With so many Android smartphones out there from so many different companies, the selection process can be a little daunting for the average consumer. There is one phone that is standing out from the crowd these days, though, and that phone is the Samsung Galaxy S III.
Each successive generation of the Samsung Galaxy S series of Android smartphones has gotten bigger and the Galaxy S III is no exception. While it's not quite the behemoth that the Samsung Galaxy Note is, the Galaxy S III is substantial with its 4.8-inch 720p display. Does this make it unwieldly? Or is this the new "perfect" size? Let's dig in and find out.
This review is of the North American (AT&T, Bell/Rogers/Telus) version of the Galaxy S III, also known as the SGH-I747. The Verizon (I535) and T-Mobile (T999) versions are essentially identical. What this means is that you get a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 2GB of RAM, and LTE compatibility (except for the T-Mobile version). If you happen to pick up the international version (I9300), you forfeit the LTE and you drop down to 1GB of RAM. On the bright side, you get boosted to a quad core Exynos chip. Realistically though, you probably won't see that much of a difference in performance or usability.
As I mention in my earlier hands-on video with the Galaxy S III, the phone is remarkably thin and deceptively light for its size. Part of this has to do with Samsung's decision to use lightweight plastics. The back plate, for instance, is a thin, flexible piece of plastic. Some people may say this feels cheap, but it is a pretty good plastic.
You'll also notice that the phone I'm reviewing here is Pebble Blue. The Galaxy S3 is also available in Marble White. In terms of layout, not much has changed from previous Samsung outings. The power button is on the right side, the volume rocker is on the left side, the headset jack is on top and the micro-USB port is on the bottom. The microSD expansion slot is located beneath the aforementioned plastic back plate, but you thankfully don't have to remove the battery to get to it.
Rounding out the critical specs are the 8MP camera (capable of 1080p video), the 2MP front-facing camera (capable of 720p), 16GB internal storage, TV-out, Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, and Samsung's latest version of its TouchWiz UI overlay.
Size, Build and Usability
I remember when I first picked up my Galaxy S Captivate and I thought the 4-inch screen was large. After all, the iPhone only has a 3.5-inch screen. Then, Samsung went bigger with the Galaxy S II, going as big as 4.5 inches, depending on the version. And now, with the Galaxy S III, it's even bigger at 4.8-inches. As mentioned above, this isn't as big as the Galaxy Note superphone, but this is hardly a compact device.
That said, the outward dimensions of the Galaxy S III are comparable to the Galaxy Nexus, which has a 4.65-inch screen. Samsung accomplished this with a thinner bezel pretty well all the way around. Since it is so remarkably slim too, the Galaxy S III really doesn't feel all that huge after a while. There is one substantial issue that you will want to consider though. Partly due to the slippery back, but mostly due to the large screen and thin bezel, using the S3 one-handed can be a challenge.
Unless you have rather long fingers, you will encounter some problems trying to reach the four corners of the screen, as well as the two capacitive "buttons" flanking the main home button. When you reach with your thumb, you have to perform this delicate balancing act with the rest of your fingers. More than a few times during my review period, I felt like the phone was going to fall out of my hands. Two-handed, though, the S III is a dream to use. It's fast, it's beautiful and it's responsive.
Samsung Special Features
One of these is called S Suggest (left) and it's there to recommend apps to you. The stock Android calendar is replaced with S Planner, which works in more or less the same way. There is S Memo for taking notes (though no S Pen like the Galaxy Note) and AllShare Play for streaming content to and from other compatible devices. I particularly like a feature called Smart Stay wherein the phone uses the front-facing camera periodically to see if there's a face looking at it; if so, the screen stays on. This is fantastic for Words with Friends.
Another notable feature is called S Voice, which is Samsung's take on Apple's Siri voice assistant. Unfortunately, while it can be useful under some circumstances, it's simply not as good as Siri. It doesn't have the same kind of natural language processing, so you do have to use certain set commands for a lot of things. I asked S Voice, "Where can I buy pizza?" With Siri, you'd usually get a list of nearby pizza joints. With S Voice, it simply stated that it didn't understand and asked if I would like to search the web for an answer.
The 8MP camera is one of the better ones that you'll find on a modern smartphone, but it's not nearly as stellar as it could be. It's true that the camera app comes with plenty of options, like AF settings and a burst mode, and it's also true that most outdoor photos turn out very well.
However, I did see a fair bit of color fringing under certain light and details can get washed out in other photos. Low light performance can get grainy, since the phone tries to compensate by cranking up the ISO.
I was able able to achieve some "bokeh" with select close-up shots and many of the colors emerged quite vibrant in others. Video quality left a little something to be desired, but I felt it was still better than what I normally get out of something like a Flip MinoHD. Have a look at my compilation sample (in 720p HD) for some more photos and a couple of videos.
Quadrant Standard and 4G LTE Speedtest
If you're a performance junkie, I think you're going to like the Galaxy S III. Yes, it "only" has a dual core processor, but its scores in Quadrant Standard are quite impressive. Running a few iterations, I was able to get scores in the 4800-5000 range quite consistently. This puts it slightly ahead of the HTC One X, the Galaxy S III's biggest competition. While the HTC wins in the processor department, the Samsung makes up for it in memory and I/O. Realistically though, most people are probably going to happy with either. Remember that a phone like the LG Optimus 3D only got around 2100 and even the dual core-wielding Galaxy Note was in the 2800 range. This Galaxy S III is no slouch.
The same can be said about the 4G LTE speeds as measured by Speedtest. In and around the Vancouver area, I was able to get download speeds in the 22Mbps range with uploads clocking in around 12Mbps. This was with the Bell network and is roughly within the same range as the 4G LTE Rogers network that I tested with the Galaxy Note earlier this year.
MEGATechie Out of This World or MEGATechie Failure to Launch?
Samsung has been steadily rising the ranks of the smartphone world and for good reason. The company has come an incredibly long way since the days of the deplorable Samsung Instinct. The Galaxy S III really does look it represents the best possible Android smartphone experience on the market today, challenged perhaps only by the HTC One X. The size may be an issue to some, but the same can be said about the HTC too.
If you're in the market for a new Android smartphone, you really can't go wrong with this device. It's well built, the performance is about as snappy as it gets, and the added features add some icing to this delicious Ice Cream Sandwich cake. I do wish that S Voice was better, though. How it'll stack up against the upcoming Apple iPhone 5 will certainly be interesting.