The Apple Watch 3 and the Samsung Gear 3 Frontier are proof that the Samsung vs Apple rivalry has transcended the smartphone area and it continues on the realm of smartwatches as well, but, this relatively new market has proven to be a lot more difficult to enter and the competition a lot more fierce, so both Apple and Samsung had to significantly improve their devices with each new iteration.
Since its emergence in 2015, the Apple Watch has already undergone multiple changes (more in functionality and less regarding the design) and it has managed to quickly become a favourite thanks to its very elegant look, which is suitable with both casual and formal attire, while the interface has also nicely evolved from the first gen to one of the best I have encountered on a smartwatch (e.g, besides the Force Touch technology, the Apple Watch 3 can now make calls even if you left your iPhone at home) and it still is a great fitness tracker suitable for everyday workouts.
The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is the third iteration of the Gear S series which had a bit of a rough start, but with the latest release, it seems that it can stand its ground and challenge the best smartwatches on the market. The Gear S3 Frontier is built in a similar manner as the traditional watches (also focusing towards elegance even though it may come as a bit rugged), it has a very cool rotating bezel that feels very satisfying to operate, but the software is the odd factor since Samsung decided to avoid Android Wear in favour of its proprietary Tizen OS that definitely offers a lot of features, but it is a different platform nevertheless (so new apps have to be developed for it, just as with Android Wear and WatchOS). Furthermore, just like the Apple Watch 3, the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is also a great fitness tracker, so without further ado, let’s see which of the two smartwatches is the better one.
The Apple Watch did not go through many design changes from the first generation, so the third instalment still features that soft rectangular case that we got accustomed with (the corners are rounded) and, depending whether you chose the GPS only model or the GPS + Cellular, the body of the smartwatch is made of aluminum, stainless steel (either the default Apple Watch or the Hermes edition) or ceramic (the Apple Watch Edition only).
At the first glance, there seems to be zero difference between the Apple Watch 3 and the previous generations, the smartwatch sporting the same size (1.67 x 1.43 x 0.45 inches for the larger variant and 1.51 x 1.31 x 0.45 inches for the smaller version – it apparently has actually gotten thicker by approx 0.01 inches..), but it has gained a very tiny amount of weight (it weighs 1.87 ounces as opposed to the 0.83 ounces of the Apple Watch 2). Furthermore, since an Apple device is a status symbol, the manufacturer had to make sure that they included a differentiating factor – this time, there’s a red dot placed on the Digital Crown – so other people will know that you have the latest Apple Watch.
Of course, this design change does have a negative impact on the overall design of the smartwatch, but it’s an element that most users are willing to ignore since the rest of the device still manages to give that high-quality, premium vibe.
The Samsung Gear S series has also started out with a rectangular case which would curve around the wrist, but it has quickly evolved towards the traditional round case and it has avoided the annoying flat tyre look. So, while it didn’t go the minimalist route (like the Apple Watch), the Gear S3 Frontier is still a premium-looking smartwatch, featuring a stainless steel case, with a round metallic dial surrounding the screen carved to mimic a cogwheel.
Similarly to the Apple Watch 3, the Samsung Gear S3 also comes in two variants, so it’s not only available as the larger Frontier variant (which measures 1.81 x 1.93 inches and weighs 2.18), but also as the S3 Classic (which is a bit smaller and has a cleaner look). The S3 Frontier is clearly significantly larger and heavier than the Apple Watch 3, so, depending on your wrist size, it may feel a bit uncomfortable (in my case, the Frontier felt reasonably balanced). One of the most important design elements of the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is the aforementioned rotating metallic dial which gives a quick access to the most important data (navigate lists, view notifications and widgets, adjust the level of a given function, such as the brightness and more) and, along with the two side buttons (Back and Home/Power), allows the user to easily navigate the interface.
The Apple Watch lacks any mechanical rotating bezels and still uses the same Digital Crown on the right side of the device (which comes with a set of functions over the usual touchscreen capabilities – acts as a Home button, shortcut to Siri or Apple Pay, opens apps, takes screenshots and more), along with an additional narrower metallic button which can either summon the most recently used apps or the favourite applications.
It may not come as a surprise to anyone that Apple has already a large variety of straps available (although most aren’t really budget-friendly) and the attaching mechanism remains simple to use (just slide the band into place).
As a side note, if you decide to go with the LTE-enabled Apple Watch 3, then know that the manufacturer has cleverly positioned it in such a manner that the place where the strap meets the smartwatch won’t feel uncomfortable. The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is similarly blessed when it comes to the number of straps available, so it comes with a decent collection that you can choose from (classic leather, silicone and alligator grain leather) – the bands connect using a standard 22mm pin, so the mechanism isn’t really as easy to operate as that of the Apple Watch.
If you turn the Apple Watch 3 around, you’ll notice that it still features that ceramic area where resides the Heart rate sensor, which still measures your beats-per-minute (it’s reasonably accurate for a smartwatch sensor), but it also allows you to check your heart beats after a workout and it has notifications to let you know that your heart rate isn’t within the norms. The Gear S3 Frontier also features a heart rate monitor embedded onto the back side of the device and, similarly to the Apple Watch, it can also provide some decent readings, but it lacks the other adjacent features. In addition to the heart rate monitor, both smartwatches also come with a GPS tracker, an ambient light sensor, an accelerometer, an altimeter / barometer and a gyroscope.
Besides the elegance factor and the ease of use, the ruggedness is a very important aspect of a smartwatch, especially since both of these devices pride themselves as being reliable fitness trackers. The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is MIL-STD-810G rated and, specifically, it has passed 10 tests for harsh conditions, including vibration, shock, low and high pressure, extreme temperatures and drops from 4.9 feet – to ensure that the screen has the best chances to come out unscathed, Samsung has also raised the rotating bezel slightly above the display, so it forms a protective lip for the smartwatch.
Furthermore, the S3 Frontier is also IP68 certified, meaning that the device is dust-resistant and that it can be submerged underwater down to 5 feet for no more than 30 minutes. All these actually make the Gear S3 Frontier one of the best rugged smartwatches on the market. The Apple Watch 3 has also taken some precautions to ensure that the device is water resistant down to 164 feet (it’s swimproof), but it does feel a bit more fragile than the Gear S3 Frontier and the fact that the screen slightly protrudes from the case makes it more vulnerable for accidental damage.
Verdict: Both of these smartwatches are elegant and suitable for every occasion (especially due to a decent variety of straps), both are easy to operate in their own way (I have to admit that I prefer the rotating bezel which feels very satisfying to use) and each of them have pretty much the same set of sensors. But, while the Apple Watch 3 is more suitable for urban adventures, the Samsung Gear 3 Frontier will feel more at home outdoors, where its rugged qualities can truly shine, so depending on your needs you may prefer one over the other. This means that this round is a tie.
ALSO CHECK OUT: THE BEST RUGGED AND WATERPROOF SMARTWATCHES OF 2018
The Apple Watch 3 comes with a 1.65-inch AMOLED touchscreen display, which features 16 million colours, a resolution of 390 x 312 pixels, a pixel density of 326 ppi and the screen is being protected by a Sapphire Crystal Glass (useful against scratches). It’s clear that Apple did not change the display that much from the last generation, but there is one element that did get a boost: the maximum brightness level that now reaches up to 1000 nits which makes it incredibly easy to the user to view any type of info even if the sun is shining directly on the screen.
That being said, the Apple Watch 3‘s display still remains one of the most attractive on the market, especially because of its great colour reproduction, the deep black levels and the sharp fonts (the Force Touch is still there and it still allows the user to view more info by pressing harder on the display and the small bezels are always a bonus on such a small device). One thing that Apple did not implement yet, while other manufacturer have is the Always-on feature which has the role of displaying some form of info (usually a clock) all the time, so it actually looks like a watch instead of a black screen, but it’s true that it would have taken away from the battery life. So, you still have to slightly twist your wrist to turn on the display.
The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier comes with a smaller 1.3-inches Super AMOLED touchscreen display, also featuring 16 million colours (better than the Gear S2), a resolution of 360 x 360 pixels, a pixel density of 278 ppi and the screen is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass SR+. Similarly to the Apple Watch 3, the Gear S3 Frontier can also reach up to 1,000 nits in terms of brightness, so it will also have no problems displaying any type of content under bright sunlight (especially at the beach).
Since we’re dealing with a Super AMOLED display, you can expect the pictures to be vibrant and the colours to pop more intensely than on the other smartwatches (except for the Apple Watch, which uses a similar display). Furthermore, the black levels are deep, the contrast levels are more than decent and the text is reasonably crisp. While the Apple Watch 3 steered clear of this trait, the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier did not shy way from implementing the Always-on feature, so the screen will continue to show the time and date (it also offers a larger array of customizations) and, this way, the S3 Frontier closely resembles a regular watch, but it will definitely have a significant impact on the battery life.
Verdict: The display of each of the two smartwatches is able to deliver a great visual experience and each is bright enough to handle direct sunlight, but only the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier comes with the Always-on feature. Furthermore, the Apple Watch 3 does have a larger display and it has a slightly higher pixel density, so it wins this round (unless you consider the lack of the Always-on feature a deal breaker for the Apple Watch, then Gear S3 Frontier is the clear winner).