Its taken me an entire month to fully grasp Samsungs latest flagship phone and I can honestly say I am very satisfied. Its no surprise that the Galaxy S3 was intended to be a preemptive strike against the upcoming iPhone from Apple but even beyond that its managed to accomplish new ways of interacting with a device using gestures not seen previously. I’m extremely critical of my devices since after all I purchase them with my own money and use them for a minimum of 1 year or so before upgrading to the latest and greatest. My decision came down to either the Evo 4G LTE or the Galaxy S3 variants from Sprint and I decided on the latter for the following reasons.
- Removable Battery
- Fresh new UI
- 2GB of RAM
- Battery Life
- Value adding features (More on this later)
I weighed the decision heavily but ultimately the ugly design of the Evo 4G LTE, lack of removable battery and a dated looking Sense UI was enough to close the door on that possibility. Perhaps if HTC had decided to keep the look of the One X you’d be reading a completely different review today but as it stands they not only changed it but butchered it in my opinion.
But enough on the competition, lets move on to the real guts and glory or this bad boy.
As soon as you hold the GS3 in your hands you know its not just your run of the mill phone. The intricate design details that went into creating it are evident by how easily it fits in your hand and how premium it feels despite knowing its made mostly out of plastic. This is true in part due to the state of the art finish Samsung is calling Hyperglaze. The phone measures 136.6mm long, 70.6mm wide and an impressive 8.6mm deep making it one of the thinnest phones to date without feeling like its going to break on the first drop.
The U.S. variants host a peppy dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor running at 1.5 GHz which when coupled with 2GB of RAM makes for the most buttery smooth experience this side of Jelly Bean. Built in NFC capabilities ensure that you’re next-gen mobile payment ready and Samsung’s TecTiles allow you to customize your setting preferences depending on where you find yourself with a simple tap. For a brief walk through on using NFC programmable chips such as the Samsung TecTiles please see the video below.
Viewing pictures and video are truly enjoyable experiences when considering the 4.8-inch 1280×720 Super AMOLED display boasting 306 ppi. Alot of fuss was made about the PenTile technology used after its announcement but trust me when I say you will NOT see any signs of it and in fact according to Samsung, the screen is supposed to last much longer because of their decision to go that route. I did find that Samsung’s default auto brightness setting is a bit dim in order to conserve battery life so I find myself manually adjusting it at different times of the day. Its not too big of a deal and something that will hopefully be worked on in future OTA updates.
Battery life is like night and day compared to other 4G handsets I’ve owned. I’m squeezing out a solid 16-18 hours of moderate use with 4G LTE enabled for at least 10 hours of the day and WiFi the rest of the time. I”m glad Samsung decided to increase the size of their battery this year to 2100mAh which is significantly bigger than that of my previous phone.
- Display: HD Super AMOLED, 4.8”, 1280 x 720, 306 PPI with Gorilla Glass 2.0
- Dimensions: 5.17 inches x 2.51 inches x 0.34 inches, 4.69 ounces (131.3 mm x 63.7 mm x 8.6 mm, 132.95 grams)
- OS: Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0
- Processor: Snapdragon S4 1.5 Ghz Dual-Core with 2GB of RAM
- Storage: 16 GB or 32 GB + microSDHC
- Battery capacity: Li-ion 2100 mAh
- Front camera: 1.9 megapixels
- Back camera: 8 megapixels with LED flash
- AT&T Network: 3G, HSPA+, 4G LTE (and WiFi)
- Verizon Network: 3G, 4G LTE (and WiFi)
- T-Mobile Network: HSPA+ (and WiFi)
- Sprint Network: 3G, 4G LTE (and WiFi)
I briefly mentioned earlier how natural it felt to hold the Galaxy S3 in the hand but that statement alone doesn’t do the design and aesthetics of the device justice. The glass panel on the front is curved and seems to flow straight into the side of the device itself similar to how a waterfall would flow over the edge. There is not one single sharp edge on the entire smartphone and the buttons seem to be perfectly placed within reach of your index and thumb fingers to adjust volume or turn the screen on and off.
The physical home button is ever so slightly raised above the glass, again with rounded edges, and the overall tactile feedback is very responsive no matter what button you’re pressing. Samsung designed the lines and curves of the phone to mimic elements found in nature and by far my favorite seems to be the duo tone frame which surrounds the sides of the device with a curvaceous arc that at first glance plays tricks on your eyes by making the phone appear thinner than it really is.
Brushed polycarbonate composes the front and back cover of the device making it sleek and smooth to the touch. The camera protrude slightly on the back but no where near as much as the competition giving it a nearly flat surface to sit on. The placement of the USB port is directly underneath the Home button creating a very unintrusive divide between the “metal” frame and the polycarbonate cover. The 3.5mm headphone jack resides on the top of the device on a downward curved surface creating an almost tear drop look when seeing it from above. There’s no denying this is by far one of the most beautiful handsets of 2012. Its minimalistic design paired with ergonomic attributes makes for a phone that isn’t only easy to take out of your pocket but one you genuinely enjoy using.
TouchWiz UI (Nature UX)
We finally arrive at the big elephant in the room. I was just as anxious as the next person to see what trashy “skin” Samsung decided to throw on such a gorgeous device. Much to my surprise, a month later I’m sitting here having tried every custom ROM on XDA-Developers for my Galaxy S3 and I ALWAYS find myself coming back to TouchWiz.
The gesture heavy, modern software they concocted goes beyond what I was expecting. Coming from such a clumsy UI such as Sense by comparison, I was hoping for a more fluid experience and I certainly got it from my new phone. TouchWiz is fresh, light, smooth and super fast even after my failed attempts to bog it down with useless apps and widgets.
I would highly recommend at least an hour of your time initially to configure everything to your liking. There are so many featured its truly unbelievable and don’t be surprised if some are not in the most obvious of places. Samsung has redefined what it means to set yourself apart through value added software enhancements and you can see a list of the most popular features below.
- S-Beam – Transfer files with other GS3 owners with a simple touch of each others devices.
- Smart Stay – Keeps the screen on if the front facing camera detects you’re looking at the screen.
- Pop Up Play – Allows you to multitask while still viewing your favorite videos.
- S-Voice – Personal assistant that has to ability to schedule tasks, set alarms, place phone calls, compose text messages, launch apps and search the web.
- Palm Swipe To Capture – Allows you to capture an image of your screen with the swipe of your palm across the screen.
- Direct Call – Places phone call to contact currently being displayed on screen when it detects that you raise your phone to your ear.
- Turn Over To Mute – Mutes incoming calls or music when you place the phone face down.
- Lockscreen Quick Launch – Jumps straight into designated apps from your customizable lockscreen.
Of course these are just a few of the more useful ones and depending on your user habits, some of these could really cut down the amount of time you spend in menus searching for the right thing.
Security is a big concern for Samsung and I found more options to secure your phone on this device than any others I’ve used in the past. You can configure your device to encrypt all data stored on it as well as whats stored on the SD card, choose to make password entry visible or invisible, assign device administrators, install trusted certificates and all of this even before you get to the following screen lock options.
- Swipe To Unlock
- Motion Lock
- Face Unlock
- Face & Voice Unlock Combo
- Pattern Unlock
- PIN Unlock
- Password Unlock
Its clear that Samsung is aiming to entice big corporate businesses to use the Galaxy S3 and I’m glad we get more choice because of that.
4G LTE Ready
I know I can’t possibly speak for every carrier on this subject but my personal experience with reception and data speeds on the Sprint network have been phenomenal. I’ve managed to consistently pull down over 20 mbps and averaged around 7-9 mpbs uploads. I work on a major university campus and purchased my phone while the students were off enjoying summer. I had concerns that as soon as they got back they would severely bog down the towers in my area but fortunately Sprint has done a great job routing data for everyone to enjoy.
We’re fortunate that every US variant of the Galaxy S3 has 4G LTE capabilities and with new cities being added to the list by their respective carriers, we should see a major upswing in data consumption in the future. I’ve honestly considered uploading our sites YouTube videos with my phone since I get a max of 3mbps upload on my home internet connection but until video editing apps hit a new level of usability I don’t think I’ll be doing it anytime soon.
One of the highlights of this device is its 8MP workhorse of a camera. Able to record in full 1080p and capture still images while shooting a video, this should be all you could ever want out of a casual image capturing device. Shooting modes include Single Shot by default as well as Burst Shot, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Smile Shot, Beauty and Panorama. I’ve compiled a gallery of images below for you to view. Some were taken while recording video samples and others were just in the moment shots in the last month.
Burst shot is great when capturing high moving shots or when taking a group picture. When coupled with the Best Shot feature which runs the images through an algorithm, it makes it that much easier to determine which pictures are the keepers. Imagine trying to coordinate multiple shots to make sure everyone’s eyes are open or looking in the right direction, this simple advantage alone makes the feature worth it.
The camera doesn’t escape without criticism though, one of the most annoying aspects of using it is the inability to turn off the shutter sound. You could have your phone on silent and still get a loud shutter sound when you go to take a picture and I wish they would address this in the future. My friend was at a gas station a couple of weeks ago, he happens to own a Galaxy S3 as well, when he spotted a big old Texas man with a mullet. Being the Facebook comedian that he is, he tries to secretly take a picture of him in one of the isles to upload without being noticed when…..yup you guessed it, the shutter went off alerting the man. He got caught red handed standing there with his phone pointed at the mans face. A quick sorry and a huge grin later and he was back to his old ways.
Shooting video on the phone is pretty great too, with the ability to take a picture while recording you’re guaranteed to be ready no matter what happens. I got a first hand encounter with this feature when I went out to shoot the 1080p video sample for this review. I had already finished and gone back to finish my lunch underneath a picnic area when I feel something brush up against my leg. They crept up on my like ninjas in the night and almost made me pee my pants. Much to my surprise, a couple of ducks that I guess had seen me jacking around with the phone decided to follow me up the path and come beg for my crispy golden fries from Wendys.
Click Images Above To Enlarge
I wanted to make sure and include this section because believe it or not, most of the “Full Reviews” I watched and read about prior to purchasing this phone failed to address whether the phone could perform the most basic function possible, make a phone call. I’m happy to report that not only can it make a phone call, it makes crystal clear phone calls. I was fortunate enough to test in multiple cities and the experience remained the same even when on the outskirts of a residential area.
I enjoy having a huge keypad from which to dial from as well as an intuitive contact list with a Rolodex-like function to help find the person you’re looking for. I tried using S-Voice to call my wife a few times and it certainly worked but was a slower process than just thumbing through my recent call list or starting to dial her number and having the auto completion function do its job.
While we’re on the subject of using S-Voice I wanted to quickly state that it seems to be more annoying than helpful. I’ve forced myself to use it a few times to do everything from making a call, sending a text, setting an alarm, opening and app and even doing a Google search knowing full well that I could do those things much quicker by launching the apps manually. My conclusion…..keep on walking, nothing to see here. It really is disappointing that we got a half-baked product in whats otherwise a great smartphone package but hopefully Samsung will strive to make it somewhat comparable to other services such as Siri or my preferred candidate, Google Now. With the launch of Jelly Bean for the GS3 on the horizon I don’t anticipate people continuing to use S-Voice but to each his own.
Many people were upset that only a couple of carriers decided to match the 50GB of Dropbox space handed out to our friends across the pond and rightfully so. In an age where we want all of our content and information at the tip of our fingers its only right that our devices are capable of syncing properly. Samsung has done a great job integrating our favorite services into their camera app making it super easy to share images and videos through Text, GMail, Facebook, Picasa, Wi-Fi Direct, Twitter, Google+, Fliboard, Pinterest and many many more. This coupled with syncing your Google and Facebook contacts and you’ve now got access to your most precious information from anywhere.
I don’t see many people touch on how easy the OEM makes it to unlock the bootloader and root the device but its worth mentioning because Samsung is one of if not the best manufacturer when it comes to embracing the developer community. With the exception of the Verizon variant, the T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T are all getting a healthy dose of custom ROMs and support over at XDA-Developers.
If you wish to root your device we’ve made a How To video going through the easiest process to get your bootloader unlocked and root access. A second video below demonstrates how to flash custom ROMs in case you want to get bold and try out something new. As with any of our other rooting and unlocking videos, you do it at your own risk and Android Unite nor I bear any blame or responsibility if anything goes wrong.
If you’re on the fence about getting this phone and still have your doubts after reading my entire review don’t forget that EVERY single Samsung Galaxy S3 around the world is nearly identical in size and shape which means that for the first time in a long time third party accessory providers can create products without fear that they’ll sit on the shelf like they have for countless other models before. Sadly the last time I saw this many new accessories pop up for a single device it was for the infamous iPhone. Everything from cases and batteries to screen protectors and docks, they’re all compatible with any variant and boy are there a lot to choose from. Samsungs intricate design cues has sparked a plethora of slim gorgeous cases. We got a chance to review the offerings of one such manufacturer and you can see that and hopefully many others in our Device & Accessory Review section.
The Good: Sleek and beautiful design coupled with a fresh and fast UI. Amazing Battery life. Awesome video and image capture abilities. Top of the line hardware specs.
The Bad: Auto Brightness feature too low. Fingerprint magnet. Half baked Siri immitator. Inability to delete Samsung bundled apps. Can’t shut off camera shutter sound.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with this magnificent phone. Its not perfect by any stretch but its a solid piece of hardware coupled with beautiful software. Would I hesitate recommending it to a friend looking for a new smartphone? Not at all in fact its the best currently available out of the Android camp and yes I am taking the HTC One X into consideration. I can honestly say its the best Android phone I’ve owned to date and I don’t see myself tiring of using it anytime soon.
Are you considering the Samsung Galaxy S3? Do you already own one and have similar or different opinions than what I’ve expressed? Have a favorite ROM you think I would enjoy flashing on my Sprint GS3? Let me know in the comments below. Also if you’ve taken the dive into flashing custom ROMs or are a case junkie, here’s a few of my favorite YouTube channels that I would recommend for future reviews:
wwjoshdew - http://www.youtube.com/user/wwjoshdew
qbking77 - http://www.youtube.com/user/qbking77
AppReviewa - http://www.youtube.com/user/AppReviewa