April 18, 2014

Samsung Galaxy S III review

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What we liked: The Samsung Galaxy S III is heavy on hardware, but even heavier on experience. The leading-edge specs easily put it at the top of the Android mountain, however its the personal touches that will see this phone selling like hotcakes.

Room for improvement: A little slipperier than we’d like, the phone backside is also quick to pick up smudges.  And, even though it’s more narrow than other large display handsets, it’s still not easy to operate with one hand. Some of the front-facing camera features could be more accurate.

Review at a glance: Putting the fanboy-imposed expectations aside and looking at the phone from a general consumer standpoint, the Galaxy S III is an all-around winner.  The Android 4.0 experience only gets better with Samsung’s custom features.  Sharing is the name of the game here and mobile users will be sharing their love of the Galaxy S III this summer

Before we go any further

As one of the most anticipated samrtphones of all time, the Galaxy S III has a lot to live up to.  In case you missed it, rumors and speculation were rampant this spring over what hardware was going to be for Samsung’s flagship device.  When it was announced, it featured pretty much all of the upper-tier stuff we expected, and the masses were sufficiently pleased.  Yet, despite its top of the line hardware, all the dual-core this, 2GB that, and other hardware won’t be what gets people chatting.  For the first time since the G1, it’s what this phone does that makes me show it off.

I love to take review phones out in the wild to see what friends and family say about them and the Galaxy S III was no different.  Would people see its white design and massive screen and ask me about it? Yes.  Would I end up talking about its 2GB RAM and 8-megapixel camera?  Only to show off burst mode, best shot, and other cool tricks.  It’s not that the hardware was embarrassing or second-rate, it’s just that’s not what average users care about.  Because of that, this review will largely focus on the “stuff” that Samsung did with this phone that separates it from other higher end smartphones.

A bit on the hardware

What’s not to love here?  The dual-core 1.5GHz CPU is quicker than anything your typical consumer needs and it shines when doing your mundane stuff like downloading apps, playing games, checking calendar, and playing with media.  Paired with 2GB RAM, the Galaxy S III is ultra-fast and more than able to handle whatever you throw it at.

The 4.8-inch 1280×720 display is downright gorgeous and will grab the attention of anyone within range.  Surrounded by its white shell, the handset looks clean, classy, and sophisticated. The screen is is protected by Gorilla Glass so I know it’s going to handle pockets and purses just fine.  We sincerely missed the Gorilla Glass tech on the Galaxy Nexus and were only too pleased to learn it made the trip.

Colors are more natural than in previous Super AMOLED models and the clarity cannot be overstated.  Sure, there’s IPS stuff out there on other models but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t appreciate the Galaxy S III display.

Even with its 2100mAh battery inside, the Galaxy S III feels light, yet never cheap.  Yes, you can bend that battery cover in all sorts of taco shapes, but it’s pretty strong and resilient stuff.  Feeling like a shinier, more expensive version of last year’s Galaxy S II, the handset is taller and slimmer than its predecessor.  Speaking of  battery, we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well it holds up over the course of a day. It’s not a Droid Razr Maxx, but we expected less time with the 4.8-inch display and all the goofing around.  Off the charger, we were able to go all day long, five days straight.  The first two days were weekend and the times we really installed our apps, took a chunk of photos and video, and more.  A normal workday?  Should be more than fine, if not as good as your current smartphone.

The 8-megapixel camera marries the tech from the Galaxy Nexus with the higher resolution stuff from other Samsung models.  What’s more, the addition of new features makes sure that it’s not just pixel count that folks worry about.

The experience that matters

Staying with the camera, we really love the near-zero shutter lag, 8 picture burst mode, and Best Shot.  We tested the various features over the weekend with kids playing in the pool and were impressed with the single shots around the water.  Switched to Best Shot and Burst Shot, we grabbed dozens of candid shots of children jumping off diving boards, playing with squirt guns, and going down the slide.  It was perhaps the camera features alone that had friends and family asking to see what we were doing.  Handing the phone off to demo for a moment, the general reaction when giving it back was, “That’s my next phone!”

Resized from 3264×2448 but not edited or retouched.

There are also other features in the camera and its app that we really dig, including the smile detection, panoramic mode, HDR, and Buddy Photo Share face tagging. Upon taking a photo of various people, the phone will ask if you’d like to identify the person(s) in the photo.  Once you tell it who is in the picture, the Galaxy S III will automatically tag and sort images around them.  Similarly, it’s easy to access all of those specific photos in your gallery and share them with contacts.  The front-facing 1.9-megapixel camera was great for self-portrait shots and video chat, however we didn’t spend too much time on this front.

The Samsung Galaxy S III has a terrific feature called Smart Stay, which utilizes the front-facing camera to keep a watch on your eyes while browsing the internet, read documents, and other apps.  Designed to keep your phone from falling asleep on you, it ensures you don’t have to tap the screen to keep it awake while you try to figure out what OMGWTFBBQKTXBAI means.  Results varied here however the brighter environments always worked better than dimly light bedrooms or living rooms.

 

Much will be said about the “wannabe-Siri” in S Voice and how it’s almost as good of an experience.  I loved it and think the average user will be pleased with the way it handles voice requests and commands.  There’s a sizable list of things that can be done here, including checking weather, Google searches, countdowns, timers, alarm clocks, appointments, phone settings, navigation, messages, emails, and more.  No, you can’t ask if the Red Sox are winning right now, but it’s more handy than anything else you’ve used so far.  We found the feature able to recognize commands and questions in ways that we were comfortable.  In other words, we didn’t have to learn how to ask it questions with particular phrasing or pacing.

NFC and other sharing features

With so many devices coming with NFC support, it was not a surprise to learn that the Galaxy S III had an NFC chip inside.  What pleased us, however, was how Samsung was able to take the tech beyond mobile payments and the narrow perception it carries.  With TecTiles, users can program these postage-stamp sized stickers with whatever commands or tasks they’d like.  Put one on your nightstand and tap it before you go to sleep to turn off the ringer and Wi-Fi.  Stick one in the car and enable driving mode with the a simple bump.  Parents should set one of these in the house and program it to send off a “I’m home and safe” message for kids getting home from school. There’s a seemingly endless number of things you could make TecTiles do and at $14.99 for 5-pack, it’s a cheap way to smarten things up.

Introduced as Android Beam with Android 4.0, Samsung takes the sharing option to another level with S Beam. Paired with Wi-Fi Direct connection, this lets users share all kinds of content to other devices with a simple tap.  Once paired, it’s a breeze to share pictures, video, web content, contact info, and more.

Along those same lines, AllShare gives users the ability to share movies, photos, music, and more with Samsung Smart TV’s, DLNA-capable devices, and other options. Watching a movie on your phone?  Why not push it out to the projector or television?  The same goes for files you’ve got store in the cloud, or outside of your home.  Just look for the logo in the corner and share it!

Bottom line

Hype confirmed.  This handset is everything we’d expect out of Samsung’s flagship device on just about every front imaginable.  Thanks to a unified branding and singular form factor, across multiple providers, there will be no mistaking one of these as better than the other.  And, since it’s so widely available, the Galaxy S III stands as good a chance as any to knock the iPhone down another notch.  With Samsung’s new smartphone you’ll come for the gorgeous and stay for the experience.  Yes, some of the features can be found in third party apps or on other devices, however it’s presented in a total package with which we’ve fallen fast in love.

EDITOR NOTE: We reviewed the AT&T and Sprint versions of the Galaxy S III and found them to be identical in every facet, save for data speeds.  Look for the Galaxy S III at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and C Spire Wireless.

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