If you believe the hype, Samsung has truly thrown down the gauntlet to Apple for dominance of the smartphone market with the Samsung Galaxy S III, yet what did JOE make of it?
By Leo Stiles
This phone is big. Really big. In fact, the S3 is so big that it almost gives Samsung’s Galaxy Note a run for its money, yet somehow it feels natural and rests in your hand far more naturally than you might expect.
There are no sharp edges anywhere and the shell is composed of polycarbonate that not only is nearly indestructible, but also means that the phone is impossibly light. It’s so light that it defies belief that there is a large battery inside and yes, you have full access.
Looking closer inside the shell reveals one of the S3’s secret weapons - a microSD slot that supports up to 64GB memory cards. Happy days for those that need it.
There is also a central home button, a rocker volume control on one side and smartly, the power button is located on the left side, in easy reach of your fingers. A smart design decision given how tall the phone is.
The option and back buttons are now touch sensitive panels on either side of the home button, which gives even more screen space to you applications and makes navigation fast and smooth.
As design goes, the S3 is a winner and far more individualistic that any of the Galaxy series devices to date. However, the sheer size of the phone makes one-handed operations difficult and typing all but impossible without the aid of your other digits. This might seem like a nit pick to some, but we think this could prove a real problem for others. The option and back touch panels are also a wee bit sensitive but that really is a nit pick.
Elsewhere, the camera is what you would expect; 8-megapixels and LED flash that gets the job done in good lighting and fails to deliver in murkier environments.
A big phone means a big screen and the S3’s is spectacular. 4.8-inches of Super AMOLED HD goodness makes viewing video more comfortable than ever before. Touchscreen responsiveness is near flawless with only the occasional judder marring the experience.This is likely due to software rather than hardware and should be easily rectified via the inevitable update in the future
With a screen of this size, our expectations of the S3’s battery life were not great, especially with some of the latest monster smartphones' batteries lasting a half day between charges. Thankfully, the S3 has far more endurance that some of its rivals (HTC Sensation, we’re looking at you) and even with plenty of multitasking and camera use, the S3 often got to the end of the day.
Android is finally reaching maturity as an OS with many of the kinks and shortcomings distant memories. Like many of the top tier Android phone manufacturers, Samsung has overlaid the ‘pure OS’ with its own customisation. This is more to give the S3 a more individualistic feel that is perfectly fine and helps the look of the phone seem distinctive.
Again, settings, notifications and essential functions are handled through the pull down menu with just about every setting having a depth of control that Apple users can only dream about.
This is fine for the tech-savvy user but we wonder if this level of openness really counts for much as the average user is unlikely to ever venture beyond the default settings.
Samsung leverages the facial recognition feature baked into the OS to do interesting things like unlocking your phone and more usefully, managing the brightness of the screen if it detects you are looking directly at it. This is great for power management and also mitigates the dazzle effect that can result from the sheer vivid brightness of the AMOLED screen.
One cool feature of the phone is its leveraged partnership with Dropbox which uploads your photos directly to the cloud storage service. Standard accounts are just 2GB, but if you sync your Dropbox account with the phone, you will recieve 50GB of storage for two years, just for saying yes.
Widgets now come in resizable flavours and the contacts and phone functons of the OS have been streamlined nicely. The home screens can easily descend into a cluttered mess but as with everything Android, they are what you make of them. At least you have the choice.
Content is where the phone falls down with no simple and easy way to download movies and music (legally). This will be solved in the near future but trying to boot up Samsung’s and Google’s Movie services only to be told that they don’t exist in the country you bought your shiny new phone in is just pushing people towards illegal downloads.
Apps are still not up to the standards set by Apple and there is no getting away from the fact that far too many apps are not leveraging the quad-core power of phones like the Galaxy S3. Some graphically intensive games that I expected to run on the phone were not compatible, with Mass Effect Infiltrator a prime example.
It has to be emphasised that the shortcomings of the phone are very small but nonetheless stop the S3 from delivering the complete package. Content is the key concern and until Samsung and Google gets their ecosystems in order for Ireland, an ‘Apple like’ end to end experience is frustratingly out of reach.
Samsung has once again proven that they are the undisputed kings of the Google-powered smartphone. The design, the fantastic screen, the sheer ease of use of the phone makes a decision to buy one a complete no-brainer. Content delivery issues are still there and the apps available are still sub-par but these are issues that will be solved in time.
When that time comes, Apple better have its gameface on because Samsung have delivered the smartphone to beat it on just about every other front.