Samsung Galaxy S III Preview

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Introduction and Design
Introduction:

Samsung kick-started its whole Galaxy line of Android phones back in 2009 with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy I7500 – the first Android smartphone of the manufacturer. Initially, there wasn't such great interest in the product; it was an OK device with moderate specs and no special feature to spawn interest. This was the beginning of Samsung's Android business – no fanfares or great expectations. The company was still trying to figure out if there's potential in the open-source platform.

A few months later, at the end of 2009, Motorola somehow managed to nail it with its new Android phone, the DROID, exclusively available through Verizon. And this turned out to be the moment Google (and the entire Android community, as small as it may have been at that time) was waiting for. In just a few months, everyone knew about Android, and it was mainly Motorola that gained from this. Never wanting to be left out of the limelight, Samsung went back to the lab, firmly decided on crafting the ultimate Android phone, or the ultimate Galaxy phone, to be more specific. In mid-2010, the South Korean company was ready with its new product and unveiled it to the world. Named Samsung Galaxy S, it was a phone that didn't catch the eye, but managed to get every geek excited with its hardware characteristics. With Android becoming more and more popular as an alternative to iOS, and with the Galaxy S basically being the best Android had to offer at the moment, the phone just couldn't fail. And it didn't – the Galaxy S went on to become one of the most popular Android phones ever. Now, the obvious question is how do you follow such a successful product. How do you follow the Galaxy S? Well, with the Galaxy S II, of course! Introduced in 2011, the Galaxy S II actually become something like the people's champ in Android Land. Even when newer models with significantly refined user experiences began to show up later, users preferred to hold on to the Galaxy S II, claiming that it's still unbeatable in many areas. In a way, that meant that all these people were waiting for the Galaxy S III.

Well, it is now 2012, and the time has finally come for the Galaxy S III to show up on stage. The difference between this launch and those of the Galaxy S's before it is that the expectations of the audience are much higher now. People were waiting to see the next BIG thing in the world of wireless. They weren't hoping for a top-notch specs sheet – that was pretty much taken for granted. They were hoping for a ceramic body, a new, premium design that would not only get the job done, but would also spark a few envious glances along the way. That's why many were kind of disappointed after the official announcement of the handset, because it isn't really what you'd call a looker.

Our first impressions of the Samsung Galaxy S III were quite positive. Yeah, the handset may not be so eye-catching, but it does run incredibly smooth and has learned some very cool new tricks, in an attempt at enhancing our user experience. However, the time has now come for us to take a good, in-depth look at the device and see just how much of a Galaxy S this new Galaxy S III happens to be.

Design:

The Galaxy S II was actually a good-looking handset. It wasn't spectacular, but it had its own style that managed to make the phone appealing to a good number of people, not only hardcore geeks. With the Galaxy S III's design, however, Samsung has made a few controversial decisions. First, it has made the whole device somewhat more rounded. Gone is the simplistic rectangular silhouette of the S II, making place for a new, pebble-inspired shape. So far so good, that could only make the device seem friendlier and more approachable by the regular consumer. Meanwhile, however, the company has also significantly increased the screen size, which is a move that would mainly appeal to the regular geek. This would hardly mean that the Galaxy S III would appeal to both regular consumers and geeks, but would rather mean that there will be a smaller, more specific audience for this particular model. While the GS II was well-received by consumers, due to its relatively compact and sleek form factor, a much bigger device like the Galaxy Nexus, for example, could never become popular in the mass market. There aren't too many reasons to believe that the Galaxy S III will magically become a hit with the average Joe. The device is definitely on the bulkier side. Samsung has tried to decrease the size of the bezel so that the bigger screen doesn't impact the overall device dimensions dramatically, but even with those efforts, the S III is as big as the Nexus, if not bigger.

You ca compare the Samsung Galaxy S III with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

With that out of the way, the device by no means looks bad. Its inspired by nature design is actually quite relaxing and feels good in the hand. Due to the phone's thinness (8.6mm) and light weight, the Galaxy S III doesn't feel too much like the bulky phone that it is.

As we said in our introduction, many fans hoped to see a new fancy ceramic coating used for the S III, which would have given the handset a new, premium appearance. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and we were treated to the good-old plastic solution. Technically it should be polycarbonate, but it feels much more cheapo than the polycarbonate that's used in some other handsets like the One X or Lumia 900. This has practically guaranteed a relatively light (good), but also uninspiring/flimsy (bad) construction. Samsung has come up with the name “Hyperglaze” for the specific finish of the utilized plastic, but we couldn't find anything that special in it. It's just a glossy plastic with an OK texture on it.

There are just three physical buttons on the Galaxy S III (actually four, if you count the volume rocker as two buttons). The home key, situated under the display, is surrounded by old-school capacitive menu and back keys. Apparently, Samsung isn't willing to make the switch to on-screen navigational keys for its flagship line just yet. We aren't big fans of the exact position chosen for the home button and even the capacitive keys surrounding it. They don't take the center of the plastic area below the screen (considering the vertical axis); instead, they are placed a bit lower. While this may sound as nitpicking to you, it does have a significant (negative) effect on the appearance and comfort of using the phone. It has a negative effect on the appearance, because the home key look very good in this position, while the comfort is compromised because the capacitive keys sit too close to the edge, meaning they are easy to press accidentally (yep, we had many of those frustrating situations).  


Of course, there's the usual 3.5mm jack at the top, as well as microUSB at the bottom. The glossy back houses an 8MP camera with LED flash and the speaker grill right beside it. Interestingly, gone is the characteristic bump that's present on the lower-back sides of the Galaxy S and S II. Not that we'll be missing it much. Removing the flimsy back cover will grant you access to the Micro-SIM and microSD card slots.


Overall, we aren't blown away by the looks of the Galaxy S III. The phone is OK to look at, but could have been much better. To tell you the truth, it should have been much better, having in mind that it's a top-of-the-line Android smartphone we're talking about, not just some run-of-the-mill budget offering.



Display:

Samsung has been an innovator when it comes to screen technology in phones. Its AMOLED-based screens have been customer favorites for a long time now, and obviously the company intends on sticking with that tech in the long term. In the Galaxy S III, what we have is an enormous 4.8” HD Super AMOLED display, with resolution of 720x1280 pixels. As with every AMOLED screen, this one has extremely saturated colors. In some situations, like when browsing the web, for example, this doesn't look great, as we aren't really used to such “colorful web” experience. It doesn't seem natural, so to speak. However, in many other situations, like viewing photos, watching video or playing games, having such vibrant colors really pays off. There's in an option in the settings, however, which allows you to set a different color saturation level. For the purists, there's a "Natural" presets, which makes colors look much more... natural and not as vivid. When you combine that with the great contrast (black color that is completely black, not just very dark gray, as in LCD displays), multimedia consumption does get much more enjoyable.

Many were actually disappointed when it was announced that the S III will use a PenTile matrix for its screen, instead of a regular RGB one as in its predecessor. Just recently, Samsung USA's Philip Berne shed some more light on why Samsung decided to stick with PenTile. Obviously the reason is in the longevity – according to Samsung, a PenTile-based AMOLED screen will keep its initial quality for a longer time, compared to an RGB AMOLED one, which will suffer from deteriorating blue subpixels over longer periods of time. Well, since we don't really find the traditional drawbacks of the PenTile screen to be that visible in the GS III, that seems like a good decision by Samsung. If you look very closely at the screen of the Galaxy S III, you will notice some pixelization going on here and there, but when you look at the screen from a normal distance, those nasty dots aren't really visible, due to the high resolution.




Samsung Galaxy S III 360-degrees View:



Interface:

You didn't expect anything less than Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich, did you? Thankfully, the Samsung Galaxy S III doesn't disappoint, as it comes with the latest version of Google's mobile OS. This is very important, especially when you have in mind that Samsung isn't particularly quick when it comes to its software updates. Ice Cream Sandwich is a major update to Android, bringing lots of UI refinements and some great features like the comfortable multitasking functionality that's accessible with just a single touch of a button.

Most of the good stuff associated with ICS has been kept in the Galaxy S III, although Samsung has added the usual amount of differentiation in the form of the latest TouchWiz interface. This time around, though, it's willing to market it as TouchWiz Nature UX, because of its inspiration by Mother Nature. That's OK with us, since we're fans of Nature as well. The cool thing here is that the whole Nature theme doesn't end with the water lockscreen, but actually translates to some nifty features of the handset, but we'll tell you more about those in a while.


The new TouchWiz is very similar to the old one in terms of visuals. You can definitely tell that it's a Samsung handset right away. Key elements like the multi-page homescreen and horizontally-scrolling main menu have been retained, with only minimal, mostly cosmetic changes made to them. With other areas of the UI like the Contacts app, for example, you won't even be able to spot a difference. Some other apps, however, have been entirely replaced with other, proprietary ones. For example, the stock Calendar has given way to S Planner. We would have preferred it if the stock option was kept available, but this isn't such a pain, considering the numerous third-party offerings in Google Play.

All in all, TouchWiz Nature UX is an evolutionary step in the right direction for TouchWiz. It refines some elements of the UI, making it appear more mature and polished overall. This is the first version of TouchWiz that we wouldn't replace with something more stock-looking.

Special features:

There are some special new features that Samsung is introducing along with the Galaxy S III. Most of them are designed to ease your life and make the Galaxy S III appear more people-friendly, but we'll let you judge how useful they will be in your case:

S Voice: This is Samsung's version of Siri, so to speak. It's your intelligent personal assistant. You can ask it all kinds of stuff, and in case it manages to “understand” what you've said correctly, there's a good chance that you'll get what you're looking for. We organized a quick head-to-head match vs Siri, and are happy to report that S Voice performed just as well. Here are a few examples of what you can use S Voice for:

- going directly to an app like the camera by saying things like “I want to take a picture,”
- put an alarm to “Snooze” after it rings,
- play music, skip and pause tracks,
- set a timer,
- look up the weather,
- control settings. For example, you can turn Wi-Fi on or off with your voice.



SmartStay: This is actually a rather cool feature, which prevents the display from timing out, while you're looking at it. It works by using the front camera to track your eyes and determine if you're still looking at the phone. Naturally, when you finally doze off, the phone will get a good nap as well (read: the display will turn off).

S Beam: This one uses Wi-Fi direct to let you easily transfer an image or video file to another compatible Galaxy phone. In order to do it, you just have to touch the backs of both phones together, and your file transfer will commence.

AllShare: Samsung is using Wi-Fi Direct connectivity in AllShare now for a complete set of categories like AllShare Cast for video streaming, AllShare Play for file sharing, and Group Cast for sharing screens with multiple other devices on the same Wi-Fi network, pretty cool. The camera department is not forgotten either - the Buddy Photo Share sends photos directly to the people whose faces it's recognized after you take the shot, for example, and you can set it to be automatic. There will be an SDK for application developers to take advantage of the new AllShare possibilities.

Messaging:

Typing text using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard of the Galaxy S III is a joy. Thanks to the large 4.8” screen and the strong design of the stock ICS QWERTY keyboard, you won't find it difficult to type out even longer messages using the landscape or portrait modes. Of course, for those who happen to not like that particular keyboard design, there's always the possibility to download a different one from Google Play. But since we're kind of lazy in this respect, we really appreciate it when we can get away with the stock software.


Since this is an Android 4 device, support for all kinds of email services are available, and if you are a Gmail user, you probably won't find a better option (except for the top-end phones from other manufacturers).


Of course, Samsung's own ChatON social service is pre-loaded on the Galaxy S III for those users who could use a new method of cross-platform text communication.

Internet:

When we get our hands on a new super-high-end smartphone, we expect to get the best web browsing experience. And while some other such phones which came out this year didn't really deliver, we're happy that the Samsung Galaxy S III is presenting us to a brilliant web browser. It just flies – it loads pages in an instant, scrolling and panning are super-fluid, there are no irritating slow-downs, text reflow, delays or anything. It's just you and the content – there's nothing to distract you from enjoying your stuff. Overall, this is one of the very best, if not the best phone for surfing the internet we've seen.

What makes things even better is the seamless support for the latest Adobe Flash Player. Thanks to the extremely capable quad-core processor, there really isn't a very noticeable difference in performance between navigating a Flash-heavy webpage with the plug-in turned on and off – in both cases, scrolling and zooming remain smooth.


We disliked the fact that in Samsung's pre-ICS phones, you couldn't pan the page while doing multi-touch zooming. Some other manufacturers out there had this feature turned on, like Sony Ericsson, for example, but not Samsung. Thankfully, with Ice Cream Sandwich, Google made this form of navigation standard, and it's now present in the Galaxy S III.

The global version of the handset comes with quad-band GSM connectivity, as well as quad-band 3G support (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz). The Galaxy S III classifies as a 4G HSPA+ device, as it allows for a maximum theoretical download speed of 21.1 Mbit/s, and maximum theoretical upload speed of 5.76 Mbit/s. As far as Wi-Fi standards go, the S III supports 802.11 b, g, n, a. The supported Bluetooth version is 4.0.

Processor and Memory:

The global version of the Samsung Galaxy S III arrives with the new quad-core Exynos 4412 processor, clocked at 1.4 GHz. The onboard GPU is the ARM Mali-400/MP4. We're absolutely pleased with the performance that we're seeing from our preview unit, even though they told us that it may not be running the version of the software that will be on the retail units. The Android OS runs extremely fluidly with no skipped frames, while applications load in an instant. There are no significant delays with this phone – it simply lets you do whatever you want to do, without slowing you down or annoying you with unexpected freezes.

The Galaxy S III comes with 1 GB of RAM – obviously more than enough for the software that you may install on the device. The built-in storage is 32GB, which is a generous amount of space, but if it happens to not be enough for you, then you can easily install a microSD card for up to 64GB more, since the S III supports the microSDXC standard.



Camera:

The Galaxy S II was among the best camera phones of the last 12 months. With the Galaxy S III's new 8MP camera, it's only natural for us to expect a similar, or even better performance. Indeed, the manufacturer has done a lot of improvements in its camera technology. First of all, the sensor is now back-side illuminated (BSI), allowing for more light to come in for the shot. There's also the Burst/Best shot feature (also available on HTC's One line), which lets you take up to 20 shots in quick succession and then choose to leave only best one. This is all possible thanks to the zero-shutter lag, which means that it takes less than a second for the phone to auto-focus. The latter is actually a feature introduced by Ice Cream Sandwich, not Samsung, but anyway, it's good to see the manufacturer take full advantage of it.


As usual for a Samsung smartphone, the Galaxy S III's camera application features a lot of settings that let you tweak the photo-taking process. There are difference shooting modes (Single, Burst, HDR, Beauty, etc.), focusing modes (Auto, Macro, Face detection), as well as many other options for changing the white balance, metering, quality, resolution, contrast and so on. Video is captured at a maximum resolution of 1920x1080, again with the option to tweak a number of settings like exposure, effects, white balance, quality and so on.



Unfortunately, since our preview unit isn't completely final, we can speak of the actual image and video quality yet, but we're posting the test samples that we did for you to enjoy. Please keep in mind that results may differ slightly with the retail unit.

Samsung Galaxy S III Preview Sample Video 1:



Samsung Galaxy S III Preview Sample Video 2:



Multimedia:

The Galaxy S III is a real multimedia powerhouse. With its giant high-resolution AMOLED screen, enjoying whatever multimedia on the phone is an awesome experience. Since this is an Android device, you can just easily put all of your movies, MP3 and other stuff on the phone's memory and you're set – no syncing required.

The built-in music player is quite stock-ish on first glance, but it does offer some cool additional features. For example, it features a pretty good selection of EQ presets, but what's even cooler is the so-called Music Square, which lets you choose the type of music you want to listen to, based on your mood, and it'll automatically pick the best-fitting tracks for you. Basically, it's a square grid, with the horizontal axis going from passionate to joyful, and the vertical one from exciting to calm. It did work pretty well with the tunes in our library.


The video player of the Galaxy S III is amazing. Upon launching it, you'll be presented with a preview grid, populated with your clips. What makes it so cool is the fact that the clip thumbnails are actually animated, showing you a short preview of the respective movie. It's really impressive to see the handset give you a preview of every single clip at the same time without slowing down – it just makes the experience a lot more pleasant if you happen to be the type of user who watches a lot of video on their phone. In addition, there's the pop up play feature, which allows you to display the currently played video in a separate small window. You can then put this window in whatever part of the screen you want, allowing you to do other stuff on the phone at the same time.

Of course, the Galaxy S III play all kinds of video at up to 1080p resolution. There's no codec or format that can stop it. OK, maybe there are some, but all the popular ones are supported. And boy do things look awesome on that 4.8” HD Super AMOLED screen!

Expectations:

The Samsung Galaxy S III is surely a spectacular phone. A big part of what makes it spectacular is its incredible specs sheet. Well, yeah, although its specs can easily be rivaled by strong competitors like the HTC One X, which also has a quad-core processor and the other beloved tech goodies, the Galaxy S III manages to shine brighter, thanks to its superior user experience. It doesn't falter as far as core functionality goes, and it even take care of the minor stuff, trying to improve every possible aspect of your usage.

For a first time ever, TouchWiz actually feels like a good thing. It doesn't completely cover up the great ICS UI, but changes just enough to make the phone feel different from the stock experience. It adds a lot of nice touches here and there, providing you with more options and customization, without appearing cluttered. We absolutely loved the fact that Samsung has left little hints at some places, which definitely help make the learning curve a lot smoother.

Our single biggest complaint about the phone (for now) has to do with its size and appearance. It's just not the phone that will help get you noticed. Its appearance is bland at best, and we can imagine this would be one of the major factors that could put consumers off, and this is a pity. And when it comes to its size, we definitely appreciate having a big screen, but 4.8” is really an overkill. In case you won't be watching really LOTS of movies (and why would you choose a phone to watch movies on?), we can't really see the point in having such a big display, when you have in mind that this makes the whole device harder to hold and operate with.

Anyway, except for these gripes that probably a lot of users will be OK with, we really don't think there are any other significant problems with the Galaxy S III. Of course, we'll have to wait for the final unit to come, so that we can check its camera quality out, but by the looks of it, Samsung has once again nailed it with the Galaxy S III. HTC better sell as many of those One Xs while it still can, because the king of the Android jungle will soon be back from its pebble collection trip. And it seems to be very pissed off.

Software version of the previewed unit: Android 4.0.4, Baseband I9300XXLE6, Build IMM76D.I9300XXALE6


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