Samsung Galaxy S III is undoubtedly the most talked-about smartphone the industry has ever seen. The phone, which although was termed as a ‘disappointment’ by many, has become the top selling smartphone ever in terms of sales and that too before entering the US market.
A report about eBay shows that the sales of used Android phones rose by whopping 119% before the launch event of Galaxy S III from people who wanted to make some extra cash in order to buy this phone. This gives a clear idea how excited people are for this phone, which is currently selling like hotcakes
This is the first time I’ve bought a white phone and I must say, boy I’m impressed. The combination of white and black looks gorgeous. For those that thought the phone was bland judging by photos online, go check it out at a store. Now that I have my hands on it, I don’t think those photos do the phone justice. I recommend you see the phone in real life to see the difference.
There is something special about this phone. While I was pretty much confident that I cannot withstand any phone having a screen bigger than 4.3”, this phone’s ergonomics has proved me wrong and I’m in love with it. It is technically massive in dimensions, but it doesn’t feel so when held in hands. I’ve grown so used of the big screen that my old Galaxy S II looks like a small phone now.
It’s also interesting to note that the display of Galaxy S III is only 0.7 inch shorter than the Galaxy Note, but Samsung has still managed to make it look more like a phone than a ‘phablet’ by increasing the radius of its rounded corners and keeping the bezel short.
The phone sports a polycarbonate build with a Hyper-glaze coating, which gives it a shiny feeling of a luxurious device. But the polycarbonate finish has a major drawback of being slippery, especially when held with dry hands. I wish it was built with a material that had the best of both worlds – grip of a matte finish and shine and feel of its Hyper-glaze finish. That said, Galaxy S III feels very nice, in fact better than my Galaxy S II.
The increased radius of bottom corners feel really nice in hands and undoubtedly better than Galaxy S II.
The Galaxy S III is also the first phone to boast a coating of Gorilla Glass II on the front-panel, which not only makes it scratch resistant but also fingerprint resistant. From my experience, the screen is a lot smoother than the Galaxy S II.
I’m pretty used to physical buttons so I’ve absolutely no problem with the phone for not having virtual buttons. The back-light of capacitive buttons on the bottom look wonderful, which seem to diffuse over the surface rather than being just normally back-lit to give a ‘inspired by nature’ feeling.
The screen is gorgeous. I was awestruck when I first saw the screen in a Samsung store, especially because of its high screen resolution of 1280×720 pixels. The screen is very sharp, bright and vivid. SAMOLED screens are well known for their unparalleled eye-popping colors and the Galaxy S III display is no different, especially when set to Dynamic screen mode.
There’s a little blue tint in the screen and the ‘whites’ are not as white as the Galaxy S II because of its pentile arrangement of pixels. However, I’m not going to dive deeper into this pentile talk because it does not ruin the visual experience as complained by some people.
vs. the HTC One X?
For the first time ever, the smartphone industry has started comparing an Android phone with another Android phone, unlike previous times where one of the sides was always reserved for the iPhone. This is a good sign for Android.
I’ve only played with the One X for a few hours and honestly, its SLCD 2 display screen is definitely sharper and produces whiter ‘whites’ than the S3. But this difference in sharpness is only noticeable when both the phones are kept next to each other. The above photo shows the difference in screen sharpness, but it is taken by a powerful camera zoomed up to a very high level. Unless you’re an enthusiast who’s going to analyze the screen under a microscope, you will never see the pixels with your eyes and it is going to have zero effect on your daily visual experience.
TL;DR – HTC ONE X’S SCREEN FOR NERDS, GALAXY S III FOR LAYMEN
Under Direct Sunlight?
The display is very much visible under direct sunlight. In fact, its visibility is the best among any smartphone because of its SAMOLED HD screen’s highest contrast ratio according to GSMArena.
The ‘Nature Inspired’ User Interface
My foremost impression on using Touchwiz was – holy shit, it’s fast! The snappiness of the phone can be experienced in every corner of the phone — from launching the app drawer, camera, apps to browsing images in the Gallery, setting a wallpaper etc. — they load up instantly without any shudder.
FAST, VIVID AND NEAT
“Inspired by Nature” — Yeah, the ‘nature’ feeling has been hard coded in the interface. From the water-ripple style lock screen to ringtones, unlock tones, everything is inspired by nature, especially water droplets. Some people might find it jabbing, but some may like it. I live on the latter side of the fence.
SMART STAY IS SUPER HANDY
This time, Samsung has put an incredible effort in improving its software rather than just bumping up the hardware specifications. It has packed in some unique features in Galaxy S III to make it stand out of the crowd such as Smart Stay, Direct Call, Best Photo, Buddy Share, S Beam, Swipe to Capture etc., and mind you, they’re no gimmicks. In fact, each of them are really handy. Smart Stay is undoubtedly the best of these new additions, which is like a boon to people who like to read long articles on their phones like me. It works as advertised, except for that commercial AD where it shows a father with his kid holding a Galaxy S III and Smart Stay detects his eyes magically even with lights off — that’s not possible in real life and Smart Stay will terribly fail in low light condition. Other than that, it works perfectly when your face is illuminated enough for the front camera to detect your eyes.
Pop-up play is also handy in situations where you’re watching a video and there’s a new message/email that you need to immediately check out and even make a reply — there’s too much room for multitasking in this 720p screen.
Gestures are an also integral part of the interface. They are present everywhere — from swiping palms on the screen for taking a screenshot to navigating with two fingers in S Planner (aka Samsung’s version of the Calendar), they are a pleasant addition.
The notification window sports a flatter look now, chucking off glossiness from Touchwiz 4. The foremost attention seeking change is the new hardware toggle buttons list which can be scrolled horizontally to reveal more buttons. A small option display the battery percentage is also included. It is nice to see these things available in the phone out of the box instead of loading a custom ROM to achieve the same functionality.
A quick list of five media applications is displayed in the notification window everytime the earphones are plugged. The list includes the music player, video player, Radio, Voice recorder and Google Talk in the order they were last used.
The launcher will be familiar to those who’ve used Touchwiz 4 before. It looks almost the same apart from having a redesigned app drawer, which now includes a tab for widgets and a small button to switch to downloaded apps. The home-screens have been given a new 3D scroll effect instead of flat horizontal scrolling like in Touchwiz 4 (or ICS). The app drawer also offers an option to hide applications and customize the arrangement of apps, something that is rarely found in other launchers.
Sadly, Touchwiz launcher has stripped off a very useful functionality of controlling brightness by swiping the status bar.
The gallery is also the same that we’ve seen in Android 4.0, but it is freaking fast and images load up instantly. Samsung has probably stepped up the transition speed to utilize the quad core CPU.
Apart from that, Samsung has also added facial recognition, which automatically detects people (for tagging) present in your photos in à la Facebook style. Tapping on a tagged name brings up a contact hover card with options for quickly calling, messaging or emailing that person. Interestingly, this facial recognition system also has some learning mechanism that helps it automatically suggest people in your un-tagged photos. Most of the suggestions that it was giving me initially were wrong, but it is getting better with time.
Another interesting feature in gallery is Buddy Share that lets you quickly email a photo to the persons tagged in it. However, it only supports the stock email application which is a bit clunky. That said, it’s still a worthy feature that can come handy when you’re hanging out with friends.
Samsung has ported two of its very handy applications from the Galaxy Note – S Memo and S Planner. S Planner is Samsung’s own Calendar app while S Memo is a note taking application. Both look good and are very handy.
Moving on, the Browser is also an area where Samsung has spent some considerable amount of time in optimizing it for better performance. It smokes every single mobile browser currently available in a smartphone. Heck, it even scored more points in our HTML5 test than most of the Desktop browsers (like IE9, Firefox 13 etc.)
(out of 500)
(lower = better)
|Galaxy S III’s Browser||395||1561.6ms||49%|
|iOS 6 beta|
Samsung also understands that web browsing is a major consumer of battery and so it has included a new option to configure color levels for power saving. Another decent new feature is à la Safari reader which offers web pages in a clutter-free layout, optimized for readability on a the phone.
SUPER FAST BROWSER, BUT WITH A GINGERBREAD DESIGN
However, the browser is not free of flaws. First of all, the tab management has not been improved at all and switching tabs is a tardy process. Tapping on the tabs button takes a second to bring the tab overview and so does opening a new tab. The browser is a modified version of Android 4.0’s browser so I had expected to see some super-fast actions, but its sleaziness has failed to convert me from a Chrome user despite its incredible performance.
The dialer, something we smartphone owners rarely use, has also been improved and sports a flatter look, which looks good. I found it quite refreshing after using Android 4.0’s dialer for several months.
Other applications packed in the Galaxy S III include S Beam and AllShare but I can’t comment on them as neither do I own an another NFC capable smartphone nor my Samsung TV is capable of streaming media using DLNA.
WHY DID SAMSUNG WASTE ITS TIME MIMICKING SIRI?
Apart from admitting that it is no better than Apple’s Siri, I’m not going to write anything about it. I disabled S Voice using Titanium Backup from day one I bought the phone. It failed to recognize almost everything that I tried to command it, except for a few lines in faux-English accent. Moreover, most of the possible combinations of commands can already be done manually at almost the same speed. I’m sorry but from daily experience I feel that Android voice assistants are utterly useless at this stage.
The User Interface is very neat in some areas like the Launcher, Dialer, Gallery, but my biggest gripe with it is that the process of transitioning stock apps from their Gingerbread-ish design to Ice Cream Sandwich design seems to be incomplete. I wish Samsung had paid more time on making its UI look more like the ICS interface. Someone please email a link to the Android Guidelines page to Samsung.
Have a look at the above comparison. When the toggle buttons in ICS were already so good then why the heck did Samsung waste time in degrading the design of those buttons. Replacing On/Off text with I/O doesn’t make any sense.
On an overall note, here are my impressions of Touchwiz:
- Neat, polished and light on ICS
- Gingerbread-ish design in many areas
- User friendly
AUDIO CLARITY IS UP, NOISE IS DOWN
Before talking about the phone’s multimedia capabilities, let’s first dig more about the hardware responsible for audio output. Flashback to the year 2010 when the Galaxy S was released, it was praised heavily for having “perfect audio quality” by reviewers. The audio hub used in Galaxy S was a Wolfson WM8994, which delivered . But Samsung took a different turn and went with a Yamaha chip in Galaxy S II, which failed to impress audiophiles for sub-par audio quality and noticeable noise.
Thankfully, Samsung has this time ditched Yamaha in favor of Wolfson WM1811 DAC chip in Galaxy S III. The result is clearer audio and louder audio with substantially lesser noise. I am no sound expert with a high-tech audio interface to analyze the sound quality, but the difference in audio quality can be seen in noticed by anyone who has used both the phones, like me.
The music player has been redesigned so nicely so that it can give third party apps a run for their money. It sports a very polished interface with a little grunge textured design. Apart from the usual features of any music player, it includes an equalizer, which Samsung calls as ‘SoundAlive’. There’s a new hub present as well, Music Square, which categorizes your music library as Joyful, Passionate, Calm and Exciting and presents them on a wall of square tiles where you can listen to them according to your mood.
As usual, the music player includes a notification window widget for quickly controlling playback from anywhere in the phone. Strangely, there is no lock-screen widget available for this player. There’s a home-screen widget packed in too with a scrollable playlist.
Next, the earphones — they are a tad better than the previous earphones that came along with Galaxy S II in terms of both design and sound clarity. They also feature two extra volume buttons in the remote apart from one call button.
Watching a video, is a joy on this phone’s 720p screen, especially full HD movies. Heck, I’m so fond of the screen that I’ve even started watching movies on my phone despite having a 42-inch Samsung LCD at my home.
The video player app shows ‘live’ thumbnails so that you can get an idea about the videos. Just like the music player, the video player has also been redesigned and the result is a light and transparent UI. It also lets you play videos in both portrait and landscape mode.
What’s really amazing about the phone is that it literally plays any media file format you throw at it —MP3, M4A, AAC, AMR, WAV, MKV, FLV, MP4, AVI and even FLAC song format whose support among smartphones is rare.
The camera is another room where some significant improvement has been done. Galaxy S III sports an improved 8MP camera placed on its rear and a 1.9MP camera on the front. For all the nerds out there, the camera CMOS at the back is a S5C73M3 8MP BSI sensor with 1.4 um pixel pitch behind a lens of f/2.6 aperture and a focal length of 3.7mm.
The camera app launches almost instantly and gets ready to take pictures the as soon as you launch it. What’s more impressive about it is its zero shutter lag capability. Photos are captured the moment you touch the shutter icon!
For Laics: Understanding the Basics
I’m no expert photographer, but I’ll still try to explain the above specs in a simple language that not-so-geeky people can also understand.
1. BSI — Back-Side Illuminated
In simple terms, BSI allows better photography in low light conditions. BSI sensors are fast becoming a norm among high-end smartphones such as the Galaxy S III, iPhone 4S and HTC One X. Smartphones such as the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus use a FSI sensor, which has a disadvantage over BSI for allowing less light to the sensor.
Samsung has used a BSI sensor in its front camera instead of a FSI sensor as in the Galaxy S II and as a result of which, the photo quality is a lot improved, especially indoors where light is relatively low in amount than outdoors.
Image credit: CNET
2. Pixel Pitch
Pixel pitch refers to the distance from the center one pixel to the center of an adjacent pixel. The lower the pixel pitch, the sharper the image. Galaxy S III, iPhone 4S and HTC One X all have the same specifications of 1.4µm pixel pitch.
The Aperture size is size of opening of the camera lens when it takes a photo. It is measured in f-stops, written as “f/number” and determines the depth of field in a shot. Larger is that ‘number’, smaller will be the aperture, but larger will be the depth of field and more area will be in focus.
The aperture size in Galaxy S III is f/2.6 while Galaxy S II, iPhone 4S and HTC One X have f/2.65, f/2.4 and f/2.0 respectively. (Image source)
4. Focal Length
The camera lens has a focal length of 3.7mm, which is shorter than the Galaxy S II’s 4.0mm focal length. As explained in the above diagram, the shorter focal length allows the camera to capture photos with wider view. (image credits)
Night photography is one of the weakest areas of P&S (Point and Shoot) camera phones, but the Galaxy S III fares exceptionally well in this category too. The photos shot by the camera at night have less noise, more clarity and the color balance is accurate & realistic.
There’s nothing much new to talk about the camera UI, apart from it having a flatter look. As usual, the settings and other shortcuts are present on the left while the camera button is on the right. Two worth mentioning features about the camera are HDR Mode and Best Photo, which I’ve detailed below
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range Imaging and is my favorite new addition to the Galaxy S III’s camera. In simple words, HDR takes multiple photos at once with different exposure settings and merges them into one super-photo rich in color, where detail has been persevered in both, dark and light areas.
Best Photo is basically burst mode, but with an intelligent mechanism that suggests the best photo taken among a set.
The camera is excellent and there’s nothing that I can frown on.
JUST ONE WORD — SUPERLATIVE.
The Galaxy S III is a beast with four 1.4Ghz cores screaming inside the shell. Instead of explaining how fast it is, I’ll let the benchmarks do the talking:
The Galaxy S III, which I own is the international variant with an Exynos quad-core processor, but the US is getting a slightly tweaked model of S III with a dual-core processor and 2GB of Ram. So, these scores may differ in other variants of this phone.
Magically, the temperature of my Galaxy S III has not exceeded 38° a single time, unlike my Galaxy S II, for whom reaching 42° was a normal behavior even after spending just an hour browsing over 3G or playing a graphics-intensive game. Samsung has probably achieved this by relocating the CPU to the bottom of the case and doing some magic fixings to the CPU (sorry, I’m no hardware expert to explain this thing).
There are some reports floating around about a Galaxy S III bursting into flames. I have no idea what might have caused it as my Galaxy S III is a very cool boy. I’m pretty sure that phone was a faulty piece.
I honestly admit it that the phone is not fully free of lags. There a few areas where a little shudder can be seen.
- There’s a little lag in scrolling from the dialer to log.
- Contact hover cards show some lag
But the best part is that these lags are more of a TouchWiz problem and not ICS so Samsung can fix them easily.
Seven seconds — The exact time it took to get a satellite lock indoors for the first time. This is insanely fast considering the fact that it can achieve a lock in even lesser time when I’m outdoors. So, how did Samsung manage to accomplish this task? Two magical ingredients:
- First, by packing in a barometer that can determine your altitude and help in faster GPS lock-ons.
- Second, Galaxy S III is compatible with GLONASS (Russian alternative for United States’ GPS), which helps in connecting to more satellites.More satellites = faster GPS lock.
More on Barometer
- Locking on to a GPS involves numerically solving a 4-dimensional set of linear equations — 3 dimensions in space, and time.
- The 3 dimensions in space are latitude, longitude and altitude. The barometer gives you a reasonable first-cut estimate for altitude.
- The rest dimensions i.e, latitude and longitude are measured with aGPS (Assisted GPS) which gives a rough city-level coordinate fix through something like cell-tower network location.
So this way, a Barometer will reduce the math required to calculate the co-ordinates and in short, making lock-ons to GPS faster than ever. (via)
Samsung Galaxy S III has a removable 2100 mAh battery, up from 1650 mAh in its predecessor. Although the increase in battery capacity is only 27%, I’ve been able to squeeze out 40% more battery life on a daily basis.
I’ll put it this way:
- Heavy Usage (gaming, web browsing on 3G, streaming videos, few minutes of voice calls) – 12-15 hours
- Moderate Usage (web-browsing on WiFi, few minutes of voice calls, few videos on Youtube, a few minutes of gaming) – 25-28 hours
- Light Usage (light usage, no gaming, few voice calls, WiFi on) – 1.5-2 days easily.
There’s a bug in Galaxy S III that shows Cell Standby as eating insane amount of battery life. This is not a OS bug, but just a miscalculation of power and can be fixed easily by following this guide on XDA.
On a comparison note, the maximum I could get away with my Galaxy S II with heavy usage was 10 hours and 20 hours at maximum with moderate usage. This phone’s battery has impressed me a lot, but I guess we’re still a year or two behind until we get to see a smartphone that can provide all day long battery life.
Overnight battery drain is about 2% in 8 hours, which is decent for any smartphone. For complete idea of its battery life, I strongly recommend GSMArena’s Battery life tests of Galaxy S III.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
Samsung Galaxy S III is a brilliant phone with a design so beautiful that it puts my previous Galaxy S II to shame. If there’s anyone who sees it as an ugly phone then, in my humble opinion, he definitely needs to give the phone a second look.
Flaunting a glossy polycarbonate but solid build, Galaxy S III packs in some seriously good features and applications. With four CPU cores screaming inside, it is the fastest smartphone currently on the market and has once again raised the bar for Android smartphones.
If you’re looking for buying or upgrading to a new smartphone, Galaxy S III should be the phone to own!