Samsung Galaxy S3 – the new smartphone benchmark
The Samsung Galaxy S3 is one of the most anticipated phones of the year and many have touted it as the iPhone killer. SEAN BACHER tests the claim…
Samsung generated a lot of hype before the launch of its top-of-the-range smartphone, the Galaxy S3. At a media launch at the Earls Court Olympic venue in London in may, an impressive list of specs and features was revealed to the media. The consensus was that the Galaxy S3 beats the iPhone in just about every aspect – and many touted it as the iPhone killer.
A month later the phone was launched in South Africa. At the time, Samsung CEO Deon Liebenberg quipped that the phone did everything except make coffee.
Is the Samsung Galaxy S3 the phone that will end Apple’s reign as smartphone leader? Does the Galaxy S3 really do everything but the coffee? Both of these are very bold statements and we put the Samsung Galaxy S3 through the Gadget Ten Question Task Test to find out if it could live up to the hype.
1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)
The Samsung Galaxy S3 is large. So large that it dwarfs the iPhone 4S when laid side-by-side. Measuring 137mm from top to bottom, most other phones of this size would have been ridiculed as impractical, but not in the case of the Galaxy S3. It is only 8.6mm thick, so it still feels comfortable in your hand and doesn't make its user feel silly putting it to an ear.
Samsung has stayed away from the unibody design, meaning you can still access the battery compartment, where you would also insert a microSIM and microSD card. These are easily accessible, but you first need to peel away the back cover. I say peel because removing the brushed polycarbonate plastic at the back of the phone is done in the same manner as pulling off a plaster – slowly and gently, as it feels like it will snap in two if pulled off too quickly.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S3 feels and looks great despite its massive size.
2. Slippability (Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed)
It may seem difficult to find a pocket in which to fit the Galaxy S3 unnoticed. However, it is so thin and light, it will even slip into jeans pockets.
At 133 grams the Galaxy S3 is very light for its size and this, combined with its curved edges makes it fit very comfortably in a hand, giving your thumb a good stretch when tapping out text or simply navigating through the menus.
Its ease of use with one hand is a surprise, given how one-handed use is so often talked up as an advantage the small iPhone screen has over its bigger rivals.
3. General performance (speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking)
With a quad core 1.4GHz Cortex-A9 processor and 1GB of RAM, the Galaxy really starts to shine. It is available with 16, 32 or 64GB of internal storage, all of which can be upgraded via an optional extra microSD card. This places it leagues ahead of its nearest current rival, the HTC One X, which does not have expandable memory.
The phone boots up in seconds and a quick swipe of a finger anywhere on the lock screen brings the Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system to life. You are presented with five home screens, which Samsung has pimped out with its TouchWiz skin. Besides offering a few additional features over and above those built into the Android operating system, the skin offers a range of widgets and apps that are plastered all over the home screens.
The Gadget speed benchmark – Angry Birds Space – installed without a problem and launched in seconds. The birds flew through space without any pauses and glitches.
A good indication of how well a phone handles multitasking is when it has been populated with a few everyday applications and when all news feeds, e-mails and Twitter streams are being downloaded to the phone. Even with dozens of apps open, e-mail and Twitter services running in the background, the Galaxy S3 showed not even a glimmer of slowing down. Swiping from one home screen to another was fluid, no matter what was on the next screen. All games and apps functioned as if the were the first and only apps open.
Mini versions of open apps are listed when you hold the Menu key, and from here you are able to scroll through them, end them on the fly or launch straight back into where you last left them.
Android 4 allows you to take more control over running apps and memory usage. For instance, once the Control Panel is opened, you have the option to kill all running applications or clear the RAM’s contents completely.
The Galaxy S3 handles apps, games and multitasking well.
4. Life as we know it (How’s the battery life?)
The S3 runs on a Lithium Ion 2 100mAh battery. At first I was doubtful of how long it would be able to drive the powerful processor and large screen, but the battery didn't disappoint.
A fully charged battery easily gives you a full day of normal usage – that is checking e-mail, tweets and taking and making phone calls. It performs susbtantially better than the iPhone 4S.
Samsung’s Smart-Stay technology employs a front facing camera to detect your face and keep the phone from switching to standby mode. This means you can set the time for automatically switching to standby mode to the shortest interval and still be able to use the phone without having to tap the screen to keep it awake. Look away though, and it goes on standby.
The battery offers a decent amount of operating time and this, combined with Samsung’s clever power saving features like Smart-Stay, give the phone almost full marks.
5. Vision of the future (picture, video and browsing quality)
Samsung has pulled out all the stops here. One of the most appealing aspects of the phone is its screen. It uses a 4.8” super AMOLED capacitive touch screen offering a resolution of 720x1280 pixels with a 306 pixel per inch density. This is not as good as the iPhone 4S Retina display, but it is nearly impossible for the human eye to pick up the S3’s “missing” 24 pixels.
The screen is covered with Corning Gorilla glass to protect it from everyday scratches and is bright enough to use outdoors – although it struggles in direct sunlight. It even lights up dark rooms, which I learned the hard way when switching it on in a cinema.
The rear 8MP camera takes pictures at a resolution of 3264x2448 pixels and includes mundane features like auto focus, face recognition, geo tagging and image stabilisation. The not so mundane features include Burst Shot that captures up to 20 images with one click, Best Photo which selects the best picture out of the burst and Intelligent Camera that captures separate still images while shooting video.
The front 1.9MP camera features face recognition too and is able to capture video at up to 50 frames per second.
Internet pages are crisp and uncluttered when displayed on the S3. Pinch zoom and tilt to zoom (where you hold two fingers on the screen and tilt the phone back and forth until the required zoom is gained) features eliminate the need to pan horizontally and vertically.
The superb screen and unique camera functions put the Galaxy S3 in its own league.
6. Talk to me (quality of audio)
The S3’s loudspeaker offers a decent sound when used as a speakerphone. Voices are crisp and, when used to play music, no distortion is heard – even when cranked up all the way.
Overall, the S3 offers good sound but, unlike just about all the other aspects of the phone, Samsung has not included anything with a “WOW” factor in the sound department.
7. Message in a bottle (range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions)
A messaging app combines all tweets, e-mails, text messages and social feeds onto one screen, which is completely confusing. But dozens of third party apps available in the Google Play Store will allow you to separate tweets, e-mails and text messages. Logging onto the Samsung App Store offers an additional range of apps especially designed for the S3.
The TouchWiz skin includes a much easier way to stay in contact with friends and family. No longer do you need to go to a contact and click through a few menu items before you can call or text them. Simply find the person in the address book and swipe left to make a call or swipe right to bring up a list of alternative ways to communicate.
Near Field Communication (NFC) is being mentioned more and more and this feature did not fall through the cracks when Samsung built the S3. S-Beam (Samsung’s version of NFC) allows for quick sharing of photos, contacts and messages when two phones are near each other.
Overall, the messaging features are on a par with most other Android phones. NFC is a nice-to-have option, but at the moment only the new, top-end phones offer this feature and thus it will hardly be used.
The S-Voice option that lets you operate the phone via dictation works well – just as long as words are properly pronounced. I found it to be on a par with Apple’s Siri, being only around 40% accurate. The voice recognition is not accurate enough to be able to dictate and send an e-mail without double-checking afterwards.
8. Keep control (How effective are hardware and software controls?)
With all the new features and functions the S3 has to offer, you’d think only a rocket scientist could operate it. Not so. Below the screen is a physical Home button that returns you to the Home screen - no matter which app you are using. On the left is a Menu option and to the right one for going back. Besides that, the phone features a Power button and Volume rocker.
Thanks to the large screen, the virtual keyboard buttons are easy to read and use. They are almost gigantic compared to the iPhone’s and are easy on the fingers when tapping out text.
9. The new new (innovations, unique features)
Very seldom does a phone come along with something unique. But Samsung has done it. Its large screen, Smart-Stay, Burst Shot and Pop-up Play, which lets you perform other tasks while watching video in a mini window, are all features that won’t be found on other phones - yet.
10. The wallet test (Is it competitively priced?)
At the time of launch in South Africa, the recommended retail price of the Samsung Galaxy S3 started R7 999, but is available on some deals for as low as R7 500. Expensive for a phone and, yes, slightly more expensive than the equivalent iPhone 4S. But, the large screen, combined with its unique features, warrant the small price difference. Although I wouldn't exactly label the Galaxy S3 as a value for money phone, it won’t disappoint those who can afford it. It is available on contracts ranging from R350 a month upward.
Total score: 82%
The iPhone has been the smartphone benchmark for some time now, but the Samsung Galaxy S3 has taken that title from Apple and is undoubtedly the new leader. When sizing up phones, people will soon be saying: “So, how does it compare to the S3?” instead of “So, how does it compare to the 4S?”
Apple will have to come out with guns blazing when it launches its new smartphone in October if it wants to regain its position as market leader. A simple OS upgrade and more powerful processor just won’t cut it this time round.
* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher