The moment many people have been waiting for is finally upon us, and that would be the official release of the Samsung Galaxy S III. From a quick glance of its latest flagship handset, it’s easy to see that Samsung has put a lot of effort into the Galaxy S III and rightfully so. The most pre-ordered handset in history, the latest flagship handset breaks away from its predecessor’s design aesthetic, bumps up the power to full speed, and does it with style. That said, was the Galaxy S III really designed for humans and inspired by nature, or does it fall short? In this review, we’re on a mission to find out, so read on!
- The 4.8 inch Super AMOLED HD display is big and beautiful.
- 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 is very fast.
- New design works well with the "designed for humans" element.
- As per usual, the heavy use of plastics may turn some off.
- Some features are a bit gimmicky
- Some may prefer the previous Galaxy S handset's design.
We have a tendency to say this for certain handsets that come across our desks, but we'll get it out of the way first. You need to hold the Galaxy S III to experience it, and not just a five minute fiddle. To truly appreciate it, you need to use the handset as your normally would, only to realize that it's not like every other phone you've used before. Samsung has escaped the wrath of the US carriers with the Galaxy S III, as all variants are physically identical, with the exception of the carrier's logo found on the back of the handset.
Sprawled across the face of the Galaxy S III is the large 4.8 inch Super AMOLED display, in which you won't find it any more difficult to hold in your hand when comparing to the Galaxy S II or Galaxy Nexus. Sure, some may not feel that they need such a large display in their pockets, but if done right, it's just as nice as 4.3-4.5 inch display. To make sure your screen is about as safe as can be, Samsung has used Corning's Gorilla Glass 2 to protect it.
Above the display you'll find a nice helping of sensors, including the ambient light and proximity sensors, 1.9 megapixel camera, and a notification LED on the top left. The notification light isn't a one-trick pony, either. You can download an application like Light Flow to customize the notification color for specific notifications. This is something we were hoping for with the HTC One X's notification LED, but it only changes from green to amber.
Below the display, you'll find the dedicated home button that's made it to the US variants for the first time and it's surrounded by two capacitive buttons for menu and back. We're not necessarily sure why Samsung chose to go with buttons that aren't required, as Ice Cream Sandwich makes use of an on-screen button layout, but it works. Tapping the home button will take you home, tapping twice will open S-Voice, and holding it down will bring up past applications. While there's not dedicated search key on the device, holding down the menu key on the homescreen or in any application will open a search box.
The Galaxy S III keeps it simple around the sides, bringing you only the essentials. The left side of the device sports only the volume rocker, the right has the power/unlock button, the bottom rocks the micro USB port for charging, and the top gives a home to the 3.5 mm headphone jack.
The rear side of the device will find the most complaints. The battery cover is a very plasticy and is coated in a shiny finish, which Samsung calls a Hyper Glaze. Said finish does give off a somewhat cheap feel to it but those thoughts wane significantly after prolonged usage of the device. Here you'll find the Galaxy S III and [Insert Carrier here] logo, and the 8 megapixel camera, LED flash, and speaker all in a nice, symmetrical line.
A stark departure from the Galaxy S II, the Galaxy S III ships with a completely new design that is ultra smooth from end to end. The edges of the device are encased in a metallic band that gets thicker towards the middle of the device, giving off a curved effect. The silver band around the device also provides a nice contrast against the white that's easy on the eyes. Avoiding hard edges throughout the device lends to a more natural look and feel, and since we know that Samsung's marketing the handset as "inspired by nature" it makes a lot of sense.
When putting the Galaxy S III right next to the Galaxy Nexus, you'll find many similarities. Of course, this is obviously due to the fact that both handsets were made from Samsung but you'll find that the two have a lot in common. Sexy isn't necessarily a word I would use to describe the Galaxy S III, and in no way is that an insult. The curved edges found throughout the device make for a more beautiful and subtle device, with everything laid out in a simple way.
If we were going to compare the Galaxy S III to the HTC One X, we'd give a nod to the latter. At least in overall design and build quality. The unibody design is easier on the eyes, but we'd be lying if we said we still didn't appreciate the ability to swap out the battery or expand the storage on the Galaxy S III.
Just because a phone is made of plastic certainly doesn't mean it's made of cheap plastic. This stands true with the Galaxy S III. All of Samsung's Android devices are heavy on plastics and we've come to accept that. What makes us more okay with this is the fact that Samsung handsets are rather durable. Case in point : Over the weekend I dropped my Galaxy Nexus, which fell down a set of three concrete stair, hitting every one. Hard. To my surprise, there were only a few scuffs on the edges and a small scratch on the screen protect. Pretty good for a fall that would likely have rendered an iPhone 4S unusable.
While some may be irked about the in hand feel due to the plastics, we'd say it becomes much less of an issue after you use the device for a while. Plus, it seems that all the people who have pre-ordered the device don't seem to mind the backing of the device, either.
Guts And Glory
The Samsung-made Exynos quad-core processor didn't make it into the US versions of the Galaxy S III but has been replaced by the incredibly fast 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor. The entire experience we've had with the handset has been buttery smooth, and you can also thank the extra GB of RAM in the phone. The Galaxy S III is the first smartphone to rock 2GB of RAM, which might not necessarily be fully utilized until future updates of the OS and when Tegra-like games become more widely available.
We did a few simple benchmark tests on the Galasy S III and you can find the results below:
Linpack - Single Thread - 65.803 MFLOPS
Linpack - Multi-Thread - 106.549 MFLOPS
Quadrant - 3311
Neocore - 57.9 FPS
AnTuTu - 5157
Samsung has done some exceptional work on the software front for the Galaxy S III. From very useful to downright gimmicky and useful, some features found in the Galaxy S III are meant to go unnoticed, as they are in place to make things simpler. Samsung's emphasis on nature-based sounds and animations are immediately noticeable from the second you unlock the device, so let's start there.
Upon first turning on the phone and after signing into your Gmail account, you'll be presented with a revamped lock screen. Like the Galaxy S II, there's no wrong way to unlock the device, you just drag your finger across the screen in any direction to unlock. Instead of having the lock screen drag itself with you like on the Galaxy S II, a new water ripple effect takes its place, along with the accompanying water sound. It's nice. It's cute. It's different.
Samsung also took a page from HTC by allowing the user to launch a set of applications from the lock screen. Simple tap and drag one the desired application upwards to immediately launch it. Like Sense and even stock Ice Cream Sandwich, this feature works well if you want to get to an application quickly (like the camera) without having to fully unlock the device.
Another nifty feature that Samsung has added into the lockscreen is either a news or stock ticker at the bottom of the screen that will update periodically throughout the day.
TouchWiz has received a very nice facelift that makes it easier to use without completely changing the way you interact with it from previous versions. You're given up to 7 home screen panels to customize to your liking. You'll still be able to drag your finger over the dots above the dock to quickly jump to a specific homescreen and pinch the screen to view all panels. Overall, the Home Screen of TouchWiz pretty much remains intact from previous versions.
S-Voice is Samsung's answer to Siri, and like Apple's voice assistant, S-Voice needs a bit of work. This can be said about any sort of voice assistant on mobile phones these days as well. That said, there are a handful of nifty tricks you can do with S-Voice. You can check the weather, schedule a calendar appointment, set a timer, open (select) applications, send a memo, and much more. There's a lot to like about S-Voice, and even though it may be a direct answer to Siri, it's still a great improvement from the previous Galaxy S phone's voice assistant, Vlingo.
S- Beam is a pretty interesting feature that takes Android Beam to the next level. S-Beam essentially initiates a WiFi-Direct connection between two phones by using NFC to make things easier and allow users to share pictures and videos quickly.
Smart Stay is what we'd call one of the more 'Human" features, as it's only there to help you save battery. When it's working, you won't necessarily know, and that's because it will make the screen dim when you're not looking at it. The 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera will track your eye movement and knows when you're looking at the screen. It's a behind the scenes feature that you never need to think about, which seems to be exactly what Samsung was going for.
Smart Alert reminds the user that they have unread notifications or missed a call. If the phone has been idle, the phone will vibrate once it's picked up to let you know you have notifications waiting for you.
While it's a feature that you might forget to or won't care to use, Direct Call works well. It's a very simple feature that will automatically call someone you've been texting simply by putting your phone to your hear while in the open text thread.
There are two ways to take screenshots on the Galaxy S III. The simple "hold Home and Power" at the same time works but Samsung will now allow you to take a screenshot by swiping your hand across the screen from either side. It's easiest to swipe the screen with your hand when its in a karate chop style. Do not karate chop the phone.
Quirks and Irks
While there are many great new features in TouchWiz, it's not without an occasional quirk. Some of these range from simple application limitations, where some just make you scratch head and wonder why Samsung hadn't implemented certain things in an easier way.
While this could change in the future, one thing that irked me about S-Voice is that while you can ask it to open applications, it only seems to work on certain applications. Asking S-Voice to open an application like HBO Go or even Google Play yields nothing but a " What application would you like to open?" response.
Another oddity in TouchWiz is how folders are made in comparison to stock Ice Cream Sandwich. In TouchWiz, to make a folder, you must: Hold down on an empty space on the homescreen, tap Add to Home, Tap Folder, and then drag the application you want into said folder. Is it hard? No, but it surely doesn't beat dragging one application over another like in stock Ice Cream Sandwich.
Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera
The Galaxy S III's web browser hasn't changed much in the latest version of TouchWiz. You now have the option to make a webpage available for offline reading, and a couple more tweaks throughout. One thing that Samsung has always given its browser is a dedicated brightness setting. Now there are different color levels within the browser for power saving.
Like HTC's implementation, viewing and dismissing open webpages isn't as fluid as stock Ice Cream Sandwich. You're given thumbnails of the open webpages and they can only be dismissed by hitting a small x on the top right of each thumbnail. It's not hard to dismiss pages in the least bit but the swiping gesture found in stock Ice Cream Sandwich is a superior implementation in our opinion.
The Galaxy S III serves up a large assortment of way to consume or share media. The revamped video player shows live thumbnails of all the videos on your phone and also allows you to view nearby devices that you can view content from. From the video player, you can use the new popup video, which will open the video in a small window that you can move around on the screen. This allows you to surf the web, check your email, or whatever you might want to do on your phone without missing a moment of the video.
The redesigned Media Hub lets you rent or buy movies directly from your phone on the go, and when you're home, you can use AllShare to send content to and from your device to a compatible DLNA TV, set-top box, etc.
The camera is a great selling point on the Galaxy S III. Not only does it take great pictures, but Samsung has worked hard at making the software top-notch. We've always liked the customizable side bar, and now there's even more to love. From new shooting modes to saying, "Cheese" to take a picture, Samsung has made the camera software on the Galaxy S III our favorite, yet again.
Quick Camera Access
There are now two ways to access the camera application from the lockscreen. One is by adding the icon (which is there by default) to the dock on the lockscreen and simply dragging it to the center of the screen. This implementation is similar to HTC Sense, but another way you can get to the app is by using the new Quick Camera Access feature. When at the lockscreen, you can open the camera application by holding your finger on the screen and rotating the phone into the landscape position. While we can't say it's necessarily easier than swiping the icon upwards but you at least have the option of getting rid of said icon in favor of something else, and still access the camera quickly.
Buddy Photo Share
Buddy Photo Share is an interesting feature that will recognize the faces of people you take photos of. While you need to set it up first for it to know who is who, once you take a picture of one of your friends, a box will appear around their faces and you can immediately share the photo with them.
Samsung has also implemented some new shooting modes in the Galaxy S III, which include HDR and Burst Shot. Similar to what you'll find in HTC's more recent devices, Burst Shot will take a series of pictures when you hold down on the camera soft key and pick the best one for you.
Overall, the camera on the Galaxy S III is solid through and through. We did run into some interference with wind when recording videos, but we've experienced the same issue with many other handsets.
Call Quality And Battery Life
Battery life was a mixed bag with the Galaxy S III and as usual, we believe that it's a combination of both the large display and the LTE modem. One day I managed to get 25 hours out of the device, with very very little use (mostly on standby), and another day the handset only hung onto 15 hours of battery life in in the same conditions. That said, in the latter instance, the signal was abysmal, which could have made the LTE radio go into overdrive.
With normal use, the Galaxy S III performs very well for a smartphone of its caliber. It should definitely last you through the day, thanks to the 2100mAh battery inside, and we could imagine that T-Mobile's HSPA+ version might last you even longer.
The Final Take
So is the Galaxy S III what everyone has been waiting for? We're inclined to say yes. Some people may not be impressed with the new design of the Galaxy S III, but it's grown on me a lot since I first picked it up. The new design itself will be more attractive and approachable than the previous design, as the curved edges may appeal to a wider audience.
As far as being designed for humans, we're also inclined to give that a nod. That said, the fact of the matter is that Samsung could have marketed the Galaxy S III as being "designed for assholes" and it would still sell very well. There are a lot of features that work behind the scenes for the user, which does make the experience more "human."
Samsung and the Galaxy S III prove that it's no longer an Android vs iPhone race anymore. Hell, it's also not just a Samsung vs Apple race anymore. No, Samsung has taken a step up, getting closer to Apple than ever before. For that, it's now Samsung against the world; a status that Apple has only been able to maintain. Can you be that surprised when both companies collectively take up 90% of the smartphone market's profits?
The Galaxy S III is definitely the best Android phone we've come across this year, with only the HTC One X coming close to what Samsung has achieved. We really like the One X, but while HTC was busy refining virtually every aspect of Sense with the One line, Samsung was enhancing TouchWiz in many great ways.
We're definitely anxious to see what Google has in store for us later this yeah when at least one new Nexus handset will be announced. But for now, if you're looking for the best Android phone you can get on the four major carriers (and then some) in the US, look no further than the Galaxy S III.