Look and feel
The Samsung Galaxy S III makes amends for the plasticky design of the Galaxy S II with a solid and beautiful body ‘inspired by nature’
Ease of use
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich works beautifully on the Galaxy S III, and Samsung’s excellent range of features and little tweaks make it even more enjoyable than usual. The 4.8-inch screen is brilliantly bright for use in direct sunlight
Too many to list by far. We might not get on with S-Voice, but the brilliant eight-megapixel camera is incredibly versatile and helps you share your snaps in dozens of ways
With a quad-core processor on board, we never saw a single moment of lag. This phone will be a market leader in terms of performance for quite some time
A full 24 hours even with heavy use means you’ll only have to charge nightly, which is all you can ask for when the screen is this big and bright. Expect just under seven hours of video streaming on a single charge
Samsung’s Galaxy S III (or S3 if you hate roman numerals) has to be the most anticipated smartphone of 2012. To say it’s got a tough act to follow is a massive understatement: the Galaxy S II was our favourite phone of last year, and rivals such as HTC and Sony have already put out excellent smartphones this year, such as the five-star One X and the Xperia S. Thankfully (spoiler alert) the Galaxy S III is a triumph of epic proportions, toppling the One X as the best mobile yet.
Inspired by nature
Our one gripe with the Galaxy S II was its plasticky build, which was a little too light for our liking – we worried that one accidental drop and it’d shatter into a million pieces, shredding passers-by with shrapnel. The Galaxy S III has banished these fears with a solid, hefty frame that is apparently ‘inspired by nature’.
No amount of push and pull will flex the seductively rounded body, which comes in either white or ‘Pebble Blue’. We personally prefer the bright and bold white model, which proves stubbornly scuff resistant. A metallic ring around the edge gives extra resistance to knocks and bangs, while the smooth finish feels great in the hand. You might expect a phone with a 4.8-inch screen to be massive and the Galaxy S III could certainly never be described as ‘demure’. However, Samsung has produced an impressively thin border around the display, so the Galaxy S III is actually no bigger than the HTC Titan or other 4.7-inch phones. It’s also dwarfed (as are most things in life) by the huge Galaxy Note.
Android Ice Cream Sandwich is on-board, with Samsung’s usual tweaks to make it even more enjoyable. You get plenty of cool live and static wallpapers, each going with the nature theme – from bouncing bubbles to relaxing fields of grass billowing in the wind. If all this country stuff gives you the heebie jeebies, you can have a streaming news or stocks background instead. That’s for both the lock screen and the standard desktops.
We found that the Galaxy S III is one of the most flexible smartphones we’ve reviewed, alongside the HTC One X. Almost everything from muting your phone to zooming into a webpage can be done in a number of ways, from finger motions to tilting or shaking the phone. For instance, even flicking between desktops can be done in a number of ways: you can flick your finger across the screen as usual, or quickly skim using the desktop bar beneath your shortcuts, or pinch your fingers to see an overview of all of your desktops. It seems like such a small thing to mention, but it’s a prime example of how the Galaxy S III and Android Ice Cream Sandwich combine to make this smartphone flexible enough to suit almost every type of user.
If something’s going on, the Galaxy S III will be sure to let you know about it. A notification light in the top left corner flashes persistently if you get a new email or text, and the phone even vibrates when you pick it up if you missed a call or have a message waiting. The notification tab is the smartest we’ve seen, not just displaying recent events but also giving you a scrollable bar of power shortcuts (to toggle Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, screen rotation and more). Connect a pair of earphones and the tab will even display a list of apps you might want to use. And of course, if you’re playing music then you get a bar of basic controls. On a smartphone with a smaller screen we’d be complaining that it’s all too much info crammed into a small space, but the Galaxy S III’s 4.8-inch screen is spacious enough to cope.
So how good is that 4.8-inch screen? Well, if you’d had the pleasure of visiting Mobile Choice HQ this week, you’d have been regailed with a chorus of ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s (and the occasional ‘mmmm’) as we tested out HD video on the Galaxy S III. Everything is perfectly crisp, to the point that you can see individual blood vessels and pores during facial close-ups. Colours leap off the screen, both bold and bright. Viewing angles are outstanding and there’s no motion blur, which makes it a great way of taking in sport or action flicks when you’re on the move.
That extra space is perfect for browsing the web, or enjoying your apps and games (which run perfectly thanks to the Galaxy S III’s quad-core processor). Don’t worry if you love using your phone outside either, as the Galaxy S III’s screen is impressively non-reflective. We happily bashed out texts and emailed and messed around on the web even on incredibly bright days, which conveniently the UK is finally enjoying this week. It’s a tough life, this phone review malarkey.
As well as streaming video using apps such as YouTube, you can download the free Adobe Flash plugin from the Google Play store to enjoy TV shows and movies using websites such as iPlayer and 4OD. Given a half-decent Wi-Fi connection, the Galaxy S III effortlessly streams HD video with almost no buffering. Listening to music is also a joy. Connect a decent pair of earphones and your music will sound crisp and clean, while the bundled music player offers enough basic features to keep most fans happy. If your earphones don’t have built-in volume controls, you can use the volume buttons on the side of the Galaxy S III even when it’s hibernating.
If you’re enjoying a movie but want to check something online, or read a text or email that’s just come in, you’d usually have to quit the movie then come back to it after. Not with the Galaxy SIII. Instead, you can shrink the video so it’s playing in a small window, which you can then move anywhere on-screen by dragging and releasing. You can then do what you like in the background, short of playing with apps. It’s just another example of how brilliantly versatile this smartphone is.
Samsung’s AllShare Play app allows you to share your media between your phone and other devices, such as your TV. You need to create a Samsung account to use the service, and we’d recommend a worthy Wi-Fi connection to ensure smooth streaming, but this is exactly the kind of service we like to see – seamless tech that makes life even easier. We haven’t had a proper play around with AllShare yet, but we’ll give you the full lowdown when we do.
Battery life is obviously sapped quicker when enjoying video, but we watched just over six and a half hours of video before the battery finally died – a commendable effort considering the size of the phone’s screen. Even with a few hours of media and app use, this phone comfortably lasts the day between charges.
HTC’s One X, One S and One V showed the smartphone world how to do an excellent mobile camera. Everyday photos came out crisp and colourful, while a host of excellent features – including Burst Mode and the ability to take snaps at the same time as shooting HD video – made these cameras truly versatile, and worthy replacements for a compact. Thankfully, the Galaxy S III’s camera packs in all of these features and more.
With a zero-lag shutter speed photos take instantly, and you can take around three a second just by hitting the shutter button fast, or use the Burst Mode feature to take eight in super-quick succession. The Galaxy S III can even pick out the best photo from the set it takes, or you can manually choose yourself. This is perfect for those action shots, if you love taking snaps of your kids or pets. Auto-focus can be overridden by tapping the screen to get perfectly focused shots at all times, and we got some cool close-ups with blurry backgrounds, as you can see in our shot below. You also get control over the ISO, exposure, white balance and more.
Evening shots are obviously more grainy than daylight shots, but they still look good compared to almost every rival's night snaps. See our image gallery for more shots
Once your photo has been taken, you can then edit it by rotating and cropping before sharing it with the world – and Samsung has made it incredibly easy to share your snaps with friends and family. As well as the standard email and text options, you can upload to a host of social sites such as Dropbox, Picasa, Google+, S Memo and Flipboard, all in just a couple of touches. You can also tag your friends in a shot and use the tags to contact them directly, or share the photo with them via email using Samsung’s ‘Buddy Share’ feature. The sheer number of options available is stunning, but it’s all very intuitive so you never feel overwhelmed.
Check out our indepth review of the camera and its social features
The front-facing camera is also razor sharp, featuring a 1.9-megapixel lens which captures just a little too much detail for our liking during video chats – be warned, your buddies will see every wrinkle.
I command you!
S-Voice is Samsung’s take on Siri, a voice recognition service that can be used to open apps, send messages, set alarms and plenty more. You can also ask random questions, which S-Voice then strives to find the answer for.
You wake S-Voice by either tapping the Home button twice, or saying ‘Hi Galaxy’ on the lock screen (you can customise the wake-up command, so we’re sure plenty of users will have great fun swearing at their Galaxy to get it to do stuff), then simply talk into the mic as usual. Saying ‘Hi Galaxy’ on the lock screen is supposed to provide a hands-free method of accessing S-Voice (say if you’re driving a car) but to bring up the lock screen you need to hit a button anyway, so its use is a little limited.
Once you’re into S-Voice, it simply isn’t as streamlined as Apple’s Siri service. For a start, you have to say ‘Hi Galaxy’ again between commands, even though S-Voice is still active. Ask Siri a random question (such as ‘who scored in Sunderland’s emphatic cup victory in ’73) and she’ll search the web and bring you the answer immediately. Pose the same question to S-Voice, and you’ll first be asked if you want to search the web before an answer is returned. Opening apps and other actions always seems to take a couple of attempts, making it far quicker to simply find the shortcut on your desktop and hit it. Meanwhile, you can only send very short texts and emails as S-Voice gets bored and stops listening after just a couple of seconds.
S-Voice may not quite be a winner, but the Galaxy S III is so packed with features that you’re bound to find plenty that you love. It’s impossible to cover them all without turning this into a final-year Uni dissertation, but here are some of the biggest and best.
Samsung clearly understands that some messages simply can’t be conveyed via text, or that replying to a text when you’re pushing your way through crowded streets is an absolute nightmare. If you get a text, you can immediately call the sender back simply by putting the phone to your ear. Again, it’s not a game-changing feature, but it works perfectly and makes life that tiny bit easier.
Face-tracker is a unique little feature that tracks your eye movements, to tell if you’re looking at the screen – and if you are, the Galaxy S III won’t go into hibernate mode. However, it only works if you hold the phone with the camera pointed directly at your face, whereas we found we usually clutch it at an angle. Great idea, but its usefulness depends entirely on your posture.
S Beam is an expansion of Android’s standard Beam feature, allowing you to share all of your media and files with other Galaxy S III handsets simply by touching them back-to-back. With S Beam enabled in the settings of both phones, the handsets instantly recognise each other and can transmit a 10MB MP3 file in just two seconds, or a 1GB movie in three minutes. You can even share a website or contacts. We only briefly tested this feature at Samsung’s Galaxy SIII launch event, and most times it worked fine with only the occasional connection drop-out.
Finally, as well as full access to the Google Play store for downloading apps, you also get Samsung’s own S Suggest, which shows you apps and games you might enjoy, as well as allowing you to share new discoveries with friends via social networking sites. We’d hope the suggestions would be more based on what you’ve downloaded in the past, but it seems to be more of a general ‘hey, if you’re a guy you might like this’. Still, it’s a useful inclusion if you’re stuck for recommendations.
If the size of this review has proved too much and you skipped straight here hoping for a quick verdict, let us say this: the Samsung Galaxy S III is our new favourite phone, packing in even more fantastic features than the HTC One X. Between the quad-core performance, the brilliantly bright and bold Super AMOLED screen, the feature-stuffed camera with its excellent sharing capabilities, and the solid but seductive design, it’s hard to pick out just a single great feature that will make you fall in love. But fall in love you will.