Review: U.S. Samsung Galaxy S III

The Samsung Galaxy S III is finally here guys!! I consider myself lucky because I had the chance to use it for the past four days. I put my HTC One X (AT&T) down to see what this Samsung phone is all about. Will it be up to par with the One X? Will it stand up to its name and deliver top notch performance?

Samsung originally revealed the Galaxy S III on May 3rd in an event that took place in London. We were then given a vague timeframe about when it will launch in the US. Two weeks ago, Samsung came out and officially announced that their new flagship device is coming to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and U.S. Cellular. The first three carriers will launch it on June 21 and we’ve been told that there could be delays due to “low supply and an unprecedented high demand.” Big Red and USCC will ship their variants sometimes in July.

The Good

  • Design: Completely redesigned from it’s predecessor. It is very easy to carry and lightweight. I personally prefer the new design to the one from the Galaxy S II.
  • Display: 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD display, Nice contrast, deep blacks and great color rendition equals Awesomeness
  • Battery Life: I can get about 14 hours of moderate to heavy use and still have about 25% of battery life left
  • Other: Removable battery, expandable memory up to 64GB with a microSD card.

The Bad

  • S Voice: Samsung has done an “okay” job and has a lot of work to do to catch up to Siri. Still a useless features, oops..did I just say that?
  • Glossy Finish: Although it looks really nice, it is easy to get scuff marks on it.
  • TouchWiz: This new version of Samsung’s own UI is definitely less laggy than the older ones but remains overwhelming at times.

Specs

In case you didn’t know, the U.S. versions of the Galaxy S III are very similar to the one sold across the world except for a couple of major features which arge the processor and RAM; All of US variant will sport Qualcomm’s S4 1.5GHz dual-core processor instead of the Exynos 4412 quad-core that is found in the unlocked GS3. Add to that, 2GB of RAM instead of 1GB which is a great trade-off. Here is the list of the phone’s features:

  • Dimensions: 5.38″ x 2.78″ x 0.34″; 4.7 ounces
  • Display: 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD 1280 x 720 display
  • OS: Android 4.0.3
  • Memory: 2GB of RAM; 16GB or 32GB of internal storage depending on carrier
  • Camera: 8-megapixel rear camera; 1.9-megapixel front camera
  • Color: Pebble Blue, Marble White
  • Battery: 2100 mAh
  • Network: GSM Quad-band: 850/900/1800/1900MHz; UMTS Tri-band: 850/1900/2100MHz; LTE Dual-Band: Band 4/17
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth®; Bluetooth® Profiles, A2DP, AVRCP, HID, HFP, PBAP, HSP, OPP, SPP; Wi-Fi® ; Wi-Fi® Hotspot; HTML Browser; Flash®; GPS

Hardware/Design

The Galaxy S III design is somehow unique with its rounded corners and it certainly turned off many of you, including myself, at first but once you get to hold it, you will change your mind. Samsung has once again outdone itself by designing such a beautiful phone; It only weighs 135 grams and is only 8.6mm thick, up to par with the HTC One X.

In the front of the device, you find a physical home button along with two capacitive buttons (back and menu buttons). I have never been a big fan of physical buttons and I think that it may take some time to get used to it. I found it hard to actually remember where the menu and back capacitive buttons are because they turn off very quickly.

Oh yeah, there is the camera on the top right for video chat and self-portraits. And there is the LED notification multicolored indicator.

On both sides, there is the volume rocker (right) and the power button. Along the top and bottom, we have two microphones and the usual headphone jack.

Going to the back, you will find a removable/flimsy/plasticy back cover with the 2100 mAh battery. Also included are the microSD and microSIM slots. On the top, there is the 8MP rear camera with LED flash and a speaker which is really loud by the way.

Software

In case you didn’t know it, Samsung uses TouchWiz which is their twist on Android. It is still very present in the Galaxy S III and it has even more options added to it if compared to the older Galaxy phones. If you’re a the average user , you may not care too much. Otherwise, if you need to have more Android and less TouchWiz, you’d probably be better of by grabbing a custom ROM such as CyagonenMod or  by trying launchers like Apex and Nova.

Samsung chose to include a physical home button which, in my opinion, isn’t necessary because it isn’t needed when running Ice Cream Sandwich. The default Samsung keyboard is pretty bad. I had a hard time getting it to type words correctly even though it has some type of Swype-like and test-prediction features. I found myself going back to SwiftKey Beta and the difference was quite noticeable.  Here are some of the feature that you will find in the nature-inspired Touchwiz UX:

Smart stay: What this feature does is not let your Galaxy S III display time out. It uses the front camera to track your eyes movement. Don’t you hate it when your screen turns black while you are reading something on your phone? I do!

Smart Alert: This feature will get the phone to vibrate to alert you about missed notifications while you were away from it.

Social tag: If you are into tagging people on your pictures, you will definitely like this feature. Let’s say you take a picture of your dog, the Galaxy S III will ask you to tag it with whatever name you want. IT will then remember that same dog futures photos making it easy for you to share it via your favourite social media platform.

Face unlock: In case you didn’t know it, Face Unlock is a major attribute of Android 4.0 and it has been embedded in TouchWiz. Your phone use the front camera for face recognition to unlock your homescreen.

Pop UP Player: Have you ever wanted to browse the Internet on your phone and watch a video at the same time? Pop Up Player will let you do that! You will have to head to your Video Player app, pick a video and then click on the bottom right icon. It will then bring up a floating window to your homescreen with the video (720p) running. While this is a great feature, I wish it could have worked with YouTube or Netflix.

S Beam: S Beam uses the NFC radio on the Samsung phone to wirelessly share content such as pictures, videos and local music. Keep in mind that it will only work with another Galaxy S III. You basically have to put to GS IIIs against each other to activate to media transfer. Here is to hoping it will work with other phones!

S Voice: Everyone who did a review Samsung’s S-Voice has probably compared this voice assistant to Apple’s Siri which is understandable. I believe that this Samsung’s first attempt at the app and it will probably get better down the road. The question remains, will you be using it often? Let’s not forget that Google is reportedly working on a new voice assistant that may be revealed next week at the I/O conference.

All Share: AllShare features allows you to share media and play content via multiple DLNA or AllShare capable devices if all are connected via a Wi-Fi network. You could stream a movie on your Smart TV directly from a tablet and even a phone. You do have to create an AllShare account in order to use it. Once opened, the app will let you see all the devices that you could connect to.

Performance and Battery Life

Call Quality:

I have been using the AT&T Galaxy S III for about a week here in the Lehigh Valley area in Pennsylvania. If you’re looking to make phone calls-duh it’s a phone after all, the Galaxy S III delivers. Jonathan, who has the T-Mobile variant, also reports that the call quality is great as well.

Battery Life

The Galaxy S III sports a 2100 mAh removable battery which is slightly larger than the ones found in the Galaxy S II and even the HTC one X. I consider myself a heavy mobile user and I was able to get about 12-15 hours out of the phone. Keep in mind that I do not live in an AT&T LTE market meaning that battery life could be affected when using the LTE radios.

Data Speeds

As I mentioned above, AT&T’s LTE network isn’t available yet in my area. The data speed test results (picture on left) I was able to get were done while in an HSPA+ network. Using the SpeedTest.net app, they ranged from 3.2Mbps to 8.4Mbps down while upload speeds ranged from 1Mbps to 2Mbps–watching Netflix and streaming videos was a piece of cake!

We also tested the T-Mobile variant (picture on right), Big Magenta’s HSPA+ 42Mbps 4G speeds were very impressive. Jonathan was able to get download speeds ranging from 5.24Mbps to 17Mbps. Upload speeds ranged from 1.23Mbps to 3.13Mbps. We gotta give T-Mobile the upper hand on this one.

Benchmarks

I am a firm believer that benchmarks aren’t really a true measure of the real life experience that you may get with your phone. I have tested the Galaxy S III using the usual Quadrant, AnTuTu and Vellamo (browser). The results were similar to the ones from the AT&T HTC One X.

Camera

Samsung has been known to deliver top notch cameras and it didn’t fail this time around. Although, I prefer the camera that the HTC One X have, the Galaxy S III’s seems to be up to par with it. I really enjoyed the Burst Shot mode and the fact that it allows you to pick your best shot. How about 8 shots in less than 5 seconds?

The Galaxy S III comes with an 8-megapixel rear camera with backlit sensor and LED flash. Overall, the quality of the shots I have taken were worthy of a flagship phone. However, I kinda feel like Samsung hasn’t put in much effort in this department because  it uses the same Sony camera used in the iPhone 4S. Some of the features that you will find packed with the camera app are HDR, Burst mode, best shot, cartoon mode, buddy photo and ShareShot.

You will certainly enjoy recording videos using the GS III. The video quality is great and the audio was crisp. I took a video in a busy and noisy street and I was quite impressed. I don’t know how useful the Pop Up Player feature is but I am pretty sure that some of you will enjoy watching the thumbnail video in a 720p resolution.

The 1.9-megapixel front camera allows you to take pictures and record 720p videos. I was quite impressed with the quality of both video and pictures.

Conclusion

Samsung once again delivers a strong smartphone in the Galaxy S III but is it enough to make it the best smartphone ever made, maybe not. I was somehow overwhelmed by TouchWiz which I think isn’t really ICS-friendly. S Voice needs a lot of work if Sammy wants to give Apple a run for their money. Overall, The Galaxy S III is definitely one the elite Android phones out there. It isn’t perfect–no phone out there is– but I will certainly tell you to go get it if you are in the market for a top notch device.

Zack has always been a fan of anything with the tag "Gadget" on it, he has had used almost every phone brand except for the Palm and owns a OnePlus One, Moto 360 and a Nexus 7. His favorite camera is the Olympus EM-1. He is a full-time father of two great boys and happily married to his wife. Did we mention the Zack loves Video games? Add him to you circles: Google+

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