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Samsung Galaxy S III Review: Style and Grace
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Date: Jun 20, 2012
Section:Mobile
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction & Specifications

One of the most highly anticipated Android phones of the year is the Samsung Galaxy S III. This smartphone comes with a number of new features we haven't seen on other phones including S Voice (improved voice control functionality), new sharing features, NFC features including Samsung's new TecTiles, and more.

The hardware specifications for the Galaxy S III are impressive as well. The US variations of this phone feature a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED touchscreen (1280x720), a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 2GB RAM, 16 GB or 32 GB of internal memory, an 8MP rear-facing camera, a 1.9MP front-facing camera, and a 2100 mAh Lithium Ion battery. And all of the Galaxy S III smartphones run on Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich right out of the gate.


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In addition to launching the Galaxy S III with five US carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and U.S. Cellular), Samsung is offering the Galaxy S III in other parts of the world as well. There are a few key differences between the US variants of the phone and the global variants, however. More specifically, the processor, LTE capabilities, and RAM are different.

You'll find a quad-core Samsung Exynos 4 processor in global Galaxy S III smartphones while the US variants have a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor (the same SoC that impressed us on the HTC One X). Although we won't see the quad-core version of the Galaxy S III on our shores, performance tests have shown the forward-looking, Krait-based Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 at the heart of the Galaxy S III to be one of the better performing SoCs currently on the market.

The LTE capabilities are another differentiating factor between the global and US versions of the Galaxy S III. In fact, the LTE capabilities of the phone play a role in the processor choice for the US versions of the Galaxy S III. The Snapdragon S4 is a complete chipset that bundles the application processor, cellular radios, and LTE radio into a single package. Samsung's Exynos 4 quad-core processor doesn't bundle the radios required for American 4G LTE networks, so it's not an ideal choice for this phone.

The last key difference between the US variants of the Galaxy S III and the global variants is in the RAM. The US variants come with an additional gigabyte of RAM (2GB of RAM total) compared to the global variants which have 1GB. The rest of the phone's specifications are outlined in the chart below but first, let's give you a quick nickle tour of Samsung's new beauty...

Samsung Galaxy S III
Specifications & Features
Network AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon Wireless U.S. Cellular
OS Android 4.0.4 with TouchWiz enhancements
Display 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED touchscreen (1280x720)
Gorilla Glass 2.0
Processor 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor
Memory 2GB RAM
16GB or 32GB of internal storage
Dimensions 5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches (HxWxD)
Weight 4.7 ounces
Bands/Modes GSM Quad-band: 850/900/1800/1900MHz; UMTS Tri-band: 850/1900/2100MHz; LTE Dual-Band: Band 4/17 CDMA/1xRTT, EVDO, LTE 1900MHz 850/900/1800/1900MHz; UMTS: Band I (2100); UMTS: Band IV (AWS); UMTS: Band V (850) LTE, CDMA/PCS/1xEVDO Rev. A (800/1900 MHz) 3G CDMA 800/1900MHz EVDO Rev A/4G LTE
Talk and Standby Time Usage Time: Up to 8 hours Usage Time: Up to 9 hours Usage Time: Up to 8 hours Usage Time: 3G: Up to 17 hours; 4G: Up to 15 hours Usage Time: Up to 8 hours
Standby Time: 3G: Up to 12.5 Days; LTE: Up to 8.3 Days 3G: Up to 12.5 Days; LTE: Up to 8.3 Days Standby Time: Up to 12.5 Days Standby Time: 3G: Up to 12.5 Days; LTE: Up to 8.3 Days Standby Time: 3G: Up to 12.5 Days; LTE: Up to 8.3 Days
Battery 2100 mAh Lithium Ion
Connectivity Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11b/g/n, microUSB, GPS, 3.5mm headset jack
Camera 8MP rear-facing camera with LED Flash, zero-lag, and Burst Shot
1.9MP front-facing camera
Price (with contract and discounts) $199.99 (16GB) $199.99 (16GB) $279.99 (16GB) $199.99 (16GB) $199.99 (16GB)
$249.99 (32GB) $329.99 (32GB)  $249.99 (32GB) $249.99 (32GB)



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In June, Samsung announced it had shipped 24 million Galaxy S phones and 28 million Galaxy S II phones. Needless to say, these numbers are impressive. Will Samsung's third-generation Galaxy S III enjoy as much success as its predecessors? Read on to see how the Galaxy S III stacks up.
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Design and Exterior

All of the Galaxy S III smartphones use the same design and look nearly identical, except for the carrier logo located on the back of the phone. Our two test devices from AT&T and Sprint came with a Marble White finish, but a Pebble Blue finish is also available.

The exterior casing of the Galaxy S III has smooth lines and curved edges. Thanks to a small bezel, the phone doesn't feel large in one's hand, even though it has a sizeable 4.8-inch display. The phone measures 5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches.

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In addition to making the phone comfortable to hold, Samsung also took great care to ensure the phone was lightweight. Despite its size, the Galaxy S III weighs just 4.7 ounces, which makes it lighter than quite a few popular phones on the market today.

Samsung Galaxy S 4G 4.2 ounces
Motorola Droid Razr 4.48 ounces
Nexus S 4.55 ounces
HTC One X 4.58 ounces
HTC Droid Incredible 4.6 ounces
Samsung Galaxy S III 4.7 ounces
Apple iPhone 4 4.8 ounces
Apple iPhone 4S 4.9 ounces
LG Spectrum 4.99 ounces
Samsung Droid Charge 5.04 ounces
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx 5.1 ounces
Motorola Droid Bionic 5.57 ounces
Motorola Photon 4G 5.6 ounces
HTC EVO 3D 6 ounces
HTC Thunderbolt 6.23 ounces
 

Just above the Galaxy S III's large display, you'll find the front-facing 1.9 megapixel camera to the right of the Samsung logo. A status LED indicator is located to the left of the Samsung logo. You'll find a menu, Home, and back buttons below the display.

On the left edge of the Galaxy S III, you'll find the volume rocker. The right edge of the phone houses the power button. At the base of the phone, you'll see a microphone as well as the microUSB port. The 3.5mm headset jack is located on the top edge of the Galaxy S III.

 

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The 8 megapixel rear-facing camera is located near the top of the phone in the center. An LED flash is to the left of the camera and a speaker is to the right of the camera. By removing the back battery cover, you'll reveal the Galaxy S III's 2100mAh lithium ion, user-replaceable battery as well as the phone's microSD card slot. With the AT&T variant and other GSM models, you'll also see the micro-SIM slot next to the microSD card slot.

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User Interface and Experience

The Galaxy S III runs the latest version of Android (version 4.0.4) and comes with Samsung's TouchWiz enhancements. One of the ways Samsung has really differentiated the Galaxy S III from other phones is with its software features such as S Voice, S Beam, Smart Stay, AllShare, and more.

Out of the box, you'll find seven fully customizable home screens on the Galaxy S III. Each carrier has customized these screens slightly. You can view a thumbnail of the home screens using pinch-to-zoom controls.

One of the features Apple heavily promotes with its iPhone 4S is its Siri voice control system. While voice control functionality has been available for a while, it wasn’t used by the masses until Apple released this feature. Indeed, anyone who has used Siri will tell you that "she" can be quite handy to have around, when she works. Samsung's S Voice functionality works much the same way as Siri: You can use plain English to tell the phone what you want it to do.

   

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For example, with S Voice, you can set alarms, update your social networks, get navigation instructions, ask basic questions, etc. During our tests with the Galaxy S III, the performance and accuracy from S Voice was comparable to Siri on an iPhone 4S. As with other voice control functionality, the feature isn't perfect and it does make mistakes, but all in all, it's a very cool feature to have and one that we're glad Samsung took some time to polish.

Another cool feature is Smart Stay. Samsung's Smart Stay feature will keep the screen awake as long as you're looking at the display. With Direct Call, the phone will recognize if you lift it to your ear while composing a message to a friend. And instead of staying on the message screen, the Galaxy S III will automatically start dialing your friend's number.

Anyone who's ever set their phone down, missed a call or message, and forgot to check for messages after picking up the phone will appreciate the Smart Alert feature found on the Galaxy S III. With this feature, the phone will vibrate to let you know if you have missed calls or messages.

   

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In addition to the many handy features and functions Samsung integrated into the Galaxy S III, there are also many sharing features. For example, S Beam lets you place two Galaxy S III phones back to back to quickly and easily transfer pictures, music, videos, or other files. During our test with this feature, it worked perfectly and we were able to transfer web pages and photos quickly and easily.

Samsung's new TecTiles is another feature that's really enticing with the Galaxy S III. Although this phone won't be the only one that is compatible with TecTiles, the phone and the feature are launching at the same time. TecTiles are programmable NFC tags that you can use to control many features and functions (see the video on the first page for some examples). For example, you can program a TecTile to automatically change phone settings for a particular location, send a text message, open apps, and much more.

To test the TecTile functionality, we downloaded the free app from Samsung from the Google Play store. The app makes it very easy to program and reprogram a TecTile quickly and easily. In mere minutes, we had programmed a TecTile and tested it – it worked flawlessly. We can definitely see using these NFC tags in a variety of situations to quickly and easily adjust phone settings, launch apps, set your alarm, etc.

   

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Each of the Galaxy S III variants will come with a different set of preinstalled applications depending on the carrier. Our two test phones from AT&T and Sprint didn't have a lot of extra apps, but there were some of the standard carrier additions such as AT&T Navigator, myAT&T, Sprint Hotspot, Sprint Zone, and more. Sprint's variant of the Galaxy S III also comes with Google Wallet, which you won't find preinstalled on the other versions of this phone. In addition to some of the carrier-related apps on the Galaxy S III, you'll find a few Samsung additions such as S Memo, S Suggest, and Samsung Apps.

When using the phone, we were impressed at its speed. You can definitely tell a difference in the responsiveness from this phone compared to phones with slightly older (and slightly slower) hardware. Pinch to zoom controls were fluid and responsive, and the phone responded smoothly and quickly to our requests.

   

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The Galaxy S III's 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED touchscreen supports a resolution of 1280x720. The screen is vibrant and sharp and viewing angles are excellent. When looking at the screen outside under direct sunlight, you'll notice some glaring but that's common for smartphones with high gloss displays. Overall readability of the screen was better than average under direct sunlight.

When placing and receiving calls, call quality was excellent. We had no complaints with the calling capabilities and the people we spoke with said they could hear us clearly and we sounded well.
 

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Camera Performance and Battery Life

The cameras that are integrated into smartphones have come a long way in just a few years. Now, the Galaxy S III has some of the same features you'll find on mid-to-high end point-and-shoot digital cameras. For example, there's Best Photo which will select the best shot out of a continuous burst of eight photos. In addition, the 8 megapixel rear camera has a zero-lag shutter and the ability to capture up to 20 continuous shots.

     

   

   

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During our tests with the Galaxy S III, the phone's camera did a better than average job at capturing images. Outside shots in well-lit environments were sharp and crisp. Indoor shots were occasionally washed out due to the flash or a tad noisy, but still much improved compared to the indoor shots we typically capture with a smartphone camera. To give you a feel for the capabilities of the Galaxy S III's camera, here are a few shots taken in various lighting conditions.

Battery Life Testing
How Long Did It Last?

Battery life is a key feature of any phone. After all, what good is a smartphone if it dies mid-way through the day or if you're left without power when you need to make a call or check email? Battery life claims for the Galaxy S III vary depending on which carrier you choose, but generally speaking most carriers agree that you should get up to eight hours of usage time from the phone's 2100 mAh battery.

To verify Samsumg's claims, we put the Galaxy S III through our standard HotHardware battery test. In this test, we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics and text. The page automatically refreshed itself every three minutes. We set the Galaxy S III’s display to 50% brightness and turned off Wi-Fi for the duration.

When we ran this test, the Galaxy S III lasted for 430 minutes while connected to AT&T’s wireless network before shutting down. That's a pretty impressive number, especially if you compare the longevity of the Galaxy S III's battery to other smartphones we've seen.

In our real world testing of the phone, the Galaxy S III’s battery had no trouble making it through a whole work day (8-10 hours) with moderate to heavy use, while checking email, surfing the web, making calls, etc. without needing a charge. Of course, your mileage will vary depending on how much you use your phone.
 

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Performance: CPU and GPU

In addition to using the Galaxy S III in a variety of everyday usage scenarios, we also conducted some formal performance testing to see how well the device compared to some other smartphones.

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

The Samsung Galaxy S III outscored all of the other phones in Linpack's multi-thread test. The phone was slightly behind the HTC One X (with the same CPU) in the single-thread test. Overall, Linpack confirms what we experienced: This phone offers excellent all around performance.

Graphics testing
Android graphics testing

The Galaxy S III again topped the charts in the Emperor's New Clothes test portion of An3DBench XL. The phone also performed quite well in the Flower Power and Magic Island tests. Given the Galaxy S III's high-resolution screen, these scores are especially impressive since many of the phones in the comparison have a lower resolution screen and therefore don't have to work quite as hard during the test.

GL Benchmark also shows the power and performance of the Galaxy S III. The Egypt Offscreen test component of GL Benchmark levels the playing field among the phones by rendering off-screen at the same 1280x720 resolution on every device. Although the HTC One X beat out the Galaxy S III by a couple frames per second, the Galaxy S III performed very well and outpaced the Galaxy S II and Motorola Droid Razr.

JavaScript testing
JavaScript Android and iPhone testing

In the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, we again see the Galaxy S III competing neck and neck with the HTC One X. In this test, the HTC One X took the upper hand to beat out the Galaxy S III.

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Performance: Network and Browsing

Since networks and browsing speeds are a key feature of any smartphone, we also conducted some formal speed tests to see how well the Samsung Galaxy S III compared to some of today's hottest smartphones using the SpeedTest.net app and Rightware's BrowserMark benchmark.

SpeedTest.Net Performance
Network Speeds

The Galaxy S III supports LTE connectivity, where it's available through your carrier. Unfortunately, our test area didn't have LTE coverage through AT&T or Sprint, so we were unable to test the 4G LTE capabilities of these phones. When looking at the Speedtest.net score, you can see that the Galaxy S III performed very well using AT&T's HSPA+ network but you can expect to see dramatically faster speeds both upstream and down over LTE connectivity.

Rightware Browsermark
Web Browsing Performance

The Rightware BrowserMark benchmark evaluates the web browsing and browser performance of a device. In this test, you can see that the Galaxy S III performed exceptionally well, earning the top score by a decent margin.

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Summary and Conclusion

The Galaxy S III performed exceptionally well in our benchmark tests and in all of our real-world testing. The phone is very responsive, the screen is vibrant and colorful, and the longevity of the battery is among the best we've seen on a smartphone. 

Samsung also added a handful of extra features to the Galaxy S III that you won't see on most other phones, and although S Voice isn't 100% accurate, it did a reasonably good job during our tests and definitely competes well with Siri. In addition, Samsung's NFC and sharing features are really cool, and something we're excited to see more and more manufacturers implement.

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The overall look and feel of the Galaxy S III is great as well. The phone is relatively lightweight and thin. It's also quite comfortable to hold. Considering the fast SoC and 2100 mAh battery packed inside this phone, we think Samsung did a great job with the overall design and aesthetics.

Although the Galaxy S III is a high-end phone, its price tag is still quite reasonable in the current market. Pricing can vary from carrier to carrier, but you can pick up the 16GB version of this phone for just $199 (with a two-year contract). Thanks to its competitive price, excellent performance, and extra features, the Galaxy S III is a phone we would highly recommend, and that's why it earned our Editor's Choice award. Samsung has another major success on their hands with the Galaxy S III.

 

 

     
  • 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED touchscreen
  • Excellent performance
  • Android 4.0
  • Samsung Extras: S Voice, S Beam, TecTiles, etc
  • LTE connectivity
  • Solid Battery Life
  • Sharing and connectivity features can drain the battery quickly
  • Camera is impressive, but it's still not on-par with a good point-n-shoot

 



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