Smartwatches have been around for well over a decade now, but Wear OS as we know it didn't arrive until 2018. Even then, by a lot of accounts it wasn't until the big G partnered with Samsung for Wear OS 3 that the wearable operating system started becoming a force to reckon with. Right now everyone's paying attention to the existing watches that eventually will be updated to that release, but what about those that never will? Or didn't even run Wear OS in the first place? One clever developer has some thoughts about that, and has somehow managed to bring Wear OS to the Samsung Gear S3, an ancient Tizen smartwatch from 2016.
What's maybe most impressive here is that the Gear S3 wasn't even an Android-based smartwatch in the first place, and has only ever run Tizen. But now, as detailed on XDA Developers, this custom ROM brings Wear OS 2 to the non-LTE version of the Gear S3 Frontier (SM-R760). Theoretically, it should also work on the non-LTE Classic model (SM-R770), but unfortunately, the cellular-enabled and Korean variants are incompatible with this release, as those were based on a different kernel.
The Wear OS 2 port is far from a just-for-the-sake-of-it experiment. Installing it gives the Samsung Gear S3 much of the operating system’s functionality, including support for the Play Store, Google Assistant, and syncing with your Google account. Also, some connectivity options and sensors such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and the heart rate monitor still work. You can even use the rotating bezel to navigate the interface.
As we'd only expect from a project like this, the software has a long list of known bugs, but they’re hardly as numerous as we might fear from an initial release. Some notable issues include worse battery life compared to Tizen, a charging animation that persists until you reboot, bad audio quality, and broken GPS and NFC functionality. Also, the Wear phone application recognizes the hacked Gear S3 as a TicWatch Pro 3, although that’s not really a problem by itself.
One of the beauties of Android’s open source nature is the degree of freedom it allows developers to modify software and build custom ROMs. While phones have acted as the primary mobile platform for developers to test their skills, smartwatches present a similar (and much more untapped) opportunity, and it’s hopefully only a matter of time before more third-party developers start breathing new life into older watches.
If you’re feeling adventurous or have a throwaway Gear S3 lying around somewhere, you can give this transformation a shot for yourself and check out the developer’s instructions on the XDA forum. However, with the risk of bricking your watch in the process, make sure you take your time, be careful, and go into this eyes-open.