Samsung Galaxy S3 Review
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S3?
Review by Damian Carvill
Up there alongside Tim Cook, Wings and Tito Vilanova, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is perhaps one of the most anticipated and difficult follow-up acts of recent times. The S2 was a game-changing phone for Samsung and became not only the leading Android phone of 2011 but also the world’s best-selling handset. Nokia and HTC have demonstrated how difficult it is to stay at the top of the smartphone market without constant innovation and slick marketing. So after months of speculation and rumour about what the S3 will look like and include, how has Samsung revamped it? Alongside an updated design, the Galaxy SIII is packed with innovation, is more intelligent and takes full advantage of Android’s 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich Operating System. Let’s dive right in and see what’s on offer…
Most notable with the Galaxy S3 are the changes in its shape, with more curvature to its edging. The central home button has grown wider and slimmer but remains the focal point of the phone’s face. At 4.8-inches, the screen is a full half inch larger than its predecessor and comes in a little bit bigger than the HTC One X. It positively dwarfs the 3.5-inch screen on the iPhone 4S, which has really fallen behind in the size stakes. The larger screen adds an extra 11mm to its length and 4.5mm to its width, which means that at 136.6mm, it is the longest handset in its range.
Running around the edge of the handset is a brushed metal-like strip housing the on button and volume control. The back of the phone is also smoother than the S2 and gone are the protruding ledge and camera lens areas, which makes it look much sleeker. Having said that, this smoothness on the back only highlights what I felt was quite a plastic feel of the phone. When taking off the back panel to insert your sim, SD card and the battery, it is quite flimsy, but of course this makes the handset incredibly light. At 133g it is 17g heavier than the S2 but a full 7g lighter than the iPhone 4S; a handset that is a full 21mm shorter.
As a complete unit, the S3 feels good in the hand and despite its considerable size, doesn’t feel bloated. It’s lightweight and the design is solid and sturdy. It immediately feels like a grown-up version of the S2 and sets a striking first impression.
Phone Set Up
With HTC and Sony Mobile launching solid new Android handsets in the first half of 2012, the pressure was beginning to build on Samsung to load the SIII with some attention-grabbing specs.
Its 1.4 GHz Cortex A9 quad-core processor makes this a super-quick handset, which Android’s 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich takes full advantage of. *Note that since writing this review, Samsung has rolled out the update to Android's latest Jelly Bean release.
Multi-tasking and multiple processes on the S3 positively sing along and make this one of the most rapid and responsive mobiles on the market. And Samsung has really taken advantage of this with what is effortless multi-tasking. For example, the S3 enables you to write text messages or thumb through your image gallery while watching video through its Pop up Play feature.
The central home button is straddled by illuminated menu and back buttons, replicating the S2’s set up. Holding down the home button brings up a list of your most recently used apps, while a double tap brings up Samsung’s equivalent of Siri, dubbed S-Voice, more of which to come later.
Samsung's marketing machine really went into overdrive pushing the S3's features, pointing out that it's not just a smart phone, it's more human. And while the S3 didn't quite become a human companion for me, I was impressed with the features that have been packed in.
Smart Stay makes use of the front-facing camera to sense when you are looking at the screen to make sure that it remains bright and easy to read. When you look away, the screen darkens. In theory, this should conserve your battery's life, however while I've been using the phone, Smart Stay has been quite inconsistent and a regular brightening and darkening of the display is probably just as much a drain on battery life.
S-Voice is Samsung's digital personal assistant, or their version of Siri if you like, and it works in a similar way. Launched with a double tap of the home button, it's integrated throughout the phone, providing voice activation for the camera, web browsing and playing music, among others.
I found that S-Voice generally picked up my commands well and apart from not recognising my wife's name - I need to call her 'Lee Chicago' to get through to her, it peformed well. On the whole, I think the manner in which it learns your preferences alongside the other quirky, personal touches make Siri more fun and interesting to use over S-Voice.
The S3 also features a quick sharing feature in the form of the S-Beam. This demonstrates Samsung's innovation at its best and continued desire for prefixing features with the letter S.
Simply put two S3's back-to-back and you can easily share content and large files. So the next time you're on holiday and want to share the photograph you've just taken, there's no need to use your data allowance or search for a wifi connection to send it across.
Camera & Video
While the 8MP camera that adorns the back of the S3 doesn't represent an improvement megapixel-wise over the S2, it has received an upgrade in terms of functionality and features. And these are all very impressive.
The shutter of last year's Galaxy Nexus introduced a zero lag time, which has now been adopted by the S3. Added to this is a multi-shot feature that enables you to take a burst of photographs in quick succession, allowing you to pick the best of the bunch. When I tried this out, the quality of each shot was somewhat dubious and I did get better results from taking a single snap.
Smile and facial detection are also enabled, and no doubt the yellow boxes that cover every face in every photo you take will become pretty annoying, however this is easily switched off.
Taking still photographs while simultaneously shooting a video was a feature introduced on the HTC One X and this is also available on the S3. The quality of the video is strong and records in 720 x 1280 - these look great when watching back on the Super AMOLED screen.
All the images taken in the accompanying gallery to the left have been taken with the Samsung Galaxy SIII and other than a reduction in size, none have been edited.
For a smartphone, I found the quality of photograph to be superb. Close up or at distance, the camera held up well, although I did come across some examples of lens flare and varying degrees of success with handling poor light conditions, however on the whole, I was impressed with the quality of photograph and ease of use.
Simply point the camera at your object, touch the screen to zoom in on a specific area and then hit the button to take the shot. This is all done on screen with no shooter button on the edge of the handset.
The S3's batter is a monster 2100mAh, which is needed to power the quad-core processor and 4.8-inch screen. The life of any smartphone battery is determined by how much you use it, and what functions you're using. And for this reason I got varied results from the S3's battery.
At the very least, I'd expect to get a full day from the battery, however at times, I had to begin limiting my use in order to conserve the battery.
A typical day, with the phone's alarm waking me up at 7am, would see me using the internet for maybe 20 minutes on and off, push email to two accounts, a couple of calls, the Twitter app on and off, WhatsApp and a number of text messages. By 7pm, the phone would be down to around the low 60% range. So not too bad.
However up the usage and you'll notice a difference. I took the S3 on a day trip and used it more often, including the camera. Having the huge screen on for lengthier periods of time for internet browsing saw its life drop dramatically.
About two hours of on/off internet usage, combined with camera and Instagram usage, two three minute phone calls, Twitter and email throughout the day resulted in the battery hitting 23% by 7pm. Certainly the train ride home made me limit my usage in order to have battery for phone calls.
But the beauty of the Samsung Galaxy SIII is that you can take off the backing and remove a spent battery and then replace it with a spare. Very few smartphones allow access to the battery, so even though the battery might not last a heavy day's usage, it can be simply replaced.
Read our article for tips on how to improve the battery life of a Samsung Galaxy S3.