I give an exclusive review of the Samsung Galaxy S3, the hottest smartphone out there at the moment. I run through all of it’s features, gives it’s pros and cons and my general recommendation. Featuring a 4.8″ HD AMOLED screen with advanced communications, NFC, Quad core processor and Android 4.0 with a 8 megapixel camera, it is one heck of a smartphone.
When I first got this handset, I was wowed by the size of the screen. 4.8” is big. Then I realize it’s thinner than my iPhone and it has a removable battery. So a few days earlier I go into Meteor and buy a full size sim card and €5 worth of credit. Turns out the Galaxy S3 takes Micro-sim. Don’t fret, I replace my iPad sim and insert it into my Galaxy S3. It snaps in and I boot up the device.
The first thing I notice is the setup. If your a social media guru and Web 2.0 connoisseur you will know most of these services. Samsung uses them to their advantage to give you an “iCloud of sorts”. Google will sync with your contacts, notes, calendars and obviously eMail. Samsung options you to signup for their service which allows you to backup your device to their cloud and remotely track it and erase it (e.g Find my iPhone). Then they give you the option that when you take a photo or video it can be sent to Dropbox (Photo stream) So it really feels like at the last minute Samsung thought, how do we make it a cloud phone and rather than making their own propitiatory cloud they take the minimum and outsource the rest. I’m not sure if I should be disappointed with them or kinda cool with the fact my photos are in my Dropbox (However it’s not free storage, if your always snapping photos, your free storage will suffer) but I guess time will tell.
After going through about 50 setup screens of connecting services, setting up “google play” and turning on the wi-fi… I’m actually so glad that this phone can connect to 5GHz Networks. My iPhone can’t do this and this phone can, in fact, not many smartphones today can (Don’t ask me why!?) so color me impressed. Whist doing this I have to enter many passwords and for the first time, I’m using a onscreen keyboard with responsive typing (vibration on keyboard area). You really have to get used to the big screen there and make sure you don’t mess up entering passwords (Many logins had no “show password”) so the vibration and the big screen could throw you up, Concentrate!
As soon as the phone finally worked I notice it comes with a ton of apps. You then forget the phone comes with an App store and then you feel restricted that it only has this amount of apps. This is the moment when Android hits you, the hardware is absolutely great but the software is crap. I have no problem with the Samsung skin they load on top Vanilla Android but I’m absolutely disappointed by the bloatware. Along with Google Play (The app store), Samsung load on their own curated app store. And it’s not the case of just having one Samsung market app, THERE are several, REALLY!? Let me get this straight, Samsung owns Music Hub, Video Hub, Game Hub, S suggest, Samsung Apps oh and “More services”.
….Samsung, listen to me here just put all that into one app and call it the “Samsung market place” You hear me? Thanks, that would be great. But I tried to not let me get that in the way. They organize the apps by the alphabet which I guess for many is fine but I decided to re-organize the menu to my taste. It would make sense for many but some apps like calendar and notes has an “S” before them and are given alternative naming like “S Memos” and “S Organizer”. Good news is calculator is just calculator.
The device is running the Android 4.0 Ice cream sandwich software and while it is optimized, some stuff on the UI is a tiny bit clunky, and it is NOT the phones fault as I prove later on just how fast I found that processor on the inside.
But for a few, lets move onto the hardware. It features Volume up and down keys, a power button among a home button and touch sensitive menu and back keys. The touch sensitive keys are extremely flawed in some scenarios. The one I notice most is that when I take a photo, a finger will hit the back-
key which will exit the camera app and thus, missing a shot. But that aside lets talk camera. The front facing camera features a 1.9 megapixel camera, not fantastic but good enough to see if there’s food on your teeth or to see if that spot calmed down, again no one really uses these front cameras but this camera in particular, would be great for Skyping. The rear camera features 8 megapixels with Auto focus camera with flash and zero shutter lag. Full 1080P HD recording at 30FPS. The rear main camera is pretty good quality. Below I have a zip file with 4 shots, two from the Samsung Galaxy S3 and two from the iPhone, they haven’t been altered with and i’ll let you make their own assumptions. (I removed those GPS coordinates from them though, eh hem). From what I can tell they are in some cases, on par with each other but I notice in some lighting conditions, the Galaxy S3 saturates areas of the photo and the saturation leads to loss of image quality. One thing on the good side is there is a bigger lens view point so you can fit more ground into your photograph or video.
Speaking of photography, the display. It’s 4.8” and is 1280×720 HD resolution. It’s super AMOLED and is very sharp and crisp. It’s around 306PPI and if we remember a certain keynote, our eyes can only notice pixels of 300PPI or lower. In other words, while it doesn’t beat the iPhones 326PPI the screen is “retina”. While it may not beat Apples “retina” I can confidently say with such a big screen, there is not straining going on here. Text and photos are crisp, videos are a dream to watch on this device and it becomes entertainment, not an eye exercise or chore. To be honest, I prefer this screen over the iPhones, mainly due to it being much bigger (And it suits me fine) and still maintaining crisp quality. Speaking of the size of the screen, 4.8” to many may be very big. Considering the iPhone is 3.5”, that’s about a 1.3” increase, and boy is it worth it. When the Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone came out (Pure Open source Android reference phone) it was featured with 4.7” screen. Many complained about the keyboard and that sometimes to hit certain letters, you needed to shift and move your hand to reach. I have small hands and I had no problem typing on this display. There was no hand moving and it was a very smooth experience. I sent emails and texts on the device in both vertical and horizontal mode although for that size screen, the vertical mode offers a better experience.
I have opinions on that “predictive text” but more on that later.
The sound on this device is great, it’s very loud and for speakers, it’s clear’ish. I mean it’s above average but not your home theatre surround sound system good. The device does come with earphones (that appear to be in-ear) however my review unit didn’t contain them so I can’t comment. I used my own earbuds and I’m really surprised by the music app. Lots of sorting options and a lot more advanced features built in such as E.Q. I also notice playing music through the headphones you can raise the volume a lot louder on them whist remaining good quality on standard headphones.
The design of the phone is of Samsung standard, generally high quality. The display is high quality, the front of it is made from high quality materials. It has a 133.6x 70.6 x 8.6mm frame and weighs about 139g. It comes with many communications including the “Dream” wifi connectivity (Cough5GHzCough), Bluetooth 4.0 (LE), You have the GPS and NFC connectivity. The radios on this phone is 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900/ 2100 MHz and is the HSPA+ version. Being HSPA+ (21Mbps download at maximum) it features a 1.4GHz Quad core CPU. Those in the states will be getting an LTE model however it will only be dual core. This may impact the speed of the device in the states and could alter US reviews. The battery is 2,100 mAh and this particular model came with 16GB of storage, you can also get it in 32GB of user memory and a 64GB model coming soon. Oh, and also, Micro-SD card for an additional 64GB of storage (Theoretically, 128GB total… Which is a LOT). The model I have is “Marble White” but there’s also a “Pebble Blue”.
Back to the actual design of the phone and the specs while it is a lot thinner than the iPhone and most of the smartphone market, the fact the battery and SD card is removable is a big plus. The downside is the backing of the phone feels a little cheap when removing and sometimes, feels like it could snap into bits. What’s strange is when the cover is installed on the phone, when using the device it doesn’t actually feel cheap so it’s just one of those odd occurrences. The backing has a simple Samsung logo embedded on it. On the back of the phone is also where the speaker/ microphone appears to be located along the Camera and flash. The front of the phone beside the front facing camera and sensors features another microphone and LED light.
Now lets talk the software, most of what i’m about to say is not Samsung’s fault. It’s just unfortunate that Android is built like this. If I was to describe Android in one word, it has to just be “clunky”. A prime example of this is Mapping. It comes with 3 Map applications, “Maps” “Navigation” and “Places”. The sad part of this story is that the “Maps” app performs as advertised and CAN do what the other two apps offer. Why Google, why!? Another thing is, and this time Samsung is not being left off the hook is for offering apps for services not available in certain locations. I’m talking the “Video hub app”. This is what Samsung offers to sell you movies and TV shows and it wont work here in Ireland, why give it to us? Better yet, why can’t we delete it!?
Speaking of Software, it feels like Samsung really tried to take Apple head on, first with their cloud integration mentioned above. Second, is their “S Voice” which is a Siri competitor. It acts the same way as does Siri with a “personable” personality. If you ask “S Voice” “What are you wearing?” she replies in almost the same fashion as Siri with: “This is me playing coy.” What I’m getting from this is that 4 weeks before announcing the phone Samsung got 10 developers together and said: “Make Siri happen on this phone”. And the problem with that is the “S Voice” is in one word: “Clunky”. It’s very slow to launch and is keen on you yelling at it “Hello Galaxy” before performing an action. In my experience the “S Voice” service kept giving me Network errors (On Wi-Fi) and other times she’d answer me fine. But then if she understands you wrong, there is no option to correct what “S Voice” interpreted by the keyboard the same way Siri does, if Siri hears you wrong you can manually change a word or phrase. “S Voice” doesn’t allow you to do that. She can do basically all the things Siri does besides (May be a deal breaker for some, but email).
But enough of S Voice another thing is Samsung Vs. iMessage, Samsung bundles “ChatOn”. At this stage, I’m tired of signing up/logging into services and my friends that don’t use that app. No point for me what so ever to install it, but it is a 3G/Wi-Fi chatting app. Basically it’s iMessage but not integrated.
But enough about Samsung apps, lets talk the important apps. The phone can sync with your Google and FaceBook account which is pretty awesome. Both lists will show up with usual contact info. The only gripe is you can’t change the “Me” card contact to someone in your address book which is a little annoying but never mind. Texting is actually pretty good on this phone, the keyboard works well. The gripe I have with the phone keyboard function in general is “Predictive text”. I’m turning that off, if I spell something right, the phone still wants to correct it and so on. Otherwise I’m a fan of the keyboard and texting, although no free texts (And I wont use ChatOn so don’t!). Nicely, the chats in the Messages app are in threads. In other-words, the Phone and Texting apps are great, after some modifications.
One thing I notice about Android in general is that each app offers users a different interface, colour, and user experience change. On iOS, all the major apps (Phone, SMS, Mail, Safari and Maps etc) Offer a familiar experience that if a consumer was to master one app, he/she could master it all as they know that’s a button, that’s to scroll. If I was to sum up the Android UI experience is that the regular consumer would find the device “un-user-friendly).
Moving onto Mail, I actually, I feel maybe I just need to get used to it but it’s: “Clunky”. Messages are zoomed in if they contain images and can’t be pinched to zoom out. Then there’s the hassle with multiple mail accounts, the fact that mail accounts wouldn’t work with my GOOGLE APPS account until some trial and error. I personally don’t like the email app, I know many don’t and instead use the Gmail web interface.
My next thing is browsing on this device. I don’t know why in the world google thought this was a good idea but it’s that the navigation on the browser is awful. It comes with a URL and a google search bar that’s it. It took me a while to figure out how to scroll back and forth through pages then I realized I need to use the touch sensitive button to do that then press menu to go forward. AWFUL, awful, awful. I went ahead and installed chrome beta and I can say it’s a better experience. It syncs with chrome for your desktop and I know where I can find my book marks and navigation buttons under the menu. However I just don’t understand why with such a big screen, they can’t squeeze in two buttons that can make a website go back and forward. But still, sites render fast and quick. There’s adobe flash built in along with adobe air and is generally a nice browsing experience. I didn’t do much on it but I ran my usual what websites I visit on mobile and they perform well.
Other apps the device comes installed with is services like flip-board, latitude and their airplay equivalent: “Allshare play”. You connect your compatible devices to your samsung account and then connect them together. You can add web storage to access your files anywhere and any time.
Now that you know everything there is to know about the device from setup, hardware and software, here are my final feelings and thoughts. It will be split up into Positives, Negatives, Opinion, Recommendation and where to buy.
The pros of the device is the hardware. This hardware is fantastic. The battery gets you around 14 hours of use, only turning on GPS when needed,bluetooth turned off and by that 14 hours your hitting the emergency 3/4% charge but with a smartphone it’s to be expected. The hardware is very thin and light for a 4.8” screen and the screen in one describing word is “Fantastic”. I really don’t know of a better screen with the size and quality combination. It features a fast processor that can even make use of face unlock where it’s not just some slow gimmick feature. Games play fast on the device, Android runs decent enough for a smartphone. It has a very good quality camera and features high quality video recording. The call quality is fantastic, texting is easy to type on. (And I have small hands) And web browsing is easy to use with such a big screen. I also love the Music app, it features lots of genre, artist and song options and lots of advanced e.q settings. The speakers on the device is loud. It’s just a really top of the line, advanced smartphone which I can’t fault on hardware. Another feature I love is the fact when your watching video, you can pop out the video in a small screen and do other stuff. Basically if your typing a really long boring email, you can open the movies app and watch some Buffy while emailing. With the keyboard I love the typing “Swype” where you can swype letters to create words.
The cons of the device is really at most the software. The biggest gripe I have with this device is the “S Voice”. It’s a half-baked version of Siri, which Siri it’s self is half baked. The problems with it is while it offers the functionality of Siri in iOS6 Beta like launching apps and posting updates, it just has a bad voice recognition system and most of the time doesn’t understand me. Other times I get an infamous “Network error”. The other cons with the phone is really just it’s media management, not exactly the phones fault, it’s Androids, but since Samsung built so many of their bloatware apps (Which I’ll get to in a moment) there’s no PC/Mac application that works where you can sync content onto the device. Instead it’s an old school mounting the flash drive on your PC and on Mac, using the worst limited software used in my entire life. I wish Samsung would release a simple “iTunes” of sort where I can easily sync my Music, movies and videos. Speaking of media management while I love the Music app, the videos app is the worst. There’s no good organization and the folders are pretty mediocre, even though I do love the video pop out feature. The only gripe about the keyboard is the autocomplete, while it works sometimes even if I type the correct word, it gives errors.
My opinion of the device is I like it, I love the hardware. I think the combination of size and the big 4.8” HD AMOLED screen it is pocketable and doesn’t look too bulky. The device is sturdy and feels good to hold. It’s glossy yet not slippery. I didn’t like the fact the device came with lots of bloatware and this bloatware can’t be deleted. The bloatware is in a phrase “Up the Wazoo” and is really a job for editing the menu and drag those junk apps to the end of the app list. The worst feature of the phone again is the “S Voice”. Samsung needs to iron it out so much in terms of voice and quality of speech recognition. Besides the media management the rest of the device is really good. I know the opinion might have had a lot of negative text in it but my opinion on the device in total is “Excellent”. If I was to rate the phone out of 10, I’d give a 8.6/10. That’s a solid rating.
My recommendation of the device would be for people who used smartphones before. Moving from a feature phone or “Dumb phone” it may be a little scary to use, especially some of it being Android. Being bombarded with lots of services to setup in the setup and that unless you use social media and web 2.0 apps, Services like “Dropbox” would be lost to the general population. If you used a smartphone before you will just love this upgrade. The screen and build of the phone is to the highest quality, it runs very fast and has lots of features and features a great keyboard and camera. Would I use this as my main phone, I used it as my main phone for the past 48 hours by swapping the Sim-card and I can safely say “Yes”. Will this be my next smartphone, I’m really not sure. It depends what the big A comes out with but having to go back to a small 3.5” smartphone next week, will be hard.
Where to buy:
You can get this device on all carriers in Ireland. All carriers have their own Contract plans and on Prepaid ranges for €599 off Meteor/eMobile. €599 off of O2, €579 off Vodafone and €559 off Three. Currently on all the contract plans, Three is the only one to offer Unlimited Data (15GB then throttling) and eMobile offers 15GB.
My Final words to sum up the Smartphone in a sentence: “I Love it”
EDIT #1: It appear Samsung read this review and in all of 2 hours cooked up a migration app that can move people from iOS to Android Software, the big part is for this of course is that it works for iTunes. Click ME