The Samsung Galaxy S3 has finally hit Indian shores and loyal Sammy fans can’t wait to get their grubby mitts on one. We know many Galaxy S II owners who’ve already swapped their phone for the upgraded model. Samsung made us wait a painfully long time before they announced the phone, but we're not sure they got the reaction they were hoping for. We’ve heard a lot of talk about how the S III doesn’t deem fit for a flagship title due to its looks and other factors, but we had to go in with an open mind, after all, aesthetics are very subjective. So, throwing all that out the window, let’s see if the S III manages to win us over.
Design and Build quality
This is a very touchy subject with many tech enthusiasts, as the initial impressions of the S III left a rather bad taste in everyone’s mouth. In the countless pictures and videos, we’ve seen around the Internet, the S III isn’t much of a looker and when you compare it to its predecessor, it rather pales in comparison, or does it? Honestly we didn’t know what to expect, but after actually holding it in our hands, it did'nt seem so bad, at least from up-front. The HyperGlaze coating on the body gives it a nice finish that does prevent light scratches and fingerprints. Of course the white model could also cover that up to quite an extent. The blue version of the phone will be launching later in the month. Samsung has stated time and again that the phone was heavily inspired by nature and yes, the S III does looks like an oversized pebble. We bet if you threw it just right, it would make three nice little bounces on the water (don’t do that though!).
Looks majestic in white
Here’s a quick tour of the device. The front consists of a 4.8-inch Super AMOLED screen with a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels and it comes with a pentile display arrangement. On the top, is a front facing camera with an ambient light sensor, proximity sensor and a notification LED, while the physical home button and the backlit capacitive menu and back buttons are located below the screen. Despite the display being Pentile, it doesn’t really make a difference to the naked eye. AMOLED does make the display slightly over saturated, while LCD2 gives you sharp and natural looking colours.
The ports on the top
Coming back to the tour, to the left there is a volume rocker key, while the Power key is located to the right. If you don’t have substantially large fingers, you’ll have to reach out to the power button owing to the large display. The 3.5mm headphone jack and a noise cancellation mic is located on the top, while the microUSB charger and the other mic is located at the bottom. The back consists of an 8 megapixel camera, speaker grill and an LED flash. iFixit reports that the Corning Gorilla Glass is actually fused to the display and while this does a good job in shrinking the width of the S III, cracking the glass of the phone could also mean cracking the display, itself so replacing it would be an expensive affair.
The back cover is dangerously flimsy
The one thing that you definitely can’t get away from is the plastic feel of the phone. At 8.6mm in depth and a weight of 133 grams, it’s incredibly slim and light. Samsung has managed to shave off as much of bezel as possible, so all you’re really left with is this gigantic screen, and we love it! The battery is removable, unlike the HTC One X, but the rear cover itself is dangerously flimsy. Apparently, the rear cover is made from polycarbonate and not plastic, so it should be more durable than it appears to be.The phone accepts a microSIM only, so make sure you have one before buying it.
Capacitive buttons work well
While mentioning the Galaxy S III, comparisons are bound to exist with the One X and one important thing to notice is that the One X comes with a black bezel around the screen, lending a smooth transition into the display, while the Galaxy S III had a more abrupt progression on to the display. The S III clearly pales in comparison to the design and aesthetics of the One X, which has a much more premium finish to it. Being a flagship device, we did expect a lot more from Samsung in this department. It looks good from the front, but we really wished they would have done a better job with the back panel and the overalls. We’re not saying go overboard, but give us something that looks like it’s going to last. If it’s a flagship, doesn’t it need to feel like one as well, Samsung?
The Samsung Galaxy S III comes with Android 4.0.4 out of the box, however, we have to deal with TouchWiz again, this time inspired by nature! They call it - TouchWiz Nature UX, but we failed to see any connection with the skin and nature excpet for the water disturbed screen effects that are also available in any other Android device with Live wallpapers. Moving on, Samsung has tweaked and changed a few things to give it a fresh look. The lock screen is no longer a glass, but has water effects instead. Touching it creates ripples on the screen and you simply swipe anywhere in order to unlock it. You can also add and slide over shortcut icons to open that app directly. They've also added a slide up notification bar from the bottom that updates you on missed calls, unread messages, etc. Upto 7 home screens are allowed. The notification bar plays host to plenty of toggle switches and this time, Samsung has made it scrollable to accommodate more of them.
Better than before but not the best
Samsung has stuck to their three button layout, which we are thankful for. The ‘Options’ and ‘Back’ button are where they should be, while the center physical buttons take you home on single click, lets you switch launchers on double click and brings up the running apps on long press. It’s simple and works like a charm. The app menu is similar to stock ICS, except for the theme and Samsung's icons. One thing we wished Samsung kept from stock ICS was automatic folder creation. It’s just more simple to drag an icon over the other and create a folder rather than creating one separately and then add apps in it. Plus, ICS folders are way cooler than anyone else's.
Viewing angles are pretty good of the HD AMOLED screen
The Galaxy S III is powered by a 1.4GHz Exynos 4212 quad-core processor with 1GB of RAM and 16 gigs of onboard storage. It’s blazing quick in every single aspect and manoeuvring through the various menus, home screens as well as multitasking is an absolute breeze. While performance is top notch, we did have an occasional hiccup as the phone would catch its breath, before resuming normal dazzling speeds. Samsung’s TouchWiz UX may be superquick and all of that, but it doesn’t really look all that fancy. Beneath the glossiness that they’ve given it, lies a stark and glum feel that could definitely do with better colour schemes.
The S III clearly leads in the benchmarks
The main section where the Galaxy S III blows the competition out of the water is the synthetic benchmarks. Quadrant, which is a CPU, I/O and 3D graphics benchmark, gave the S III a mammoth score of 5419, close to 750 points ahead of the One X. NenaMark 2, an OpenGL benchmark gave the S III a score of 58.8 fps, beating the One X’s 47.2 fps. The Lava Xolo X900 that we reviewed earlier came in at a close third position. The advantage of using the Exynos chipset is a clear advantage for the S III over its rivals, as they slowly chug along at the back, while it blazes off ahead. The complete list of benchmarks can be viewed below.
This is one area where Samsung never disappoints and the S III passes this test in flying colours. Let’s talk about the most important aspect of the music and video playback and that's the sound quality. Samsung have chosen the Wolfson WM1811 audio DAC, which is a huge step up from the Yamaha chip used in the S II and is nearly as good as the one used in the Galaxy S and the Nexus S (Wolfson WM8994). The only real difference between the DAC in the S III and the S is that it has 1x stereo DAC, instead of two and a 2x 2W speaker amp, instead of 2x 1W. However, this shouldn’t impact the audio quality at all, as it supports a sampling rate of 44,100Hz, so music is handled directly by the DAC without any software upsampling. Also, if we’re lucky, Supercurio will add the the S III to his VooDoo Control Plus app, which would be the proverbial icing on the cake.
Samsung still rules in audio and video playback
Okay, getting back to the music player, Samsung has used a different skin for their Nature UX UI, which we quite like. It looks slick and is functional as well. Like before, you can sort your music via albums, artists, folders, etc., and a new addition, called Music Square scans all your songs in your library and then groups them according to mood, which are ‘Exciting’, ‘Joyful’, ‘Calm’ and ‘Passionate’. Let’s say you’re in the mood for some up tempo music and a bit of lounge as well, you simply highlight the squares around ‘Exciting’ and a few around ‘Calm’ for a mix of both. This will work well provided you have all your songs categorized under the right genre. There are plenty of equalizer presets present as well, including a 7.1 channel surround mode. To be honest, you won’t really need any of them, since the DAC automatically produces rich and highly detailed sound.
A very good video player
The video player supports MP4, MKV and everything in between. Samsung has beefed up their video player with every codec under the sun and anything and everything just plays, flawlessly. 1080p video just works and their new Pop up play feature works as advertised. We’re not too sure how useful it will actually be in everyday use, but it’s a good option to have. You also have the option to share the video, edit it, view it by chapters or stream the audio via Bluetooth.
The new Galaxy is a quad-band GSM handset with quad-band 3G support and has Wi-Fi with hotspot capabilities and Wi-Fi Direct, GPS with A-GPS support and GLONASS, USB OTG, DLNA, external storage upto 64GB, Bluetooth 4.0, TV out via MHL and NFC, which covers all your connectivity options. Call reception has been handled pretty well and in our test call, the reciepent could hear our voice crystal clear. The speaker is loud enough to help you out, if you’ve got a lot of background noise. The stock keyboard is good enough to get the job done and the host of third party keyboards, along with the large screen ensure that typing in portrait mode is done without any typos.
Plenty of connectivity and gesture controls
Browsing through image heavy websites didn’t pose problems of any kinds, as panning and zooming was smooth and lag free. Needless to mention, the stock browser supports flash. Social networking integration has been handled extremely well and Samsung’s social tagging feature did recognize and instantly tag our subject. Our outdoor tests proved that GPS locking was prompt and quick. Overall, the Galaxy S III is equipped with everything you’d need to communicate efficiently with your outside world.
Samsung may have gone a bit overboard with their new ‘S’ moniker for all their gesture-based features but hey, if Apple can do it, then why not Samsung. First and foremost is S Voice, a Siri-like voice assistant with the only difference being, S Voice will actually obey your command and it gets it right almost every time. This was much better than what Siri was capable of, at least with Indian accents. However, we’re dedicating another article to that for a fair comparison. As mentioned earlier, Social tag lets you quickly tag people in your photos, provided they are in your phonebook. The software also learns faces and after tagging Karan in two photos, the third time it automatically presented a small bubble under the photo asking if that’s the same subject it tagged earlier. Once confirmed, you can send the photo in an e-mail to the person or persons in the photo.
'S' features are fun but not essential
Direct call is another neat feature that lets you instantly call someone, while typing a message by just placing the phone to your ear. Smart stay uses the front camera, along with the sensors to keep the screen on for as long as you're looking at it. This didn’t really seem to work all that well, as the screen would dim after looking away and back again at the phone. We will be investigating this over the course of the next few weeks, but for now, it’s not something ‘I-must-have’ on my next phone. Smart alert is something, which simply notifies you through a light vibration, if you pick up your phone after a while and have pending messages or missed calls.
Almost-boderless screen is quite an achievement
Other gesture-based features, include muting music and alarm by placing your hand over the screen, taking a screenshot by gracing your palm over the screen, tilt-to-zoom in the gallery. Samsung has also added their own suite of apps, like S Memo, S Suggest, All Share Play for DLNA, Chat On, along with the default list of Google apps.
The Galaxy S III comes equipped with an 8MP camera with an LED flash and we put it through its paces in a couple of indoor and outdoor tests. An interesting bit is that Samsung is using the same Sony BSI (Backside Illumination) sensor, as the one on the iPhone 4S! We’ll have a separate shootout between those too soon, but for now, here’s how the Samsung S III fared.
Easy to use interface
In outdoor shots, the colours appeared rich on the SGS III. Sometimes the shots were pretty bright as well, but bright isn’t a synonym of natural and some of the images turned out to be slightly over saturated. Nothing the average user would immediately notice, but if you’re using this is as your premier photo snapping device, then you’ll see the difference, eventually. We managed a burst mode test between the One X and the S III that can be viewed here. Also, for more camera samples, please head to the last page.
Manages decent macro shots
On the same topic, it’s worthy to mention that the S III doesn’t automatically activate burst mode when the shutter button on the screen is pressed, a feature we loved using on the One X. Also, some focussing issues prevented us from getting the desired result in burst mode. However, the macro mode on the S III simply wowed us. From being able to capture an ant on a flower, to a wasp just settling on a leaf, the macro mode did bring out that extra bit in every image, as compared to the ho-hum images we captured with the other smartphones. For indoor and low-light shots, the single LED flash does a decent job at capturing the subject, as long as it’s not too far away from the camera. For example, the gold watch in the images was shot in complete darkness with only the single LED flash illuminating the subject. The 2MP front camera is good enough for video calling. Head over to the next page to check out our shots with the S III’s rear camera.
1080p video recording at 30fps is supported and there’s good amount of image stabilization, if you’ve got shaky hands. Slight colour banding was noticed when we moved from darker to lighter backgrounds and vice versa. That’s not really a major concern, though and the Galaxy S III is a worthy device to use to capture life’s special moments.
Removable battery is a big boon and so is the microSD card slot
The Samsung Galaxy S III comes with a 2100mAh battery, which is close to the 2500mAh battery in the Note. Now, we didn’t have enough time to finish our usual fleet of battery tests in time for this review, but during our usage, which included heavy use of music, games, video, Wi-Fi, a couple of calls and a lot of burst mode - the Galaxy S III easily lasted us for a day. Remember that it does have a quad-core CPU and the AMOLED screen eats up battery pretty quickly, if you have a lot of white colour on the display. The phone also tends to get warm after extensive use of the camera, but not as hot as the One X. The battery life was better than the One X hands down.
Samsung has priced their flagship offering at 43,180, however actual retail pricing is closer to 38,900. This is still a little bit more expensive compared to the HTC One X, although the latter has been in the market for a while longer. Once things normalize, it should be on par. Now for the million dollar question, which one do you buy? While this is best left up to a grudge match (also coming up soon), we’d have to put our money on the HTC One X and here’s why - the S III is excellent when it comes to media playback and benchmarks, not forgetting battery life as well, but these are some of the areas where it really excels and leaves the competition behind. In the real world, Tegra 3 is every bit as good as Exynos 4 Quad, as far as app access and overal functionality go. We really doubt you’ll able to tell any difference unless you look real close.
The rest of the features and performance, while high on the scale aren't impressive enough to deviate our choice from the One X over the S III. It doesn't really have anything that would make us run out to a store and buy it. The Nokia PureView has the 41MP camera, the One X has an amazing burst mode, the Xperia S, once again is brilliant at macro shots and here we have the Galaxy S III whose highlight is a bunch of random gesture and voice-based programs and the fact that it's designed for humans. You see our point? There’s no singular feature that’s captivating enough for us to wholeheartedly recommend this phone. We feel Samsung have bitten off a bit more than they they can chew, which could be the undoing for the Galaxy S III.
- Display Size and resolution - 4.8-inches, 1280 x 720
- Display Type - Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, Gorilla Glass 2
- Processor - Quad-core 1.4GHz Exynos 4 Quad
- OS version out of the box - Android OS, v4.0.4
- On-Board Memory - 16GB, microSD support for up to 64GB
- Net connectivity options - 3G, EDGE, GPRS, Wi-Fi
- USB Connectivity - Yes (Standard micro USB) with USB-on-the-go
- GPS Software - Yes, with A-GPS support, GLONASS
- Bluetooth - Yes, v4.0+HS
- NFC Support - Yes
- Camera Resolution - 8MP, LED Flash
- Secondary Camera - 2 MP for Video calling, Self Portrait
- Video Recording - Yes, 1080p@30fps
- FM Radio - Yes
- AV Out Option - Audio/Video Out via MHL
- Noise Cancellation - Yes
- Price - 43,000
Captures good detail
The ant is clearly visible
Depth of field
Indoors, without flash
With flash in complete darkness