Samsung Galaxy S3 review
It's fair to say that for all Google's Android hoopla and Microsoft's Windows Phone drum-beating, there really hasn't been much competition in the smartphone market since Apple first launched the first-generation iPhone.
In short, Apple has consistently felt ahead of the game. Sure there have been phones claiming faster processors, larger screens, more connections, future 'but-not-quite-ready-for-the-big-time' tech like Near Field Communications (NFC) and so on. But when you examine whatever cohesive whole they have, alongside any failings, there's really not been anything that truly matched whatever iPhone was on sale at the time. Which is why, we presume, Apple has sold so many.
See also: 30 reasons you need iOS 6
Enter the S3
There's often been a lot of fuss of so-called iPhone-killers, the near mythical phone that's going to take on Apple, usually beefed up marketing-hype that only serves to show how disappointing each device is upon launch. In some respects the Samsung Galaxy S3 is no exception in this regards. However, many tech-pundits do genuinely feel that this time Samsung may be earning its stripes; the Samsung Galaxy S3 is regarded by many tech watchers to be the phone that finally combines the features correctly and can be considered a serious match for Apple.
Our friends at PC Advisor took shipment of one of the first Samsung S3 devices, and has been cooing over it. So we thought it only fair to give it a whirl in comparison to our favoured phone, the iPhone 4S.
You can read our comparison review of the iPhone 5s and Samsung Galaxy S5.
The first thing you'll notice about the Samsung Galaxy S3 is the undeniably large 4.8-inch Super AMOLED screen which has an HD resolution of 720 x 1280. We found text rendering to be as sharp as the Retina display iPhone, but the larger screen provides more estate for web page rendering. It's not quite the iPad, but turn it on its side and it definitely has more of that tablet feel than an iPhone does. And AMOLED is a technology that we'd dearly love to see implemented on the iPhone.
Screen estate does seem to be a dividing factor between people. This reviewer just wants a smaller phone (there's no denying the larger screen is better; but I just feel all smartphones are too big and the sooner they shave the size down the better). Other people want a larger screen and all the rumours seem to be suggesting that Apple is gearing up to produce such a device in the form of the iPhone 5 (or new iPhone as we expect it to be named).
Well it's kinda like an iPhone but not as much a carbon copy as the Galaxy S2. The Samsung Galaxy S3 is much thinner than the iPhone and despite the size is surprisingly light to hold. It's weight (or lack of it) is one of the striking things that you'll notice after the screen size.
We like the presence of a physical Home button (although our friends at PC Advisor prefer the touch sensitive versions) and alongside it sit two touch sensitive 'Back' and 'Menu' buttons (which we find an oddity on a device with an entire touch-sensitive screen). The Home button is thinner than the iPhone and is itself touch sensitive, sliding left and right brings up menu options - we found this a bit clunky to be honest. Holding down the Home button brings up a Recent Apps menu, which we found less intuitive than the double press of the iPhone.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 is very thin and light for such a large phone at just 8.6mm and 133g. It's a good combination of size and weight, if it had been any heavier it would have gone through a barrier and into 'annoyingly large' territory. As it stands it's big but the lightweight styling prevents it from feeling unweidly.
The buttons and ports are spread out around the handset with Power on the right, Volume on left, microUSB on the bottom and the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. The corners are more curved than the iPhone (or the Samsung S2) and it could generally be summed up as 'sleek'. It feels more plasticky than the iPhone's glass and metal case, although we imagine it might be more resistant to drops. On the whole the build quality is extremely high and we think owners will be more than happy with the physical presence of the product.
Other connectivity in the Galaxy S3 includes the standard Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and microUSB as well as the currently all but redundant near-field communications (NFC) technology and support for the digital living network alliance (DLNA) standard.
Android vs iOS
After you've finished with the hardware you have to examine the other half of the equation: the operating system. We're still not completely convinced by Google's Ice Cream Sandwich variant of Android. It manages to be less of a copy of iOS than previous iterations, but feels clumsier and more complicated than either earlier iterations of Android or Apple's iOS. We also find it slightly less responsive to our touch, a good example is scrolling in the web browser which has a slight, but just noticeable lag when you move your finger around. If you've never used an iPhone you'd find it perfectly acceptable, but to us it's a little niggle that's annoying. And Android is full of them. Everything just feels ever so slightly less well thought out or implemented.
Then there's the argument over customisation and it's true that there are things you can do with Android that you can't do with iOS. A good example would be the ability to replace the keyboard with a different version, such as SwiftKey X from the Google Play store. This keyboard is significantly better than either the default Google Android version, or the iOS keyboard. It's word recognition is simply unsurpassable, not that you'll ever find it on the App Store as Apple will almost certainly never allow you to replace the default keyboard in iOS. Score one to Android.
Mind you, then you can take into account the increasing amount of malware targeting Android's more open system, and the thought that you may have to consider installing antivirus software alongside on your phone. That's a big no to us.
There's also the matter of Google Play Store versus the App Store. For our mind there's no argument that Apple has the stronger App Store offering, the range and breadth of apps available for the iOS platform is simply unmatchable, and if you've owned an iPhone you should be rightly reluctant to have to purchase some, or all of your apps again. And we imagine most iPhone owners will have some apps that aren't available on Android. For myself it's OmniFocus, which I use to manage all my different projects: it's not available on Android; so I'm not using an Android phone. And there's nothing Google or Samsung can do about that (short of convincing OmniGroup to get on board). So if you are thinking of changing device you should take careful note of the apps you're using and see if there are Android versions.
There are some interesting ideas with controls going on, some work better than others. The device has eye-tracking technology that ensures the screen doesn't turn off if you're looking at it. Direct Call enables you to instantly call a contact you're looking at just by lifting the phone to your ear, and Smart Alert tells you if you have missed calls and messages when you pick up the phone. Another sweet touch is that you can turn the phone over or place your hand over it to mute the sound; you can also scroll to the top of a webpage or list by tapping the top of the phone. We found the ability to move around zoomed photos by waving the phone around less functional, but Samsung deserves points for trying to integrate new features into its phone and there are more hits than misses.
Say what S Voice?
Voice technology can hardly be called an Apple exclusive, but it's clear that Samsung wants to ensure that Apple doesn't have a lead and has produced a competitor called S Voice.
Our friends at PC Advisor have had more of a test with it than us, and here are some of their thoughts "you can use it to unlock the Galaxy S3 phone by saying something like "Hi Galaxy". More importantly you can ask S Voice to carry out tasks like get a weather forecast, send a text message, set a reminder or play music. The software worked well most of the time but as we feared there were times when it didn't understand what we said. We also had to wait for a long time while the dialogue was processed. It can tell you where you are by opening Google Maps but couldn't tell direct us to the nearest post office, for example.There's more bad news here because S Voice told us it was unable to send an email and we found the UK voice to be quite annoying. Generally Siri is a much more polished and usable experience."
So there you go. Siri is better, which is certainly saying something as Apple is reputedly embarrassed by Siri (which is still technically a Beta product). I really don't care for Voice technology, maybe one day it'll work flawlessly but I've yet to try any voice system that doesn't make me want to strangle the device in my hand. In the meantime I have fingers and can push buttons.
Samsung Galaxy S3 Specs
2.5G (GSM/ GPRS/ EDGE)
3G (HSPA+ 21Mbps)
4G (Dependant on market)
4.8" HD Super AMOLED (1280x720)
Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Main: 8mp Auto Focus with flash, zero shutter lag and BSI
Front: 1.9mp HD recording @30fps with flash, zero shutter lag and BSI
Video: Full HD (1080p) Recording and Playback
Wi-Fi- a/b/g/n, Wi-Fi HT40, GPS/GLONASS, NFC, BT4.0(LE)
16GB / 32GB / 64GB
microSD Slot (SDXC 64GB exFAT Support)
136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6mm, 133g
For once Samsung deserves some credit for not producing a carbon copy clone of an Apple product (although that is damning with faint praise). While the company owes a massive debt to Apple (something we're sure Cupertino would rather they paid for) at least this time they've managed to create something genuinely nice with some original features. The Samsung Galaxy S3 hardware is great, and the larger screen is sure to appeal to some people. We still don't rate Android as highly as iOS, but Samsung has integrated some great touches such as motion controls, and rightly deserves credit for them. While we'd still choose iOS over Android and the iPhone over the S3, there's no denying that Samsung has definitely batted the ball back into Apple's court here, and the combination of features is much stronger than in other Android phones. We think competition is a good thing and this is sure to put the heat on Apple to truly deliver with the next iteration of iPhone, which we hope is a truly great riposte.