Samsung Galaxy S III / S3 I9300 Hands-on Review – Design, Camera, Performance
When we jotted down the list of devices that came in the series of Galaxy S since 2009 prior to the launch of Galaxy S III, only one question was pointed out by the readers and the same ran in our minds, has Samsung brought out something strong enough to be called the World’s best smartphone? After playing around with the S III, we might have to agree with the fanboys that Samsung has launched one of the best devices around, although it can’t be called something that satisfies all the needs of a high-end smartphone user who is spending more than USD 700 (INR more than 40k), so the flurry of complains won’t be a surprise.
Samsung has not only boasted a lot already by showing a few exceptional features of the Galaxy S III, but proved it by claiming a 10-million pre-order count even before the device was officially launched into the market. Now is the time, to see whether those millions of customers were actually satisfied after spending their hard-earned cash on this fresh giant in the competitive world of beasts that have the same owner’s Galaxy Note, and the others in the league include the Droid Razr from Motorola, One X from HTC, Xperia S from Sony!
The design is quite changed from the S II, as the back panel has got smoother, the back has no beak and its totally uniform from top to bottom, while keeping most of the other things to the simplest, best to avoid the criticism for trying out something odd. But with the unchanged camera, the tag of “inspired by nature”, “made for humans”, did Samsung hit the HTC One X (which we see as the only best competitor to the S III) users with something to be wondering about the best in them?
Read below for the part-to-part review of the Galaxy S III
The Design, Form Factor and Display
What Samsung tried to explain in the Human Inspired tag of the Galaxy S III, is shown in the design and shape of the device which loses the rectangular shape of the S II, and the matte finish on the exterior of its, making it more comfortable in the hands with the curvy edges and the less-than-9 mm. of thickness giving the natural theme hype a good justification. Samsung has tried all the best possible ways in making the phone a user-friendly one in design too, and succeeded as well. The pebble-inspired design looks classy in the Blue color, but the White device which we are reviewing, looks far better than the blue one with the reflective back and the display is another beauty with the bending down corners giving a perfect uniformity on all the sides.
The 4.8-inch display of the Samsung Galaxy S III bends down near the corners and this totally beats the display and screen of the other high-end devices. With the thin body, Samsung has made the device look quite less bulky than the other high-end phones like the HTC One X, Galaxy Nexus from Samsung, although the winner in the league still would be the Morotola Droid Razr. When you are watching videos or browsing through the picture gallery, larger screens always fascinates you, and even the small fraction of increased display size makes a difference and technically, the S III beats the Galaxy Nexus and HTC One X with the screen size.
The display of the Galaxy S III is of Super AMOLED technology, and the users who only have the specs in mind would compare it with the Super AMOLED Plus of Galaxy S II, but it doesn’t really make a difference because the former gives an excellent quality graphics output, and everything one would think to complain about would be forgotten when the user actually starts experiencing the Galaxy S III with a noticeable distance from the eyes, thanks to the large screen size.
Talk about the physical exterior, the front has got a change in the Home key which has got thinner and longer, with the same Menu and Back touch-sensitive keys on the either side of the Home key. It always makes a good sense on why the Power key is made available on the right side rather than on the top, and we always like to have it on the side because the one-hand usage would not make it easy for anyone to push a finger to the top of the phone to hit the button. Samsung has always maintained the positioning of the keys in the Galaxy-S series, and that if changed, would have seen a lot of criticism.
The back panel can be opened, and that’s what would make the battery replaceable and hold a big advantage for frequent travelers. Making a unibody device has the advantage of its own, but when you have an option to remove the battery, the need to rush to the service center for every small issue is brought down. With the removable back panel, there is even an option for inserting a MicroSD card and expand the memory, making things far better for users. Most of the body, even the battery cover is made of Polycarbonate material, which although would give a plastic feel, provides enough strength to the phone. And unlike the Galaxy S II where you could open a part of the back area, the removable back panel of S III is from the top to bottom, and has the gaps for the camera, flash and speaker to pop out.
The 3.5-mm headset jack is on the top, just beside the notch from where the back panel opens. The Micro USB slot is located at the bottom, which is the ideal place but might not be the best when you are placing the phone in a dock and would want to connect it to the charger at the same time. The Volume rocker keys lie parallel to the Power key on the left side, and its a single key pressable on the top and bottom area.
The front top area of the phone is the only one which doesn’t maintain the same beauty that the entire phone does, as the white panel clearly shows the front camera and the two sensors as three dark circles just beside the earpiece and Samsung logo, making the center and right totally filled but the left area empty, non-aesthetic. What we see as a totally new feature in the Galaxy S III is the LED indicator light, as a blue light on the left side adjacent to the earpiece.
Overall, the design of the Samsung Galaxy S III seems a lot inspired from the Galaxy Note, and compare the Note and S III both with the White color, you would notice no much difference in the exterior, except that the S III pulled and made larger from all the ends would make it the Note. It is pretty comfortable to feel, coming with the premium class design.
Operating System, Interface and Apps
The Android 4.0 ICS operating system in the Galaxy S III would not be a total advantage, and not a mere disappointment at the same time. It is not the typical 4.0 interface that the Galaxy Nexus had, and not the standard touchwiz that the previous Galaxy devices had, but a hybrid made out of both of these with more of Touchwiz UI being shown, which someone from iOS or WP7 experience won’t be very much impressed about. Better than the other brands, which disappoint the users with the previous versions of OS, upgradeable to the latest one where the users actually wouldn’t want all the hassle of upgrading and expect the latest software already when they purchase a new device.
The Galaxy S III welcomes you with the multiple homescreens, mostly filled up with several shortcuts, widgets and folders on each making the user friendliness far better, where the user doesn’t have to wonder where to start with. The theme of Nature portrayed well with the wallpaper, doesn’t end there. You unlock the screen by the touch and drag, which splashes the water to make it look far natural. The water drop sound makes the feel more pleasing, and you would start playing around to see the water effects with the sounds while trying to unlock the screen.
There are 4 shortcut app icons on the lock screen in the bottom, dragging one of which would open the particular app. Lately, most of the high-end phones have got the shortcut to the camera app directly from the lock screen, and you see that in the Droid Razr, the Galaxy S III and even the HTC One X.
There is no wondering whether the phone performance would be high, when Samsung has integrated the high quality graphics and heavy interface in the S III, because the 1.4 GHz Exynos processor is there to provide enough of the same. With the widgets and so many installed applications already, Samsung has not just rewamped the old interface to make it look better in looks, but even make things easier to use for the new users who haven’t had much of a touch on the Android phones.
Instead of long pressing the home screen and searching for the options to add widgets to the home screen, one can do that easily by going to the App menu where there are 2 sections – one for the apps and other for the widgets where all the widgets are available in several pages. Just long press one of the widget and it would automatically come into the control of the touch and you could place it anywhere on one of those multiple home screens.
The notification panel, sized the same but provides a lot more than earlier. The top area with the connectivity shortcuts earlier, now has got more options totaling to 10 in number and they slide from left to right within a couple seconds after the panel is opened. You can slide the arranged-in-two shortcut areas from left to right and vice-versa anytime. These shortcuts are for Wi-Fi, GPS, Silent Mode, Screen Rotation, Power Saving Mode, Notification setting, Mobile Data, Bluetooth, Driving Mode and Auto Sync.
The phone, contacts lists are standard ones, with each contact having all options to call, message, video call, check profile on the Internet and Email. The call logs unlike the earlier times, have the Call button at the end of each contact name, which makes it easier for calling but we would have liked the swyping (to right for call, to left for messaging) in the previous models of Galaxy. Messaging app too is the same with the threaded conversations, and a group message still doesn’t get distribute into individual contact message thread, which is a bit of disadvantage.
The bottom dock has got 5 featured shortcut apps, the default ones being Phone, Contacts, Messaging, Internet and the Apps list icon. Most of the stuff is easy, like installing and placing new widgets on the homescreens, with the first-time guides spoon-feeding with the information. When we said the Galaxy S III has taken the inspiration from the Galaxy Note, it’s not just with the exterior but even parts of the interface. The standard Samsung-Android Calendar is gone, and replaced by the S Planner which was one of the best USPs for the Galaxy Note back when it was launched. Samsung has offered a lot more than just the standard app changes and the UI revamping, explained below.
S Voice: Blown are the iOS users and fans, as Siri has got a tough competitor and it does function pretty well, not like one of those alternative apps available in the Play Store. Activate it by saying “Hi Galaxy” and it would start listening to your commands. The accuracy is not 100%, just like one’s English accent. We tried to give several commands and found that the functioning is pretty well, with S Voice responding to most of them although not accurately always, and it isn’t shy to tell you if it didn’t understand what you just said.
Try to say you want to take a picture, and the camera app opens automatically. Try to say you want to check the weather for London, and it would open the Weather widget for weather status in London. Similarly, ask the S Voice to do several other functions, like start playing music, set alarm, snooze the alarm, turn on/off the Wi-Fi and other connectivity options. Enough for the automation you needed for the basic things, and thanks to Samsung they didn’t name it something like or competitive to the Siri for iOS!
Smart Stay: The screen stays on smartly until you don’t stop viewing at it. The sensors are made in a way that they recognize your eyes viewing at the screen, and this usually helps during night when you are watching a movie or reading a document, and if you fall asleep the screen turns off automatically. The tracker lies in the front camera, and once the screen turns off it doesn’t mean the functioning ends there. The phone, and the internal functions would run normally but only the screen turns off.
S Beam: Touch the backs of the phones which are to share any file between them, and assisted by the Wi-Fi direct the file sharing is easily done using the S Beam feature. Quite helpful when you are sharing the captured images and videos with your friends having the Galaxy device compatible for this kind of sharing.
Dropbox with 48GB free storage: This has become a trend, but don’t blame Samsung for it. Dropbox has considered giving all the latest best devices with free file backup and syncing so that the data is kept secured, and the Galaxy S III users would get 48GB free data storage when they register to Dropbox through the pre-installed application in the phone.
There are a few features like the “Lift to Call” which calls the person whom you are texting, and when you feel like rather calling them, you just need to lift the phone upto your ear for the same. We don’t see much of an advantage and need of the same, because while typing a message, its just a couple clicks needed to make a call.
Samsung has tried to make things automated or easiest to reach for users, like when you connect the headphones to the device, the Notification panel would let you know that there are several things you could do while having the earphones attached to take the advantage of the same. The notification would show “Earphones connected to the device” and you would be shown shortcuts to the apps – Music Player, Video Player, Media Hub, Youtube etc.
Keyboard and Messaging: The keyboard seems a standard Samsung one, but the options are excellent with the clipboard making things very easier for someone working a lot on the docs, and needs several items to be copy-pasted in several places. The clipboard keeps a storage of the recently copied items, and pasting is easier with it. We haven’t found any options of changing the keyboard type, as the Samsung Keyboard is the only available option, and wouldn’t need a replacement as the predictive text area too is impressive.
In the settings of keyboard, we could change the Input language, select whether to use the Predictive text, Handwriting, Keyboard swyping for changing between letters and symbol sections, Auto capitalization, Auto-punctuate, Preview of character and whether to have vibrations and sounds for every key typed.
The apps that Samsung already has included in the heavy list, has the list of Google apps including Gmail, Google Talk, Google Search, Google Maps, Youtube etc. along with the networking ones like Samsung ChatOn, the Allshare Play, Game Hub, Navigation, S Planner, S Suggest, Voice Recorder, Music Player and the Android file manager. There is even a Samsung Mail app, but there can’t be anything better than the Gmail app for the Email management.
Multiple tabs, the incognito mode (private mode where no browsing data, history or form data is stored), pinch to zoom are the basic Android options one would notice, while there are several accessibility settings, privacy settings a user needs to play around with, before they get to have the best browsing experience through the browser of the Samsung Galaxy S III. Force Zooming option zooms any web page, even in the websites which controls the zooming and doesn’t allow making the page bigger in mobile versions. One could set the levels of color and brightness levels for the browser, when being used in Power Saving mode.
The browser menu directly has the option to toggle between the mobile and desktop view. Browser history has the web pages visited on daily, weekly and monthly basis where you can see what pages were browsed today, last week etc. and the same history section shows the most visited pages in the browser.
Samsung hasn’t included just the same Android browser as in the previous Galaxy devices, and the plethora of options available make it the sole choice and we wouldn’t suggest any 3rd party browser, unless you see more flexibility and ease-of-use than this.
Camera – 8 MP picture capture quality, video recording
When Samsung had brought in the 8MP camera in the Galaxy S II, we were blown away by the quality of capture, especially in the depth that the full resolution pictures provided. It is the same feeling when we took pictures through the 8MP lens of the S III, but at the same time it does make us wonder why Samsung doesn’t concentrate much on the camera upgrades when Nokia does? There is something Samsung has done to make the imaging better and make the picture quality excel than the previous version, and compete well with the HTC One X’s camera which deserves similar appreciation for the detailed clarity.
Even at high zooming levels, the S III tried to maintain the picture quality to the best when we tried the Macro mode to take photographs of something real close. The quality is a little compromised when clicking some far object, but the normal no-zoom capture viewed in full resolution, gives nice details of the object far from the camera. There are several options for the camera, including the resolution which can be of maximum 3264 x 2448 pixels, Focus modes of Auto, Macro and Face detection, shooting modes of single and burst shots, HDR, Smile Shot, Panorama, Cartoon and Buddy Share photo which helps in tagging friends to share in social networks.
Captures at different zooming levels:
There is a front-facing camera of 1.9MP quality, and its totally neat. Even the 4.8-inch screen of the phone showed decent pictures taken with the front camera, although the main purpose of it is the video conferencing using the chat apps like Skype, direct 3G calling etc.
The video recording using the 8MP camera of the Galaxy S III is of 1080p HD quality, and the quality of video is great. We would soon show the video captures in various conditions, but a simple note, you won’t be disappointed with the camera for both picture and video capturing. One of them is already done, bright natural light conditions. Select HD 1080p mode in the video for the proper quality check.
Connectivity, Battery and Performance
There is a big stock of options for the connectivity in all the ways, may that be Internet, Phone-to-phone bluetooth or Beam connection,USB or any other. What one can boast about, and take full advantage of, apart from the normal connectivity options include the NFC (Near Field Communication), S Beam and Wi-Fi Direct. Everything else is the usual bulk. To make things easier for users to understand, its Wi-Fi direct bundled up within the NFC to bring out the S Beam for the easy phone-to-phone connection and file sharing.
GPS is a lot better than what we used to experience in the Galaxy S II, with more than half of the users complaining about the glitchy GPS not locating the phone on time, but this time it has got GLONASS addition which makes the GPS tracking tad faster, although the accuracy is not as great as what the normal GPS used to give.
Bluetooth is of 4.0 Technology and the transfer to any other device is not as fast as what you see when its send to another Galaxy S III, but when there is S Beam between the two same devices then Bluetooth is not an option to use.
Users don’t seem to enjoy and take advantage of the USB connection to the computer, but the Galaxy S III has several options when the phone is connected to the computer through USB. File Transfer, Media Transfer, Internet Tethering and just charging are the options when you connect the phone, and the Internet tethering via USB is a better option than sharing the internet via Wi-Fi tethering (Mobile Hotspot) when you want to share the internet connection with the same laptop.
The Galaxy S III has a 2100 mAh battery, and when compared to the 1650 mAh of the S II, the capacity of 2100 mAh can’t be called real big or real small at the same time, because there is a demand for a good performing battery when you have the Quad core processor and the large screen with heavy graphics and the advanced features. We are still satisfied with the battery capacity, providing few hours of heavy usage and a day long normal usage with the messaging, calling and web browsing that a user does on-the-go.
Performance wise, we are very much satisfied with the speed of loading of apps, although there are many of them pre-installed and we installed quite many through the Play Store. The phone app used to force close in the Galaxy S II, the Motorola Droid Razr but as of now its nothing as such in the S III. We can’t say with the time ahead, the performance could vary just like the other devices do when they get older. Benchmarks, so many of them done, one can’t come to a final conclusion on which device is the best performing as one excels in some benchmark test, but stays behind in the other.
The Samsung Galaxy S III has entered the market to stay around for some good time, to keep the buzz going, to become more popular than the S II was, and most importantly, to make the users happy for buying it and making the fullest use of it. And so far, we are totally impressed with the device, except for the pricing in the Indian market, which crosses the bar of Rs. 43000, and only the iPhone 4S is similarly priced, and is always hated for the pricing.
For users who are going to try out a Samsung Android device for the first time, the Galaxy S III is a worthy purchase because it doesn’t limit itself with a few basic options, but has a stock of those which keeps the users exploring something new always. But for those who are thinking to upgrade from the Galaxy S II, we suggest to consider the need for the same and then think of upgrading.
One of the best competitors to the Galaxy S III would be the HTC One X, with one of the best designs and interfaces and holding the huge advantage of being less priced (around Rs. 35000 compared to Rs. 43000 of S III).
We already like the Galaxy S III for what the device is offering directly, but when it would be used along with the extra accessories like the S Pebble, Wireless Charging Kit etc. one would be tempted to cash out whatever is asked.
The hot comparison: Samsung Galaxy S III vs HTC One X
The video explains it all, but we would suggest the selection between them based on the usage and requirement of the user. It isn’t an easy choice, but HTC One X is a clear winner for people with budget in mind.