In technology, and unlike Hollywood movies, a sequel is expected to be significantly better than the former. Rumours ran rampant online in the weeks leading up to the official Galaxy S III (GS3) announcement, but does it have what it takes to be king of the Androids?
The GS3 is one of the rare smartphone handsets that actually look better in person than it does in the pictures. It's "hyperglaze" finish earns the most groan-worthy marketing term of the year, so far, but it looks and feels fantastic. Our Marble White review unit is stunning, even after hours of sweaty hands all over it and despite the fact that it looks like a giant Tic-Tac.
Yes, it looks like a Tic-Tac, but it feels great in the hand.
The 4.8-inch Super AMOLED display is similarly superb, with more than enough pixels on offer to display crisp text and vivid images. There has been some conjecture online about Samsung using a PenTile sub-pixel array in this screen, unlike many of its other products, but we challenge anyone to spot the difference from a comfortable reading distance. If you don't know what a PenTile sub-pixel array is, don't let this bother you. This argument is a non-event.
The GS3 is only slightly larger than last year's Galaxy S2 (and 0.1mm thicker), so to accommodate the physical controls on the handset, Samsung has squashed them up a bit. The mechanical Home button is more or a sliver than a circle, and it can be tricky to use without touching the surrounding touch-sensitive areas. There is a volume rocker on the left of the phone and a Power button on the right, but no HDMI port, like you might find on some of the competition. The GS3 can connect to a TV via a micro-HDMI cable, though you'll need to fork out for a Mobile HD Link cable at a cost of about AU$40.
16- and 32GB variants of the GS3 will be available at launch, with both featuring micro-SD card slots to expand this memory further. The slot is located under the back cover, next to a micro-SIM slot and an enormous 2100mAh battery.
|Samsung Galaxy S3||HTC One XL||Nokia Lumia 900||Apple iPhone 4S|
|Android 4.0.3||Android 4.0.3||Windows Phone 7.5||iOS 5.1|
|16, 32GB storage |
|32GB storage||16GB storage||16, 32, 64GB storage|
Samsung's TouchWiz UI hasn't been well loved in previous releases. At best, some users are ambivalent; at worst, they outright hate it. This latest iteration is a big step forward in our opinion. It maintains a lot of the usability tweaks of the previous version, like quick Home page switching by swiping along the pagination icons, but it is also a lot more polished. The icons seem familiar, but have a sharper, higher-resolution design; the notification now has an extended settings shortcut bar; and you can now launch applications directly from the lockscreen. But perhaps more importantly, there is still plenty of Google's Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) design present here too. Samsung has skinned ICS, but not so much that it obscures what we love about it.
There are a number of cool new tweaks to note, too, including some cool gesture controls. To take a screenshot, for example, you can swipe across the screen with your palm or the side of a finger. When you are in the Messaging app, you can lift the phone to your ear to start a call with the contact whose message you've been reading. Not ground-breaking features, but very handy enhancements. We were disappointed to discover that the GS3 doesn't include a Swype keyboard though; the first Samsung phone not to have Swype for a long time.
The GS3 is the first phone to feature Samsung's new quad-core Exynos processor, and boy is it a beauty. In the performance benchmarks we ran across all Android phones, the GS3 has steamed ahead, scoring top marks in web standards execution, 3D graphics rendering and basic number crunching. We don't tend to put much faith in these tests, but the results are fairly conclusive — this is one fast phone.
More importantly, it is a fast phone with decent battery life. Last year's Galaxy S II was held back by poorer battery performance, and we're glad to see Samsung pay special attention to this all-important consideration. It's 2100mAh battery may not sound like a huge improvement on the 1800mAh battery in many other phones, like the HTC One X, but it certainly adds up to several hours of extra use each day.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
More impressive though: the GS3 has excellent standby battery life. For example, we noticed that the phone lasted an entire weekend — Saturday morning to Sunday evening — without being recharged, even with Wi-Fi on and Account syncing occurring automatically in the background. When we took a closer look at this battery use in standby, we saw that it takes six or more hours to discharge the battery 10%. This is a huge improvement on last year's release and sets the S3 well ahead of its nearest competitors.
Samsung's latest smartphone camera matches the HTC One X on paper, with a similar array of features and speed. The camera on the GS3 launches in under a second and can fire a photo in the same time. It also has a burst photo mode, letting you shoot up to eight images and then select the "best shot" to keep.
Unfortunately, these features don't help produce great photos, overall, and though some of our test photos have been superb, others struggled with soft focus and had a consistent problem with colour bleeding from strong light sources.
Wide shots like this are handled well by the GS3.
The camera excels in low-light, thanks to the precision of its LED flash.
This is a particular extreme example, but we've noticed that the GS3 struggles to deal with bright light sources, resulting in image-destroying colour bleeding.
Samsung keeps its flagship device at the head of the pack, in regards to connectivity, future proofing its customers with options that they may not make use of today, but will almost certainly find useful tomorrow. NFC is the best example of this. While owners of the GS3 may only use NFC for file transfers in the near future, the option is there to use the GS3 for mobile banking down the track.
The handset also offers channel-bonding Wi-Fi, which doubles the bandwidth over Wi-Fi by bonding two channels of 802.11g signal. Bluetooth 4.0 is also onboard, which offers a low-power enhancement to the current Bluetooth protocols.
4G network compatibility is the obvious option missing from this list, something which may come later in the year. We haven't had any difficulties with the 3G network speeds though, with all connected apps accessing data quickly on the 3G networks.
Samsung has also invested heavily in improving its voice recognition software partnership with Vlingo, now dubbed S-Voice. As an obvious response to Apple's Siri, S-Voice goes a little further towards understanding natural language, but not nearly as far as the software found on the iPhone. It does more than Siri, though, giving the user the ability to adjust phone settings by voice commands, like "Turn Wi-Fi On". It can answer direct question, fetch the weather, plus compose messages, emails and schedule appointments in your calendar. It doesn't have Siri's dry sense of humour, but S-Voice is definitely more useful than previous versions of Vlingo.
Australian customers also get the benefits of Samsung's newly formed relationship with movie service Quickflix, with the option to subscribe to the service and stream movies to their phones. New S3 customers get a fortnight's free access to trial the all-you-can-watch service, which should be long enough to decide whether you think the movie catalogue on offer is worth your time and money. The Quickflix streaming service is still in its infancy and lacks the new release titles that would make it truly worthwhile, but many may enjoy its back catalogue selection for the nostalgia.
If you'd prefer to watch your own movies, rather than relying on the Quickflix catalogue, Samsung has bolstered its remote media-serving capabilities with Allshare Play. This new app is available on the phone and as a PC download, and gives you phone access to the files on your computer over an internet connection. Much like Motorola's MotoCast app, Allshare Play lets you designate share folders and streams files of all types to the handset. Samsung takes this a step further though, partnering with SugarSync cloud storage, giving you 5GB free, and a place to store files that all your devices can access simultaneously.
As a sum of its many parts, the Galaxy S3 is the new king of Androids, and the best smartphone on the market, at this time. It ticks all the boxes, with an excellent HD-resolution screen, a slick and fast user experience and the best connectivity available, including channel-bonding Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and much more. But all of these features would be meaningless without the phone's outstanding battery life, and though we're a long way from the week-long battery life of BlackBerrys from years past, the GS3 can last for several days of light use, and can happily survive a heavy business day of email, calls and web browsing.
There's a heaping of subjective praise in this review, too. We like the GS3's design and feel, though others may think the plastic feels cheap. We also like the latest iteration of Samsung's TouchWiz UI, where others will prefer the differences in iOS, HTC's Sense or the Sony NXT UI. Still, a phone that does as much as the GS3 — and does it as well as the GS3 does — is very hard to beat.