This is not an easy article to write because I do not like to speak negatively about a given product, especially one that I really like. So why write a negative review? Because if I am going to be honest, I have to talk about the good and the bad, and not just focus on the things that I think make the Samsung Gear S3 such a great smartwatch. If you are seriously considering purchasing the Samsung Gear S3, you need to see the whole picture. Therefore, I encourage you to not only read this article, but also, the article entitled, “Why I Bought the Samsung Gear S3 Classic 15 Months After Its Release.” In spite of one glaring short-coming, I still think that the Samsung Gear S3 is a great watch, . . . and I would buy it again. There is, however, one thing about this watch that drives me crazy. One thing that I cannot believe has not yet been addressed. You guessed it, “S-Voice.”
For those who do not already know, S-Voice was introduced into the Samsung phone line with the release of the Samsung S3 in 2012. They have been employing this assistant in their phone line-up until the release of the Samsung S8 and Note 8 when they introduced their highly touted new voice assistant, named “Bixby.” We will get to Bixby in a few minutes. But, understand that, although S-Voice is no longer used in Samsung’s phone line, it is still being used in their smartwatches—even in the Samsung Gear S3 series. The following are my first impressions of S-Voice on the Gear S3, and after two months of using the Gear S3, these impressions have only cemented my findings.
S-Voice is Embarrassingly Dated
Samsung’s decision to use S-Voice in the Samsung Gear S3 series is like mass producing spare donut tires that were designed for the 1985 Chevy Chevette and placing them on the new 2018 Ferrari 488 Special Edition. As important as tires are to a car, so too is a voice assistant to a smartwatch. Think of it. At present the only way to navigate through one’s smartwatch is by way of tapping the screen, rotating the bezel, or speaking into the smartwatch itself. The easiest method would be to tell your smartwatch what you want. Apple does a good job at this with their implementation of Siri. Google also does a far better job, with their use of “OK Google.” We will compare these other digital assistants later in this article; but, understand without a doubt, being able to speak to your smartwatch as a means of launching apps, calling contacts, or dictating e-mail and/or text messages, is a BIG deal.
As embarrassing as it would be to sport 1985 spare donut tires on the new 2018 Ferrari 488 Special Edition, it is equally embarrassing to have S-Voice audibly state anything on the Samsung Gear S3 smartwatch. Try it once, and I am certain that you will agree. S-Voice almost sounds like the same voice from “Joshua” in the movie, War Games that was released in 1983. Perhaps you will remember the line, “Shall we . . play a game?” S-Voice is the sister to Joshua. It sounds so dated with no inflection in the voice. It sounds so first generation. It is so first generation . . . 6 years later. For those of you who would like to try it out, click on the YouTube video below to see how to activate S-Voice on your Gear S3 smartwatch.
S-Voice Randomly Activates
There are reports of S-Voice starting randomly from as early as 2013 on the Samsung S4 cell phone. Evidently, this is still an issue, even though the device supporting it is different. On my Samsung Gear S3, S-Voice will randomly tell me that it cannot understand what I have asked, when I did not ask it anything. It does not just display this on the watch, it says it out loud. Needless to say, it is quite embarrassing when I am sitting in church during a sermon, only to hear my watch say aloud, “I’m sorry, I did not understand that”, or “An error has occurred. Try again later.” Again, I did not ask it anything, and nobody else did either. It just speaks audibly out of the blue.
To remedy this issue, one has to go to SETTINGS and tap on the S-Voice icon. When it displays, you can say, “Show my reminders” or “Start work out.” Tap on the three eclipses on the right, then tap the microphone icon to turn the “Voice Wake-up” feature OFF. Then turn the bezel to navigate to “Voice Feedback” and tap the icon to turn it OFF. I do not use S-Voice for anything, out of fear that it will embarrass me by saying . . . anything.
Samsung does recognize that S-Voice is outdated, because they no longer offer it on any of their flagship cell phones. Why they still offer it on their flagship smartwatches is beyond me. Samsung has released a replacement called “Bixby” in their cell phone line. But, they have not replaced S-Voice for their flagship smartwatches yet. This is very disappointing, frankly. Again, of the three ways to communicate with your smartwatch, doing so with your voice is by far the easiest and most practical.
The million dollar question is, “When will Bixby come to the Gear S3?” I was hoping that with the release of the updated Tizen Operating System 3.0, it would be released; but, it was not. Nor was it released with Tizen 3.1. I have to imagine it will be released with the Samsung Gear S4 (as of May, 2018, there is still not speculation on its release date).
If you have a Samsung phone, you will know that Bixby is nowhere near as mature as Google’s Assistant, or even Siri. But, it is better than S-Voice. The funny thing about Bixby (for the cell phone), is that it can address hardware and software specific questions, like, “Open Settings,” or “Look up James,”—and, though S-Voice will allow for that, S-Voice completes the task a LOT slower.
How Samsung will implement Bixby into the Gear S3 (simply a software update), is anybody’s guess and pure speculation. Having said that, When it comes to asking Bixby to find information on the internet, it is desperately lacking. In my opinion, a digital assistant should not only be able to navigate the device itself, but also provide information from the internet as requested. One of the simple tests I run to determine accuracy of a given digital assistant, is to ask it, “How many steps are in the Empire State Building?” How do the big players fare? Below are the respective responses from the big three:
S-Voice (using the Samsung Gear S3 Classic Smartwatch)
When I asked S-Voice, “How many steps are in the Empire State Building?,” I initially got the following response after 10 seconds. “An error has occurred. Try again later.” So, I tried again later, and this time, I got the following response, again after 10 seconds: “I could not find the answer to your question.“
Bixby (using the Samsung Note 8 cell phone)
When I asked Bixby, “How many steps are in the Empire State Building?“, I got the following response after 1 second. “Which One?” Bixby clearly had no idea what I was talking about, and literally tried to pull information up from the Samsung Health App. Clearly, it has a LONG way to go.
Siri (“Hey Siri” – using the iPhone 7 Plus, IOS 11.3)
This test is viable because when using the Apple Watch, OR an iPhone, (or iPad for that matter), you will get the same results because they all use the same Siri engine. When I asked Siri, “How many steps are in the Empire State Building?“, I got the following response after 4 seconds. It audibly said, “Here’s what I found on the web for ‘How many steps are in the Empire State Building?“. It then displayed search results, but did not speak them to me. So, if I am driving my car down the road, am I then supposed to read the search results on my Apple Watch?
Google Assistant (“OK Google” – Samsung Note 8 cell phone)
When I asked Google Assistant, “How many steps are in the Empire State Building?“, I got the following response after 1 second. “1,576 steps. According to CNN.com the Empire State Building Run-Up is an annual race up the stairs to the 86th floor, 1,576 steps“
Clearly the Google Assistant is the most accurate digital assistant out there (at least for this simple test), and that makes sense, does it not? Google’s mission statement is “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Every other player out there is trying to catch up to Google Assistant. They have a long way to go, some more than others.
What Does The Future Hold?
What would I like to see? I would love to see Samsung embrace the Google Assistant, porting it over to the Tizen OS, replacing S-Voice, even over the anticipated implementation of Bixby. Unfortunately, that’s just not going to happen, . . . but one can dream.
The Samsung Gear S3 has so much going for it. As I have already mentioned, at present [May 2018], there is no word on the next major release of the Samsung Gear series, but I am confident that given all of the other features that have already been deployed on the Gear S3, the next release will not disappoint. If they are only able to improve the digital assistant to match the ability of the Google Assistant, it will be a great product release.