[section label=”Introduction, Hardware and Design”]
How do you start the review of Samsung’s flagship smartphone, the Galaxy s3? So much has been said about it already, it was in the news months before it came out. With the S3, Samsung took a different approach from their usual “specced out “me too” device to creating a stand-out device. Starting from the “inspired by nature” hardware design to the “built for humans” take on android, the Samsung Galaxy S3’s is not your average smartphone. It was built from the ground up not to be your average smartphone.
For the first few seconds (maybe more) you look at the S3, your brain registers it as ugly, probably due to the combination of factors like the size, the softly rounded corners and the glossy finish. Nothing screams high-end at first sight.
A sheet of glass covers the entire front of the device only broken by the home button on the bottom centre. Underneath there’s a front facing camera, and proximity sensors on the top right which are visible and a notification LED hidden on the left behind the casing. A grey aluminum-ish plastic band wraps the phone’s sides punctuated by the volume key on the left side and the power button on the other. The very flat back features an 8 mega pixel camera flanked by a flash and a (rather hideous and out of place looking) speaker grill. You can peep our full hands on gallery here
The S3 though plastic, is extremely well made and does not feel cheap in the hand, everything fits tightly and properly in place. At 135g, it is a bit heavier than its predecessor and a little thicker (still relatively thin and light. To have some perspective, it is thinner and lighter than the iPhone 4s). These two factors coupled with its size and glossy finish make it a bit cumbersome to hold for too long (at least for me…and I do have large hands). A case may help with the glossy bit though.
[section label=”Display, Reception and Call Quality”]
The Samsung Galaxy S3 packs a 4.8-inch, 1280 x 720 Pentile AMOLED display. The pentile sub-pixel arrangement is not ideal on paper, but you would not notice it in everyday use. It does reproduce colors quite well and the contrast and deep blacks are well rendered also. However side by side with an LCD screen like that on the HTC One X, you will notice that it the S3’s screen does not match the LCD in terms of viewing angles, color reproduction and clarity. I also experienced this phenomenon (I do not know what else to call it) where when looking at each screen individually, the S3 screen seemed brighter and clearer than the S2’s Super Amoled screen, however putting them side by side (at the same setting) the S2 did seem brighter.
Reception and Call quality:
Network conditions aside, calls to and from the Galaxy S3 are noticeable crisp and clear. On one occasion during testing though, I got consistent dropped calls in placing a call to AdCrack, but was able to make a sustained call to him on another device on the same network, same location, right after about 4 dropped calls on the s3.
Holding the phone to the ear is a little bit weird at first due to the size but you will get used to it fairly quickly.
[section label=”Camera and Media”]
Camera and Media
The Samsung Galaxy S3 (international version) ships with an Exynos 4 quad processor and the camera is the first point where you probably feel all that power, shots are taken with almost zero lag, by tapping the on-screen shutter button. What you see at the point of tapping the screen is what you get. Even in the case of moving objects, the image capturing is almost instant. Instant snaps without image quality adds up to nothing right? Well fortunately, the S3 camera delivers on that too, Images are crisp, sharp and well reproduced at the full 8MP (meaning every bit of the picture is reproduced at 8MP so not much quality is lost if you crop a little corner of the picture). There’s a HDR mode that when in use, focuses every bit of the screen and mashes it into one picture, the resulting picture may look a touched up, but I doubt many will complain.
The camera also supports video recording at 1080p with astonishing results and the auto-focus while shooting video is also impressive.
My only grouse with the camera as a whole has to do with the ergonomics of the device. Holding a device that large especially horizontally to take pictures, considering that you have to tap a shutter button on the screen is rather cumbersome and the phone actually slipped out of my hands a few times. Also for the same reason, my finger kept getting in the way of the lens (as you can see in some of the sample shots below.
The S3 shines as a media consumption device, the 4.8 screen makes reading, surfing the web and watching videos a great experience. Out-of-the box, it does support most of the popular media formats and you can load media on it very easily. For unsupported formats, you will most likely find apps in Google play that will add support. Sound quality is pretty good too and there are quite a bunch of built in EQ settings to tweak the sound to your taste.
[section label=”Software and Applications”]
Software and Applications
The unit I reviewed had ICS installed (there is a jellybean update available for it now) but if you have used a Samsung before, you will know that the default Samsung android experience is heavily skinned as touchwizz. The newest iteration of touchwizz—nature UI is actually not bad at all to use (I could not stand touchwizz on the S2 for long, I installed a mod on it after a few days) though if you have used the stock ICS and/or Jellybean, you will notice that some of Google’s recent hard work is sacrificed for differentiation. Android by default is “busy”, touchwizz does add a bit more to the “clutter” and is less intuitive but not to the point of it being too much of a bother. But if you have used and gotten used to iOs’ clutter-free design, the experience may unsettle you a bit.
The new touchwizz also ships with a bunch of added features such as S-beam, face unlock, Pop-up play and a host of others which I will discuss in the extra features section of this review. All in all, the new touchwizz is a joy to use and some of the added features not present in the stock android ICS such as swiping contacts to either call them (right) or text them (left) and smart-stay (more on this at the extra features section) make sticking with touchwizz a much easier choice.
As with all android devices, Google play is pre-installed for access to more apps than you’ll need in a life time.
[section label=”Connectivity and Storage, Performance, Battery Life”]
Connectivity and Storage
The unit I reviewed shipped with 16Gb installed, but there is a 32Gb variant also on sale and a promised 64Gb variant also. Besides the inbuilt storage, the galaxy S3 supports micro SD cards so the memory is expandable by another 64Gb (depending on what card you get (if you do get one).
For connectivity, you get all the standard stuff you will expect from a smartphone; HSDPA 21Mbps, HSUPA 5.6Mbps,EDGE, GPRS, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, DLNA, WiFi Direct, Wifi Hotspot, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, EDR, Near Field Communication and micro-usb.
On the S3 Samsung’s introduced S-Beam, which is a combination of android beam (NFC) and wifi-direct. It is meant to transfer large files (think gigabytes) in seconds. NFC pairs the two devices, while the data is transferred via wifi-direct. I did not get to use it as at the time of writing this and I doubt many ever will mostly because it is proprietary so only Samsung devices with NFC, wifi-direct and support for S-beam will have that ability (not many).
If I had to sum the S3’s performance in a sentence, I’ll say “The S3 is a beast”. Between the Exynos quad processor and the 1Gb ram, every tax is handled pretty quickly without much (if any) noticeable lag. It is a pretty powerful phone, much more powerful than my very first laptop and that power does come in handy. Chances are, there isn’t an android app out now that would make it stutter. Such raw power does have its downside. ICS is not the smoothest OS out there and the S3’s brute power does show that at times. Even in doing simple tasks like unlocking the screen, the observant will notice that every now and then, the process is not as smooth. It almost seems as if the Os is pushed along reluctantly sometimes.
The S3 comes with a 2100mAh removable battery (quite large for a phone). Considering the processing power and the large touchscreen, it does make sense for the battery to be large. However of more importance is how well the battery lasts regardless of the size and the battery does more than sufficiently well. In use, I was able to go from morning to night on one charge doing the basics—calls, sms, emails, social networking and some web browsing. Playing music and/or watching videos will decrease that a bit, but you are always left feeling that the battery lasted.
[section label=”Extra Features, Wrap Up”]
The Galaxy S3 comes preloaded with a bunch of unique features some of which are exclusive to it. Some of them such as swiping contacts (mentioned earlier in the Software and Applications section) are helpful while others are gimmicks at best. They may aid you in making your decision to buy the S3, but in real world usage do not really offer you much in terms of functionality. Here are some of the extra features we have not mentioned in the course of this review that come pre-installed
Smart stay: The screen stays on and would not time out as long as you have your eyes on it, it achieves this by monitoring your eyes via the front camera, pretty cool.
S Voice: This is Samsung’s take on siri while it will do some basics right, it’s mostly isn’t quick or intelligent enough to be useful. (Not like I think siri itself is very useful by the way). You can see from the picture below, it could not recognize techsuplex.com but Google Now did.
50GB of free Dropbox storage. Samsung have a deal with dropbox, so as soon as you sign into the pre-installed dropbox app on the S3, you get 50Gb of free storage. Pretty neat.
Social tag. Asks you to name someone in a picture you take, then starts recognizing and tagging them in feature pictures. On the surface, this is pretty cool, but in practice, I never did use it beyond the first name prompt.
Face unlock. This is though a stock feature from pure Android 4, is carried on to touchwizz. It’s a pretty cool gimmick—unlocking your device by allowing it “see” your face—however in use it’s not much more secure than sliding to unlock (without a password). I and my brother are able to unlock the same device fairly consistently and we do not look THAT alike! That aside, it takes more time than sliding to unlock and also would not go back to whatever app you had open before the screen locked, thereby wasting a few more precious seconds.
At first glance, the S3 does not look like much, but besides being aesthetically challenged and plastic, It really doesn’t do much wrong except leave gaps for its next model to fill up. Hardware-wise, a better screen, premium materials, a better looking (and smaller…for me at least) design and it would be perfect.
Software-wise, too touchwizz with its advancements has potential as being one of the best alternatives to stock android if it gets more cohesive along the line.
In use though, over time you get the feeling that whatever compromises were made on the device were made for the greater good (well except for that speaker vent at the back). It’s the best android device out there right now in my books (I get to review the HTC One X pretty soon, I will update if I think different after that) and by default that makes it one of the best phones out now.
If you wanted the Galaxy Note but had an issue about the size, you will definitely want to give this a good look.
It is not perfect, but it’s the first of a new breed of smartphones. It is the first superphone.