Saturday, August 11, 2012

Samsung Galaxy S III Review

Samsung ascended to the top of the Android heap on the shoulders on the Galaxy S series and so it's only natural that everyone in the tech world eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Galaxy S III. Considering the massive success of the first and second Galaxy S and the plethora of leaks, rumors and prototype units, it was extremely hard to not to get sucked into the hype. But with that hype came incredible and ultimately unattainable expectations for the South Korean's company's flagship device. The Galaxy S III was announced with very mixed first impressions, from indifference to utter disappointment. Today, we take a look at the Samsung Galaxy S III and see how it stacks up to its illustrious past and the fierce competitors of the present.

Overall Construction
One of the reasons, if not the main reason, for the mixed first impressions of tech enthusiasts who followed the launch of the Galaxy S III is the use of rather ordinary materials. The phone would probably have gotten a more favorable initial response had Samsung decided to go with a more premium build. That being said, the phone feels and looks less like its direct predecessor and a lot more like the Original Galaxy S.

Our specific review unit was a white pre-production unit, so keep that in mind if you read this review and are considering picking up the Galaxy S III. We found the white version to be a tad too glossy and cheep feeling due to the use of plastics and "faux" brushed chrome but overall the phone feels pretty solid. We didn't get any of the traditional flex of plastic phones when gripping the phone tightly.

At 8.6mm thick, the Galaxy S III has put on a few grams compared to its predecessor(s). It has also gotten both taller and wider to accommodate the much larger 4.8-inch screen. This of course means buyer beware to people with smaller hands. But if you are one who is okay with two-handed use or have average to larger hands the Galaxy S III has exceptionally good ergonomics, in comparison the One X was a tad harder to used one handed.

On the subject of ergonomics, the Galaxy S III is heavier than its predecessor and to be quite frank we believe it helps the overall feel of the phone in one's hand. We believe that the S III falls into a nice sweet spot in terms of weight. The curves in conjunction with the glossy plastic back cover would feel a bit more dangerous to hold one handed if the phone was any heavier.

Speaking of the glossy back, it seems like the S III channels further into the past than from its direct predecessor as they moved away from textured backs found on the Galaxy SII/Galaxy Nexus. While we aren't fans of glossy plastic finishes, this is one of the more acceptable implementations we've seen from Samsung. We don't know if it's the hyper glaze technology or the incredibly comfortable curves, but the Galaxy S III feels great in the hand.

One thing we must mention however is that our test unit came out of the shipping package with a hairline fracture in the back plate cover next to the camera lens. We aren't sure if it was damaged during shipping or if it was done by a previous reviewer. The fracture however ended up being purely cosmetic as under the cover the crack didn't show. Given that all Galaxy S III's use the same backplate finding a replacement is something that should be pretty straightforward.

On a very positive note, unlike the Galaxy S' of the past the S III channels the good of the Galaxy Nexus and incorporates a notification light which we believe should be on all Android handsets. Also worth noting is that it is pretty customizable via the software settings.

Samsung Galaxy S III

Being a Galaxy S phones, one would expect Samsung to come out with their best display, and depending on your point of view Samsung may or may not have done so. Being a 720p 4.8-inch screen makes this one of the biggest and beautiful displays we've seen. What is unfortunate is that like the Galaxy Nexus and recently reviewed Galaxy S II HD LTE, this is a PenTile Display.

Just like on the Galaxy S II HD LTE, we like the Galaxy S III's display and felt that the PenTile pixel arrangement isn't as noticeable as on lower resolution AMOLED displays like on the HTC One S or Motorola RAZR or even the original Galaxy S. But as this is the successor to the Galaxy S II many people, including myself, thought that Samsung was saving their best for the Galaxy S III and was going to pack a Super AMOLED HD Plus display (sans-PenTile).

The use of PenTile unfortunately means that the Galaxy S III's screen is a slight step behind the Super LCD 2 found on the HTC One X. We found that side by side, the One X was CLEARLY the better screen of the two. This does not mean that the HD Super AMOLED display on the Galaxy S III is bad by any stretch of the imagination, as the pixel count is enough to satisfy most perspective buyers.

Colors, black levels and contrast were all very impressive. Viewing angles were also quite good but as we've noted on every other AMOLED clad phone, the blue hue at extreme angles and when looking straight on at a mostly white screen can distract some. We also noted that the Galaxy S III isn't as bright as some other devices even at max brightness.

Like the Galaxy S and Galaxy S II (international/Bell) the Galaxy S III follows the same Capacitive Menu Button, Physical Home Button and Capacitive Back button layout. While the Home, which is a tad small and wobbly, and Back button are fair game we have to really call out Samsung on adding a menu button at this point in time.

Some other reviewers have made the shortsighted statement that the Galaxy S III's button setup is the best of any Android phones out there and we have to respectfully disagree. Based on just preliminary sales numbers it's easy to see that the Galaxy S III will be a hit and will sell millions of handsets. But herein lies the problem, with Android 4.0 ICS onwards, Google wants Third Party developers to drop the hidden menu design paradigm. But all the SIII's menu buttons end up doing is discourage developers from adopting this new guideline.

While we understand the menu button is still very useful in the present and near future, it's detrimental to the overall polish of Android apps to be not be unified in this design choice. We are pretty disappointed in Samsung's choice as it's a somewhat long term fix (permanent menu button) for what is a short term problem (hidden menu phased out).

Other than our beef with the dedicated Menu button, which we would like to see converted to a multitasking button in later patches, the rest of the buttons are good. The Power button, albeit against our own preferences, is in the ideal right side location for such a large phone and the volume rocker was distinguishable, had good travel and felt solid. As mentioned earlier the Home button was okay, a bit small and was a tad wobbly but not a deal breaker.

We do have to admit that, regardless of our feelings about a software menu button, we do appreciate how clean the capacitive buttons are as they completely disappear when their backlight is off.

Battery Life
With a whopping 2100mAh battery, there are few mainstream smartphones that have a larger stock battery capacity. While this is pretty impressive on paper, we all know this doesn't always translate to real world results. Fortunately with the Galaxy S III this is the case. We were able to go through a full days worth of moderate use without any issue whatsoever.

If you read our One X/S review, you'll remember that it was the best LTE/DC-HSPA capable device we've tested in terms of battery life. This was largely due to the super efficient Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Processor which happens to be the same hardware that powers the Galaxy S III. Couple this with the super power efficient AMOLED display and larger battery and the Galaxy S III was simply a battery champion in our experience.

Internal Hardware
As we mentioned just now, the Galaxy S III is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Processor. This chipset is currently the best LTE/DC-HSPA capable SoC on the market and really has shown that cores mean little to real world performance. That being said we got great performance from the S4 in previous reviews and of course that carried over in the Galaxy S III.

- 1.5 GHz Qualcomm 4th Generation Dual Core Snapdragon S4 Processor
- 2GB of RAM
- 16GB of Internal storage expandable with microSD card slot upgradable to up to 64GB
- Adreno 225 Graphic processor
- 4G LTE and HSPA+ capable chipset (Rogers/Bell/TELUS version)
- DC-HSPA capable chipset (WIND/Mobilicity/Videotron version)
- WiFi b/g/n
- 8 MP camera with LED flash and 1080p video recording capabilities
- NFC (Near Field Communication)

When we tested the One X and One S we thought that those experiences were already very smooth, then we got our hands on the Galaxy S III. There has been a lot of fuss made about Project Butter in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and to be quite frank, I don't think it will help much in the Galaxy S III once it gets Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Everything from scrolling, pinch-zooming and general navigation was simply the fastest and smoothest experience we've had on a mobile device period.

While there was a lot of fuss about Quad Core versus Dual Core on both the One X and Galaxy S III, there was another aspect that wasn't covered as much and that is the graphics processors. In the international version of the Galaxy S III the GPU is the well known Mali-400 which powered the Galaxy S II and really was far too powerful for any game at the time to tax, while the North American versions have the Adreno 225.

As a brief history lesson, the Adreno series of GPUs hasn't exactly been barnburners in terms of horsepower and while the 225 is no slouch it still falls behind the now over 1 year old Mali-400 and of course the nvidia Tegra Ultra Low Power Geforce GPU. That being said we were pleasantly surprised that the Adreno 225 could hold its own handling games like Dead Trigger quite easily.

LTE/DC-HSPA 4G Capabilities
Our review unit was an LTE capable Rogers Galaxy S III, so keep in mind our results are in line with the performance of Rogers' LTE network in Montreal. Speeds were phenomenal with downloads clocking in at over 20mbps in almost every speedtest we ran. Uploads were a bit odd with speed going from a very fast 14mbps to a relatively fast 4mbps,, which for all intend and purposes is without a doubt overkill for a mobile device.

Speaker and microphone
During calls the Galaxy S III was excellent at transmitting and receiving voice. On the subject of the receiving calls, Samsung included a few In-Call sounds Equalizer options. We tried them out and found them to pretty much as described but we still preferred the default settings.

The external loud speaker was good and loud but not as sharp or as clear sounding as the One X. Regardless it will serve very well for conference calls and gaming.

The Galaxy S II was a class leading, picture taking machine. This time around Samsung is using what many believe to be an IDENTICAL sensor to that found on the iPhone 4S the gold standard for smartphone cameras. On paper this should be excellent pictures and video and it certainly delivered.

Still reproduced colors pretty faithfully and were sharp and clear when given the appropriate amount of light. Unfortunately, low light performance was not as good as we had hoped, especially when compared to the One X. But we have to say that night shots taken with the flash were quite nice as subjects did not come out looking to ghostly pale. That being said we would give the overall edge to the Galaxy S III, it's arguably the best camera on any smartphone.

We do however wish that the software was refreshed slightly. It's very reminiscent of the camera software on previous version of TouchWiz and really feels a bit dated and not as clean as HTC's offering. While we like the bevy of options like Burst shot mode, HDR, face detection, etc, we feel like it's a slight step back, in terms of organization, from HTC's offering.

Video quality was great as expected from the already good still produced by the sensor. Colors, sharpness and clarity were all a given in the 1080p footage we took on the Galaxy S III.

Usually we don't have much to say about front facing cameras as they aren't useful past vanity shots for display pictures and video chatting. But the Galaxy S III's 1.9MP front facing camera is capable of 720p resolution and produces some decent stills.

Sample Pictures


Samsung TouchWiz Nature UX
TouchWiz hasn't exactly been the darling of the mobile tech community as the last few iterations have been subject of scrutiny for its resemblance to iOS. That being said, the Galaxy S III's version called Nature UX is finally a departure of the TouchWiz of old.

While Nature UX is a stark departure from the almost cartoony of previous versions of TouchWiz, there are certain elements that persist. One of them is the set of icons on the bottom area of the phone's homescreen. Like certain previous version we could customize which icons show up, but this time changing the shortcuts are far more intuitive than before.

The app drawer is completely different form previous versions is is much more inspired from the app launcher found on stock Android devices. This means you have your apps and widget appear under their respective tabs. Unlike stock Android however they aren't on a continuous set of pages as the users is required to choose which section he'd like to see.

Like previous versions of TouchWiz, many of the gesture based actions have made their way to Nature UX and have been expanded upon. For example, launching the camera is as easy as holding your fingers on the lockscreen and rotating it clockwise to launch the camera application. Another example would be the “Direct Call” feature where users can simply picking up the phone and putting it to your ear to call a person with which you're having an SMS conversation with. While overall these gestures are good ideas, we aren't sure how practical they will be in real world usage.

Smart Stay is another one of those software enhancements that can seem gimmicky but in our experience works very well. What Smart Stay does is track the user's eyes to keep the screen from sleeping as it does on most modern smartphones after a given set of time. While we found it to work very well in our experience, we must warn that battery life will take a bit of a hit and we believe it's because of the eye tracking via front facing camera and/or because the screen persistently stays on.

S Beam is another example of Samsung putting their twist on a feature of Android. Much like Android Beam, you can send links to pages, apps, YouTube video, etc but takes it a step further. S Beam allows users send files, pictures, as well as videos to another Galaxy S III users via WiFi direct. This feature is exclusive to Galaxy S III devices, but we expect Google to expand upon the functionality of Android Beam in the next version of Android. For now this desirable feature will be exclusive to Galaxy S IIIs.

S Voice is one of the last major additions to Nature UX but probably the most publicized and for obvious reasons. S Voice is, unequivocally, Samsung's answer to Apple's Siri. In our experience using S Voice, it is several steps behind Apple's offering.

On several occasions, S Voice got our voice command wrong or took very long to answer a question or didn't answer the question at all. Siri wasn't well received to many because of how “gimmicky” the feature was but at least one could boast that what Siri could do it did decently. Unfortunately for S Voice, it didn't do much and what it could to it didn't do as well as Siri or Google Now.

We do give Samsung some recognition for being able to put forth a Voice recognition on their own but hindsight shows that they probably should have bided their time as the Google Now feature of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is unsurprisingly better than S Voice (and Siri for that matter), given Google expertise in Voice transcription and search. The question remains whether or not Samsung will scrap their already committed resources in S Voice and go with Google Now or keep trying to perfect S Voice as their own offering.

Samsung rounds out the Galaxy S III with several other features like S Memo, S Planner, S Suggest, etc as well as nice additions like Custom Vibration pattern editors for notifications, makes the Nature UX version of TouchWiz the best offering to date. The bevy of features is what makes the Galaxy S III the most desirable Galaxy S to date and arguably the most desirable Android phone in the world.


While Samsung didn't get quite the response it wanted after the initial announcement of the Galaxy S III, the smartphone certainly still had to live up to an already rich heritage. The Galaxy S III has, without a shadow of a doubt, exceeded its predecessors in just about every conceivable way while also being an incredibly compelling offering compared to its direct competitors; HTC's One X and Apple's yet to be announced/released 2012 iPhone.

If you are looking for one of the most well rounded, most responsive and fluid Android Smartphone on the Market, the Galaxy S III is a marvel of both hardware and software innovation and rightfully takes its place as one of the top smartphones of 2012.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 9/10
- History repeats itself as we wish it was made of more premium materials but ergonomics are incredible for a phone of its size.

Screen: 9.5/10
- The Super AMOLED HD screen is amazing. Just don't put it side to side with a One X.

Buttons: 8/10
- Responsive back and menu buttons, nice but smallish hardware home and good volume rocker. Power button in best spot given size. We don't like the Android button setup for the future of Android UI design.

Internal Hardware: 10/10
- Overall responsiveness and performance was beyond all expectations. Unrivaled performance. LTE Speeds were outstanding (on Rogers).

Battery Life: 9.5/10
- Outstanding battery life. 2100 mAh + ultra efficient chipset and display makes for fantastic battery life.

Speaker and Microphone: 9/10
- Earpiece and microphone were good at max sound. Exterior speaker is quite good.

Camera: 10/10
- Best smartphone camera period.

UI Changes: 9/10
- This isn't your mother's TouchWiz. Nature UX is the result of the maturing of TW, giving us speed and functionality only previously seen on stock Nexus devices. Still isn't as cohesive in terms of overall design as Stock Android.

Addition Enhancements: 10/10
- Motion controls, Custom Vibration pattern, S Voice, S Memo, S Beam, Smart Stay may be gimmicky to some but as a whole offer a bevy of features. Dropbox integration is the cherry on top.

Included Apps/Bloatware: 8/10
- Pristine installation of Android (pre-production unit). Score normalized for different configurations per carrier.

Final Score: 9.2/10

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