Given the track record of the Samsung Galaxy S series, it is no wonder the latest edition to the line has been the talk of the Android town. With a recent international release and a US launch right around the corner, we took some time to get acquainted with the Samsung Galaxy S III and put it through its paces.
The US version of the phone, which for the first time is identical on all major carriers including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, differs slightly from its international counterpart in the hardware department, featuring a dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor as opposed to a quad-core Exynos chipset, but despite the CPU swap, the phone benefits from 2GB of RAM and LTE/HSPA+ 42 (depending on carrier) connectivity. So does the Galaxy S III live up to the hype? Read on to find out.
If you are looking for top-notch hardware, look no further than the Samsung Galaxy S III. Its spec sheet puts it on par with recent heavy weights like the HTC One X and easily place it amongst the most powerful devices on the market. The phone’s hardware is built up around two cornerstones: a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and a gorgeous 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD display. Throw in 2GB of RAM and you are dealing with just about the smoothest Android 4.0 experience on the market.
In terms of design, the Galaxy S III keeps things relatively simple. An 8.6mm profile appears all the thinner thanks to some well-place curves while a metallic bezel breaks up any sharp lines (the Pebble Blue color scheme seems apply named as the phone gives off the appearance that it has been gently shaped by nature, much like a rock at the bottom of a riverbed). You won’t find many ports, only a microUSB connection for charging. With available adaptors it can also act as an HD video output. A power on/off/standby button and volume rocker are the only two physical keys aside from the standard Galaxy S III home button.
Yes, the Galaxy S III home button is back, which means Samsung has opted to not go with Android Ice Cream Sandwich’s software navigation keys. The physical home button is flanked by two capacitive buttons, one that will call up the “Menu” functions and the other operating as the “Back” key. These keys are backlit and light up only when touched (the time-out can be adjusted or set to always on). We’ll get to how Samsung has handled Android 4.0’s multi-tasking function in the ‘Software’ section.
An 8MP camera handles picture and video, which can be recorded in full 1080p HD. The rear sensor is equipped with a flash and auto-focus capabilities and supplemented by a front-facing camera for vanity shots and video calls.
As benchmarks will attest to, the average person won’t notice much of a difference between the quad-core and dual-core versions of the GS3. In fact, owners of the dual-core version get a few added bonuses in the form of an additional gig of RAM and the ability to utilize the latest 4G networks. Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T’s versions of the phone are equipped with LTE while T-Mobile operates on HSPA+ 42, meaning data speeds will be top-notch no matter what network the phone is activated on. Quality may be influenced by the particular carrier, but the phone’s hardware provides solid, clear audio during calls.
Samsung has not only gone to great lengths to offer one of the most impressive pieces of Android hardware we have ever seen, but also to add a level or richness to the Android operating system itself. Based around Ice Cream Sandwich, a new generation of Samsung’s TouchWiz interface has been enhanced with human interaction in mind. Not only are we introduced to new gestures such as the ability to place the phone to your ear while viewing a text message to initiate a call or to pan between homescreens by moving the phone left or right, but Samsung has also made using the smartphone a more social experience with some new sharing features.
NFC is utilized to both network devices for sharing photos and video, but also to take advantage of new Samsung’s new TecTiles, which we have covered previously. Group sharing allows one user to stream a presentation, video, or photo to multiple handsets, while AllShare lets users send content to a television set or share files between a PC and their phone. Sharing even extends into the phone’s camera.
Add in a customizable launcher bar, lockscreen shortcuts, and toggle switches in the notifications pane to control WiFi, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode and more, and Samsung has just about covered anything. Well, except for multi-tasking, which, for whatever reason, is now accessed by long-pressing the physical home key. We can understand why Samsung might want to strive for consistency and keep the phone’s trademark home button, but why they decided to forego Android 4.0’s new set of navigation buttons (back, home, and multi-tasking), has us scratching our heads. Multi-tasking still functions as it should, but as one of the central features of Ice Cream Sandwich it is a bit surprise that Samsung has placed it on the back burner, so to say.
You want great pictures and even better features from your smartphone camera? Again, the Galaxy S III has you covered. The 8MP camera provides excellent photo and video, while an new capabilities make taking and sharing the results even easier than ever. First let’s take a look at what the GS3 can do in terms of photos (click for a bigger image):
And here is a video sample:
While we were impressed with the results, things like Share Shot and Buddy Photo Share seal the deal. With Share Shot a group of Galaxy S III handsets can be linked over a wireless network to automatically share photos between devices as they are taken. Buddy Photo Share uses facial recognition to tag people from your contacts list in your photos automatically, allowing you to easily share pictures with your friends in them.
Video mode has a few cool new features, including the ability to seamlessly snap photos while taking video (something we first same in HTC Sense 4.0) and a focus lock mode that keeps the camera trained to a certain focal point no matter where you move it, bringing professional level control over the final result.
Consider us impressed. Even with a bit of apprehension about previous incarnations of the TouchWiz interface, Samsung still managed to deliver an intuitive and natural Android experience on top of hardware that really has no comparison (other than perhaps the HTC One X). Samsung will sell a boat load of Galaxy S3 handsets regardless of what we here at Phandroid or any other tech blog have to say about the phone, but if you are in the market for a new Android device and won’t settle for anything less than the best, then this is the one for you.