The Samsung Galaxy S III is the Android phone of the moment and in many ways it lives up to the hype. Plenty of folks are excited to see this thing hit store shelves. Our take? They won’t be disappointed.
Stellar software features paired with a beautiful display and specs that can compete with anything else on the market makes the Galaxy S III nothing short of a total delight. Physically it’s not much of a looker – the plastic case feels a bit chintzy – but generally you’re looking at the best of the best.
As I briefly mentioned, the Galaxy S III is made almost entirely of plastic, save for the Gorilla glass coating its face. The design is meant to be inspired by nature, which seems silly considering all the plastic. There isn’t a straight line in sight, with rounded corners and tapered edges.
The plastic along the back has a brushed look to it, but it feels slick and grabs up prints. The blue version is worse than the white, though, with the white version simply clinging to dirt, dust and other unsightly particles while the blue just loves the smudge.
The phone is incredibly thin (.34-inches), considering the size of the display, and with a weight of 4.3 ounces it feels a little too light. You know — the cheap kind of light. Again, we come back to the plastic.
Now, I understand that building this phone out of metal or some other (more premium) materials would have made ease-of-use a bit more difficult. There are multiple radios in this guy, along with an NFC chip, and almost everything runs smoothly. With a metal frame, the same smooth ease-of-use would be far more difficult to achieve.
An elongated home button sits just below the display, with a volume rocker on the left edge, lock button on the right, and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top left corner. The camera is square on the back of the phone with a speaker grill on the right and LED flash on the left. MicroUSB access is on the bottom.
The Samsung Galaxy S III is packed with software features. To start, the phone runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI slapped on top. I’m not a huge fan of TouchWiz in terms of aesthetic (I much prefer pure Android ICS), but at least the custom overlay comes with a few helpful tidbits like resizeable widgets and navigational shortcuts in contacts.
But that’s nothing compared to the things Samsung has done with NFC and WiDi (WiFi Direct).
For one, Samsung has introduced a new way to make some money, called TecTiles. TecTiles are essentially stamp-sized NFC stickers, and work with any of Samsung’s NFC-equipped phones, allowing users to program specific tiles to do various actions when tapped. So a TecTile on my night stand may set an alarm and lower the ringer volume (in preparation for sleepy time), while a TecTile on my front door may connect me to my home WiFi network. The service works well, and the only real complaint I have about TecTiles is the fact that they cost $14.99 per a pack of five.
Another NFC-friendly feature is Samsung’s S Beam. It works similarly to Android Beam but functions over a greater distance, letting users share content in seconds without a WiFi or cell signal. This includes the sharing of photos, videos, music, web pages, etc.
In my experience S Beam worked well and transferred content rather quickly between devices. The main concern is just how much use S Beam will get. Sure, the Galaxy S III will be a popular phone, but that doesn’t mean that everyone in a given group of friends is going to go buy one.
The GSIII also comes loaded with Samsung’s new GroupCast feature, which syncs Galaxy S III devices so you can share a PDF, PowerPoint, or photo gallery presentation. The feature seems like it would be helpful for workers in the field or out of the office, especially considering that Samsung is offering an enterprise-friendly version of the device. It even lets users make marks on the presentation, though I wouldn’t consider this a collaboration tool since the marks disappear relatively quickly and can’t be saved.
The phone features Samsung’s cloud-syncing/sharing service AllShare Play, letting users share content on any AllShare-connected devices like Galaxy tablets, DLNA-capable TVs, set-top boxes and Blu-Ray players, as well as Samsung’s Smart TVs and Windows PCs running the AllShare Play app. This lets users pull files that are stored on home devices and throw a movie from their Galaxy S III to the TV.
Along with these major features, the Galaxy S III also has some small touches that make it a much easier device to use. Things like motion controls (tilting the phone to zoom in on images, or panning the phone to move icons from one home screen to the next) seem a bit arbitrary, as it’s just as fast and seamless to tap to zoom or slide my finger across the screen to rearrange icons. However, features like the ability to lift the phone to your face while in a text message conversation to initiate a call makes sense. The phone also dims brightness when it’s set down, saving you battery, and gives a little extra alert when you’ve been away from your phone if you’ve missed a call or message.
The biggest disappointment in software (and let it be known, I’m seriously impressed with the feature set offered here) is S Voice. It’s essentially a Siri competitor, allowing you to make commands with your voice. To start, it’s not as smart as Siri when it comes to hearing natural language (“show me the nearest burger joint” confused the heck out of it). Second, it has less functionality than Siri. It’s a fine feature yet it just seems like a copy that isn’t done quite as well. (And trust me, that’s not to say that Siri works well by any means).
Pop Up Player, which lets you continue playing a video in a smaller window above some other task, is also a smart feature as multi-tasking becomes ever-important to us. Flipboard is pre-loaded on the device, as are plenty of carrier apps.
The camera on the Galaxy S III is lightning fast, though I can’t say I’m totally blown away by picture quality. Compared to photos taken with my iPhone 4S, everything shot with the Galaxy S III seems washed out and drab. Luckily, there are plenty of different scene modes, focus settings, exposure, ISO, white balance, and various effects that should help you find your way to the image you want.
But perhaps to make up for the less-than-impressive picture quality, the Samsung Galaxy S III camera has a few software surprises that are sure to delight. There is burst shot, which takes up to 20 photos at a rate of 3 pics per second and best shot, which snaps eight images and automatically offers you the best one based on criteria like blinking, smiling, lighting, etc. The Galaxy S III will also let you take still images as you record 1080p video, and has an HDR mode.
More importantly, the GSIII camera has a shooting mode called Buddy Photo Share. It recognizes faces in images and lets you tag them with the contact’s name. From there, the phone will always recognize the difference between John Biggs and Matt Burns and let me share photos with them straight from their name-tag.
Share Shot is another important camera feature, as it allows you to share photos as you take them with up to five GSIII devices through WiFi Direct. So let’s say you’re at a birthday party with your friends and want to make sure everyone can enjoy the pictures later. Simply open up Share Shot and connect with the devices you want to share with. From there, every photo you take will appear in their galleries too until you choose a different shooting mode.
All in all the GSIII camera has quite a few tricks up its sleeve, but if it’s simply a beautiful image you’re looking for, you may need to keep looking.
Comparison shot between the Samsung Galaxy S III (left) and the iPhone 4S (right):
You really can’t go wrong with this display. Samsung’s HD Super AMOLED screens are the best out there, and at 4.8 inches there’s plenty of super crisp content to enjoy. Blacks are deep, colors are bright, and there’s really no differentiation between pixels. In fact, the 4.8-inch display has 306 pixels per inch, making it one of the largest pixel-dense displays I’ve ever seen.
Past that, there’s the size of the display to consider. Nudging up against the 5-inch mark, the Galaxy S III display is much bigger than I’m comfortable with. But the key to slapping giant screen on a phone and keeping it comfortable is device and bezel thickness. The phone is already super thin, allowing even smaller hands to grip the device solidly.
But the bezels of the Galaxy S III is what really saves the day. They take up less than half a centimeter on each side, allowing a huge screen to fit on a relatively comfortable phone. The rounded corners and curved edges also help with grip and performing one-handed actions.
HTC has been kicking ass lately when it comes to benchmark testing, but there’s a new sheriff in town. The Samsung Galaxy S III beats out every Android phone I’ve ever tested in all three tests we run. In Quadrant, which tests everything from CPU to memory to graphics, the Galaxy S III scored an impressive 4911. The HTC One S comes in second with 4371, while most other phones (including the Galaxy Note) stay well below the 3000 mark.
Where browsing is concerned, the Galaxy S III pulled in a score of 103,780 compared to the One S’s 100,662. Compared to most phones, however, the GSIII wins by a long shot as we usually see scores around the 60,000 mark.
And as a testament to both the phone and the power of AT&T’s 4G LTE network, I can safely say that this phone is fast. We saw an average of 9.6Mbps down and 8.39Mbps up, which is excellent. I have yet to see the Galaxy S III have any issues in terms of performance, which says a lot considering that this phone is going above and beyond in terms of both hardware and software. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that second GB of RAM.
Here’s the deal with battery life. The Samsung Galaxy S III has a 2100mAh battery, which is fairly large compared to other phones on the market. Be that as it may, all the extra features that make the Galaxy S III amazing (like the NFC and WiFi Direct stuff) end up tugging pretty vigorously at the battery. Pair that with a 4G LTE radio and there’s bound to be some trouble.
That said, the Galaxy S III lasted a full five hours and fifteen minutes in our battery test. That’s pretty damn good, considering that the screen is never off during a constant Google Image search. In real-world scenarios, it should at least make it through dinner time, and depending on your usage, it might even hang with you through those late night parties.
To give you a little context, the Droid 4 only hung in there for three hours and forty-five minutes while the Droid RAZR Maxx (Motorola’s battery beast) stayed with me for a staggering eight hours and fifteen minutes. The HTC One S lasted just under five hours.
Another plus is that the battery is removable, so if you’re a serious power-user you can always purchase another battery and swap them out throughout the day.
In the end, the Samsung Galaxy S III is the phone you’ve been waiting for. It’s generally well-built, it has an incredible display, solid battery life, plenty of interesting features and it just works well. That’s not something I find myself saying very often of Android phones.
When people ask me what phone they should buy, or if they should wait for this or that (and trust me, I get asked this a lot), I always say, “No, never wait. Just buy the best phone available today, and don’t worry about spending a little more than you’d want to because you’ll use it every day for about two years.”
But over the past few months, when phandroids come at me asking for phone recommendations, I’ve been telling them to wait. And you know what, I’m glad I did. Just like the Galaxy S II and the Galaxy S that came before it, this is the Android phone to beat.
It’s the phone you’ve been waiting for.