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What's to Like about Samsung’s Gear S3, Plus Android Wear 2

Fig. 11. Google’s Android Wear 2.0 will be available on the next generation of Android smartwatches.

 

Google’s Android Wear 2.0 is here, sort of. It will be in the next round of watches and may be available on some existing Android smartwatches (Fig. 1). The preview version is available for developers who can take advantage of the new features.

Wi-Fi support found in most Android Wear devices can now be used to download apps directly to the smartwatch instead of through a smartphone. The few Android Wear users who have an iPhone will find this rather handy. Of course, now having the App Store on the watch is a new feature that makes the Wi-Fi support more interesting. The ability to include a user name and password is critical since not all apps are free. Better previewing of watch faces is part of the mix.

There are new menus and swipes to learn. One new feature of note is an action drawer at the bottom of the display. Android Wear should also provide improved operation on round devices that are popular.

Message processing should be easier with Android Wear 2.0. Responses can be selected from a list, written in script or selected via swiping a keyboard. I like using Swype on my phone, so I suspect it would be handy on the smartwatch. Notification display has been improved with an indication of more notices when viewing the current one.

Android Wear 2.0 applications are in the works and quite a few should be available soon.

Samsung Gear S3 Review

I have one of Samsung’s Gear S3 (Fig. 2) smartwatches and I love it. It replaced a Basis Peak that got recalled. The watch runs about $299.

Fig. 22. Samsung Gear S3 runs a Linux variant called Tizen that is only found on Samsung’s smartwatches.

 

The Gear S3 is not an Android Wear watch but runs another Linux variant called Tizen. The watch has 768 Mbytes of RAM and 4 Gbytes of flash memory with a dual-core, 1-GHz Exynos 7270 SoC. The 1.3-in AMOLED display has a 360 by 360 pixel display with a Gorilla Glass cover. A rotating bezel can be used to select items, and there are two buttons. 

The watch comes in a regular Bluetooth/Wi-Fi version and an LTE version. The latter can handle calls independent of a linked smartphone. It also requires its own phone plan. GPS and a heart rate monitor (HRM) make it useful for fitness applications, plus it is IP68-rated so it can get wet (although it isn’t designed for swimming). I like the GPS app for finding your car; just mark the location before you leave. It’s definitely handy for finding a car after coming back from a weeklong trip. There are even map applications.

Like most smartwatches, the Gear S3 is large. It fits me well, but I’m also 6’3'”. It comes in various configurations with different bands. The 380 mAh battery is charged wirelessly and provides a four day runtime, really.

The watch has a microphone and speaker. This allows one of my favorite features, using the phone to make and answer calls. I often have my phone in a pocket or a charger making it difficult to answer. This even works when the phone is linked via Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth since I do not have the LTE version. Using Wi-Fi is easy since the watch takes the connection information from the phone.

The voice command prefix is one you record, so it is possible to create one that will be difficult to trigger accidentally. The only problem I have with the system is the somewhat limited set of commands and the fact that the feature essentially gets one to an app, although it works well for making calls.

There are thousands of watch faces, with quite a few free ones that are very good. The free one I use shows the battery levels for my phone and watch. I have a few slick-looking analog watch faces, but I prefer a large digital display I can read without my glasses. This is one reason why a conventional watch isn’t to my liking.

The number of applications is more limited than with the Apple Watch or Android Wear. This means fewer similar apps, as well as some holes in apps in general. I have yet to find a decent list manager. I also found that paid apps rarely have a free version for evaluating features.

The phone does have its quirks and annoyances. The rotating bezel seems to stick if not used for a while, but rotates easily once it is moving. The flick of a wrist will turn the display on and off, but there is no easy way to disable this. While there’s a theater mode app for the S2, I wasn’t able to get it to work satisfactorily with the S3.

There is a widget that let you select four apps to start, though it would be useful to have an option for a single app. I actually have too many apps loaded but I have four starters set up for my sixteen favorites including a timer, calculator and reminders.

One thing I don’t like is the Samsung store, which is sometimes painful to use (although it is getting better). It would be useful to have a better way to check out new apps and it would be nice not to have watch faces mixed with apps. I normally want one or the other, not both.

Will Smartwatches Survive?

Smartwatches haven’t exactly taken the public by storm, even though quite a few have flown off the shelves. I think this is more of an issue of over-expectations and poor application delivery. Having lots of watch faces is fun to start, but I am not one to flip through a large number of watch faces.

I have only used the Basis and Gear S3 for an extensive period of time, so I cannot say as much about the Apple Watch or Android Wear, but I think that the lack of applications and integration with the phone, PC and cloud is what is holding back this space. One thing that makes Windows and iOS useful on a PC is good tools like Microsoft Office (okay, you can argue about how good or bad it is but it is invaluable).

I am not sure if app developers wear their watches all the time, but if they don’t they should. The only way to figure out how useful an app will be is to use it. I am really surprised that Samsung hasn’t put more effort into apps to prime the pump.

I find that many of the applications are limited in functionality. For example, I can view events but not set or change them. I am not sure why events, notifications, and messaging are not integrated. The health application doesn’t do useful things like track heart rate or provide a timeline. It isn’t easy to manage exercises, and there’s no linking of information between applications or applications on the phone.

The problem with smartwatches is that a single killer app will probably never arise. Integration will be more important, but that requires coordinated support of the operating system and other services. This is where Apple has an advantage, although Samsung is in the same boat if they invest in the product space.

There are possibilities that have not been explored well, ranging from making the smartwatch a TV remote to incorporating it into security systems like locks.

I suspect everyone will have their own opinion as to how and where smartwatches and fitness bands fit or do not. I’d like to hear what you think.

TAGS: Mobile IoT
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