Samsung’s Galaxy line of Android phones can arguably be credited for bringing Android to the masses and amongst the many models that Samsung released under the Galaxy brand, the Galaxy S II holds a very special position not just for Samsung but for a lot of it’s users as well. It defined Samsung as the best Android device manufacturer and won countless awards for being the best device of last year. Today we look at the follow up to the Galaxy S II, unsurprisingly titled the Galaxy S III and see if Samsung has managed to create a true successor to it’s phenomenal device.
Our review unit of the Samsung Galaxy S III arrived in a very plain looking blue box with Samsung Galaxy S III etched on top. For someone who doesn’t know much about Samrtphones, they’d think that the Galaxy S III is a most ordinary device based on the packaging. The unit is available in two colors- blue and white and I recieved the former version, I think white looks nicer. Other than the main phone, Samsung bundles the customary headphones and USB cable with charger plug along with a quickstart guide and warranty information.
Build quality & design
Thin is certainly in and the Galaxy S III shows us that with it’s incredibly slim porfile. Measuring 136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm and weighing just 130g, Samsung maximizes the screen space by equipping the S III with a huge 4.8” screen in a size that is not too much bigger than other devices with smaller screens while at the same time being thinner and lighter. The following picture compares the S III to the Galaxy Nexus, also a device manufactured by Samsung.
Unlike the iPhone 4S or the HTC One X, the Samsung Galaxy S III doesn’t exude that premium fit and finish and instead of glass or carbon-fiber, you end up with a very plastic finish that tries to give off a metallic effect. That’s not to say that the design is bad and honestly, I think you’ll end up with lesser damage and heartache were you to drop the S III instead of the other devices, but nevertheless, when everyone else presenting premium finishes on their devices, the S III stands out like a sore thumb. This is especially felt when you remove the back cover and notice how thin and flimsy it feels.
Around the device, you have volume buttons on the left side and a power/lock button on right. A 3.5mm jack sits on top while the bottom has a micro USB connector. The back cover comes off and reveals spaces for a microSD card as well as a micro SIM card. The back side also houses the speaker phone and the main 8MP camera while the front has an additional camera and a notification LED above the screen and a home button below it along with two touch buttons for back and menu.
The Galaxy Nexus, showed Google’s concept for an ICS device and it’s interesting to see none of the top tier manufacturers following Google’s footsteps in ditching hard buttons with onscreen ones. Samsung has chosen to use the back and menu buttons alongside the home button and honestly, I’m not sure if this is a good idea as it creates inconsistencies and to some extent, fragmentation. To give you an example, the menu button is now onscreen for most ICS based Android devices but you don't see that button on the Samsung Galaxy S III. Also the back button is located to the right of the home button but my personal preference would have been on the left side as that’s where you generally see a back button on your browser or an onscreen button.
Screen, Specs and Benchmarks
The 4.8” screen size of the Samsung Galaxy S III is the second biggest sized screen I’ve seen in a phone (Galaxy Note, also by Samsung, takes that honor.) Sadly it’s a step back in technology and unlike the stunning Super AMOLED Plus screen that we saw on the Galaxy Note, the Galaxy S III uses the pentile based non plus version of the screen that is not as vibrant.
According to Samsung's spokesperson, it's because those blue sub-pixels that are absent on Super AMOLED displays degrade faster than their red and green allies. With the aim of keeping its phones healthily glowing for at least 18 months, it made the decision to go with the Pentile formation. That’s not to say that it’s a bad screen but it’s not one of the key selling points for Samsung as it has traditionally been and displays like the SLCD one found on the HTC One X look as impressive, or possibly even a tad bit better than the S III. I also found the screen very faded when using it outdoors under the UAE sunlight and had to crank the brightness to full be read the screen properly.
If speed is what you’re looking for, you won’t find a faster phone than the Samsung Galaxy S III. Based on the Exynos 4212 chipset with a Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9 based CPU and the Mali-400MP GPU, the Galaxy S III smokes the competition when it comes to benchmarks.
|Samsung Galaxy S III|
|HTC One X|
|Samsung Galaxy Nexus|
|136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm|
|134.4 x 69.9 x 8.9 mm|
|135.5 x 67.9 x 8.9 mm|
|720 x 1280 (306 ppi) Super AMOLED|
|720 x 1280 (312 ppi)|
|720 x 1280 (216 ppi)|
|Exynos 4212 Quad Core 1.4Ghz|
|Nvidia Tegra 3 Quad Core 1.5GHz|
|TI OMAP 4460 Dual Core 1.2GHz|
|HSDPA, 21 Mbps|
|HSDPA, 21 Mbps|
|HSDPA, 21 Mbps|
|Android 4.1 (4.1 soon)|
|Sense UI 4.0|
|1.9MP / 720p|
|1.3 MP / 720p|
|1.3 MP / 720p|
|8MP / 1080p|
|8MP / 1080p @ 24fps|
|5MP / 1080p|
|Lithium Ion 2100 mAh|
|Lithium Pro 1800mAh|
|Lithium Ion 1750mAh|
The Samsung Galaxy S III completed the SunSpider benchmark in 1505ms which is the fastest we've seen on any phone and by a large margin. The One X completed that test in 2004ms. Even in other benchmarks such as GLBenchmark and Quadrant, the Galaxy S III smoked the competition.
UI and Apps
Like most of the other top-tier phone manufacturers, Samsung adds their own UI on top of Android’s stock UI and I can see how this is has become more of a necessity for a manufacturer to differentiate their Android based phone from other competitors. Samsung calls their UI TouchWiz and on it’s 4th iteration, it is a lot less obtrusive than some of the previous versions which is a good thing as I wasn’t the biggest fan of TouchWiz.
Samsung brings quite a set of features with the Galaxy S III, some which are interesting while others will probably not be used much. The one I liked most is Smart Stay which, using the front camera on the device, tracks to see if you are looking at the screen or not and if you are, it prevents the screen from shutting off- a complain that I have with almost every other Smartphone.
Another new feature and this is purely aimed at Siri is S-Voice that tries to make your phone more usable using your voice. With my tests, it worked well at times but failed miserably quite a few times as well. Also borrowed from iPhone is double-tap to top which takes you to the top of a list. One more semi-useful feature is Social Tagging where the camera tried to recognize faces from a picture you take from the camera. I say semi-useful because it wouldn’t always recognize faces in a picture.
Other less-usable features on the Galaxy S III include Direct Call which calls the person you are texting when you raise the phone to your ear, Smart Alert that vibrates the phone after you have picked it from not using it for a while to let you know if there are any pending notifications and Touch Beam which shares media with another Galaxy Phone using NFC.
The Camera on the Galaxy S III takes decent pictures but nothing outstanding in my tests. If the subject is still and there is plenty of light, you will get some really good pictures however, picturing my daughter in a play area always resulted in a blurry shot.Also low-light and night time pictures appear a bit grainy. I’m not sure if I’ve been spoiled by the Nokia 808 PureView or not but I feel that the camera on the Galaxy S III is not as good as the iPhone 4S or the HTC One X.
Wrapping things off, Samsung has done good by providing a pretty high capacity battery with the Galaxy S III. The 2100 mAh battery certainly has more capacity than the 1800mAh one found in HTC’s One X or even Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus that comes equipped with 1750mAh. This definitely makes the Galaxy S III last longer than the two devices I mentioned and I was frequently getting almost two days worth of usage. The only other Android based phone that has managed to do so is the Motorola RAZR Max with it’s massive 3300mAh battery that comes at the expense of making that phone a bit heavy at 145g.
So is the Samsung Galaxy S III the best Android handset currently available? The answer to that depends of your preferences. If you want something that is super fast then there is no denying that the S III smokes everything else. There are also many little features like Smart Stay that you will not find on other devices and TouchWiz as a UI has certainly come a long way.
However, there are three areas where the Galaxy S III loses out to the HTC One X- the screen, the camera and the construction quality. So, again, it really really depends on what you're looking for when choosing an Android phone. Also keep in mind that Google has announced Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) which will be available on the Galaxy Nexus this month- probably much before any other device gets it and the Galaxy Nexus can be picked for almost a thousand Dirhams less than the Galaxy S III at the moment.
In short, while the Galaxy S III is an excellent phone and better than all other Android phones at certain levels, it is not the definite Android device to get that the Galaxy S II proved to be a year back.