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Samsung's Gear S3 smartwatch lets you ditch your phone in style

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

Samsung’s Gear S2 was one of the first smartwatches on the market that actually made me interested in owning a connected timepiece thanks to its attractive styling and easy-to-use rotating bezel interface. And short of the Apple Watch, the Gear S2 is the best smartwatch around. For its follow-up, the Gear S3, Samsung is going big or going home with new designs and cellular connectivity — so you can use your watch and leave your phone behind.

Two of a kind

The Gear S3 comes in two flavors: the Gear S3 Classic and the Gear S3 Frontier. Both watches are finely crafted devices, but the Classic is the one you’re going to want to wear to your next fundraising gala, while the Frontier is the one you’d wear to the office. It looks great, but in a more subdued way.

The styling differences between the two watches are incredibly subtle, but noticeable. For example, the side buttons on the S3 Classic look like the kind you’d see on an expensive chronograph watch, while the buttons on the Frontier are seated lower and nearly flush with the watch.

The Gear S3 Classic and S3 Frontier

Unlike the S2, which sported a 42mm casing that fit nicely on both large and small wrists, the S3 Classic and Frontier come with larger 46mm casings. Samsung says it went with this chunkier design because it’s more in line with current watch styling.

It also means the timepiece will be too large for people with particularly small wrists. Thankfully, Samsung says it will continue to sell the smaller S2 alongside the S3 for just such a scenario.

Leave the phone at home

Outside of their subtle design differences, there’s another reason Samsung is selling two versions of the Gear S3: cellular connectivity. See, the Gear S3 Frontier will be available in two versions: one with 4G LTE, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and one with just Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Gear S3 Classic is only available with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Adding LTE connectivity to the S3 Frontier will allow you to do things like make phone calls, download apps, receive notifications from third-party apps, stream music and send text messages without needing to have your phone with you at all times. Of course, that LTE connection will require a separate data plan, so you’ll need to keep that in mind while shopping.

You can make calls from the Gear S3

To ensure your watch can take a licking and keep on ticking, Samsung designed the S3 Classic and Frontier to be waterproof in up to 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. The watches can also survive in both extra frosty and exceedingly hot environments.

Keep spinning

In terms of the watches’ interfaces, Samsung decided to bring back the S2’s rotatable bezel. This was easily the best feature of the S2 and one of the main reasons I found using the watch so intuitive. To use it, you simply rotate the bezel right and the watch’s on-screen selector rotates to the right. Move the bezel left, and the selector moves left.

The S3 Classic and Frontier feature the same software and run the same apps. Speaking of which, Samsung says it has partnerships with the likes of Uber, Nest, ESPN, Yelp, Spotify, CNN and BMW.

The Spotify app in particular is helpful as it allows you to stream and control music through the S3. Unfortunately, you can’t save your playlists for offline listening. Samsung did, however, manage to cram 4GB of onboard storage into the S3, so you can load the watch with your favorite tunes to listen on the go.

You can control your Nest thermostat from the Gear S3

The company says it currently has 10,000 apps available for the Gear S2 and S3, but admitted that the bulk of those are user-made watch faces. A dearth of apps was one of the S2’s main drawbacks, so here’s hoping Samsung announces additional app partnerships in the lead-up to and following the S3’s launch.

Samsung has also added its Samsung Pay mobile payment solution to its Watches. So if you’re on the go and don’t have your wallet with you, you can pay at stores with both NFC-enabled and regular old magnetic strip credit card readers with a wave of your wrist. If you don’t have your phone with you, the Samsung Pay app will hold 5 “tokens” that let you make payments without the need for your phone.

Marathon Man

As far as performance, Samsung says the S3 will last between three and four days on a single charge. If that’s true, that would be a full one to two days longer than the S2’s battery life. The Apple Watch lasts between one and two days, as well, but we may see a new, longer-lasting version of that timepiece at Apple’s big Sept. 7 iPhone event.

Samsung hasn’t revealed pricing for its timepiece, but expect it to go on sale in the fourth quarter of 2016. And, of course, stay tuned for our full review of the S3 Classic and Frontier in the coming weeks.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.