People have always loved their accessories, especially their watches. Which is why even watches have become ‘smart’ these days. In the advent of technologically advanced wearables with the likes of devices like the Fitbit and other various trackers, the smart watch emerged.

Granted, fitness trackers and smart watches have slowly blended to become one and the same entity, but in essence, they are still different. Today, we look at 2 smartwatches that have come from 2 of the greatest smartphone companies, namely the Apple Watch and the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier.

The Apple Watch

The Apple Watch Series 1

The Apple Watch is a partner accessory to your other Apple products, namely your iPhone. Touted by Apple as the best selling watch in their latest keynote, the Apple Watch is undoubtedly very popular here in Singapore. Just take a walk down Orchard Road and 1 out of 10 people are probably wearing this little piece of tech on their wrists.

The Apple Watch comes in 2 versions as of the time of writing, the Series 1, and the Series 3. The Series 3 has an LTE enabled version, and a non LTE version. However, at the time of writing, the LTE version of the Series 3 is not available in Singapore, and I personally own an Apple Watch Series 1, so this review will be based on the Apple Watch Series 1.

The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier

The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier

Samsung has also entered in the smartwatch fray with a variety of different watches, such as- (at the time of writing) the Samsung Gear Fit series, the new Gear Sport series, and the one that we will be looking at today, the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier.

Design

Apple Watch

Apple Watch – Side view

The Apple Watch is basically a screen on your wrist. Sporting a beautiful rectangular OLED screen, the Apple Watch looks high tech. It isolates itself from traditional watches with its futuristic design. The Apple Watch comes in 2 different sizes, a 38mm size more meant for the ladies and a larger 42mm size more suited for the guys.

Unfortunately, because the cellular-enabled Apple Watch Series 3 is not available in Singapore, all the Apple Watches in Singapore currently have the aluminium casing, with the premium stainless steel and ceramic casing versions still out of our grasp. Here’s to hoping that the premium edition comes to Singapore soon as they come equipped with an exquisite Sapphire Glass Display.

The Apple Watch comes in a few casing colours, Space Grey and Silver for the Series 3, and an addition of Gold that is available with the Series 3. The stock straps are pretty basic as well, with them mainly being a basic rubber sports band, but the beauty of this watch is the staggering variety of third party bands to choose from, so you are not stuck with a single look for your watch, but rather, you can switch bands to suit different occasions or different outfits you are going for.

The back casing of the Apple Watch

On the side is a scroll wheel, and a button. The scroll wheel can be clicked in to access the home screen, and the side button acts as the back button. Double clicking the side button activates Apple Pay, extremely useful when you want to make your payments. The scroll wheel itself allows for a few functions, mainly to scroll through messages or lists, or to zoom in and out on the home screen.

There are also numerous watch faces on the Apple Watch, with the likes of Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and Pixar’s Toy Story making an appearance in the latest Watch OS 4 update. There are also picturesque time lapse scenery, Apple’s very own Siri, and chic analog watch faces to name a few. Unfortunately, Apple does not seem to have let 3rd party developers create watch faces, which is, in my opinion, a huge wasted opportunity. Imagine the amazing watch faces that the world could create if given the opportunity.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier – Back view

 

Where Apple has opted for a futuristic style, Samsung has gone with the traditional circular watch design. The Frontier is a classy take on the smart watch. With the watch face turned off, the Frontier looks like your everyday traditional watch, but what is hiding behind that classy exterior is one of the most technologically advanced smart watches to date.

The Frontier is a big watch, and that’s not an understatement. Because of its size and design, it doesn’t work with most wrists – it most definitely will not work on a dainty female’s wrist. The Frontier sports a pretty big screen, it comes equipped with a 1.33 inch Super AMOLED screen that is beautiful to behold and performs well even under bright sunlight.

The Frontier’s stainless steel case is pretty bulky too, it feels solid, and I didn’t find any problems with it in everyday usage, but a female will probably find it too heavy to wear around, and it definitely is a little too heavy for exercise purposes or sleeping purposes.

The Frontier also has detachable bands, but with the watch’s hefty bulk, even the 3rd party bands can only make a limited impact on the overall design.

Where Apple has limited watch face development, Samsung has opened it up to 3rd party developers. This has resulted in a huge influx of watch faces in store, some being free, some requiring payment, but all being amazing and varied to suit every individual.

Comparison

Between the Apple Watch and the S3 Frontier, it really is a throw up on both sides. It feels like comparing apples (literally) and oranges. Where the Apple Watch excels in conforming to both sexes, and being more adaptable in general, the S3 Frontier takes the cake if what you want is a premium ‘rich man’s’ watch. It’s a tie for me on the design, so pick your poison.

Battery life

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch lasts roughly 2 days on a single charge (everyday use). The battery drains even more quickly when you bring it on an exercise to track your fitness, or when you use it to listen to music. The watch charges quite quickly, needing about 30-45 mins to charge it back up from an empty state.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier

The Frontier boasts a considerably longer battery life compared to the Apple Watch, being able to last for about 3 days with everyday usage. The Frontier also has fast charging which juices up the watch to full in about 30-45 mins. The Frontier is definitely the victor in this category.

Functions and features

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is a companion device to your iPhone, and it really works that way. Most of its features are only available with a connection to your iPhone, and depending on the model you have, offline connectivity does limit usage quite a bit.

The Watch Series 3 Non LTE version comes with a GPS that allows for exercises without your iPhone to track your exercises accurately. This also works with the Series 1 that does not have a GPS installed, and what it tracks instead is your pace. This can only be done after an initial calibration, just a simple run with your iPhone. The fitness does not only stop there.

The Apple Watch comes with the Breathe and Stand apps, which reminds you with a little buzz on your wrist when you have been idle for too long and that you need to get moving, or to assist you with some breathing exercises throughout the day. I personally found Breathe to be extremely annoying so I switched it off.

There are also a slew of apps that come with the Watch, with most apps having their own Apple Watch companion app. Examples include Telegram, Google Maps, VLC media player, Uber, Grab, and the likes. However, not all apps come with a companion Apple Watch app so do take note of that. The apps all have their own functions, usually little remote features that works nicely with the app on the phone itself.

Some personal favourites of mine are the calculator app, which turns your watch into a calculator (pretty self explanatory), a currency conversion app for easy currency conversion overseas, and of course, the Apple Watch’s in built camera control app, which allows the watch to connect to your phone’s camera for it to act as a remote shutter.

One of the main features of the Apple Watch is it ability to receive and even reply to messages and emails, and view notifications from your various apps (if you turned on notifications for that particular app). These notifications are accompanied with a subtle vibration on your wrist, which makes sure that you are kept up to date with all the notifications you might have missed if your phone wasn’t with you. Don’t like the buzzes? Simply switch them off in the settings!

The Apple Watch does not have a keyboard, instead, you use your finger to write out the words on the watch face. The recognition is pretty decent, although this is only good for short messages. Long messages are a tedious process with this input method – just stick to typing on your phone for lengthy paragraphs.

Another feature I absolutely love about my Apple Watch is its Apple Pay feature. I cannot how stress how your cool factor shoots through the roof when you pay for anything with just your watch – just double tap your side button and the Watch is ready for Apple Pay. Of course, you will have to set up a card to use with Apple Pay first though.

Siri is present on the Apple Watch as well. Simply hold down the scroll button to bring up Apple’s digital assistant, or just use the trigger phrase ‘Hey Siri’. As it is with the iPhone, Siri requires an active internet connection to function, so your Apple Watch needs to be connected to your iPhone for Siri to work.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier

The Frontier is no slouch either – it is incredibly feature heavy. One of the most striking things about the Frontier is its rotatable bezel. The bezel allows for scrolling through the Frontier’s Tizen powered OS, and boy do you feel great just scrolling through the app list! I promise you during my short 2 week tenure with the Frontier, 80% of my usage with it was just idly scrolling through the app list while I had nothing to do, the scrolling was just so addictive. And I have committed way too many words to the rotating bezel. Let’s move on.

One feature that I found to be very useful on the Frontier was the Reminders feature. The Apple Watch has this as well, however, I found the Frontier’s Reminders app to be a lot more user friendly, and being inherently more useful on your wrist as you can actually type out the reminder, a functionality that is bafflingly not included on the Apple Watch. Yes, admittedly you can use the voice assistants to set reminders for you, however, there are times when typing is still the best way to go.

Charging Stand for the Frontier, note the micro USB port

The input method on the Frontier is different from the Apple Watch as well. Where the Apple Watch uses stroke recognition as an input method, the Frontier reverts back to the old numerical keypad (think of the old butterfly Nokia phones). Now this evoked all sorts of nostalgia in me, styling myself as some sort of texting whiz back in the old days, and I expected this to be a better input method than the Apple Watch’s stroke recognition. However, my expectations fell short when I found out to my dismay that the lack of a tactile feedback (it is on a touchscreen), the slight input lag, and the limited screen estate made this experience to be frustrating at best. A short message that I could have finished within 30 seconds on the Apple Watch took me about a minute. This might have been due to my fat fingers, however, after using the Frontier’s typing, I started to appreciate the Apple Watch’s stroke input a lot more.

Needless to say, the Frontier also has an excellent notification system, which works pretty much identically to the Apple Watch. Incoming notifications are characterized by a subtle vibration on your wrist. You can choose to reply to these notifications, or dismiss them. Where in the Apple Watch you swipe down to view all your notifications, there is no such list on the Frontier, instead, you twist the bezel to view the notifications one by one.

Closeup back view of the Frontier

Unfortunately, there is also no WhatsApp support on the Frontier, but you can reply to the individual notifications. It is still annoying that you are unable to view the entire thread though.

Fitness and health

Of course, the Frontier is also jam packed with numerous health and fitness features as well. It has an inbuilt step tracker and a heart rate monitor, and in the short time I had with the device, it works pretty accurately, even prompting me to get my lazy bum off the chair when I had been inactive for extended periods of time. However, I had a big gripe with the overall design of the Frontier – the device is too heavy and bulky for fitness. Compared with the light chassis of the Apple Watch, the Frontier is really unwieldy for fitness.

Conclusion

It is a close race between the 2 smartwatches, with personal preference being the major factor in choosing between the 2 watches. In terms of pricing, they are almost essentially the same, with both the Frontier and the Apple Watch Series 3 going at $548. Of course, the Series 1 is quite a bit cheaper, with the 38mm version going at $398. At the end of the day, it really depends on which phone you are using, if you are using an iPhone, by all means, go for the Apple Watch. If you are on Android, getting a Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is a good choice too.

 

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