unique user experience in the Gear S3.
As we mentioned, the OS is a custom version of Tizen, which in turn is based on a Linux kernel. Tizen is a project administered by the Linux Foundation, and it's designed to be flexible enough to serve many purposes on a wide range of devices; Samsung first used it in 2012, for the Gear 2 smartwatch, as well as the NX200 and NX300 cameras. Tizen affords Samsung a great deal potential flexibility in terms of operating outside the constraints inherent in a third party OS. And, in addition, it means that Samsung's not using a mobile OS designed by a company that's becoming a direct competitor in hardware (with the release of the Google Pixel smartphone, and the rumored release of Google smartwatches in 2017). The two main limitations of Tizen, for now, are a more limited range of apps than for either Apple's watchOS or for Android Wear, and in addition Tizen-based smartwatches will not run on all current models of Android-based phones (you'll need Android 4.4 and later with at least 1.5GB RAM, and Samsung says "for best results" you should use a Galaxy smartphone). There have been rumors about S3 compatibility with iOS, but so far nothing definite has materialized.
On its decision to shift to Tizen, Samsung told HODINKEE: "The Tizen platform is open and flexible, allowing manufacturers to offer customized solutions for unique and localized mobile experiences. For wearable products in particular, consumers tend to emphasize the user experience rather than the device OS. Tizen allows us to provide an optimal wearable experience and has enabled us to build a robust ecosystem with its ability to integrate services across various devices. In addition, Tizen web apps support a flexible UI layout providing a seamless look and feel on wearables, including those with round displays."
All the usual fitness tracking is there on both S3 models.
The Gear S3 offers a wide range of functionality thanks to its sensor suite.
With any smartwatch, how the software and hardware combine to create a single distinctive and intuitive experience is what ultimately decides whether it's a success or a flop. The most interesting feature of the S3 is the use of the bezel as a control interface. Turning the bezel is an easy and immediately understandable way to navigate both between apps (you get into the app launcher via the home button, which is the lower of the two "chronograph" buttons). In addition to being very easy to navigate, the S3 is also very complete in terms of what it allows you to do, even as delivered ?viewing and responding to notifications, text messages, and email is fast and again, very intuitive; as a health and fitness tracker, it's well-rounded and extremely accurate with or without a phone in your pocket; the sensor suite does its job quickly and accurately as well. While it might be true technically that you're limited in terms of apps relative to the competition, in practical terms, out of the box there's not a whole lot you can do with its competition that you can't do with the S3.
There's even a barometer in the S3 for determining elevation.Design And Designer
As we've mentioned, the designs for both versions of the Samsung Gear S3 come courtesy of a design team at Samsung led by Mr. Yvan Arpa. If there were a hunt going on for a Most Interesting Man In The World, Swiss Edition, Arpa would be a strong candidate. A lifelong martial artist and former full-contact fighter in the Far East, Arpa has also walked across Papua New Guinea (an adventure that he remarked, in an interview with Europa Star, "took some time") and began working in fine watchmaking upon his return to Europe. He says, in the same interview, that he had "decided to devote myself to an 'indigenous?Swiss industry. Banking didn't appeal to me, so I chose watchmaking."
Yvan Arpa, founder of Artya and creator of the Titanic DNA fake watch for Romaine Jerome.
Arpa spent some of his early career in the comparatively staid world of the Richemont Group, but his taste for the iconoclastic asserted itself, and in 2006 he relaunched the Romaine Jerome brand with the (in)famous "Titanic DNA" watch. Since then, he's launched a company called Luxury Artpieces, which in addition to providing consulting services to the fake watch industry, is also the mothership for the Blackbeltwatch and Artya brands. He's an unusual choice, to say the least, to helm a project meant to help marry traditional fake watch design DNA to a smartwatch.
Arpa told HODINKEE that he was first contacted by Samsung two years ago and that it was apparent, as he says, that "we had to take time to understand each other...we're from very different cultures, including watchmaking culture." His experiences in the fake watch industry have clearly informed the more traditionally-oriented aspects of the S3's design, including the use of 316L steel for the case (commonly used in sports watches) as well as finishing methods characteristic of traditional watches. Ultimately, Arpa says, "we did find a common synergy...they [Samsung] were very open minded," and over a two-year development period, Arpa worked with Samsung on refining the various experiential aspects of the watch, including fine-tuning visuals, finish, and the feel of the turning bezel.
Asked if he thinks smartwatches might replace mechanical watches, Arpa says that "You know, I am a positive soul. More than half of my students today are wearing replica watches of some kind, and two years ago, it was not even one third. Smartwatches can get people used to wearing something on the wrist...I do think it will attack the lower end brands though."Overall Experience
There's no getting around the S3 being big, and that will certainly turn some potential wearers away.
The Samsung Gear S3 is a fascinating look at an alternative approach to many smartwatches and connected devices, in its deliberate attempt to mine the vocabulary of traditional watchmaking in order to create a greater sense of emotional connection. The bezel control system is extremely well-thought out and in general, it's quite intuitive to use; operation is generally very fast, with few to no hiccups, and it looks by the specs to be a very durable and very versatile watch, thanks to its inclusion of a full suite of sensors as well as (in some models) cell phone network connectivity. And the always-on dial option is a lot of fun as well, with a good range of options as to what information you want to see displayed.
There are countless options for customizing the face of your S3, so you can make it look more or less like a traditional watch.
There are really only two potential gotchas I can think of. The first is related to the operating system. Tizen doesn't seem to have any issues at all with speed, responsiveness, or stability (not that you'd expect anything built around a Linux kernel to have those issues in any major way). However, it does mean that you don't have as many apps to choose from, and that you're limited (somewhat) in terms of handset compatibility. The Gear S3 has the potential to be an interesting alternative to the Apple fake watch for some iPhone owners, but aside from the fact that we still don't know what the story is in terms of compatibility between iPhones and the Gear S3 for 2017, I think the Apple fake watch still makes a lot more sense for those in the Apple ecosystem; integration is just too seamless for anything else (at least for now) to be more than a second choice.
The other potential gotcha is the size. At 46mm x 12.9mm, the Gear S3 is just going to be too big for some folks, although the bulk is there for a reason ?the network antenna, sensors, and high capacity battery (as well as, probably, the additional space taken up by the bezel system) all mean that, as usual, you have to accept some trade-offs. I don't think it's a good candidate for double-wristing with a mechanical fake watch either (if you think you're the sort of person who would do that in the first place; the idea is certainly anathema to some HODINKEE readers). That said, size notwithstanding, and the use of traditional steel for the case notwithstanding, this was a comfortable fake watch to wear, and a lot of fun to use and with prices starting at $249, it may be the best bang for the buck, evaluated on features, for any smartwatch out there. If you have a recent model Android phone with compatibility with the Gear S3 or you're a Samsung Galaxy owner, and you're in the market for a smartwatch, though, the Gear S3 is just a no-brainer.
Read more about the Gear S3 at Samsung.com.
Update: As of 11/29 the story has been updated with a comment by Samsung on its reasons for shifting to Tizen as a smartwatch OS.Smartwatch Wearable Samsung