The Samsung Galaxy S III is one of the biggest smartphones of 2012, and for that we’ve decided to do something a little different for the review. Instead of a conventional review, a special device such as this deserves special treatment; the ‘review’ will be a multi-part and in-depth look at both the hardware and the software.
The Galaxy SIII is a cream-of-the-crop superphone, and so naturally it does of course have some direct competition in the form of HTC’s highly acclaimed One X. With very similar hardware at very similar (read: high) price points, they’ll be going head to head for top Android smartphone sales for the rest of 2012 – and we’ll be putting them head to head for this review. Mind you, we’ll still be concentrating mainly on the SIII – there is already plenty of information on the One X on the web, like James’ video review.
So, put the kettle on, pour yourself a cup of tea, and join us for the first part of our long hard look at Samsung’s latest and greatest.
What’s in the box:
- Samsung i9300 Galaxy SIII
- USB to micro USB cable
- Wall charger
- In ear headphones with inline remote (& rubber ear caps)
- Quick start guide
Watch the unboxing and hands-on video here.
The ten second review:
- Device: Samsung GT-i9300 Galaxy S III
- Price: £499 sim free, from free on contract
- Summary: The most powerful and feature rich Android smartphone to date, with a gigantic screen
- Best of: Do-it-all no-compromise speed, beautifully crisp large screen, excellent camera
- Worst of: May be too large for some people, that’s about it.
- Buy it now: Sim free from Clove, available on contract from all networks
- Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich with TouchWiz UI
- Samsung Exynos 4212 Quad-core processor @ 1.4GHz (Cortex-A9)
- 1GB RAM, Mali 400MP graphics
- Quadband GSM, GPRS & EDGE, quadband HSPA (21Mbps up, 5.76Mbps down)
- Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hotspot
- NFC, Android beam, S Beam
- Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, EDR
- GPS, with A-GPS and GLONASS support
- micro USB with MHL, USB on-the-go
- Height: 136.6mm
- Width: 70.6mm
- Depth: 8.6mm
- Weight: 133g
- Super AMOLED 4.8″ touchscreen, 720×1280 resolution, 306 ppi
- Gorilla Glass 2 display
- 16/32/64GB internal storage, external microSD slot up to 64GB w/ exFAT support
- 8 megapixel camera, with 1080p @30fps video recording, 1.9MP 720p front facing camera
- Accelerometer, gyroscope, RGB sensor, proximity sensor, compass, barometer
- RGB notification light
- FM Radio with RDS
- Micro-SIM support
- S-Voice, Smart Stay eye tracking, 50GB Dropbox storage (2yrs)
- Available in Pebble Blue or Marble White
We’ll start with the usual quick tour around the phone – at the top there’s the usual 3.5mm headphone jack and a small hole where the secondary mic lives, used for background noise cancellation during voice calls. Between them is a narrow notch where your fingernail peels off the back cover – yes it’s removable – to reveal the battery, the micro SIM and the micro SD slots.
Over on the left there’s a clicky volume rocker and nothing much else. Although the One X has its volume rocker on the opposite side, it makes virtually no difference at all as you’d get used to it easily.
On the bottom there’s a micro USB port in the middle for charging and syncing with a computer, and another hole to the side for the microphone.
The power button has its own side, the right hand side, all to itself. It has been Samsung’s style over the past couple of years to have the power/lock button the side instead of the more conventional position at the top (a la on the One X). Personally I do prefer this on larger phones such as the SIII as my index finger can’t actually reach the top of the device comfortably in my usual one handed grip, and I don’t have short fingers. While the One X has a lock switch on the top, it is not a dealbreaker as such – only a slight inconvenience especially if you have smaller hands. The best thing to do is go try it out for yourself on the High Street – these are big phones after all.
Next we’ll have a look at its backside. In the middle, there’s a very slight protruding hump where the 8MP camera rests, with an LED flash to the left and the speaker grill to the right. If you’re coming from its predecessor, the Galaxy SII, their placements are definitely an improvement. The sound would get muffled on the SII due to the speaker being on the hump at the bottom. With the SIII, there is no such ‘reverse chin’, but there is still lump for the camera module – it’s about the same height, only smaller as its just for the camera and not the flash too. Below that is just a familiar chrome Samsung logo.
Flipping it over to the front reveals the major selling point for the Samsung’s newest superphone. The display is a 4.8 inch Super AMOLED unit, making it just very slightly larger than the 4.7″ on the One X. And just to illustrate just how large it is, an iPhone display is 3.5″. In fact, the entire face of the iPhone 4 will nearly fit inside the screen of the SIII. Only the iPhone’s extra height stops it; the width is more than enough to swallow the iPhone. However, while many will tell you that size matters, there are other factors too that make up a great screen – we’ll go into detail with later later on.
Above it you’ll see a multicolour notification light that blinks orange while charging, green when charged, and blue for notifications. While there isn’t currently any way to customise it, as far as I can tell it’s an RGB unit so there will be an app or tweak sooner or later to change that. In the middle is a chrome speaker grill, a variety of sensors, and the front facing camera for video calls, face unlock, and doing your hair.
Below it you’ll find the familiar Samsung arrangement of buttons. Despite Google’s push to on screen buttons in Android 4.0, the SIII sticks with a hardware home button flanked by menu and back touch buttons respectively.
- Adam Raymond asks “when you were using the handset did you notice any defects, like those described as responsible for the delay?” The issues that I’ve heard about were regarding the “Hyperglaze” finish on the Pebble Blue version rubbing off easily or already partially rubbed off straight out of the box, and so far the one I have been using has been fine. It still looks as good as new, though obviously I haven’t been able to use it for long. I would say that you shouldn’t be worried about receiving a defective unit as Samsung are aware of this QC issue and are fixing it. Return policies for mobiles should also allow you to get a free replacement should you find yourself with a defective unit.
- Phil G asks “The rumours are that the camera on the HTC One X is far superior to the one on the Samsung Galaxy SIII and that battery life on the SIII is much better than the One X, could these be checked out please Vince.” To answer your question more fully, and to see some results and comparisons for yourself, they’ll be a dedicated section to the cameras of the two phones. What I will say now briefly is that they both have excellent cameras and one is not far superior to the other. In my opinion the Galaxy SIII just wins out overall, but the One X definitely comes close; it depends on what is most important to you – image quality or speed or software features etc. The battery life is consistently better on the Galaxy SIII but then again I have only tested them both on automatic brightness. As the SIII decides to have a considerably lower brightness in all conditions, I am not surprised it’s better. I’m working on some fairer battery comparisons for the coming sections, so hang in there.
Got a question? Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be sure to answer them in the coming parts of the review/comparison.
- Huge, beautiful display
- Unbelievably smooth thanks to the frankly ridiculous spec sheet
- Slim yet very comfortable to hold especially for its size
- New TouchWiz is one of the most unobtrusive skins out there right now
- Music player and audio quality
- Removable battery and microSD card slot
- Above average battery life
- Some of Samsung’s additions are actually useful
- Looks better than press images show it to be
- It may be slim and light, but it’s still a very big phone
- S Voice is pretty terrible
- Display has very saturated colours and a subtle blue tint – may not be to everyone’s taste
- Not much else!
Right from Samsung’s announcement that they were not going to be a major attraction at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the rumour mill for the successor to the ultra-popular Galaxy SII began churning faster and faster, revealing spy shots of what was supposedly the Galaxy SIII. What was interesting though was the case design – it showed what was Galaxy SIII hardware but in a body design that was a generic design in order to hide the final design precisely from this situation – a leak of prototype hardware. This had quite unexpected consequences however – the natural reaction was to assume that the design must be so radical or special in some way that it demanded Apple-esque levels of secrecy. Remember the leaked iPhone 4 in a 3GS shaped case?
So when the press event came along in May, the hype around the design reached the kind of level where not even a company the size of Samsung could live up to. The long awaited revealing of the first press images was met with an initial silence and then closely followed by a virtually unanimous sigh of disappointment from the of the technology world. Looking back, I was one of them – the design didn’t look that special at all – it was also constructed completely of plastic (on the outside at least) which was the number one complaint when both the original Galaxy S and the SII arrived.
The second cause of ‘disappointment’ was the colour options. The SIII comes in ‘Marble White’ or ‘Pebble Blue’. The white version is pretty much as you’d expect – if you like white phones, you’ll like a white SIII. The Pebble Blue version is a bit different though – the navy blue has a brushed aluminium texture, even though it’s plastic. While many consider faux textures distasteful, it is relatively subtle. Do I like it? I’m pretty much on the fence. It does make an otherwise boring expanse of solid colour more interesting, but it doesn’t exactly ooze premium quality like a £500 phone should. Of all the people I showed it to, it was a relatively split opinion – the best way to decide if it’s for you is to find one in the flesh to see for yourself.
However, having had the device in my hands to review, I have pretty much U turned on my opinion on the design. The original press images and also to an extent the hands on photos floating around the internet can’t seem to communicate what it really looks like; there’s something missing from pictures of the SIII that makes it look less appealing, which I can’t quite put my finger on.
But after having laid many a finger on the device, I can quite comfortably say that it is the best feeling phone to have in the hand that I can remember. It also looks much nicer, after just a few days of use, than when I first laid eyes on it. And now would be a good time to introduce the Dyson to this Hoover; HTC’s One X. In contrast to the SIII, the One X was lauded as an exceptionally beautiful device right from the get-go, and I totally agree. Placing the One X next to the SIII, it is, aesthetically, on another level. The One X is almost exactly the same size and manages to be functional in design yet looks absolutely stunning while doing so – and that’s no mean feat. It’s constructed from one piece of curved high quality matte polycarbonate, that flows effortlessly into the curved glass on the front. The One X will unquestionably go down in history alongside the HD2 as a design classic.
That’s quite some praise, and unfortunately (but not surprisingly) the Samsung Galaxy SIII can’t quite match it. So the One X comfortably draws first blood. But where the SIII fights back is in other areas of its design.
Ergonomics and design functionality
This is where the SIII begins to hit back on the One X. Let’s start with the ergonomics. Regardless of Samsung’s “designed for humans” marketing faeces (is the One X or [insert any device] designed for aliens Samsung?) it does sit in your hand much more comfortably than you’d expect it to. I’d go as far to say that it feels better and is easier to hold than an iPhone 4, which is a much smaller phone. This is thanks to the (very) rounded corners and the curved sides which rest better in your palm. All the curves contribute towards a device which edges out the One X on ergonomics, despite that being pretty curvy too.
The second area is the various design choices Samsung have made with the SIII. Firstly, the back cover. It’s removable on the SIII (and fixed on the One X) which means batteries can be replaced, SIM cards can be changed without a pin for the tray, and microSD cards can be added for expanded storage options. The back cover is of the same type of material as its predecessor – that is, a whisper thin sheet of plastic which uses hooks spread along the edge to attach onto the phone. It does feel precarious when removing it, but as long as you don’t fiddle too much with it and be careful not to roughly rip it off, it would easily outlive a contract term. If you are careful though, you can make use of the microSD slot to add up to 64GB (currently) of additional storage. So far, only the SIII version with 16GB internal storage has made it to the UK, so you’ll be looking at 80GB of total storage before formatting. In comparison, the UK HTC One X has 32GB of built in memory, but no card slot. The advantage of having a removable battery is obvious – you can swap out a new one when you’re too far from a charger. One thing to keep in mind when doing so – the NFC circuitry goes into the battery, so using third party batteries may not include NFC.
Let’s move on to something seemingly minor but has been annoying me, and that is the Android buttons below the screen. Both the One X and the SIII have not gone the way of the Galaxy Nexus with its purely on-screen buttons only. On the face of it, there’s nothing to see here – both phones have three buttons. The obvious difference is the home key – its a hardware button on the SIII, and a touch sensitive button on the One X. Touch buttons are so good nowadays there’s little difference, if any, between the two.
Where they do differ is what the buttons do – they both have a home and back button, but the third one on the One X is a dedicated multitasking button, and a more conventional menu key on the Samsung. This gives the One X an advantage in multitasking – you only have to tap that button rather than hold down the home button on the SIII. In Google’s app development guidelines, they are pushing for devs to phase out the home button, and replace it with an options icon at the top right of the screen instead. There are though – and there will be for the considerable future – apps which still use the menu button (in my experience, 90%+ of apps I use). This means that more often than not there is a grey bar at the bottom taking up considerable screen space which is only for one function, the menu button (demonstrated in the Twitter app below). While it is only a small bar at the bottom, if I bought a phone with a 4.7″ screen, I’d want to make good use every part of it.The SIII has a dedicated menu button, allowing non-ICS optimised apps to run using the whole screen. This problem is likely to fade over time as apps are updated to the Holo design language and negating the need for a dedicated menu button. But that will take quite some time, considering 4.0 runs on less than 10% of Android phones today.
Finally, a quick point about build quality. People are quick to say that the SIII and indeed previous Samsung phones have poor build quality due to their use of plastic in most if not all of the outer casing. There is an important distinction to be made though between build quality and build materials. When it comes to the materials, plastic doesn’t feel quite as nice in the hand as metal and glass (the One X comes exceptionally close though) but phones are not just objects of artistic design flair – they are also tools which need to stand up to the rough and tumble of daily life. For this, high quality polycarbonate plastic (as used in both phones) is superior – it takes knocks and scratches better; an opinion backed up by the fact that my SII has only some paint scuffs to show for the countless drops it has taken.
The overall design of both phones are brilliant, don’t get me wrong. It just seems to me that Samsung have understandably sacrificed some aesthetic design flair that exudes from the One X in order to fit in functional features such as a removable battery and a shape that is easier and much more ergonomic to hold. Which you prefer depends on your needs – if a removable battery or storage over 32GB is important to you then the SIII wins out, but otherwise HTC have crafted a winner with the One X’s design. Personally I’d have taken the One X when only considering aesthetic design, but I’d take the SIII when taking into account design as a whole. I am well aware that it’s a controversial choice, but I stand by the ‘function over form’ viewpoint. If only it had a hardware keyboard!
Apart from the Galaxy Note (which I refuse to call a phone anyway) both the One X and the SIII have the two of the largest displays on the market. If you’re used to watching movies on an iPhone sized display or similar, both of these phones will look like a cinema in comparison. The 4.8″ screen on the SIII is slightly bigger than the One X, which is also compounded by being able to use the whole screen in apps. But again, size isn’t everything. The other thing to consider is the resolution. Both run at 1280×720 giving the HTC a slight advantage when it comes to pixel density given its smaller screen. This can be ignored though, as technically they both fall into Retina territory and practically it’s virtually impossible to see any pixels. In practice, both play 720p and 1080p video like a dream.
The biggest difference is in screen technology. The SIII uses Samsung’s own Super AMOLED technology, seen in both the previous Galaxy S, Galaxy SII, Note, Nexus, and even Motorola’s Droid Razr. The benefits are truly black blacks, and eye popping colours – while some argue that it reproduces colour which is too saturated, virtually everyone agrees that it is quite astonishing. There is a downside though – there is a cold blue tint to what is being displayed. This is most noticeable with whites as they appear slightly blue. It is even more apparent when placed next to the One X which reproduces all colours much more accurately. Another downside is a very technical one: Samsung seemingly doesn’t yet have the technology to produce RGB Super AMOLED screens at this resolution. You may have noticed that the SII, its predecessor, is advertised as a Super AMOLED Plus. The lack of the ‘Plus’ with the SIII means that the pixels are arranged in a Pentile matrix. There is a ton of information and debate about RGB vs Pentile but when applied to the SIII, it is a non-issue. If you’re worried about the annoyingly jagged edges of letters and shapes, Although you can see it in the screen comparison shots above, I’m pleased to say that it is just not noticeable at all in daily use. The screens on both the One X and SIII are the two best screens you’ll find on any phone right now, and the differences between them, despite theoretical technicalities, are so minute that I guarantee you’ll be blown away by both of them – I certainly was. It’s a draw here.
Remember to come back tomorrow for part two of the epic Clash of the Titans!
Review by: Vince