Samsung Gear S3 Frontier Smart Watch

I love useful technology and I’m always on the lookout for anything new that will help me do a better job.  Until about 10 years ago it really didn’t matter too much what camera gear you used; a good photographer could turn heads with results from basic gear.  What has changed?  The vast array of technology that can help elevate a photographer’s work above today’s flooded market.

Some of the do-dads I meant to buy but never got around to: a camera remote control, a watch with a big enough face to read without specs and a watch that showed more than one time zone.

I nearly fell off my perch in surprise earlier this year. Samsung contacted me out of the blue and gave me their latest smart watch, as part of their #UpAGear campaign. The Gear S3 Frontier smart watch has all those things I’ve wanted but not got around to buying, plus a whole lot more. The fantastic thing is, that on paper, I’d never have bought it. I just wouldn’t have thought a smart watch would be that useful or easy to use, or that I’d use it on a daily basis.  How wrong could I be…

Samsung Gear S3 watch

Samsung #UpAGear surprise…who doesn’t love receiving exciting stuff in the mail? (One of the reasons why I love running a mailorder business. It’s as much fun to send as to receive.)

Samsung Gear S3 watch

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier smart watch – *plus* a Manfrotto tripod and mobile phone clamp!

One of my favourite apps on the Samsung Gear S3 is the camera app, which I use as a remote control for my S7 Edge phone camera. Put the phone on a tripod (or prop it up) and line it up to the scene, walk away, check again that the scene composition looks good on the smart watch, then tap the watch to take photographs or videos. That simple!  What use is this, you might ask?  Some people will use if for selfies that are taken from further away than a selfie stick can reach (especially handy if the photo is of a large group, and you can take as many photos as you like without having to trot backwards and forwards resetting the self-timer).  I’ve found the remote control camera app fantastic for taking photographs of animals that aren’t bothered by the phone in front of them, but who would alter their behaviour if a human being stood right in front of them. My dog was the first test subject and I’ll be using it on livestock in the future.  I’m not the most patient of photographers when it comes to wildlife (eg roos or birds coming to water to drink in the evenings), but I plan to give that a burl too.  The Gear S3 watch also has 4GB of storage space, so a few phone camera photos fit onto it.

 

Samsung Gear S3 camera app at work

Samsung Gear S3 camera app at work. He does not sit still like this when right in front of me – he’s got springs in his legs.

The remote camera app is also useful for getting photos and videos when it might be dangerous, inconvenient or illegal to stand up too close. Such as near a drone.

The Gear S3 watch has many face options, which are interchangeable by tapping and swiping.  I’ve turned some of my photographs into watch faces.  I’m no fashion slave and rarely dig out colour co-ordinated jewellery as it’s just too hot in the tropics. But changing the watch face to suit what I’m wearing takes nanoseconds and I do it regularly.  I’m checking local sunrise and sunset times via one watch face and current local time in other countries via another watch face.  I’ve cranked the watch screen brightness up to the max so reading the time is especially easy without glasses (even if you wear the 3.5 magnification el cheapo glasses).

Talking to people on my watch (hands-free) instead of my phone is surprisingly convenient and the watch has a sound quality I just wouldn’t have believed if someone had tried to convince me without a demo.  I can drive along with both hands on the steering wheel & have a phone conversation via my watch, with no problem hearing the caller and vice versa. The S3 also receives email notifications and social media messages. I’m also using the timer, alarms and reminders; hands-free torch light…the list of uses for photographers and travellers is endless.

Samsung Gear S3 - GPS measurement of distance walked

Samsung Gear S3 – GPS measurement of distance walked. No I don’t usually walk more than 16km in a day.

One of the biggest surprises is the S3’s health-related apps.  I’ve never been one to obsess over exercise stats, so it is a big surprise how much I like seeing a record of the distance I’ve walked. Rather than measuring typical step length to calculate distance travelled, it’s calculated by GPS, so is very accurate.  I’ve discovered interesting facts. For example, I typically walk more than 10km when I visit a city, such is my habit of poking around looking for interesting photos to take.  We all know we should be walking at least 10,000 steps a day, so it’s good to know I’m surpassing that when cruising from city eatery to eatery.  Cattle station cooks usually make great biscuits, so it’s been good to see how much ground I cover when visiting cattle stations to take photographs.  The S3 watch is also dustproof, water resistant and has corning ‘gorilla glass’, and has thus far survived unscathed!

Samsung Gear S3 smart watch

Samsung Gear S3 smart watch – reminding me to stand up & stretch my eyes.

On the health front, it is also helping my eyes and my back. I’ve suffered through many optometrist lectures – warnings that I must remember to get up from the computer regularly and go outside to focus on something in the distance to avoid eye deterioration.  Same lectures re getting up to stretch, from the chiropractor. The watch has a few settings and because I don’t like things pinging at me, I’ve it set on vibrate, so it gives a reminder wriggle when I’ve been bolted to my chair for more than an hour.  (Formerly, I’d get enthused about writing a blog post or website update, and I’d stay transfixed for many hours, until completed.)  I also know my usual heart rate now, when resting and being active. Does this matter? I’ve heard of two instances in the last few months when a wristband heart monitor helped save the lives of 2 different blokes, who both would have died if they didn’t go to hospital immediately (one here in Townsville and one I know via Twitter, in the US).

Samsung Gear S3 heart rate monitor

Samsung Gear S3 heart rate monitor

The ‘find my phone’ app has saved me a bit of ferreting around to find my phone under piles of paper.

I’m especially looking forward to taking this watch travelling in a changeable climate, as it’ll be worth its weight in gold. Eg on the ‘Paddock to Plate’ tour I’m leading around the UK & Ireland in 2018, I’ll be able to see the local weather forecast just by swiping the watch screen. It changes automatically to the region you’re visiting, and there’s a watch face that I can set for the day’s destination, which will show the time and weather there, and one that shows the current standard exchange rate. The watch also has a calculator and maps.

I haven’t used the music player as I don’t use my phone to play music and I’ve turned off the news updates as I prefer a combination of newspapers and Twitter.  The S voice woman I still have to train, as she thinks I’m Fianna Lake  or Fi On Lake – although I have just discovered how to change her to UK English, from US English.  I haven’t used Samsung pay yet but can also see that being handy when travelling. When out walking, I can buy a drink or something to eat without having to take my wallet or phone. And if the wallet is accidentally left at home, no more scratching for cash in the car to pay for fuel!

One of the great potential features is security for women out walking. The watch does have an emergency message system you can set up to call a particular person & activate surreptitiously in an emergency, but Australians still have to carry their phones within bluetooth range of smartwatches if they want to make and receive phonecalls, as Australian telcos apparently don’t want to provide access for 4G/LTE eSIM devices (unlike in America). (An eSIM  is an electronic SIM card, imbedded in the device; linked to the IMEI number. IMEI stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity, a unique 15 digit number built in to every mobile device’s modem. It is used for identification and anti-theft purposes. eSIMS mean devices can be smaller as no insertion slots are needed, and multiple devices could be connected to the one SIM; ie sharing phone & data plans).

Although the Gear 3s smartwatch will use GPS signals anywhere – which is mind boggling, when you stop to think about it – and connect to wi-fi.  I often go walking after sunset as the tropical sun is roasting, and being able to make an emergency call from my watch, without needing to have my phone in my pocket, would be priceless security. This is the best argument to liven up Australian telecommunications organisations to allow LTE devices to access networks.  It’s a point entirely missed by most reviewers of technology – the vast majority of whom are blokes. A) security when walking is something that rarely occurs to men [or it’s just being robbed of a few dollars they think of, not physical safety], and B) women’s clothing usually has useless pockets, or none at all.  Unlike men’s clothing, which usually has pockets deep enough to carry a phone securely.

It’s also interesting to contemplate the potential role for smartwatches in relation to receiving emergency updates – eg if there’s a cyclone approaching, a storm surge warning or bushfire updates.

Samsung Gear 3S smartwatch - one of my favourite watch faces; showing sunrise moving across the planet. Handy for boasting about an early morning rise, as this was.

Samsung Gear 3S smartwatch with a favourite watch face, which shows sunrise moving across the planet. Handy for boasting about an early morning rise. (The bright blue dot shows my location at the time, in Townsville.)

One reviewer says they didn’t like the watchband and says there’s vital antennae in the band so it can’t be changed (but I changed my watchband to stainless steel mesh and had no problems.)  Another goes on about poor battery performance – when in fact my watch is usually only down to 75%, after actively using it all day.  If you don’t use technology no matter how useful it may be or you prefer dainty pink watches with diamantes and unreadable faces, this isn’t going to appeal to you. I’m fussy about design and can see how much thought has been invested in this watch – it’s well done and robustly useful. I can’t wait to put it to further use roaming about the countryside and I’ll be using it to get photographs I otherwise wouldn’t have.

This watch elicits more queries from random strangers than any other piece of tech gear I’ve owned, with the Rode mic for my mobile phone coming second, followed by drone queries.

Thanks again to Samsung for the present, the Gear S3 smartwatch will continue to be put to good use.

 

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