It’s been 3 long months since its unveiling in London, and a little over 1 month since being made available in South Africa, but I finally managed to get my hands on the Samsung Galaxy SIII. Not only is this Samsung’s flagship smartphone, but it’s also the first Samsung smartphone we’ve reviewed since the Samsung Galaxy Note way back in December. Even before shipping of the first Galaxy SIII began, Samsung were breaking records with this smartphone having had the most pre-orders to date. To confirm its supremacy, 10 million Galaxy SIII smartphones were officially sold by the end of July.
Before it was unveiled in May, Samsung went on record stating that the Galaxy SIII would be nothing more than a mere upgrade of the previous flagship smartphone, the Galaxy SII. There’s no doubting that Samsung are sitting pretty at the top of the list of Android smartphones, but there must be something special about the Galaxy SIII that would see a sale of 10m sold in 1 month. So is this flagship smartphone a completely new device, or a simple upgrade of its predecessor?
With any smartphone device upgrade, most people would consider it a necessity to see an increase in screen size, however gradual it may be. The Samsung Galaxy SIII has an increased screen size of 0.5”, which in handheld terms is quite a significant upgrade, which earns the SIII one tick. The dimensions of the SIII read as follows: 136.6×70.6×8.6mm. The SIII then is a mere 0.1mm thinner than the SII; still earns another tick though. The increased screen size, however, does have a negative impact the weight, which results in an increase of 17g over the SII, which is hardly something to complain about.
The rear-facing camera remains at a decent 8MP, at a 3264x2448px resolution, autofocus and LED flash, with video-recording of [email protected] and 4x digital zoom. Despite these similarities in terms of camera specifications, the SIII, thanks to its updated software and hardware, does have improved functionality. The 8MP camera has no shutter lag, and also offers the option of a burst shot, which captures 20 individual photos in quick succession. Additionally, the light sensor adds to the image quality in low light settings. Another included with the camera software is the Best Shot feature, which will take 8 consecutive photos and chooses the best photo of the 8. Other features include HDR, Face Detection, Smile Shot, Beauty, Panorama, Cartoon, Share Shot and Buddy Photo Share, along with a number of scene modes, exposure values, timers and effects, to name a few.
Arguably the most important specification lies in a smartphone’s performance statistics. These include the CPU, GPU, display and battery. The Galaxy SIII has a Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9 CPU, with an Exynos 4412 chipset. If you’re looking for an improved performance over the SII, the CPU certainly delivers and on its own warrants the extra “I” attached to the SII name. The GPU is a slightly enhanced Mali-400MP, which isn’t much to write home about on its own, but delivers excellent graphics capabilities when paired with the Quad-Core CPU.
The standard battery of the Samsung Galaxy SIII is a 2100mAh Li-Ion battery. This is an improvement of 450mAh over the SII battery, but as we’ve seen with previous devices, an improved battery doesn’t always directly equate to an enhanced battery performance. The good news for Galaxy SIII owners is that the battery performance has a significant increase with 790 hours of standby time and more than 11 hours of talk time. As with all other smartphones, testing the battery life is an integral part of the review. After an hour or 2 of testing a few graphic and power-intensive games and apps, the Galaxy SIII could still last a complete day without any difficulties.
With its increased screen size, there was much talk about the display of the Galaxy SIII long before being unveiled. There were fears that display wouldn’t match the quality we’ve come to expect of the Samsung flagship device. With a Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, a resolution of 720x1280px and pixel density of 306ppi, these fears were quickly squashed. The display now also comes standard with Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2, which delivers even greater screen protection. One aspect of the screen that hasn’t had as much talk time as you would hope for is the smooth glass with its tapered edges, which creates a premium look and feel.
It’s difficult to know where to start with the software included with the Samsung Galaxy SIII, since there are a host of additions over the standard Android OS. The SIII is pre-installed with what was the latest version of Android OS at the time, Ice Cream Sandwich. Running on top of the OS is Samsung TouchWiz UI, as we’ve come to love or hate. Samsung has made great improvements in terms of their UI, offering a sleek, efficient, and easy to use UI, which has a water themed style, complete with graphical and sound effects. The water theme is felt throughout the user experience, starting from the ripple effect, slide to unlock function. There are a number of small features added to the UI, such as gesture based screen capture, LED indicator, NFC for S Beam, and motion settings for a few shortcuts. Apart from a few other additional settings, there isn’t much else to talk about in regards to the UI, which is a clean mash-up between the previous TouchWiz and Android ICS designs.
Where the Samsung Galaxy SIII does begin to stand out is in the offering of pre-installed apps. These include, amongst others, AllShare Play, ChatOn, DropBox, Email, FM Radio, Game Hub, Samsung Apps, Music Player, S Memo, S Planner, S Suggest, S Voice, and Video Hub. Despite all the inclusions of S-based apps, some are simply updates of previous TouchWiz apps. S Memo is an updated version of Memo, S Planner is an update of Calendar, and S Suggest, although new, is a recommendation of apps and games for you, based on preferences, categories and friends’ suggestions. S Voice, like Siri, is a voice-recognition service that allows the user to request information, etc. by simply asking for it. What I don’t like about S Voice, and Siri, is the fact that you have to open an app in order to use the voice-integrated service. This, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of getting information quickly for which these apps were designed, and should rather offer a dedicated button to activate the feature, or integrate it with one of the buttons that are already there. The software, then, on a whole works well and provides an integrated user experience.
There are a few negative aspects to the Samsung Galaxy SIII. The first and most annoying is its auto-brightness feature, which constantly dims the screen when you least expect it. This, however, can easily be avoided by setting it brightness to a fixed value.
Although the size of the Galaxy SIII is one of the positive aspects, it is also a negative. Even with the attempt at a more ergonomic design, thanks to its curved edges, the 4.8” screen means that there’s no chance that your thumb will be able to navigate the entire screen from one grip in your hand (I’ve tried). But since we often want larger screen sizes, we just have to live with the fact that there will always be a downside, however minor it may seem. Stretching your thumb to reach across the touchscreen also means that you will often accidentally hit the touch-sensitive back button. Although it doesn’t take much getting used to the screen size, being able to perfect your thumb movements and avoid any mistakes (like continuously pressing the back button) takes a little more time.
Another poor aspect of the SIII lies in its battery cover. Samsung have stuck to the plastic cover, as with the SII, but this time it’s a more glossy approach, which I cannot help but think makes it seem “cheaper” than it actually is.
The biggest drawback lies in the display of the Galaxy SIII. Although it does look amazing, and the resolution and ppi back this fact up, having knowledge of what Samsung is capable of means that you will be aware that this screen isn’t the best that it can offer. The display is labelled as an HD Super AMOLED display, which basically translates to 720p, self-illuminating pixels with no need for a backlight, as with most LCD display. The lack of the Plus (HD Super AMOLED Plus) means that Samsung is not using a PenTile subpixel (red, green and blue), but rather each pixel uses 2 combinations (red and green, blue and green). This results in less than promising results in fast moving images, a slight pixilation to text and some graining on certain colours. Despite this apparent less than quality display, most users will never notice any of these issues.
Despite all the said negative aspects of the Samsung Galaxy SIII, they are very quickly negated (in a positive sense) by all that makes this smartphone as good as it is. As it stands today, I don’t think any other smartphone can compete with Samsung’s flagship device, despite all the arguments of brand fanatics. Consider that Samsung has recently announced their plans for the Android Jelly Bean upgrades, this device will only get better, albeit only in terms of its software. Even if you’re unhappy with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, the joys of Android and ROM developers mean that you always have an abundance of OS choices to suit your preference. The Galaxy SIII is also the official smartphone of the London 2012 Olympics, with each participating athlete receiving one. The smartphone is fully integrated with the Athletes village, and can use the SIII to unlock their respective rooms using NFC, and also control a number of other Samsung devices in their rooms. Unless you may have budget restrictions, I cannot see any reason why I would recommend any other smartphone over the Samsung Galaxy SIII.
You can find the full specifications here.