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Samsung Galaxy S3 review

Good

  • Android Ice Cream Sandwich
  • Gorgeous 4.8-inch 720p screen
  • Slick lightweight design
  • Quad-core processor
  • Slot for microSD card

Bad

  • TouchWiz interface can be confusing
  • Premium price

The Samsung Galaxy S3 is easily the most anticipated Android phone of the year — following in the footsteps of the insanely popular Galaxy S2.

If you like to play spec-sheet top trumps, the S3 won’t disappoint. This beast of a phone packs a whopping 4.8-inch 720p-resolution display and has a beefy quad-core processor ticking away under its shiny surfaces. There’s a slick new design too — albeit, this rounded look hasn’t pleased everyone, with some Android fans describing it as old hat.

If you want to pocket the S3, you’ll need a well-endowed wallet. It’s being offered free on two-year contracts starting at £26 a month — and rising to well over £30. If you want to avoid being tied to a contract, you can pick it up SIM-free for around £520.

The S3 comes in 16GB or 32GB storage options but it has a microSD card slot so you can further expand its virtual shelves. A 64GB S3 is also due to arrive later this year.

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy S3?

The S3 is not a phone for folk with modest mobile needs or small amounts of cash to spend. Happily, those guys are spoilt for choice, with many great mid-range Android phones to choose from that would serve their mobile masters as faithfully as Old Yeller.

The S3 is a phone for people with serious power hunger and a healthy bank balance. If you want a device for 3D gaming, HD video streaming and surfing the web like a pro — I don’t mean faffing around with mobile versions of websites or lightweight apps — the S3 has the superpowered engine and massive display you’re looking for.

The rectangular shape of the S2 (right) is replaced with a somewhat retro rounded design.

Indeed, this phone sits at the very top of the smart phone spectrum — rival high-end Androids at this lofty price are hard to find. The main alternative is HTC’s quad-core brute — the One X — which is actually more affordable than the S3 but not such a powerhouse, judging by my benchmark tests. Samsung also makes an even larger device — the Galaxy Note — which is a smart phone that’s pushing into mini tablet territory.

The main non-Android rival device to the S3 is Apple’s top-of-the-range blower, the iPhone 4S — at least until the iPhone 5 lands. The 4S can be bagged for around the same monthly toll as the S3.

Apple’s iOS software is generally slicker and easier to use than Android, with a simplified interface that’s really straightforward to use. However, iOS won’t appeal to people who really like to drill down, tweak, tinker and customise their kit. You guys will fall hook, line and sinker for the S3’s customisable charms — relishing the fine-grained opportunities Android opens up for customising and controlling your digital environs.

 

Ice Cream Sandwich and TouchWiz

The Galaxy S3 is running on Android, Google’s mobile operating system. Specifically, it’s powered by Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). Until very recently ICS was the latest version of Android but that honour now goes to 4.1 Jelly Bean.

The S3’s home screens will be familiar to most Android users — with a launcher bar of apps and space above to fill with widgets and more apps.

Samsung has not yet confirmed whether the S3 will get an update to Jelly Bean. If you’re desperate to get your hands on the latest Google OS, you might be better off opting for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which is due to get Jelly Bean later this month.

Despite Samsung’s reticence to confirm a Jelly Bean update for the S3, it seems pretty likely it will get one. Do be prepared for a bit of a wait though — the S2 ICS update was a long time coming.

Android is a powerful, flexible operating system that affords users loads of scope to customise and tinker with their phone. But the wealth of options and tools available can be overwhelming to newcomers, which makes having a really slick interface especially important.

Atop ICS, Samsung has plastered its own software, called TouchWiz. It’s the same colourful interface you’ll see on kit like the Galaxy S2 and Galaxy Note.

TouchWiz on the S3 looks polished, with lots of carefully drawn icons and easy-to-read fonts. But when it comes to ease of use, it’s not always as well thought through as rival mobile maker HTC’s Sense 4.0Android overlay. At times, as you poke and prode TouchWiz, the intuitive action does not yield the hoped-for result.

On the left are the Recent Apps thumbnails that ICS serves up; on the right is the S3’s notifications tray, fit to burst.

For example, adding widgets to the home screens is not done by long-pressing the place where you want to add the widget. Rather, you have to dive into the apps view, switch to the widgets tab and long press on a widget — then move it onto the home screen position of your choice.

It’s an inelegant way of doing things and, while it’s only a minor quibble, it is indicative of TouchWiz’s tendency to be a tad gnomic.

Another example is TouchWiz’s notifications interface. Even if you turn on SMS notifications in the settings, if the notifications icon is toggled off in the notifications tray, you won’t hear any sounds until it’s toggled on. That’s fine once you know about the existence of this icon. But if you haven’t found it yet, you’ll be really confused about why you can’t hear any SMSes coming in.

S2 owners won’t have any trouble navigating the S3’s interface since they’re retreading familiar ground. But newbies will certainly need to get accustomed to Samsung’s way of doing things.

Eye tracking

One new addition to TouchWiz on the S3 is Samsung’s much-trumpeted eye-tracking technology. This makes use of the phone’s front facing camera so it can keep the screen on if it detects a face looking at it.

It’s a nice idea, which works well if you’re holding the phone directly in front of your face. But if you’re looking at the phone at an angle — say you’ve propped it up a little way off so you can watch a film — it won’t register your face and will turn off anyway. The flashing eye symbol can also be distracting, if not downright disconcerting, as it warns you that your phone is watching you.

 

Dropbox and apps galore

Those with files to hoard will be happy to know the S3 comes with two years of online storage app DropBox, giving you an impressive 50GB worth of virtual disk space on which to plonk your files.

The S3 comes pre-loaded with lots of Samsung apps — and several of these, including S Suggest and the Games Hub — give you additional ways to get content onto the phone, as well as being able to download apps from Google’s Play Store.

The S3 includes Samsung’s Games Hub — a one-stop-shop for getting games on the phone, and a Video Hub for renting or buying films.

The previously Apple-exclusive Flipboard app also makes an appearance on the S3’s home screen as an attractive widget. The Flipboard app turns links and updates from your social networks into an attractive magazine-style layout. The app and widget really come into their own on the S3’s gloriously large display.

There are other new goodies on board, including a neat ‘Pop up Play’ feature that lets you watch videos while performing boring functions like sending a text, and a transfer tool called S Beam, which lets you send large files over a Wi-Fi connection.

 

Pop Up Play

Pop up Play makes intelligent use of the S3’s quad-core engine by letting you overlay and playback a mini version of a video over whatever else you’re looking at — be it a web page, your email or an app. Sadly, you can’t pop out embedded videos in apps like YouTube — it’s only for videos stored on the phone itself.

Quad-core power on the S3 is utilised intelligently with the Pop Up Play multi-tasking video player.

While Pop Up Play is cool, I feel it could be even cooler. One big limitation is there’s no option to custom-size the video window. I could see it being really useful to have a video playing on half the S3’s screen, leaving the other half for typing out a text or email, but the popped-out video window can’t be made any bigger (or smaller). And it really is small — about the size of two stamps side by side. You certainly wouldn’t want to watch a feature length film on it.

That said, it’s a clever addition — it’s the most coherent case for multi-core phones with very big screens I’ve yet seen.

 

S Voice

A voice control assistant app is on board too, dubbed S Voice. It has a very Siri-esque interface with a tap-to-talk-to-the-phone microphone icon.

Like Apple’s Siri, you can ask S Voice to tell you the weather or perform tasks like making a call, setting an alarm, controlling music playback or taking a photo. You can ask, but don’t expect S Voice to give you the right answer — I found it very frustrating to use as it repeatedly failed to understand what I was asking it.

S Voice couldn’t faithfully transcribe my text to Zack, and when asking it for the weather in Iraq — well, let’s just say it got geographically challenged.

In an extensive comparison of S Voice and Siri, neither acquitted themselves terribly well. But Samsung’s virtual assistant was by far the worst of the two — it had real trouble recognising my voice, was slow to process sounds and ultimately seemed gimmicky rather than genuinely useful. Most of the time it’s much quicker to tap to get to the function you’re after, rather than faff around hoping S Voice hears your words correctly and understands what you’re after.

Face plus Voice Unlock

S Voice has been bundled into Ice Cream Sandwich’s Face Unlock capability on the S3 — so now you can choose to have the phone demand to see your visage and hear your voice before it unlocks.

Setting up Face plus Voice Unlock took multiple attempts to run through the vocal stage as my efforts to use my own voice repeatedly failed to win the approval of a very disappointed-sounding female-toned S Voice. Eventually I managed to set it up — but I can’t imagine too many people will want to have to speak to their phone every time they need to unlock it (Sergey Brin excepted).

If you want to pretend you live in a dystopic future, you can set up the S3 to require you to look at it and speak to it before it unlocks.

Music

The S3 includes Samsung’s Music Hub app, which links through to a 7 Digital-powered music store where you can listen to clips and buy songs and albums to live on the device.

Want to fill your S3 with tunes? On the right is the music store, accessible via the Music Hub (on the left).

Buying songs is fairly straightforward although you do have to drill down to find out exactly how many benjamins you need to spend to buy each track or album. The categorisation of albums isn’t perfect either — I found lots of individual songs listed under the albums tab.

Buying tunes on the S3 is fairly straightforward but you do have to drill down to find the price.

Once you’ve loaded the S3 with your favourite tunes, you can pipe them into your ears by using Samsung’s Music Player. This includes a feature called Music Square — which creates custom playlists based on the tunes you listen to.

Samsung’s music player includes ‘Music Square’ — a feature that Sammy reckons will learn your tastes and create custom playlists to suit your mood.

Samsung has also added a handsome-looking FM Radio app to the phone, which includes a pleasing analogue-style knob-twiddling interface and the ability to save station presets so you can tune in with a single tap.

Samsung’s FM Radio app has a handsome knob-twiddling interface.

The app also lets you record content from the radio station you’re listening to.

 

S Planner

S Planner is Samsung’s name for the S3’s calendar app. It’s a pretty cumbersome name — say it quickly and it sounds like spanner. But despite this unpromising start, it has some neat features. For example, you can pinch to quickly zoom in and out from day view, to week, to month and to year.

S Planner is Samsung’s calendar app — view your events weekly, monthly, yearly and more

Most importantly, S Planner syncs with Google Calendar so — if you use Google Calendar (and as an Android lover you surely do) — you can keep abreast of all your appointments on the fly.

The overall S Planner interface isn’t super-straightforward, but that’s to be expected as it’s a fully featured calendar app — letting you set reminders, add event participants and so on.  It also links with S Memo, Samsung’s note-taking app, so you can add memos to calendar appointments.

S Memo

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted an app-naming theme emerging, whereby Samsung sticks the letter ‘S’ in front of a word describing the app’s function. And so it follows that S Memo is a note-taking app.

S Memo is Samsung’s notes app, allowing you to create text notes or more fancy scribblings.

This app lets you create both text or scribble handwritten (or hand-drawn) notes. It’s more fully featured than Apple’s Notes app on the iPhone, with a range of pens and colours to choose from — as well as the ability to draw pictures or scribble words, not just create typed text notes. So, for example, you could draw a map of how to get to your house and attach the S Memo to the corresponding S Planner birthday invite.

You can also add pictures to memos, lock private memos to keep out prying eyes and add audio recordings — handy if you want to record a meeting as you take notes.

Calling, contacts and messaging

The S3’s contacts app includes some neat features. If you swipe left over a contact’s name, it will take you straight to the messaging menu so you can rattle off an SMS double-quick. Swipe right over their name and the phone will call your buddy without you having to tap twice.

You can create groups of contacts so you can easily send emails or SMSes to multiple people. If you’re trying to find someone in your address book, you can press on the corresponding letter of the alphabet in the index at the right-hand side to jump down to the right section, or just start typing their name into the search box. The software favours surnames over first names so it will display anyone with the surname ‘Johnson’ before your mate ‘John’.

Here’s the S3’s dialling inteface and the top level contacts view.

The S3’s messaging interface is nice and easy to use. It deploys a speech-bubble graphic to display conversation threads. If you’re composing your missives in landscape mode you won’t be able to see the preceding SMSes in the chain, but in portrait mode you can scroll back through to read what went before.

The messaging interface has a nice layout but the S3’s predictive typing doesn’t always hit the mark.

The S3’s keyboard is roomy, even in portrait mode, but word prediction isn’t the finest I’ve seen.

There is a Swype-style interface pre-loaded on the S3, which can be switched on — if you turn on ‘continuous input’ in the Samsung keyboard settings. I found swiping around on the keyboard wasn’t as fast as it can be on smaller handsets since your finger has to make its way across more glass, due to the S3’s hugeness.

Gaming

The S3 sports a beefy quad-core processor clocked at 1.4GHz, which means it’s more than capable of chomping through high-resolution video and graphically demanding games. As you’d expect, performance feels super-slick, with much less sluggishness and lag than you get on lesser (cheaper) Android phones.

Pop Up Play and 3D games aside, you’ll be hard-pressed to find apps in the Google Play shop that stretch the S3’s processor to its limits. What you do get is the peace of mind of knowing it has a good chance of handling demanding apps that crop up in the future. A more powerful processor also means the S3 is less likely to be left out in the cold when the next version of Android is rolled out.

Slash and rev your way to phone-based thrills with the S3’s smooth and stutter-free gameplay.

I tested several high-end 3D games running on the S3, including Blood & Glory and Real Racing 2. Such graphically rich 3D games typically require additional content to be downloaded before you can play them. While these large downloads weren’t instantaneous on the S3, none took more than around 5 minutes.

Gameplay was smooth, with no noticeable slowdown or stutter. If you’re after a mobile device that’s powerful enough to double as a portable games console, the S3 should do the trick — provided you’re happy with the calibre of Android games out there.

Web browsing

With the broad display real estate, high resolution and powerful processor, it’s no surprise the S3 excels at web browsing too. Websites not only look glorious on the S3’s display but are typically very quick to load and render, and a real joy to swipe, pinch and flick around (although, with no Adobe Flash support in ICS, you will come across some embedded videos and other content that won’t display).

As the S3 runs ICS, you can download Google’s Chrome for Android browser, which has a neat deck-of-cards-style interface to manage all your open tabs. The standard Android browser on the S3 also has a nice 3D interface — although it fits far fewer browser windows on screen at once.

The S3 scored 1,498.9ms on the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark test, which evaluates a browser’s speed — beating the iPhone 4S’s score of 2,181.6ms by a considerable margin, and more than halving the Samsung Galaxy S2’s 3,445.3ms. Lower is better in this test as it’s a measure of time taken.

Because the S3 runs ICS, you can get your mitts on Google’s Chrome for Android browser.

The S3 even trumps the new iPad in this test. Apple’s newest tablet scored 1,890.9 when we benchmarked it, while the iPad 2 was about the same at 1,884.6 — both taking slightly longer than the S3.

The standard Android browser is fast on the S3 but not quite as fully featured as Chrome for Android.

In the Vellamo browser benchmark test, the S3 scored 2,077 — but was just beaten into second place by the HTC One XL.

The S3’s generous screen offers ample room for poking and prodding your way around the web.

Performance and battery

Despite this minor blip, there’s no doubt the S3’s quad-core chip is a high-calibre performer — indeed, in the mobile world right now, the S3 is top of the power pops.

On the Antutu benchmark, which tests memory, CPU speed and graphics, the S3 scored a whopping 12,112 — beating both the Asus Transformer Prime tablet-cum-laptop and streaking past the quad-core HTC One X. The latter managed an impressive, but not quite as good, 10,827 on this benchmark.

Running Quadrant’s benchmark, the S3 again topped out the Android power charts, scoring 5,289. HTC’s One X managed 4,904.

I also tested the S3’s capacity to handle 3D graphics by running GL Benchmark’s Standard Egypt test. The S3 ran this at a whopping 59 frames per second — the same rate as the new iPad — and slightly faster than the HTC One X’s rate of 52fps.

All this power and the big screen definitely take a toll on battery life. The S3 comes with a removable 2,100mAh battery — a welcome boon if you like to carry a spare (or two), which is one way to manage its voracious appetite for juice.

With such a big screen and beefy engine it’s no surprise you’ll need to keep an eye on the tank.

At full brightness, the screen gobbles battery faster than Cookie Monster omnomnoming biscuits, so you’ll need to keep a weather eye on the little battery icon in the corner of the screen. Ideally, you should avoid using the screen at max brightness for long periods.

With the display set to half brightness, the S3’s battery dropped from 100 per cent to 60 per cent after around 3.5 hours streaming an HD video over Wi-Fi (by comparison, the One X plummeted to 30 per cent battery in the same test). So provided you don’t insist on dialling the screen up to max brightness, you should eke a full day’s worth — circa 6 or 7 hours — of video streaming on a single full charge.

I also gauged the S3’s battery using Antutu’s battery benchmark, which tests battery performance over several hours. The phone lasted 1 hour 12 minutes on part one of the test, dropping from 100 per cent battery to 73 per cent. It endured 1 hour 9 minutes on the second part, dropping from 73 per cent to 46 per cent.

Overall, on the Antutu battery benchmark, the S3 scored 597, beating the HTC Incredible S, Motorola Milestone, Samsung Galaxy S2 and the LG Optimus 2X, among other devices. It was beaten by the Motorola Xoom tablet and the Acer Iconia Tab A500. (The One X failed to run this test.)

Expect to charge the phone every night — or sooner if you’re using it a lot or revving its engines too much. It’s also worth noting the S3 is quite slow to charge over USB. If you need a lot of power quickly, you’ll have to find a wall socket to juice up.

Samsung has added a power saver mode to the S3 that can be customised to limit the maximum performance of the CPU, dim the screen, change background colour in email and the Internet and turn off haptic feedback.

Of course, you could say what’s the point of spending all this money on a beast of a phone, only to throttle it? Which again begs the question of whether quad-core isn’t overkill for a mobile phone right now. But the S3’s slick performance does make it a joy to use — with apps downloading and loading quickly, HD videos playing smoothly and menus and gallery photos zipping around, eager to do the bidding of your fingertips.

AllSharePlay

AllSharePlay is Samsung’s system for letting you link up content stored on multiple devices so it’s easily accessible on the S3. To set the system up you need to create a Samsung account and download the AllSharePlay software to the devices, where the data you want to access is stored — such as your home PC.

Samsung’s AllSharePlay software lets you access content stored on your PC, on the S3 over Wi-Fi. The first step is to install the PC client.

After you’ve installed the software on your PC and logged in, you’ll find you can locate your files when you fire up the AllSharePlay app that comes preloaded on the S3.

Once you’ve downloaded AllSharePlay to your PC and signed in you can view files stored on your computer on the S3.

As well as viewing the content, you can download files locally to the S3 via the AllSharePlay app — so you can access them even when you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection. Perfect for transferring your favourite tunes to the phone.

You can also download any files you want to store on the device for offline access, such as music and videos.

Screen

The S3’s display measures 4.8 inches on the diagonal which, as noted above, makes it one of the biggest smart phones currently available. Some S2 owners are going to be unhappy about this increase in size — since the S2’s 4.3 inches is already plenty generous. Some would argue it had a perfect amount of pixels for a phone. But while you might find your knuckles bending in new and exotic ways, the benefit is that this whopping display will make your photos and videos look stupendous.

The S3 sports a very big screen indeed — small-handed folk may find their digits getting stretched.

With a 1,280×720-pixel resolution, the S3 will do justice to your high-definition footage, as well as leaving icons and text looking impressively sharp. This is an HD Super AMOLED screen, which is the same display tech used on the Nexus and Note, both of which are a real treat for the eyes.

AMOLED screens offer eye-searing colours and very deep blacks. But as with previous Samsung gear, if you’re a fan of more demure, natural colour reproduction, then you might find this panel a little garish compared to the iPhone 4S.

There’s one minor downside — the S3’s panel is missing the ‘Plus’ suffix that you’ll find on the Galaxy S2’s Super AMOLED Plus display. That means it has one fewer sub-pixel per pixel than the S2’s panel. Screen enthusiasts may be disappointed by this news, but I suspect most people will never notice the difference.

All things considered, this is a mighty fine display. It’s truly glorious to eyeball and has a very impressive viewing angle. At times, as you tilt the phone away from you, the screen almost looks unreal — as if it’s been printed on the surface of the phone. Stonking stuff.

The 4.8-inch 720p-resolution display is looking gorgeous.

The S3’s pixel density per inch is not actually the sharpest in smart phone town — at 306ppi it’s not quite as hi-res as the Sony Xperia S(342ppi), or the HTC One X (312ppi), but this is really splitting hairs. Most people won’t notice any difference in clarity and it’s entirely possible to read text on a full website such as the BBC News home page when fully zoomed out.

Both Apple’s iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S pack in more pixels (326ppi apiece) than the S3 does, but arguably the two iOS devices need sharper resolutions since their screens are a lot smaller (3.5 inches).

One area where the S3’s screen did not knock my socks off was under direct sunlight. This is hardly surprising given loads of smart phones fail to outdo the sun’s rays. However, the S3’s display really struggles to make itself seen, with content ghostly and indistinct and a reflective blue sheen masking what’s on the screen.

Too much sun is not a huge problem for Brits, but if you do need to use your mobile outside a lot, there are phones designed with outdoor viewing in mind.

Design

Samsung has ditched the rectangular look that dominated the S2, opting instead for an oval-shaped styling that’s highly reminiscent of the Galaxy Nexus, which arrived in November last year.

The S3 has shed its lumpy bits around the back, with the camera lens neatly flush with the casing.

Corners are smoothed and rounded, while the curved back is devoid of the rear-facing lumpy bits that adorned the S2 and Nexus. The camera is now almost flush with the back of the casing, and along the edges is some swooping chrome decoration. Samsung’s not ditched its button layout either — there’s a smallish physical home button underneath the screen, with touch-sensitive menu and back keys on either side.

The placement of those touch-sensitive keys is slightly inconvenient. They’re close to the edge of the phone, so you might find yourself accidentally triggering them with your hand. The power key — sited on the curved right-hand edge of the phone — is also a bit troublesome as it’s small, slippery and doesn’t stick out much. While the volume rocker on the left edge is also shiny, it’s big enough to lock onto easily.

The back of the S3 has a high-gloss sheen — so butterfingered types may find it hard to hang on to. The chrome trim also has a super-shiny coating so the sides are slippery. These high-shine surfaces are compounded by all the slopes and gentle curves of the phone — and after a few weeks with the S3 I found myself hankering for a solid, flat-edged slab that could be easily anchored in the hand.

The Galaxy S3 retains its predecessor’s physical home button.

The soft curves of the S3 haven’t pleased a lot of Android fans either — judging by some of the user reviews. The rounded corners on the back do look dated, reminiscent of smart phones from several years ago. On the other hand, the ‘pebble’ styling feels more comfortable when held over long periods than a sharp-edged slab.

Currently, the S3 comes in either blue or white — but a red version is due to land in the US soon so additional colours should arrive here too. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a pink version surfacing later this year.

The white version is very glossy, while the blue option sports a brushed-metal effect. Don’t despair if you’re a fan of sultry black mobiles as the blue S3 is fairly dark. It could at least pass for a muted shade of grey.

The Galaxy S3 is 8.6mm thick and weighs 133g. That makes it ever so slightly thicker than the S2, which is 8.49mm deep, but thinner than the 8.9mm HTC One X. By comparison, the much smaller iPhone 4S is 9.3mm thick and weighs 140g.

Shock, horror, it’s 0.11mm thicker than the S2.

Millimetre one-upmanship aside, the bottom line is that the S3 is very thin and light considering its large size. The reason it’s able to be so light is that — like the S2 — the Galaxy S3 is constructed from a significant amount of plastic. If you’re averse to plasticky mobiles, the more substantial One X or metal-and-glass iPhone 4S might be more to your liking.

Even though it’s decked in all this plastic, the S3 has a very tactile and luxurious feel. And, despite my hankering for some flat surfaces to grab onto, for the most part, the pebble design is a real pleasure to hold, while the slender and light frame of the S3 caresses the palm without weighing you down.

The back may be plasticky but it still retains a luxurious feel.

It’s worth stressing that this phone is a whopper, with a screen that trounces the 4.65-inch Galaxy Nexus. It is outsized only by the ludicrous 5.3-inch Galaxy Note.

Even with this massive screen, the S3 feels relatively manageable — thanks to its slender body. However, if you’re someone who likes to get to all your mobile stuff with one hand, you will find yourself having to stretch to reach everything — and may even find the phone clattering onto the floor if you’re not careful. But of course, the advantage of having so much screen real estate is that photos, videos and apps really do look gorgeous.

Build quality has typically been a strong point for Samsung phones and the S3 is no exception. Despite being predominantly plastic, it feels impressively stuck together. The screen is solid as a rock and ample amounts of chrome trim keep everything in order. Do be careful not to drop the phone though — I’ve seen one S3 sporting a cracked screen after taking a tumble.

I was able to make the phone faintly creak by squeezing it from the sides. But considering the S3 has a removable backplate so you can get to the battery, micro-SIM and SD card slots, that’s to be expected. Overall, build quality has a premium feel.

Camera

The S3 has an 8-megapixel camera, which is the same resolution as last year’s Galaxy S2. It might not have bumped up the pixel count, but this blower does have a few new tricks up its sleeve, including the zero-shutter-lag trait seen in the Galaxy Nexus, and a clever feature that automatically suggests your best shot after you’ve fired off a few similar snaps, basing its decision on factors like smile detection and face recognition.

A new feature, also present on the HTC One X, is the ability to take still images while you’re recording video — perfect for when your pet is doing something adorable.

The S3’s camera can be very good indeed — producing excellent close-up shots, both indoors and out, and having an impressively shallow depth of field.

The level of detail on this close-up shot of a flower, plus the shallow depth of field, shows the S3’s lens at its very best (click image to enlarge).

Colours are generally true to life, with a slight tendency to over-saturate some shades.The lens can be a touch fickle when dealing with variable light conditions across one scene. I found it has a tendency to wash out parts of the scene, and it can also suffer from lens flare.On the plus side, it’s good at dealing with the lower light of an indoor environment. Unless it’s really dingy, clarity is good and photos don’t speckle with noise.If you’re wondering how the S3’s lens squares up to other high-end smart phones, rest assured you won’t be embarrassed by the quality of the snaps it takes. However, it’s not the best smart phone camera money can buy right now. That’s the Nokia 808 PureView — a fantastic camera phone that is nonetheless a poor smart phone.

There are loads of camera options to muck about with.

In a shot-for-shot camera comparison, pitting the S3 against the iPhone 4S, the HTC One X and Sony Xperia S, the S3 delivered good results, beating the Xperia S, but it couldn’t quite outshine the iPhone or the One X.

The S3 can turn out a good shot but its snaps aren’t quite as impressive as those taken with the iPhone 4S or HTC One X.

The S3 shoots Full HD video at 1080p resolution. Video results during testing were less impressive than the still shots, with a tendency to look hazy. Levels of detail also drop off with even relatively slow of movement in the frame, such as when walking.

 


 

There’s a 2-megapixel camera on the front for video calling, Face Unlock and Samsung’s face detection feature — which stops the phone’s screen from dimming as long as you’re looking at it.

NFC

Contactless sharing technology, or near field communication (NFC), is also on board the S3. That’s good news if you’re a fan of NFC tags. And, in the not too distant future, having NFC on board should mean you can use the phone to pay for stuff in shops.

I’ve been trialling an NFC S3 loaded up with a Visa contactless payment app for several weeks now. This is the device Samsung and Visa are giving to athletes competing in the London Olympics. The phone is fully charged with an NFC SIM so it can be used to swipe over contactless payment terminals as an alternative to paying with cash or a card.

Olympic athletes competing in the 2012 London Games are trialling this Visa NFC payment app.

For amounts under £20, there’s no need to add your PIN. So in theory it should be quicker. In practice, relatively few shops and retailers will let you pay with a swipe as they don’t yet have contactless terminals installed so your choice of lunch shop is pretty limited.

Even in those outlets that do accept NFC, because it’s still a less usual way to pay, you have to spend some extra time asking to pay with your phone, rather than just handing over cash, so it’s not always quicker. Add to that, the NFC terminals in my local Pret A Manger sandwich shop seemed to be offline an awful lot — meaning that if I’d turned up with just the phone and no cash expecting to pay, I’d have left without any lunch.

These sort of teething issues mean NFC mobile payments are still a way off being as easy as fishing a fiver out of your pocket. NFC on the S3 is still a ‘nice to have’ — and hopefully it will become increasing useful in the coming years.

 

Audio, ports and connectivity

As well as internal micro-SIM and microSD card slots, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge of the handset and a micro-USB port on the bottom edge for charging the phone and transferring files, videos and music to and fro.

Like the S2, the S3 has a rear speaker. But instead of being sited down low, it’s positioned right up towards the top of the phone, next to the camera. Sound quality is good but the audio doesn’t go especially loud. At the top of its range, songs can have a slight crackle.

The position of the speaker can affect the quality of the sound. If you’re looking at the face of the phone, the rear-sited speaker is blasting away from your ears. An arguably better position for a second speaker would be on one of the phone’s edges. However, the S3’s pebble design means there’s precious little room there.

Call quality is excellent and I had no trouble hearing or being heard. I also didn’t experience any dropped calls.

One important thing to note is there’s no support for the fastest current 3G technology, DC-HSPA — in either its 21Mbps or 42Mbps variant — so be aware that this phone is very much a 3G-only blower, despite previous reports to the contrary.

The browser zips along at twice the speed of the S2.

Conclusion

With the Galaxy S3, Samsung hasn’t messed with its formula much, recognising slick design and a gorgeous screen were the secret to the Galaxy S2’s success. The S3’s oval shape may not be an instant eyeball grabber but those pebble-like curves are enticing to the touch — unless you’re trying to frame and snap a photo one-handed, in which case they become a slippery nightmare.

To this curvaceous design, Samsung has added an upgraded engine — making a phone that’s unrivalled in the speed and power stakes right now.

On the down side, the TouchWiz interface is occasionally frustrating, and Samsung’s app offerings aren’t always as intuitive as they could be. These minor software concerns aside, the S3 is already one of the year’s most important gadgets. There are very few phones that come close to matching Apple’s premium, luxurious feel, but with the S3, Samsung has got closer than anyone.
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DISCUSS 29

29 Comments

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