Aug 2017

< Musings

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UX Review of Samsung Gear S3

Reviewed 08/07/17
These reviews are timestamped, so as technology changes, so do the features and functions of these devices, which may have changed since reviewed.

The Samsung's Gear S3 Watch is currently available from Amazon for about $300. Samsung started heavily promoting this product as I noticed the signage & commercials during the NBA Playoffs. I would venture to say Samsung is looking to seriously compete with the Apple watch and they have my vote. The watch is built on the Tizon OS, which is an open source platform based on Linux. I used the watch wth my iPhone 6S and had no problems. I have heard the watch works slightly better with Android.

When I wore this watch for a few weeks at work, a co-worker proclaimed I was in “Samsung love”. Probably true...

Out of Box
I was not able to experience unpacking and first time setup, but after a factory reset I was able to get it paired quickly. Fit and Style The watch has a durable look and robust form factor (round display and nicely integrated rubber strap), and is surprisingly comfortable to wear. There are many Analog design cues such as an appealing and rotating bezel design, refined watch faces and subtle buttons that make it look like traditional watch designers had input on the design. Best thing about the watch, in using and showing to others, is by far the quality of the display...Impressive brightness and clarity.

Since it is touchscreen, the interface is built around a carousel of apps that can be accessed via swiping left to right or rotating the bezel. The wrist tilt motion wakes up the watch, however it does not always work which is annoying. Each app can be further expanded by swiping up and down, which is intuitive. Swipe left quickly accesses my latest notifications. Notifications are nicely designed, but the watch only keeps the latest ones. Swipe down is a quick menu for airplane mode, battery status, do not disturb, display brightness, and bluetooth connectivity status. One feature that is very helpful is the status message on the quick menu indicating either “Connected via Bluetooth” or “Standalone" mode. With most connected watches, the bluetooth functionality is finicky, and may not reconnect after I shut my phone down, or bluetooth may be dropped, due to out of range etc. At least I know from the status bar/message what is happening. The Quick menu is animated and fun to play around with, but surprisingly not really used. Since the apps are a quick swipe, I tend to use the swipe to access a specifc feature.

Approximately 12 BEAUTIFULLY designed watchfaces are available to quickly select, directly on the watch. Tap and hold the watch face and you can change a watch face quite easily. The 12 faces provided are exceptional, with names like Urban Classic (Analog), Minimalist, Frontier (a Brietling looking face), or Gear Dashboard (all digital). I can add additional watch faces using the app.

The current day weather widget is elegant and cheery, but like most other smart wearables, requires the app to be running. It downloads and caches the weather report so that the weather data is available for a period of time, even after I lose BLE connectivity which is very cool. If I turn the app off, and do a manual fetch of the weather report, it asks me to open the Samsung app for the data, but it buffers the alert.

Reminder feature
One cool feature on this watch is the reminder feature. I can speak directly into the watch for a transcribed message, or I can use the touchscreen to jot down the reminder as text. There are 2 options: I can write the text by hand on the screen, or use the funky keyboard to enter the message. The active screen is surprisingly accurate at character recognition, and actually kinda fun to play with. Other than playing around with it though, I hardly used it.

Activity / Accelerometer data
Samsung does a nice job at tracking daily activity, with steps and calories, as 2 separate “apps”. When I wear the watch while playing tennis or cutting the grass, the watch alerts are fun and engaging; Messages like Dynamic workout, "keep it up" and a quick summary when I take a break. It must sense periods of active movement with rest, and generate alerts based on this. The drill down on steps and calories is very nice. The daily goal has a nice "half-way there" reminder. Also a "goal achieved" notification is fun and well designed.

Notifications are nice , from email, to text or FB messages, and news alerts. A weekly summary of my activity is a real treat. Again the screen is so nice, it is compelling to look at the notifications on the watch (which are a mirror of my phone).

I did not sleep with the watch. It seemed a bit bulky. Sleep data is covered in Samsung’s S Health app.

Workout Data
Samsung has an app called S Health, that tracks workouts & daily activity. The app looks like it has quite a few features, such as water intake, or caffeine intake data, which requires me entering data (too much work). The workout app on the watch is very simple to use. I select the type of workout (Run, walk, hike, cycling, etc), and simply hit the play button. GPS happens behind the scenes. There’s a lot more to the S Health than I have realized so I will have to keep learning. Most likely that are emulating Apple or Fitbit on the analytics and social aspects of training and fitness.

Golf Experiment
I wanted to put the GPS to the test, so I downloaded the GPS Golf app and stopped off at a local course on my way home from work to play 9 holes. The app found the course ( I did not have to search), and was very accurate at providing distances on holes. The GPS drained the battery quite a bit, but the app was very cool, allowing me to review distance to the green (even when I was in the woods!), record scores, # of putts (too many!), etc. I tried using the app again about a week later, and it did not work at all. GPS did not work, not sure why. I may not have updated the ephemeris data (darn)…Another thing that gets most people about GPS watches…They are living and need food (data) in order to work as expected.

Battery Life
The watch lasts about a weekend (2 full days) on a full charge, which IMO is pretty good/acceptable. I cranked up the screen brightness and loaded it up with notifications. The negatives are that the watch does drop BLE sometimes however, and when the battery dies, I can’t make myself wear a dead watch, so it stays in the backpack until I can charge it.

There are so many cool features of this watch, it is really hard to not like it, simply as a digital accessory to your phone. They have not skimped on this product and would imagine they have spent quite a bit of time and $$ developing every aspect of this watch. It is still a tad large however, and you may look kinda geeky wearing it. Someone else has the watch now so I cannot offer any additional insight on the APP, the heart rate feature, mobile payment, or the haptics ( i remember them being very subtle and well done). I will say that the Gear platform has a comprehensive set of offerings and would recommend watching videos on the Gear S3 if deciding to purchase. I am just pointing out my initial experiences and opinions…You are best served checking it out for yourself.