My big highlight from last year’s IFA 2015 was the Samsung Gear S2, a smartwatch that finally, truly felt like a normal watch. It was light, its wristband was supple and comfortable, and it had a rotating bezel and a software interface that both felt fresh, unique, and just fun to use. Today at IFA 2016, Samsung introduced the successor to that glorious little watch, and it’s a big old thing bearing the title of Gear S3. The new watch has GPS, LTE, a long-lasting battery, the latest Gorilla Glass designed specifically for watches, and a leather strap — but in becoming better in so many ways, the S3 has also become worse in the one aspect that matters to me most: bulk.
Where the Gear S2 was the unimposing companion that really could reside on my wrist 24 hours a day, the Gear S3 is heavier and larger in every dimension, especially its depth. This is a very thick watch (12.9mm to the original S2's 11.4mm), which Samsung tries to disguise by painting its underside black. It’s a totally understandable tradeoff for having the benefit of GPS and cellular connectivity built right into the device — GPS is a notoriously difficult feature to integrate into wearable gadgets of any kind. But even so, it’s hard to imagine you’ll ever completely forget you’re wearing the S3, owing to its heft and presence. Some people will like that, to be sure, and large watch enthusiasts will be salivating at the thought of having such a feature-rich new option to consider.
For me, though, the Gear S3 lacks the immediate allure that I felt with the S2. The new watch still has a rotating bezel and the now familiar circular UI, but it feels believable. You see it wearing its compromises on its leather sleeve, whereas the Gear S2 had that sense of magic about it because of how disappearingly thin and light it was. It’s a small and subtle thing, this difference, but it’s what keeps me using simpler, less feature-laden options like the Pebble Steel.
The Gear S3 stands a good chance at being the best of the full-fat, give-you-everything-possible smartwatches out there. It’s certainly building on a good foundation and it’s the product of a company that’s increasingly asserting itself as a design leader. It’s just not the sort of lithe smartwatch that I’m after.