Review: Samsung Galaxy S III (T-Mobile)

 

The mobile space is an interesting area. The price of decent to excellent hardware is going to cost somewhere in the $500 mark for base level models and at the same time, the processing power is leagues below mid to high level laptops and desktops.

Or at least that’s what we thought until the Samsung Galaxy S III showed up on our door.

Let us put a thought out on the table from now, just so that everyone is on the same page. This is easily in the top 5 for fastest phones ever released to the public. There’s so much computational power in this phone that current software won’t pose any problems unless coded poorly and that the future for smartphones is so bright, we’re all going to have to wear shades.

DESIGN

1 of the 7 homescreens on the GS III. The background features the Tyranny of King Washington

Let’s start with the outside of this phone and do a walk around. The GS III comes packing a 4.8 inch, 1270 x 720 resolution screen with Super AMOLED technology. That gives it a pixel density of 303ppi. That might be just under the iPhone 4S and 5, but it’s still damn good. The screen is very bright and noticeably clear. And with all of that screen real estate, it should be. On the front, one of the first things that we noticed was that the entire face of the phone is covered in a single piece of glass, save for the single button at the bottom and the speaker at the top. It’s nice to know that points of entry for dust have been severely limited, but it also means more glass that can get scratched or even worse- cracked. Even though the glass is Gorilla Glass (which is made by Corning) the GS III should still be handled with care.

Handling carefully is easier said than done, however. The back and sides of the phone are very glossy and nearly as smooth as the glass front. The material for the back and sides are pure plastic and surprisingly scratch resistant. Not that we’ve taken razor blades and and sandpaper to see how tough it is, but after using it daily for the past few weeks. with no case or screen protector (which is blasphemy; every phone needs those things) it looks sharp. A quick buff with an eye glass cleaning cloth and it would be hard to tell that this phone wasn’t factory fresh. Your mileage will vary and we suggest that you not push your luck- buy a case.

As much as we like having the screen releastate, the GS III has just crossed the line of what we consider wieldly. Obviously, this isn’t in the same category as a “phablet” (as apropos as it is, we truly despise that word) but it does pose a bit of a challenge for one-handed use. We  found ourselves having to shimmy the phone up and down to get from the very top of the screen to the home button. For a frame of reference, I can palm a basketball and I still have to do the shimmy.

The Galaxy S III has only four buttons (technically 2 buttons and a rocker switch). There’s the power button on the upper right hand side, the Home button on the bottom center, and the volume rocker on the upper left hand side. The power and volume buttons were easy to hit, even when not looking at them. We wish we could say the same about the home button, as it sits nearly flush with the glass front. Not only that, but the home button is eerily similar to the earpiece on the front as it’s the same width and same location from the closest edges, just on the opposite sides of the phone. Needless to say, there were a few times in the dark that we found ourselves holding the phone upside down (like n00bs) trying to find the home and/or power button. To the left and right of the home button are haptic feedback buttons for menu and back.

On the top is where it seems that there’s the most happening, even though the bottom front is really where all the business happens. The front has the RGB color notification LED on the left of the earpiece and the light sensors and front facing camera to the right of the earpiece. Notifications are red for charging, green for social media, and blue for all other notices as far as we’ve seen. We’ve never been fans of blue LEDs in tech as they’re always blindingly bright, and the GS III is no exception. Those shades you picked up to look into the future with will also come in handy while checking your email.

Out back, the LED camera flash, main camera, and external speaker are hanging out on the top of the phone. Along the top edge is the 3.5mm audio jack and another small cut-out which is for removing the back panel. The back panel is all plastic and very thin and flimsy feeling.  For being the flagship phone, we would have like to see this panel be made out of some type of metal. The GS III’s structural rigidity mostly comes from the glass front, so having a glass back wouldn’t have made a stiffness difference. The big difference it would have made is in the feel of the phone. The phone is so light that it can feel cheap or like it’s missing something. Having a metal back would have added just enough weight to give it a premium, iPhone-like feel. We all have a feeling, that’s who Samsung is positioning the GS III against.

FEATURES

The Samsung Galaxy S III comes packed with features that make the unit a stand-out device. Unfortunately, some of those features make the phone stand out like that painfully socially awkward kid you knew in high school with the self-cut hair and braces that gave him a speech impediment (now that kid is just a hipster). Well, even though that’s a bit overboard, there are some software choices on the GS III that had us scratching our heads and then deleting them when possible while others we couldn’t see ourselves living without. The real mystery for us was discerning whether a feature was inherent to Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) or an add-on from Samsung and their TouchWiz UI.

Let’s start with what the GS III gets right. The very first thing that anyone using and Android phone encounters is the lock screen. Plain and simple in its function, most users are either swiping across or in a simple pattern to gain access to the phone. The GS III makes great use of this screen by giving users the ability to access the notification shade, up to 4 apps of the user’s choice, and S-Voice. Having the shade accessible without unlocking your phone is a huge help as it not only contains all notifications, but also quick access to common settings like mute and airplane mode along with full access to all settings via a small gear icon under the quick settings. It should be noted that this ease of access is only available on lower security settings like Swipe and Motion. At higher security levels like the pattern that most Android users have become accustom to, access is limited to the 4 apps selected at the bottom only.

Speaking of the shade, it’s been given a new little tweak – the ability to dismiss individual notifications. Let’s say you posted an awesome picture to Instagram and had it push that image to Facebook and Twitter and you’re waiting on a text and email from 2 different people. You can swipe the alerts related to Instagram away while waiting for the important stuff to come in and keep the notification light off until it’s a serious alert.

Once inside the phone, there are the obvious apps that Samsung added that, for the most part, start with the letter S or have the word Samsung in them. They are as follows:

 

– S-Voice: Samsung’s answer to Siri

– AllShare Play- Samsung’s wireless sharing super client.

– Game Hub – Samsung sanctioned games

– Kies Air- ” A mobile app which enables Wi-Fi device-to-device connections and browser based management”

-Media Hub -A very Netflix-like service for streaming media

– S Memo – A Samsung note taking app

– Samsung Apps – Samsung’s very own app market place.

In all honesty, the majority of the apps listed above won’t ever be used more than once. That one time will be to see what they actually are. The only ones we see being of real value are S-Voice and AllShare Play. Like we said earlier, S-Voice is the Samsung version of Siri, but not as robust. While S-Voice  ca look things up on the internet and look up contacts, it cant directly take dictation. For instance, you won’t be able to bring up S-Voice and say “text John” then dictate out the text message. You will have to go into the message app, bring up the message thread for that person, bring up the keyboard, tap the microphone icon to the left of the space bar, then dictate. While that’s not actually as long as it sounds, it’s still much longer than reading and responding to S-Voice. Yes, that’s right, S-Voice doesn’t actually talk back. Instead it responds with message bubbles.  Wow-factor minus 1.

The Allshare Play functions can be useful, but it’s really going to depend on your (or your friends’) preference for electronic makers. AllShare Play let’s the GS III share media between other Samsung devices wirelessly. Do you remember the commercials where people are passing an animation of a torch by touching the back of the phones to each other? That’s one of this app’s functions. It can also share media wirelessly with other Samsung AllShare devices and have them display the media. We’ve seen this in action demoed and it does seem like it would be a very handy party feature. The main downfall of it is that it requires a higher-end Samsung TV (2011 or newer Series 7000 or 8000 sets).

There are some features of the UI that need to be discussed. While the overall UI is visually striking, there are some slight issues that we would have liked handled differently. For starters, the TouchWiz UI comes with 7 home-screens  which we love. The problem is that towards the bottom there are 7 dots, one always lit brighter than the rest, that represent which home-screen is active. The breathing room given to the row is astronomical. There’s enough room around the dots that  one could easily fit an icon in that area. In most any other situation, this even wouldn’t be worth discussing, but given the size of the screen, it’s a waste of screen real-estate. What we would have like to seen is something like the Launcher Pro or ADW Launcher where the home-screen dots are placed to the left and right of the bottom dock.

PERFORMANCE

Looking at the state of Android users, they can easily be split into 2 camps. On one side, there are users who will buy this phone (or any other phone) on hype/recommendation and just use it out of the box. On the other side of the spectrum, we have the internet’s and media’s idea of what an Android user is- someone that poke and prods under the hood and will swap out the software (and run the risk of breaking their phone) for what are seemingly arbitrary reasons. Don’t worry, we support you, Rooters

Speaking of rooting, as of writing there are already more choices than one can shake a stick at in terms of rom choices. The specs of the GS III are drool worthy and would make almost anyone want to root this phone. Like we stated earlier, the phone comes with a 4.8 inch screen. but the really lust-worthy parts are under the hood. A 1.5ghz, dual-core ARMv7 processor is paired with 2GB of RAM to provide an amazingly swift experience.

We’d like to clarify one thing before moving on. There is more than one version of this phone. We know what you’re probably thinking and it might sound something like ” Thanks, Captain Obvious. We were totally unaware that each carrier didn’t have their own iteration of the GS III”. While that is true, that’s not what we wanted to stress. You see, outside of the American and European versions, there’s a mythical unicorn of the GS III called the “International” edition. This international iteration (model i9300)  looks the same as its English-language cousin, but is sporting 3 major differences. One, the processor is a 1.4Ghz CORTEX A-9 quad -core processor (QUAD-FREAKING-CORE!). Another is that the RAM is reduced to 1GB and the last is that it doesn’t support the radio frequency needed for full 4GLTE . That last one is usually the deal-breaker for most people, so shop carefully.

Under the battery is the micro-sim card (right) and the Micro-SD card (left) slot. Memory is expandable to 32GB,

Going back to this version of the phone, performance is pretty mind-boggling. Unless there was serious gaming to be done with a number of apps already open, we couldn’t get this phone to lag.  The one and only time we did get a spot of lag was while playing Third Blade and then realizing that we already had 8 other apps open. As soon as we closed the unnecessary apps, all but 3, things went back to playing smooth as silk.

For the number guys and gals out there, here are the benchmark numbers that we came up with. For the record we ran 2 benchmark programs, Antutu Benchmark and Linpack for Android. The former tests all major components of the phone, from CPU, to memory, to GPU, to even the battery (as a separate test). The latter stresses the computational power of the device only.

AnTuTu Benchmark pulled a score of 6807 out of the Galaxy S III, which is a fairly impressive number given that there are only a handful of devices that even come close to that number  The only devices that come in with higher scores are all packing quad-core processors, so this is as good as it gets in the land of dual-cores.

On the Linpack side of things, the Galaxy SIII pulled a 181.949 in the multi-thread test. Just like with AnTuTu, this is as good as it gets with a dual core processor. The only scores we saw that were higher all came from quad-core devices.

Performance isn’t all about speed. You need endurance too and the GS III has the battery power to go the distance. The 2100Mah capacity of the battery might only seem like a decent amount, but believe us, this battery will see  you through a long time. On average we were going 2 full days of moderate use before ending up with a dead phone. To really test the battery, we put on a movie from the SD card and let it loop until the phone shutdown. The GS III lasted an astonishing 7 hours and 28 minutes. It might not be the exact 8 hours talk-time advertised, but it’s definitely close enough.

You might not think of the camera as a performance part, but in all honesty it’s one of the first considerations people make when making a choice about a new smartphone. How well a phone can capture our memories is a factor big enough to make a clunker phone shine.

Like the physical design of this phone, Samsung has gone through great pains to make sure the camera on the Galaxy S III is amazing. The shots are amazingly clear and the color reproduction is fairly accurate. For the record, we’re talking about the 8.0 megapixel rear facing camera right now. The front-facing, 1.9 megapixel camera is adequate, but if any of you remember the beginning days of consumer-grade digital photography, then you’ll definitely remember how not-stellar those pics were. For reference, here is a shot of what the GS III can do:

Samsung Galaxy S III Sample pic 1. Click to see the full size picture.

CONCLUSION

The Samsung Galaxy S III represents a big, bold, and beautiful new chapter in the continuing saga of Android. It has a great design, useful features and amazing performance. The included apps are the biggest detriment to this phone, and they can be deleted. If you’re in the market for a new phone, there’s no reason to not consider the Galaxy S III.

Most carriers have it for $199 plus a new 2-year contract. Off contract, you’re mileage will vary, but we’ve seen it for around $550  brand new(*cough* *newegg* *cough*). If that’s still too high, well, there’s always Craigslist.

 

 

The Marduk Rating:

 Purchase

 Click here to read more about our rating system.