Samsung Galaxy S III (Bell) - review

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After selling 50 million Galaxy S and Galaxy S II devices, Samsung is expected to deliver another mega-hit flagship device in the Galaxy S line-up. What can Samsung do to capture the same kind of success? The expectation for the Samsung Galaxy S III is super high as it has sold more than 9 million pre-orders around the globe. People have been talking about in non-stop. Is the Galaxy S III worth all the hype? Read the review to find out.

HARDWARE

First thing you notice when you pick up the Galaxy S III is that it looks quite different from its mega-successful predecessor, the Galaxy S II. Samsung has done away with the rectangular black/white slab look and went for a more round design in white and blue offerings. There has been some speculation as to whether the legal attack from Apple has hampered with the Galaxy S III design process, but I strongly doubt that. The body design is reminiscent of Samsung's Nexus devices, the Nexus S and the Galaxy Nexus.

The new colours are pretty refreshing. Samsung said they wanted a more natural look in their phones, hence the colours 'Marble White' and 'Pebble Blue'. My review unit was in Pebble Blue, and I really appreciated the attention to detail that went into the colouring. This elegant blue is easier on the eyes than a stuffy and gigantic black slab. The body also has a chatoyant pattern on it like a real gemstone or a flame maple top on a guitar.

The 4.8 inch Super AMOLED HD screen is very large, which makes the phone large as well. The general trend of Android hardware seems to larger and larger screens, but it is not a good trend for usability. It feels good to watch movies and browse the web on the large display, but using the phone one-handed is slightly uncomfortable. It's still not a phablet like the Galaxy Note, but it's almost getting there. If you have smaller hands, you may have to stretch to reach the corners of the screen while using the phone one-handed.

The Galaxy S III is incredibly thin and light. At 8.6mm thickness and 133g weight, you'll barely feel it in your jean pocket. Save for the Gorilla Glass 2 display, the outer layers of the Galaxy S III is made out of glossy plastic. This material doesn't feel particularly durable, so prospective buyers should take into consideration the scratches and dings that they will inevitably get on the body of the phone.

The front of the device is mostly taken up by the 4.8 inch Super AMOLED screen. More on the screen later. Below the screen, you'll find the usual Samsung Android button pattern – menu, home, and back. Above the screen, you'll find the usual light sensors, headpiece, and a 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera. Power button is on the right side, volume rockers are on the left side, headset jack is on the top, and microUSB port is on the bottom. The 8 megapixel camera, LED flash, and the speaker is on the upper side of the back of the body. The back cover can be removed to reveal a 2100 mAh battery, SIM card slot, and a microSD slot.

The Galaxy S III for the North American market features a dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16/32/64 GB storage, 4G LTE connectivity, Bluetooth 4.0, and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n. 

SOFTWARE

The Samsung Galaxy S III runs on Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich with the new TouchWhiz on top. The new TouchWhiz looks very similar to the previous versions, though certain elements like icons and widgets have been revamped and refined. TouchWhiz feels very fluid and responsive on the Galaxy S III. The great thing about TouchWhiz here is that it has actually left the good parts of Ice Cream Sandwich unchanged. I was happy to see that the ICS features I love, such as the multitasking screen and the app tray, have been mostly left alone.

The Galaxy S III is a media powerhouse. You can throw any types of video files at it and it will probably play all of them. I tried playing AVI, MKV, MP4 files up to 1080p resolution, and the Galaxy S III played them without any struggle. It's quite convenient to load your phone with videos without having to convert them to compatible formats.

You can also watch movie files in a small window while doing other tasks. This feature is called Pop-up play, and you can play any video file in a window that takes up about 10% of the screen real estate. This window can be moved around so that it doesn't cover the essential areas of the screen while you are using other apps. The video automatically stops playing when you launch an app with audio, such as YouTube or games.

There is just one condition for playing back movies: your movie file must be smaller than 4GB. This isn't a limitation imposed by Samsung – it is a limitation of the FAT32 disk format that the Galaxy S III's internal memory uses. This means some 1080p videos you'll want to put on the Galaxy S III will have to be divided into multiple files. It's not a huge issue as most people are not clamouring to watch 1080p videos on their phones.

Samsung has also strengthened their ties with 3rd party services to improve the experience on the Galaxy S III. If you buy a Galaxy S III, you get 50GB of free Dropbox space for 2 years. Normally you would have to pay $100 per year for this. Samsung also managed to get a limited-term exclusive deal with Flipboard, a popular magazine-style news feeds app, augmenting Galaxy S III users' news reading experience. 

MOTION + USABILITY

Samsung has put a huge focus on usability features that they call Motion UX. These features are designed to make common actions more intuitive and fun to use. Here are some of the things you can do with the Motion UX:

  • Unlock the Galaxy S III by picking it up
  • Mute calls by turning the phone over
  • Pan around in pictures by moving the phone itself
  • Swipe your palm to capture screenshots 

Although some parts of the Motion UX are slightly gimmicky, I found most of them to work well. You can tell that a lot of thought went into designing each of these motions. If you get the hang of them, these features will make common actions more efficient.

One usability feature I really like in particular is Smart Stay. Smart Stay prevents the phone from going to sleep while you are using the phone. It works by detecting your eyes with the front-facing camera just before the screen goes to sleep, so that the Galaxy S III never goes to sleep while your eyes are locked on the screen. This feature works very well in normal light conditions (it doesn't work in the dark, because the camera can't see your eyes), and I found this feature to be very useful when using the Kindle app or reading long articles in the browser.

Some features, though, have not been done so well. S-Voice, hyped as a Siri competitor, could not understand most of the commands in sentence forms that I threw at it. It feels more like a dressed-up Google Voice Actions or Vlingo rather than a true Siri competitor. However, It does well with simple commands like 'call Alex' or 'message Mary where are you', so some people will find it useful.

DISPLAY

The Galaxy S III features a 4.8 inch Super AMOLED HD display at 720p resolution. This is 306 pixels per inch pixel density. I was worried about the PenTile Matrix layout, as this is not a Super AMOLED HD+ display, but it is not as big an issue as I'd thought. PenTile displays are generally thought to be less sharp, but the screen on the Galaxy S III is so high resolution that I could not see a big difference in sharpness between the Galaxy S III's screen and other mobile displays that use the LCD technology. It still suffers from other issues associated with the AMOLED technology, namely the blue tint in low brightness settings.

Like the HTC One X, this screen seems to have gone through optical lamination. It has very good viewing angles, and the screen feels closer to the glass. Touch response is great on the screen. While I wish that Samsung had gone with the more expensive Super AMOLED HD+ technology for the Galaxy S III, this display is still perfectly usable and pleasing to the eye.

CAMERA

The Galaxy S III comes with an 8 megapixel camera with LED flash. It has a very robust camera software that borrows features from Samsung's camera products. Features like face detection, smile detection, burst mode, and best shot mode ensure that you capture the best moments with the Galaxy S III without missing a beat.

 

Photos and videos shot with the Galaxy S III look very impressive, producing sharp and detailed results. Video mode is spectacular, producing 1080p movies at 18 megabits per second. Samsung Galaxy S III is good enough to replace point-and-shoot cameras.

PERFORMANCE

I was pleasantly surprised by how good the call quality was on the Galaxy S III. Voices sounded clearer than ever through the Galaxy S III, and it held a reliable connection in most areas in Vancouver. Bell's LTE network through the Galaxy S III is blazingly fast, downloading hour long podcasts in mere seconds. LTE connectivity would be spotty in some areas, but Bell's HSPA network was fast enough to make the network handover unnoticeable.

The Galaxy S III also showed very good battery performance. The massive 2100 mAh held its charge for two days on average with moderate use, which included push email, fetching social feeds hourly, and downloading podcasts every few hours. It's rated at 9 hours talk time, and our tests confirmed this. You shouldn't have any problems with the battery if you charge daily or every other day.

CONCLUSION

After using the Galaxy S III, I come to the conclusion that it is worth all the hype around it. Hardware is very nice, software and services are very useful, camera takes great photos and videos, and the phone generally performs very nicely. Samsung has put a lot of focus on user usability, and it really shows. While some Motion features seem gimmicky, most of them work really well. Media features are also nice on the Galaxy S III. Samsung deserves some kind of an award for most extensive codec support on their smartphones.

The Galaxy S III isn't perfect, though. Its one-handed usability suffers due to the large size. S-Voice is lacklustre. Super AMOLED HD still carries PenTile weaknesses. However, the good parts are so good that the bad can be forgiven. Is it a worthy successor to the Galaxy S and Galaxy S II? Yes. This is the best Android phone you can buy right now. It gets 3.5 balloons out of 4. 

Sean