After being subject to more hype, speculation and heated debate than any other smartphone before it, the Samsung Galaxy SIII has finally been unveiled to the public. The handset is the long-awaited successor to the S II, a device which has been hugely popular across the world, and as such has heaped a whole load of expectation on to its replacement.
The Korean manufacturer has really gone to town with the S3, providing a spec sheet that reads like the ultimate mobile phone wish list. A quad-core processor, 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD display, Android Ice Cream Sandwich and a host of innovative features all combine to make the new Galaxy appear as a formidable proposition on paper.
But how does the S3 perform in real life? We are going to give the new Samsung flagship a thorough road test to check out its credentials and to see if the phone really lives up to the hype.
- 1.4 GHz quad-core processor
- 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display
- 16/32/64GB internal storage options
- 8 megapixel camera with burst mode
- 1080p HD video recording
- 8.6mm thickness
- 133g weight
- Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS
- TouchWiz 4.0 UI
- NFC connectivity
- 2100mAh battery
- GPS with A-GPS connectivity
- 2 megapixel front-facing camera
- Stereo Bluetooth v4.0
- FM radio with RDS
Design and Build
First impressions are positive upon taking the device out of the box, mainly thanks to its rounded corners and metallic effect edging that frames the device. The phone is comfortable in the hand, thanks to its impressively svelte 8.6mm thickness and 133g weight.
The shell of the phone is constructed from polycarbonate which has been coated with what Samsung has dubbed ‘Hyperglaze’. This specialised finish apparently provides an extra layer of clear plastic over the casing in order to increase durability. Unfortunately, all the coating seems to offer is increased grip and overall the casing does feel somewhat cheap. This budget feel is most evident in the particularly flimsy battery cover, which feels like it could be snapped with very little pressure.
That said, the S3 does offer an inoffensive design that sits comfortably in the pocket and that super slim frame cannot help but impress, particularly when you consider the technology and huge battery that has been crammed into the device.
The 4.8-inch Super AMOLED display totally dominates the front of the S3 and it is quite simply one of the best screens we have seen on a smartphone to date. Unsurprisingly for a phone in this price bracket, the S3’s screen operates at 720p HD however it is somehow able to better any of its competitors in both clarity and sharpness. Colour reproduction is flawless with excellent contrast and stunningly deep blacks, and four different visual modes are also available in order to cover virtually all light conditions.
All that said, performance in direct sunlight is slightly compromised mainly due to the high gloss finish of the screen. This may in part be due to the Gorilla Glass protective layer, although this is only a small gripe with what is on the whole an incredible display.
Under the Hood
As is fast becoming the norm with flagship devices, the S III’s hardware is built around a quad-core processor, in this case the Exynos 4212 chipset which has the Cortex A9 CPU at its heart. The debate continues to rage over whether quad-core is a necessity in today’s environment where there is little software to take advantage of the extra processing power, but its inclusion here does ensure the new Galaxy is future-proof to a certain extent.
Also built into the S3 is 1GB of RAM and combined with the quad-core powerhouse makes for a smooth lag-free experience even when heavy multitasking is taking place. The phone comes in a range of internal storage sizes with micro SD support up to 64 GB and 50 GB of Dropbox cloud storage is also included. With a number of manufacturers moving away from expandable SD storage, it is refreshing to see it included here.
With its solid multitasking capabilities and that beautiful yet power-sapping display, the S3 is always going to need something fairly hefty in the battery department. Samsung has taken care of this with a headline-grabbing 2100mAh unit, which is one of the most powerful ever seen in a smartphone.
However, despite the big numbers we still found a daily charge was necessary with moderate to heavy use. This was slightly disappointing but probably expected due to how much processing the device is constantly carrying out. Still, it would have been nice to see an exemplary power performance rather than an adequate one.
Operating System and User Interface
As expected, Android Ice Cream Sandwich is the operating system of choice for the S3 and the handset comes with the new ICS-specific TouchWiz 4.0 UI. This interface offers an involving if not revolutionary user experience, being broadly similar to the Android 4.0 upgrade seen in the S II.
A particular strength of the UI is its customisation capabilities, with the lockscreen alone featuring a myriad of different options including voice recognition and security unlock options.
Thanks to the hardware spec of the Galaxy S3, the user interface is as solid and swift in operation as any other smartphone currently available. Despite our attempts to slow the device by running as many apps in the background as possible, it proved simply impossible to trip the handset up.
Obviously, strong software performance is expected on a flagship smartphone, but the capabilities of the S3 to easily deal with any task thrown its way is comparable to, if not better than, competitors including the HTC One X and iPhone 4S.
Integrated into the TouchWiz interface is the inclusion of a seemingly endless list of features and innovations. Smart Stay, for example, uses eye tracking via the front facing camera in order to keep the screen unlocked when viewing static pages for lengthy periods. If the phone detects that the user has looked away or has even fallen asleep it will go into auto-sleep. Equally innovative is Smart Alert which detects when the phone is picked up and will give a vibrate signal in order to notify the user of any unseen messages or missed call, meaning the phone does not need to be unlocked to check status.
Although these and other features such as Social Tag and Buddy Photo Share seem intuitive at first glance, after investigation they simply come across as gimmicks which add no real value to the device. Several weeks in the company of the S3 may make you feel differently, but during our tests we saw these glitzy accompaniments as unnecessary and even confusing at times.
Another feature which has already made headlines is S-Voice. The voice recognition software does offer increased functionality over its competitors, namely Apple’s Siri, but we found S-Voice’s success to be hit and miss. Although disappointing, much like Siri we expect its use will become more integral as later updates are rolled out over time.
Camera and Video
A 12 megapixel camera was widely rumoured in the lead up to the launch of the S3, however, what has appeared instead is an upgraded version of the 8 megapixel shooter seen in the S II. But rest assured, this latest iteration is virtually unrecognisable from its predecessor. We experienced zero shutter lag in our tests and results were uniformly impressive across the board. Image quality was distortion-free with low noise and excellent colour reproduction in all light conditions.
Several modes and shooting options are available, our favourite of which being the brilliant burst mode which is capable of capturing 20 shots in just 6 seconds. Other modes include Best Shot, which takes a series of images and decides on the best of the bunch for you, and of course, the now familiar panorama shooting mode is also present.
Video performance is equally impressive, with 1080p HD capture providing quality results. As with the camera footage, video results in our tests were largely noise-free and featured saturation equivalent to other high-end devices. The interface is very similar to that of the camera and dual-capture is available, as seen previously in the HTC One X.
Connectivity and Multimedia
All of the usual connectivity options are in place on the S3 including NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and DLNA. In our time with the device we found 3G and Wi-Fi performance to be outstanding, particularly when partnered with the intuitive browser interface.
A new innovation built into the handset is S-Beam which uses a combination of NFC and Wi-Fi Direct in order to create a super-fast wireless connection between two enabled devices. Unfortunately, this functionality has yet to be rolled out to anything other than the S3, limiting the opportunity to use it. That said, the popular NFC-based Android Beam is also available, a feature which offers much wider compatibility.
Messaging and email options are plentiful and once again the S3 impresses with its opportunity to customise. Several email widgets are available out of the box and SMS capabilities are second to none, with numerous attachment and multimedia options catered for.
Gaming, movies and music are all covered by their respective hubs and video playback is, as expected, brilliant. That said, the initially novel Pop Out Play feature gets old very quickly, mainly due to the video frame size being so small as to be almost unwatchable.
Performance and Verdict
With the amount of fanfare and furore that surrounded the launch of the Galaxy S3, this was always going to be a handset that needed to impress out of the box and for the most part it does. The jaw-dropping hardware spec flexes its muscle with effortless multitasking and that display is quite simply amazing. Additionally, key features such as the camera and messaging functionality are well thought out and don’t overawe in the slightest.
However, the S3 stumbles when the added extras such as Smart Tag and Smart Stay are put to the test. These features come across as little more than novelties, seemingly only there to give the manufacturer extra marketing angles. Their functionality is limited and, in the case of S-Voice in particular, not yet working anywhere near their full potential.
That said, the new Galaxy remains a formidable proposition. Its strengths far outdo its weaknesses and when living with the handset day-to-day, its versatility really does come to the fore. Look past the gimmicks and the S3 is possibly the most advanced smartphone we have seen in recent times. It will be a test for other manufacturers to reach this new high-water mark and we look forward to seeing where Apple et al position themselves against this incredibly impressive device.