Blimey, seems like only just months ago I was manhandling a Samsung Galaxy S2 into submission and wondering if I had a pocket big enough to fit it in. While Cupertino continues to delay the big ’5′, suddenly out comes the Galaxy S3 and it’s even bigger. Just chock an eyeful of that enormous 4.8inch display with its HD (1280 x 720) resolution. In TV terms that was the old 720p HD plasma resolution that we all thought was pretty darn impressive. Crammed into just 4.8 inches the S3 has a dot pitch smaller than a pin head coupled with vividly bright and colourful AMOLED technology.
. So all in all one of the very best Smartphones on the market that has set the bar very, very high for Apple’s forthcoming iPhone 5. Blimey, seems like only just months ago I was manhandling a Samsung Galaxy S2 into submission and wondering if I had a pocket big enough to fit it in. While Cupertino continues to delay the big ’5′, suddenly out comes the Galaxy S3 and it’s even bigger. Just chock an eyeful of that enormous 4.8inch display with its HD (1280 x 720) resolution. In TV terms that was the old 720p HD plasma resolution that we all thought was pretty darn impressive. Crammed into just 4.8 inches the S3 has a dot pitch smaller than a pin head coupled with vividly bright and colourful AMOLED technology.Rating:9 out of 10
Overall: 9 out of 10
- 1. Style
- 2. Build
- 3. Display
- 4. Processor
- 5. Imaging
- 6. GUI
- 7. Social
- 8. Games
- 9. Music
- 10. Business
- Stunning 4.8 mile wide HD display
- Lightening quick quad-core processor
- Top spec model offers 64GB and SD slot!
- Lasts a whole day on one charge… just.
- Plastic feel and, oops I dropped it again…
- Good imaging, but nothing new
- Sat Nav has mild speech impediment
- Hamstrung by appalling Kies software
Pick up the Samsung Galaxy S3 and I can’t help feeling a little deflated. Despite being about the same weight as the iPhone 4S its light polycarbonate shell and smoothly curved edges transpire to make it feel rather light and plasticy.
Sat next to the 4S with its metal edges and Gorilla Glass front and rear the Galaxy S3 looks a bit Fisher-Price, available from Mothercare, supervise young children when playing with toy smartphones. The shape is sleek and actually quite slippery. Whether the ‘Pebble Blue’ colour version, that I had, was suffering from a touch of moss is unclear, but within five minutes of getting it out of the box I found myself doing the comedy soap juggling act around the living room.
Still, its styling has not stopped the Samsung Galaxy S3 becoming the fastest selling smart phone of all time. We can safely assume that somewhere is Seoul Samsung top brass are doing the Korean version of an Ali G pout and saying ‘booyakasha, take dat Apple,’. Moreover, I am getting used to the larger form factor of the current crop of smartphones. I can now live with the top of the S3 peeking out of my shirts front pocket like a modern-day Chad (hey, look it up, yoofs). Whether the style has improved or I am getting more in touch with my feminine side, I am unsure, but I do rate the Galaxy S3 a point or two in the style stakes above the Galaxy S2. Of course being light, versatile, sleekly stylish and offering a very good front facing camera so you can do your make-up on the hoof, the Samsung Galaxy S3, like its predecessor the S2, is still a phone for girls.
The headline features of the Samsung Galaxy S3 are its HD screen and the awesome power behind it. Yes a quad-core processor running at a staggering 1.4GHz is more computing power than what most laptop PCs offered until a year or two ago. The screen itself is a little more laid back in terms of brightness than that on the Galaxy S2. This is possibly Samsung’s solution to previous AMOLED displays being too vivid and unnatural particularly with photos and movies. Don’t get me wrong, the Galaxy S3 is still a huge painter’s pallet of eye candy but it doesn’t quite burn your retinas out like the S2 and that is probably a good thing.
Thanks to the relatively bug free Android 4.0 OS the processor and screen combination are a joy to behold. Everything scrolls like it is on rails with barely a delay or hiccup. Samsung’s innovative Flip board user interface is slicker than a panther wearing a smoking jacket and it’s a dream to use. You could very easily argue that the S3 Flip board is a lot of style over substance but admittedly it grew on me. Samsung’s S-Voice (a competitor to Siri) is even more dysfunctional than Apple’s version. The Smart Stay eye control feature is just a gimmick that, at present, clearly doesn’t work with green coloured eyes, and all Samsung’s rhetoric about the S3 being inspired by nature is pure marketing rowlocks.
The raw power of the Galaxy S3 becomes apparent when you run a host of Apps, video, messages through any of the social channels because the S3 just refuses to slow down or stall. Some third party measurements posted on websites and blogs suggest this is by far the fastest Android phone to date and some 15% quicker than the previous high-speed benchmark, the HTC One X. I can believe it too! A day or two with the Galaxy S3 really highlights the negative points of my day-to-day 4S. Downloading over 100 emails at a time on the 4S using 3G and the whole phone grinds to a halt until the operation is all but complete. You just don’t experience that kind of lag with Samsung’s galaxy S3. You can even crack on using any of the Galaxy S3′s other features even with a massive download running seamlessly in the background.
Its unstoppable speed translates directly to pretty much every single App and feature in the Galaxy S3 and indeed Android’s entire portfolio. Most impressive is perhaps the navigation function which comes as close to a dedicated Satnav of any smart phone I have ever used. Google maps works very well. I was convinced I would never be able to use that phrase only a year ago. The Satnav update from GPS and network assist are so damn quick. Using the photos from Google maps you find out where you are going and you get a constant update of what amenities are just out of sight behind houses or hedgerows. It certainly makes a regular journey fly by. (Although we feel prudent to do the ‘elf and safety’ thing here and note that you shouldn’t operate a Satnav while driving and for this test we used a passenger to operate the S3 *cough*)
I only ever test phone Satnavs for mobile phone reviews and during this Samsung Galaxy S3 review I discovered a Satnav that I would happily use on a day-to-day basis. In fact I used it for a week or two and the only minor hiccup in the whole proceeding was an occasional speech impediment. On some street names that begin ‘Ca….’ the satnav voice would intimate the word as if it started ‘Ya…’. Maybe it is a Korean thing but I found myself going down Cannon Hill Lane in South London most evenings just to hear those immortal words… “turn left into Yannon Hill Lane”. Hey, it’s a long, boring journey and anything to break the monotony.
Samsung Galaxy S3 Camera
Interestingly the main rear-mounted camera on the S3 remains stoically 8MP, the same as the S2. For Samsung, a company that has tried to out trump the competition in the specs race since the day it entered the mobile phone market, that is quite, well, odd. On the flip side, there are very good reasons. The tiny lenses and microscopic apertures that are required to fit onto today’s ultra-slim smartphones have a finite quality and resolution. If you ever wonder why pro photographers cart massive, very expensive lenses around it is because making glass optically perfect is a tricky business and not one likely to be replicated by a small, cheap and often plastic phone camera lens.
Up that pixel count and there is every danger that the results will simply highlight the issues in the lens and highlight distortions and imaging defects. Well, that my theory anyway and the S3 camera takes remarkably similar pictures to the S2. The only real difference from a user point of view is that the screen is now slightly bigger to see your photos and the new HD screen offers more detail and more natural colour balance, so photos look better when viewed on the Galaxy S3. Downloaded to a PC and viewed on a high resolution monitor, damned if I could see any significant differences. That is no bad thing because both the Galaxy S2 and now S3 both take cracking pictures for a phone; bright, vivid and crisply focused.
The imaging software and processor speed have also helped the actual taking picture process too. There is no fast access or hard button for the shutter unfortunately but when you do press the soft release it takes a picture with negligible shutter lag. Moreover there seems to be less delay in the imaging software too. Rattling off snaps at 10 per second, (or so they claim) the Galaxy S3 burst mode is made possible by its mighty processor. Bursts mode also enables you to take a series of shots in the press of a button and then you can pick the best one, with the best exposure and where no one has their eyes closed. Now that is actually quite cool.
The front facing camera remains nothing to write home about at just shy of 2MP and packing a sensor that looks a bit past its sell-by date. Pictures of yourself are good enough for a video chat, a quick self-portrait or squeezing a spot, but images do look flat, slightly grainy and a bit washed out. Thinking about it that could have just been how I looked on the day.
Switch to video mode and the sensor defaults to Full-Fat HD recording at widescreen 1920 x 1080p. Not only does this look good on the phone it is a perfect mapping match for most HD TVs meaning very little scaling or processing required when you playback on a big screen in the living room. OK, the options are pretty limited compared to some of the competition but it does allow you to adjust the white balance and exposure settings and there is automatic anti vibration system to ensure not too much of your shaking hands come through in the footage. Tap to focus and pinch zoom work seamlessly and the resulting footage is, well, OK. I am not sure what I was expecting but I find the footage no real improvement over the S2. While that was no slouch with video, creating smooth colourful and well-focused footage, the S3 does pretty much the same. Neither is going to replace a good compact camera or DSLR with video modes for the budding film producer, but for capturing the cat falling off the sofa, it all works fine.
Cutting to the chase, the Samsung Galaxy S3 has the slickest user interface of any smartphone to date. Now I am saying that even as I sit here sipping tea from my ‘I am an Apple fan-boy’ mug. You see all these phones take some getting used to and if you come at one interface when you are used to another it always feels clunky and non-intuitive. Don’t get me wrong, I love the simplicity of the iPhone 4S interface but the Galaxy S3 is in another league altogether. The processor and display loveliness combine to make the screens and menus run seamlessly and the Flip board feature ensures you are never too far away from the App or Icon you need. Looks wise it is an evolution of the Galaxy S2 rather than a radical rethink but as it runs so much smoother and quicker, and indeed more logically, it gains a point over the old S2.
Many of the Apps and features can now be accessed by what Samsung call Motion Control. The idea is that some features can be controlled by logical and intuitive gestures or movements. For example if a contact number is being displayed on screen raising the phone to your ear automatically dials the number. It sort of works but takes a bit of getting used to and frankly only saves you one single button press. I sort of suspect this is the tip if the iceberg with gesture control because there is growing number of CE devices generally that can be waved or gesticulated at to operate rather than hunt for a remote control. The flip over to mute call is useful when you forget to turn your phone off in meetings and the Smart Stay features uses the front facing camera to detect your eyes so it does not turn the screen off when you are reading a lot of text. As previously noted it seemed oblivious to green eyes so I never managed to get this to work.
And now on to the music. Regular GizmoBird reader will know music is up there with breathing in terms of importance for me and I have had music on the move since my first tape ‘Walkman’ (made by Sanyo in fact) in 1982. I also am a stickler for quality sound and nothing less than 320kbps MP3 files or, better still, uncompressed FLAC files will do. The Samsung Galaxy S2 wowed me with its ability to store and play FLAC but its limited memory remained a sticking point as FLAC file sizes are massive. Enter the top spec Galaxy S3 with its staggering 64GB of built-in memory – rivalling the ubiquitous top of the range iPhone 4S. However, the Samsung’s trump card here is that it also offers SD card storage, allowing you to expand the total memory to something like 96GB with ease (32GB MicrSD) and even 128GB at a push using a 64GB card!
The S3′s built-in DACs are just as good the S2 and the sound through a decent pair of aftermarket headphones is as good as any dedicated portable player on the market. For the sound quality and expandable storage alone the S3 scoops a 10/10 for music although there is a huge ‘but’ coming in from leftfield. Samsung Kies software required to rip, load, sort and store music, in much the same way as iTunes, is absolutely rubbish. It is painfully slow, horribly illogical and an absolute pain is the ass to use if you want to manipulate a large library of music. Bearing in mind the S3 really does outgun the Apple iPhone 4S in almost every respect I find it absolutely staggering that the supplied software is so far behind the fluid slickness of iTunes that you might as well be using drag and drop. Jeez Samsung, stop trying to improve your phones and just get some decent software engineers on the case. I am sure there are plenty good Android music Apps but I would expect the phone’s ‘out of the box’ software to be the best – and it isn’t, by miles.
I am also aware that games can be played on smartphones and many people have told me the S3 is an absolute stunner where this is concerned. I don’t do games because life is too short, but I can see from a few demos that the blistering processor and great screen make for a very engaging experience, if you dig that sort of thing. I would suggest that while the larger screen of the S3 helps, its slightly less vivid colours do rob a tiny bit of pizazz from the cartoon-like image of most games.
Some things that don’t seem to have improved since the Galaxy S2 include the soft keyboard, which remains more quirky than QWERTY, and the auto-correct which is still hell bent on turning most typos into suggestive malapropisms. That said, the same is true of the iPhone and both systems manage to pick completely the wrong word pretty much all of the time. Despite its larger screen Android’s soft-key keyboard is no easier to use in portrait orientation than in landscape and it seems less logical with correcting typos than the iPhone 4S. Either way very small thumbs are required, again pandering to that female audience.
So how does all that processing power, whopping screen and Android App goodness translate into business essentials? Well again it doesn’t really and even Polaris Office is not included on the Samsung Galaxy S3 as standard. Yes there are links to exchange servers, VPN connectivity etc. but that is all pretty much standard these days. Until there is Android based Apps to handle Office docs properly I can’t see any Android phone becoming a huge success in the business market and really taking what piece of the pie remains in the clutches of Nokia’s Windows phones and BlackBerrys.
Galaxy S3 summary
Ignoring the rant over the last couple of paragraphs the Samsung Galaxy S3 is one of the best Smartphones Gizmobird has tested to date and is only the second device to crack the magic 9 (out of 10) rating along with the HTC One X. Is it better or worse than the One X? Well, it’s just different but equally stunning.
The screen and processor really make this phone come alive, the memory options are the best on the market and the GUI is the best available on any phone to date. The style and polycarbonate body don’t give it the panache of the iPhone or the HTC models, the imaging is no great advance over the S2 and the associated Samsung Kies software is a disaster. Thankfully there are ways around most of that with other Android Apps so all it not lost. And to top it all, the Samsung Galaxy S3 battery managed to last a whopping 19 hours of quite intensive usage before it finally gave in . I was running a fair few apps, playing music, messaging and surfing, before the battery gave in. So all in all one of the very best Smartphones on the market that has set the bar very, very high for Apple’s forthcoming iPhone 5.