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The Samsung Galaxy S3, one of the most anticipated Android smartphone ever, finally arrives in the USA after a successful launch in Europe and elsewhere. In its final North American form, the Galaxy S3 differs from its international cousins in two ways: it it not powered by a Samsung Exynos quad-core chip, and it comes with support for faster 4G LTE networks (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon), thanks to a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip.
Now, the question is: “how good is it?” and our goal here is to take our best shot at answering this. In this review, we hope to give you a realistic feel for how it is to use the Samsung Galaxy S3 in the real world. Ready?
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 + microSDHC or 32 GB
Battery capacity: Li-ion 2100 mAh
Back camera: 8 megapixels with LED, autofocus, records video
Front camera: 1.9 megapixels
AT&T Network: 3G, HSPA+, 4G LTE (and WiFi)
Verizon Network: 3G, 4G LTE (and WiFi)
T-Mobile network: HSPA+ (and WiFi)
We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that we tell you what I do with my smartphone(s): we typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. We browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. Not much phone calls – maybe 10mn a day, if at all.
On the “apps” side, Hubert has a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps (<20), but but rarely play games or do something super-intensive like video editing. Eliane likes to check-in often and tends to install a lot more apps on her phone. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know where we’re coming from…
As usual with Samsung, the Super-AMOLED display is great, its quality is comparable to other high-end smartphones such as the HTC One X. AMOLED technology delivers more saturated colors, which Eliane likes better since her designer tastes lean toward vivid colors over an accurate transcription of reality.
The contrast is very good and black is really black. In comparison, on the HTC One X, black is slightly gray. However the One X reproduces the “reality” more accurately especially when using the display as a camera viewfinder. Overall, both devices offer a comparable display quality, with a slight edge for Samsung.
In direct sunlight the display is still readable and offers comparable visibility/readability than the iPhone 4S and the HTC One X (see picture).What’s new?
As we wrote in a previous paragraph, the Samsung Galaxy S3 features a more elegant and sleek design than its predecessor the Galaxy S2, we are happy with the disappearance of the bump on the bottom-rear, the use of a smooth surface instead of the textured finish and the new curvaceous body.
The usual Super AMOLED display is larger (4.8”) and has a higher resolution (1280×720) than the previous model which was only 4.3” large with a 800×480 resolution which was a common standard at that time. The Galaxy S3 display is also a hair larger than the HTC One X screen (4.7”).
Obviously, this latest phone uses a much faster chip, and we will have much more data a little bit later in the review.New / Specific features
Samsung says that it has designed the Galaxy S3 to interact with “real world objects”, which is a fancy way to say that Samsung wanted to make sure that its latest phone would be useful in real-world situations. To do so, the company has added a few features that use technologies like NFC (Near field communications) and WiFi-Direct.
NFC is an ultra-short range wireless communications protocol that enables devices to exchange short bursts of data. The distance is so short that it’s convenient to say that we have to make “contact” in order to initiate the transfer, but this should work through a glass for example. Samsung has modified the NFC feature of Android to support transfers as big as 1GB.
WiFi-direct basically allows two devices or computers to communicate with each other without going through a router (which usually managed everyone’s IP addresses). This allows WiFi direct to run in the same way that Bluetooth does, except with a much higher bandwidth.
GroupCast via WiFi-Direct: GroupCast is typically used to share documents with other phones via WiFi-direct (same router). First, all the participants have to connect to the same session, then the “master” device can broadcast while participants can write notes on top of the shared information. One can share a Powerpoint presentation for example. We really like the idea, but you need other people to have GroupCast as well, so until this becomes more universal (and even cross-vendor), chances are that business folks will stick to the good old projector.
AllShare can send a video from the Samsung Galaxy S3 to a Samsung TV that is compatible (we tried with an LED 8000D). AllShare is based on DLNA, and although it may work with non-Samsung TVs, you can imagine that having all devices from one brand is probably the easy way to do it. AllShare can also act as a local server which lets you access local content from the web. To do that, you will need to create a Samsung account so that Samsung servers can initiate the connection between your devices over the Internet.
Samsung Voice commands – S Voice Application (Could be better)
We have tested the S Voice application listed as one of the key features on the Samsung Galaxy S3 official website.
In many instances S Voice did not understand what we were saying, and this may be due to our foreign accent in English. However Google Voice Commands understood perfectly sentences such as “Find restaurants” or “422 Townsend street”. For the latter, S Voice understood “422 Canton Street” perfectly though. When we asked “What is the weather” both applications got it right, however S Voice was much slower to return results than Google.
The results might be better if you do not have any accent in English, however, many different people speaking English as the first language may still have very different accents, so eventually some of them would experience similar difficulties with S Voice.
Note that while they can return similar results for some questions, the Google Voice Commands does not interact with apps at the same level than S Voice does. Google would not be able to set an alarm for example.
Samsung Smart Stay: According to Samsung, Smart Stay uses eye tracking technology to prevent the display from timing out as long as you are looking at it. This feature is transparent to the user, and we did not notice any issue with it.
Smart Alert: A feature we did not have the time to try: Smart Alert detects when you have been away from the smartphone and it triggers a vibrating nudge to alert you when you have missed calls or messages.
In its original form, the Samsung Galaxy S3 was equipped with Samsung’s own Exynos quad-core processor. However, to accommodate the 4G LTE requirements of U.S carriers, Samsung has opted for the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core SoC with a Adreno 225 graphics processor, which is the prefered chip of many handset makers when it comes to a 4G LTE solution.
We’ve seen the Snapdragon S4 in action before with the Sprint HTC EVO 4G LTE, so we expected -and got- very good performance out of the couple of Samsung Galaxy S3 phones that we have in the office. To illustrate this, we ran some benchmarks, and here are the results:
Antutu is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance.
As you can see, the Galaxy S3 is among the top contenders, and the Tegra chip wins here because Antutu has a good test for multi-core performance. At this game a quad-core chip like Tegra 3 will tend to win. To be fair, the Snapdragon S4 does outperform Tegra 3 in floating-point benchmarks Floating point computations tend to be important for scientific calculations, game simulations and things of that nature. On the other hand, multi-core is used natively (to a point) by the OS and non-floating point instructions are used more often. Interesting architectural differences.
Nenamark 2 is a test which tries to measure the graphics processor performance. It is handy, but keep in mind that the latest games use much more complex techniques that are not represented in this test.
With an average of 59.7 frames per second, or 55 Megapixel per second (55 million pixels processed per second), the Adreno 225 GPU of the Snapdragon S4 easily win this contest, and it is no small feat. This thing is really fast. Actually, this benchmark doesn’t even show the real speed of the Adreno 225 GPU because the framerate was capped at 60FPS for most of the demo. Basically, the Snapdragon S4 makes the benchmark obsolete.
Perceived performance: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?
The perceived performance of the Galaxy S3 is excellent. The phone is fast and responsive and did not experience any hang up, which is always comforting for an Android phone. In fact, the phone is so responsive that I think that the user interface animations are holding it back, and we would love to get an option to disable them for maximum productivity.Misc
Assistive light widget: this is basically a flashlight widget that turns the LED light of the camera ON and OFF. It’s great because it is faster than any app and that’s because there is no loading time. The widget is always loaded and ready to go. Genius.
No Power widget: where did the Power widget go? For sure we can access all those functionalities in the notification area, but having the Power widget on the home page is the best way to see if something should be turned off like WIFI or GPS. Fortunately, there’s the power control widget from PainlessDeath.Battery life (Good+)
With an overnight (8hrs) 13% drop in battery life (T-Mobile GS3), the battery life under the best conditions isn’t what we expected. Other devices equipped with the same chip fared much better and went as low as 4%, while other top phones are around 8-9%. We will have to take another stab at testing this and make sure that the conditions are exactly the same or as close as possible, but for now, these are the numbers.
Keep in mind that battery life varies a lot depending on the apps that run in the background, your network reception, your local network density and the amount of time that the: display is ON. You can always refer to the Android battery report to see what is consuming the power. Finally, keep in mind that network transactions generated by apps can appear as “Android” as it is ultimately the OS that handles those transactions.Conclusion (Excellent)
It is fair to say that the Galaxy S3 is an excellent smartphone. While it is not the “revolution” that Samsung fans were waiting for, the S3 deserves its spot in the Android Hall of Fame. Its design had created some controversy, but we do like it – a lot. The curves of the phone make it very nice to manipulate and the smartphone feels surprisingly light – even if it is not actually lighter than the HTC One X – the power of design, we suppose.
Samsung’s near-fanatical focus on providing genuinely useful features to the end-user deserves some kudos as well. While not every project turns out to be a blockbuster, things like S-Memo, S-Voice and TecTiles have demonstrated great potential at making a difference in one’s daily life. Finally, the quality of the camera hardware and software makes the Galaxy S3 a pleasure to use for casual photography, which is the #2 activity for smartphone users.
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