Coke vs Pepsi. Marvel vs DC. Nintendo vs Sega. These are (or were) some of the more iconic rivalries between major corporations in recent memory. But they all pale in comparison to Apple vs Samsung.
The two tech titans collectively sold 37 per cent of all smartphones globally in 2017 and combined to rake in US$111 billion in phone sales in just the last quarter alone, according to market analyst TrendForce.
But while mobile handsets remain the main war, battles have spilled over into other arenas. One of these is the wearables sector, in which both companies have recently released new smartwatches: the Apple Watch Series 3 LTE and the Samsung Gear Sport. We pit the two together in a head-to-head challenge to see which comes out on top.
Design and hardware
In terms of design, the two companies took an opposite approach. Samsung’s Gear Sport is modelled to look like a traditional timepiece, with a circular 1.2-inch display surrounded by a rotating stainless steel bezel. Apple’s Series 3 LTE, meanwhile, has a rectangular 1.65-inch display (or 1.5-inch on the smaller 38mm version) that more resembles a tiny computer.
Despite having a larger display, the Series 3 LTE looks and feels more sleek and compact thanks to the way the display curves into the aluminium frame. The Gear Sport, meanwhile, has a bulky bezel that protrudes over the screen. It’s mostly illusion at work, since both watches have roughly the same dimensions.
What is objective is that Apple’s device is significantly lighter, weighing 35g without the strap. The Gear Sport comes in at 50g without strap.
Both devices use OLED displays that pump out vibrant colours and excellent brightness. I had no trouble seeing information on either display under direct sunlight.
Internal specs don’t matter so much on a watch: Apple and Samsung each has its own self-developed chipset that can handle their respective operating systems without hiccups.
When admiring the devices on a table, I prefer Apple’s design. But when I’m actually wearing it on my wrist and going about my day, the Gear Sport feels a lot more sturdy and less in danger of having its screen cracked, due to the raised bezel.
Fit and comfort
Each watch comes out of the box with a plasticky silicon strap, but I found Apple’s wider ones to be more comfortable. The Gear Sport, however, supports any 20mm watch straps, so you will have no shortage of replacement options, including old watches you may already own. The Series 3 LTE only supports straps specifically designed for it.
Software and app support
Navigating the Series 3 LTE’s software is mostly the same experience as using an iPhone: you’ll be swiping, tapping and “3D Touch”-ing (a hard press) on the display to get most things done. There is a twistable crown and a physical button on the right side of the watch, but I hardly found the need to use either.
The Gear Sport, on the other hand, offers a more old-school UI experience. You are encouraged to rotate the bezel left or right to move around within the software, and a button press is necessary to wake up the display (on the Series 3 LTE, a tap on the screen suffices).
Apple’s OS feels more in line with our hi-tech world, but I enjoy the tactile feedback of a rotating mechanism. I suspect opinions on which navigation method is better will differ from user to user.
What cannot be argued is that Apple’s app ecosystem completely outclasses Samsung’s. On the Series 3 LTE, you can expect to find useful apps such as WeChat, Apple Maps, iTranslate, Shazam and Instagram, while on the Gear Sport, the only app you’ll have heard of is Spotify.
Performance and battery life
Both watches emphasise fitness tracking and each gets the job done. Whether you’re running, cycling or swimming (both are waterproof up to 50 metres), the Series 3 LTE and Gear Sport can automatically detect the sport and begin tracking. Both devices have heart rate sensors that provide a constant reading, and each can track sleep, steps and stairs climbed with respectable accuracy.
Both watches can receive and respond to notifications, but Apple’s watch is significantly superior when it comes to voice dictation. I can speak entire sentences of more than a dozen words to my Series 3 LTE and it can pick up everything with about 90 per cent accuracy. The Gear Sport struggles to pick up more than five words at a time and has a pathetic accuracy rate of around 50 per cent. After two days of trying I stopped using my voice for the watch altogether.
Another area of the Gear Sport that will have you shaking your head in disgust is its digital assistant – or lack thereof. Samsung, for inexplicable reasons, decided to limit the Gear Sport to using S Voice, the universally panned digital assistant that the company itself has already killed in favour of a new one called Bixby for its mobile line. S Voice is virtually useless: half the time it mishears my commands, the other half it doesn’t respond.
Siri on the Series 3 LTE is far from perfect (Google’s Assistant is superior in many ways), but at least it understands my words and can handle basic commands like “set an alarm” or “tell me the weather tomorrow”.
Battery life on both are about the same. Expect to go more than a day with each watch, but you’ll have to charge it before dinner on day two.
This is one of the more one-sided showdowns we’ve run yet. The Apple Watch Series 3 LTE outclasses the Samsung Gear Sport in several crucial areas, from third-party app support to simple tasks like responding to a WhatsApp message.
There are, however, two saving graces for Samsung. The Gear Sport, priced at HK$2,160, is about HK$1,000 cheaper than the Series 3 LTE. Samsung’s watch will also work with any smartphone, whereas Apple’s device will work only with iPhones.