Teardown: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
Image credit: Samsung
A smartwatch that justifies its price beyond the technology.
One bothersome thing about Samsung’s marketing is that the company suffers from an embarrassment of brands. So much is illustrated by the recent launch of the Galaxy Watch 3 (GW3). Its new flagship is the successor to the simple Galaxy Watch, but seems to have got its name to avoid confusion with the Galaxy Watch Active 2.
When your marketing forces you to challenge numeracy in ways at which even Hollywood would baulk, perhaps it is time for a rethink. One irony, then, is that in many other ways, Samsung’s latest watch has plenty of smarts in terms of industrial design, specification, assembly and repairability.
The GW3 comes in 41mm and 45mm units, retailing in the UK at £399 and £419 respectively for the Bluetooth version and £439 and £459 if you add 4G capability.
For that price, you get an AMOLED display (360×360px), with an in-house dual-core Exynos 9110 processor as the engine room drawing on 1GB of RAM and from 8GB of storage. There are multiple sensors, for ECG, optical heart-rate monitoring, barometer, accelerometer and gyroscope. IP68 ingress protection rates the integrity of the package to 50m in water. And on top of all that, the GW3 looks good.
This last point is not meant to be flippant. One fair and frequent criticism of smartwatches is that, for all the technology inside, they often look plasticky when set next to traditional mid-to-upper range timepieces priced in the same range. Apple may be an exception here, as a result of its having defined itself as both a fashion and a technology company, but even the Apple Watch has its detractors.
By contrast, Samsung has based its efforts on matching wearable technology to a traditional appearance and form factor. Its co-opting of a rotating bezel for message scrolling and app selection had already given the company’s products a clear advantage over rivals. That is again present on the GW3 but now the larger fascia and smart leather strap, as well as the watch being both 14 per cent thinner and 15 per cent lighter than its predecessor, help make the product feel more like a watch for the whole luxury segment rather than chiefly for geeks and gym hounds.
Functionality on the GW3 also addresses a broad market. There is messaging, e-payments and music streaming over Spotify (and voice calls on the 4G version), fitness and health monitoring, and even a feature where the wearer can send out an alert should he or she suffer a serious fall.
Open up the GW3 and there is plenty of innovation. For example, the motherboard uses Samsung’s preferred SiP FO-PLP technology to cram the maximum on board at the smallest physical specification. It is a fan-out approach to system-in-package implementation at the panel level (a rival technology from leading chip foundry TSMC takes a wafer-level approach and is used by Apple).
The Exynos 9110 processor was launched two years ago by Samsung for Internet of Things applications and features on the original Galaxy Watch. It is based on two Arm Cortex-A53 cores operating at 1.15GHz with integrated Arm Mali graphics. However, Samsung has applied system-design techniques that have allowed it to shrink the battery on the GW3 to 1.3Wh from 1.81Wh on its predecessor, while maintaining a claimed 56-hour charge-life.
A further notable conclusion from the iFixit teardown is that while all this will have involved a still greater degree of design complexity to meet constraints set by a very small space, the GW3 is comparatively easy to repair, being scored at 7-out-of-10.
“The opening procedure is straightforward and glueless. No overlapping design of cables, no fragile ZIF connectors. The battery and display are easily accessible with some disassembly,” says the iFixit team, also noting that there are mostly modular components, although some elements are fixed in place. “The glass digitiser and screen are fused together – meaning glass-only repairs will be impractical.”
Again, this move towards a more fixable watch is worth noting not just in general terms of longevity and the right-to-repair, but also our expectations for a more upmarket timepiece. We may all see smartphones as relatively replaceable every 18 months or so – most people have not historically thought the same about a ‘decent’ watch (and certainly not those toward the premium end of the market).
In terms of appearance, technology and shelf-life, the GW3 is a smartwatch that shows that family of products starting to feel like ‘the real thing’.
Key components: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
4. Sensors (bezel rotation)
6. Cable combo (switches/microphone)
7. Motherboard (shielded)
9. Rear assembly
10. Sensor (possibly barometric)
11. Vibration engine
12. AMOLED display/Gorilla Glass
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