The Samsung Galaxy S III released on all major U.S. networks to much fanfare. It’s not uncommon to hear the Galaxy S III referred to as the pinnacle of Android smartphones, and with good reason. With the latest internal components, amazing external aesthetics and a killer screen, the Galaxy S III has everything the Android user needs and longs for in a smartphone. But will it be the de facto Android smartphone for 2012? Read on to find out.
We’ll note before starting this review that we occasionally do joint-reviews of devices here at Android and Me, and Sean Riley contributed to this review.
1. Form Factor
If you’re looking for a phone that breaks the Galaxy S mold, you aren’t going to find it here. While Samsung finally stood up to carriers and ensured that customers received the same physical device regardless of carrier, the Galaxy S III still feels like a big slab of plastic with a screen. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the device is super light as a result, yet still feels well-built and solid in the hand.
The Galaxy S III features a power button on the right side of the device, microUSB port on the bottom, volume rocker on the left side, and a 3.5 mm headset jack on the top. On the back of the device you’ll find the camera, with an LED flash and speaker grill on the left and right sides of the camera, respectively. The Galaxy S III comes in two finishes, Marble White (reviewed) and Pebble Blue. The Marble White is a nice finish on the phone, and presents a refreshing change to the customary black slabs in the wild. The Pebble Blue looked equally good in the brief moments I had with that variant of the device, a good choice for those of you who prefer darker phones.
After having my hands on the AT&T HTC One X and the Sprint EVO 4G LTE, I can honestly say that I prefer the form factor of the Galaxy S III, and I think many of you will as well.
When it comes to the software on the Galaxy S III, Samsung has included Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich complete with their customary TouchWiz UI. This isn’t your familiar old TouchWiz; Samsung has pulled an HTC and toned down the UI a bit in order to give the Galaxy S III a slick look and feel. As with Sense 4.0, Touchwiz for Android 4.0 is a pleasant to use UI, the skinned applications actually work well and are in some ways better than the stock version in Android 4.0.
One of the better additions to Touchwiz 5 is the revamped lock screen that brings the same ability to launch four customary applications directly from the lock screen found in HTC’s Sense UI. Most people primarily use only a handful of applications very often; for example, I use Phone, Tweakdeck, Facebook, and the Camera, and set those to the lock screen for quick access.
Samsung differentiates its UI by some of the included applications, one example is S Memo, which allows you to draw on pieces of paper or over screenshots you take from your device, helpful when you want to send something to someone with commentary. Perhaps the most notable added feature on the Galaxy S III though is the Siri-competitor S Voice, which allows you command your phone to perform certain tasks or search for things using only your voice. In our testing, both the S Memo and S Voice performed very well, though I must admit that the latter isn’t quite up to Siri par here. We’re hoping that Samsung and Google could work together to leverage Google Now and S Voice to come up with an unparalleled personal assistant.
In all, Samsung’s Touchwiz UI remains slightly more polished and user-friendly than HTC Sense, and in my humble opinion at least retains its position as the preferred custom UI on Android smartphones.
One of the biggest gripes users have with smartphones is the long-term usability, or longevity, of the device. Many people voice concerns that their device won’t get the latest and greatest operating system when it’s released to other, newer devices, and that manufacturers are slow to resolve bugs and hiccups that come with the device.
Samsung has made the Galaxy S III at least partially future-proof. The Galaxy S III includes 2GB of RAM, which makes for an insanely fluid user experience and ensures that the device will get upgrades for at least the next few years, or the life of your cellular contract. Additionally, forcing carriers to adopt the same device with only a bit of bloatware added will likely result in quicker upgrades, meaning it shouldn’t be 6 or more months after an Android version is released for the S III to get the update.
Regardless, the Galaxy S III is a powerful device with top of the line components that will leave customers pleased with their devices for the two years they’ll likely own it. That’s still pretty much a rarity in Android smartphones these days, as most devices are much less pleasant to use after a year or so.
Many were disappointed to hear that the U.S. Galaxy S III would not be getting the quad-core processor that is offered internationally, but I assure you that the dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor running at 1.5 GHz will change your mind almost immediately. I’ve never seen Android 4.0 run as smoothly as it does on the Galaxy S III. Transitions never seemed to stutter and apps launched instantly. Gaming was no different, I couldn’t find a title in my library that the Galaxy S III wasn’t able to keep up with. Now as noted in the previous section the 2GB of RAM no doubt has its hands in some of this performance, but regardless of how it is being achieved the point is that the hardware in the Galaxy S III will not disappoint.
It’s worth noting that the Galaxy S III also features NFC, which Samsung is leveraging for their S Beam functionality that allows you to quickly and easily share content between devices.
5. Call Quality
Call quality is almost an afterthought for most people at this point; we simply expect that our devices will perform well as phones, which is and will continue to be their primary functionality. I’m happy to report that the call quality on the Galaxy S III was up to par. Both the in-ear and speakerphone produced clear phone calls, and parties on the other end of the phone reported being able to hear me just fine as well.
The display was another somewhat contentious point for the Galaxy S III as the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the PenTile screen was audible from the launch event. Actually seeing the Galaxy S III screen will make you forget any implication that it is in some way inferior. The 4.8-inch 1280×720 Super AMOLED is the best display I have seen on a smartphone. Colors are vibrant, without being over saturated, and text is crisp. Usability in full sun is acceptable, but not markedly better than other smartphones on the market.
I’ve said it before, but I don’t care if the pixels look flawed under a microscope, the reality of using the Galaxy S III is that anything you put on that screen is going to look amazing.
7. Camera Quality
As a Galaxy Nexus owner this was probably the most anticipated feature of the Galaxy S III for me since it is, at least in my opinion, the Achilles heel for the Nexus. When it was revealed that Samsung was using an updated version of the imaging chip utilized in the oft deified iPhone 4S camera I was thrilled and the Galaxy S III lives up to that hype for me. I even appreciate Samsung’s enhancements to the basic camera app.
There are quite a few additions to the camera, but I’ll stick with the three that I found particularly useful. The first and my personal favorite is the “HDR” mode. For those unfamiliar with HDR it basically takes multiple shots at different exposure levels to produce one image with greater contract in light and dark areas. What I enjoyed about Samsung’s implementation is that it doesn’t push things too far and in the end just gives you a very well exposed shot, the flower below is a perfect example, without HDR on the sky was slightly blown out and the foreground looked quite dark. The camera does also give you the unmodified version, so if you are a purist you still have that image to play with later.
The burst mode is another much appreciated feature, especially if you have quick moving children or pets. The ability to have the camera fire off 20 shots consecutively over several seconds without having to tap the shutter repeatedly is a real boon and also prevents the inevitable camera jiggle from tapping the screen over and over. I was less impressed with the “best shot” option which takes what it considers the best photo from the series and deletes the rest, but your mileage may vary there.
Finally I appreciated what amounts to a slight tweak to the panorama mode and that is the little blue frame that helps to show you whether you are straying from your line as you stitch the panorama together. It’s a minor detail that is tremendously helpful for shooting a panorama.
The Galaxy S III is naturally capable of capturing 1080p video as well and not surprisingly the results there are fantastic. I assumed the detail would be there, however I was surprised by the complete lack of any chop or stutter to the video as I’ve often seen that with 1080p video from previous smartphones. Here’s a brief sample video and if you watch it in full 1080p you’ll see what I mean.
8. Verizon 4G LTE
One of the biggest advantages for the Verizon Galaxy S III is the 4G LTE network, which produces download speeds ranging from 5 to 12 mbps, and upload speeds in the 3 to 5 mbps neighborhood. Of course, AT&T has an emerging LTE network, but it’s not quite grown up yet; many regions are stuck on HSPA+, which offers somewhat slower speeds on average than LTE. Sprint and T-Mobile have LTE networks in development, with both carriers planning on fully-implemented networks by the end of 2013. That’s a long way off, and makes the Verizon our preferred carrier for the Galaxy S III, since it has day 1 access to a fully-implemented LTE network.
9. Battery Life
Battery life on the Samsung Galaxy S III has been nothing short of amazing for me. It still can’t hold a candle to the Droid RAZR MAXX, but with it’s significantly larger screen and smaller battery it does a remarkable job trying.
I was able to consistently get 15-17 hours on a single charge with the SGS3, which is a good 3-4 hours beyond what most LTE phones on Verizon have offered me in the past. These results were without employing any specific battery saving measures so with a modicum of additional effort even the heaviest of users would be extremely hard pressed to burn through this battery in a single day.
Safe and sound, back in good old $199. After the last year or so of seeing all the high-end devices on Verizon spiking launch prices between $249 and $299 it is nice to see things come back down to the once reliable $199 mark.
Also with the availability of the microSD slot I see little reason to bump up to the 32GB version since you can pick up a 32GB class 10 microSD card for about $35 on Amazon. Even less if you go with a class 4 card and if you are just using it to store media that should get the job done just fine.
The full retail price of $599 is a bit harder to take, especially since other carriers have it at $549, but the reality is that so few customers opt to go that route that I can’t really penalize the Galaxy S III for it.
If you don’t mind not going directly through Verizon you can also get the Galaxy S III starting at $149.99 from Amazon.
Anthony – The Samsung Galaxy S III is set to take the world by storm. We tested the Verizon version of the device, but we’re certain the next statement applies to all variants of the Galaxy S III; it is by far the best Android device released to date, and will likely hold that crown through the remainder of 2012. I thought I wasn’t going to like how big it is, and indeed it is rather large with that 4.8″ screen; but it’s managed to maintain the svelte look and feel of the Galaxy S II line, and thankfully doesn’t feel as big as it actually is. Users should have no trouble holding and using the device with only one hand, which is a common complaint lodged against larger smartphones.
Frankly, if you’re up for an upgrade or looking for a new device, you simply owe it to yourself to get the Galaxy S III, our Editor’s Choice for 2012. You won’t be happier with any other Android.
Sean – Anthony and I agree almost completely on this device. The Galaxy S III is the best smartphone I have had the pleasure to use and were I looking to upgrade today it is absolutely what I would buy.
My only minor complaint regarding the Galaxy S III is the fit and finish, which doesn’t look quite as high quality to me as, for example, the HTC One X. With that said, I prefer the feel of the Galaxy S III in the hand (which is more important to me anyway).
I’ll counteract that minor complaint with something that didn’t make its way into the review proper, and that is that the speaker on the Galaxy S III is an order of magnitude louder than any other smartphone I’ve used. I was able to hear podcasts or music playing on it basically throughout my house if I turned it to full blast whereas I normally can barely hear my smartphones when I leave the room.
The combination of the high-end hardware, the fairly lightly modified software and of course the sheer number of these devices that Samsung is going to have out there should keep the Galaxy S III a relevant and reliable device well into the future.