In this review, I’m going to do things a little differently. I’m not going to talk about processors or RAM or even battery capacity as numbers and units: I’m going to describe exactly how the Galaxy S III is to use as a regular human being, in a normal life. If you’re seeking numbers, look them up; you won’t find them here. What you will find here is a review designed for humans.
First of all, I will cover the design and form of the S III, the things you notice before even turning it on. If you’ve heard or read anything about the S III it will probably have something to do with its size. You will have heard people comparing it to its larger, older brother the Note and may have been put off. From my experience with the Galaxy S III, I have to say that the size is not something which is hard to get used to. Despite using a phone with a three and a half inch screen before moving up to phones of this size, I have found it very easy to get used to the larger screen size. I had originally worried about the screen being too big to allow every corner to be reached, but now, after some hand position altering, I don’t find it to be a problem. The miniscule sacrifice for the much larger screen size which allows for much better interaction is worth it.
Aside from the size of the phone, the design of the S3 is very nice. The form as seen from the front is unlike most other phones on the market; the upper corners are less rounded than the lower ones. This allows the phone to fit snugly in the hand because of this. The rounded edges of the phone also make it easier to grip, though the gloss finish doesn’t help. The back of the phone is where the camera, flash and back speaker are held. It is almost flat, only curving up to meet the edges of the phone. These edges hold the volume buttons (left), the power button (right), the headphone jack (top) and the Micro USB port (bottom). On the front of the S3, a second speaker is found at the top beside the front-facing camera and two sensors. A notable design feature of the S3 that I really appreciate is the slightly raised screen – instead of stopping at a sharp edge, the design flows to connect the screen and back which makes for easier holding and, simply, a better feel.
At the very bottom of the phone, at the front, three buttons can be found – two are capacitive and one is a physical push button: on the far left is the Menu button, one of the capacitive ones; next to it is the physical Home button; and next to that is the capacitive Back button. To be perfectly honest, the button choice and placement are two of the things that I don’t like about the Samsung Galaxy S III. Firstly, the Menu button is depreciated and no longer the prefered method for interacting with the software Samsung chose to put on the phone, Android. This is only the first issue. The fact that the S3 uses physical buttons (it’s irrelevant whether they’re capacitive or push buttons) is also not compliant with the newer version of Android the phone uses; virtual software buttons are recommended. The third comment I have about the buttons relates to the positioning of the volume buttons. Because of their position in relation to the power button, I found myself often pressing all three keys – volume up, down and power – when I only intended to click one. This caused me to lock the phone while watching videos a few times which wasn’t the hardest problem to resolve, but also wasn’t a good experience. The final thing I would have prefered was done differently with the Samsung Galaxy S III would be the addition of a physical camera button – given that the S3 is touted as being one of the best smartphones for the photo-lovers amongst us, I’d have thought this would have been an obvious move.
Speaking of the Galaxy S3’s camera… it’s awesome. Well, not awesome: not truly awe-inspiringly amazing, but it takes photos that are considerably better than the average smartphone; even better than other top-end smartphones. Now, I know that cameras are one of the most spec-oriented parts of a phone, but I intend to break that tradition. So, to sum this camera up, I have a description and a few photos directly from the phone. First, I’d like to cover the general quality of the photos. As I said, they’re above average quality and, when sufficient light is available, they are extremely sharp. The colours, too, are fantastic. The photo of my camera below shows this very well; the green text on the lens just pops out of the picture, for me anyway. In the photo of the orange flowers as well (don’t ask me to name it, all I know is that it’s probably not quad-core) you can see the contrast is very nice. It’s almost as if it’s a HDR photo. The only issue I have is that when you zoom into photos too far, there is significant distortion and not pixelation but blurring of the images when viewing them on the phone. This isn’t an issue when you share your photos, but it does make reviewing them slightly less enjoyable. Back to the camera: low light shots are impressive, though not as good as other phones on the market. This is one of the areas that has been hard for a smartphone’s camera to do well in for some time, so what I can say is that the S3 will be no worse than other phones, discounting the Nokia Lumia 920, of course.
And now, here are 7000 words (in the form of pictures):
The screen of the S3 is another of its defining features. The resolution of the display is very impressive, creating sharp images with almost no noticeable pixels, even if you look very closely. The colours the screen produces are accurate and well saturated. The size of the screen and its aspect ratio make it perfect for watching videos; the performance in this area is very nice, especially considering that the screen can display true HD video. It is perfectly bright enough battle the sunlight of summer and, though it is quite reflective, the image stay’s clear in direct light.
The battery of the S III is one of the things I said I wouldn’t cover with numbers and units, but in way I’m going to do exactly that. The fact that it has a 2100mAh battery means nothing to the average person, so I’ll use the standard hour as my unit. In the course of reviewing the S3, I found it performed well in run-down tests and during normal use it lasted well over a full day. But, as is unfortunately normal with smartphones, it will need to be charged at least once every twenty-four hours if you’d like to get as much as two full days out of it. One thing I would like to note is that the standby time of the phone is very, very good – I fully believe it could last the quoted 790 hours if there were no apps running in the background.
Now that I’ve covered the physical qualities of the Galaxy S III, I’ll move onto the software that powers it. The S3 runs a version of Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich. This isn’t the latest version available to use, but this isn’t the biggest problem with it, in my opinion. While this may just be the inner geek within me talking, I must say that I always find myself disappointed to find that phone manufacturers have let their various committees tediously lure the software experience from its pure Android beginnings to the badly customised ends of the road like we see on the S3. Samsung have chosen to call their customisations Touchwiz Nature UX. Even I can see that’s a few too many Xs and Zs for normal English language. To sum up my thoughts on Touchwiz in two words, I would have to say: “Ruins Android.”
Again, this is just my geek side talking, so I think I should highlight a few of the things that Samsung has done well on the software side of the S3. One thing that is surfaced well on the S3 is social connections within the Contacts app: the app shows which social networks you are connected to each contact on and allows you to interact with them on each of them. Another interesting feature of the Contacts app is the ability to quickly swipe left to message someone or right to call them. This is both subtle and nice. Another area that the SGS3 adds nicely to is the — actually, there isn’t much more that impresses me within the software of the phone. As I said it’s unnecessarily customised and doesn’t add to the experience: for a geek, it detracts from it, but I shouldn’t imagine it’d be a problem for most users.
A feature Samsung advertised heavily when promoting the S3 was Smart Stay. This is supposed to allow the device to track a face in front of it and keep the screen powered on while it detects one. Unfortunately, my experience with this particular feature was not as idyllic as the father’s depicted in Samsung’s ad. The phone didn’t even recognise my face. And to clarify, it was most definitely turned on, and my face isn’t that unrecognisably human – at least I’d hope not.
The Siri competitor installed on the S3, named S-Voice simply to follow the tradition of adding the first letter of the company’s name to an emotionless noun, is also disappointing. The few times it actually managed to connect to the service, the transcriptions were inaccurate. I even tested them against Siri and Google Now and found the latter to be best, followed by Apple’s option. This is just one of the many examples I found of the Samsung Galaxy S III’s software letting it down. It is dysfunctional, half-baked and, frankly, shouldn’t exist.
Another of these, perhaps the most discreet yet annoying, is Samsung’s choice to include a colossal collection of unneeded, unwanted and incredibly irritating sounds in the S3: but don’t worry, they were inspired by nature. I don’t know about you, but I tend not to appreciate blaring water droplets colliding with the surface of a pool of water whenever I touch my phone. I can feel when I touch my phone without the help of a rushing river of water making the oddest of noises to tell me so, whatever Samsung may think. The only way I can think to describe it effectively enough is that it is like watching a novelty, comedic game of tennis in which the sound of each hit of the ball is replaced with a ridiculous alternative that has no place there. Anyway, there is a way to turn it off, but I question why it was added and why any time whatsoever was spent on it in the first place.
Now that I’ve got those rants over and done with, I’ll talk about a few of the little features Samsung has added to the S III that I have actually chosen to use and enjoyed. The first of these is gestures. Samsung has added a few smart gestures that allow you to use the S3 in a more natural, intuitive way. A few examples of these are: when reading a text message, you can just pick the phone up to your ear and it will call the person you were texting with; placing two fingers on a photo then tilting the phone zooms in and out; tapping the top of the phone twice in specific apps (two of them are listed as being compatible) jumps to the top of lists; turning the phone over silences any incoming calls or notification sounds. A few of these are very useful and practical, but others seem unnecessary. Anyhow, I’m thankful for the addition of the few that improve the user experience. Again, these can be turned off one-by-one so if you don’t like one gesture, but do like another, it’s easy enough to customise things to your liking. This is one thing Samsung has generally done well with the phone: they’ve give settings.
Moving on to the second of the features I’ll highlight: Pop up Play. This is a simple but useful feature which Samsung has added to allow videos to be viewed outside of the Gallery app. With the tap of a button, you can shrink a video into a different, pop-up window which can be freely positioned around the screen whilst carrying out other actions behind it. This provides a tiny but notable step towards multi-window mobile multitasking.
The final feature I’ll share here is S-Beam (again with the naming scheme, Samsung). This is essentially a rebranding of Android Beam, but with the addition of WiFi Direct sharing, a method a creating a WiFi connection directly between two devices, no WiFi network required. This makes sharing content – whether it be a web page, a YouTube video, a photo or a document – just a tap away. S-Beam uses Near Field Communication to establish the initial connection which means you don’t need any passwords or PIN codes, just for the devices to touch. This makes a whole manner of other things easier too, like using NFC for payments, connecting to accessories and more. This could very well be the future.
I was impressed with the hardware of the Samsung Galaxy S III – notably the camera and screen – but found the software to be below par. While Samsung has made a few nice tweaks here and there, these do not make up for the mess they have made of the plain, pure Android experience. If you are looking for a phone with the maximum specifications possible and the fastest and most responsive phone you can get, the S3 is for you! But if you’d prefer a better software experience, I’d suggest that you get a phone with pure Android on it, such as the Galaxy Nexus, also from Samsung. Alternatively, you could get the iPhone 5 from Apple if you are looking for a simple, but powerful smartphone with the apps to match Android’s offering and with iOS 6.