Samsung Galaxy S3 Review

Samsung Galaxy SIII – 19300T

Having been the happy owner of 4 HTC phones – JasJam, Diamond, HD2, Wildfire S, + the wife’s Desire – and generally very satisfied with the hardware & build quality of all except the lack of RAM in the Wildfire S, Samsung was going to have to offer something special to win me over. I’m not setting out here to compare the Galaxy III with the One X or XL in my case, but I spent quite a bit of time whilst waiting for my previous mobile contract to expire reading up and deciding which phone to purchase. For me, the two big deal breakers that pushed the S3 across the line were firstly expandable storage with removable Micro SD card and secondly, the larger capacity removable battery.

Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung Galaxy S3 – No raised edges around the screen makes it vunerable.

HARDWARE
Firstly the exterior, all that shiny gloss. Why Samsung, why? I went for the blue version which appears to be a brushed finish in most photos, but it’s very smooth and shiny like the white version.This was the biggest hurdle for me on chosing this phone and more for practical reasons, not cosmetic. Though the body is surprisingly grippy and feels great to the touch, what a fingerprint magnet! Sure they can be wiped off, but for something that constantly requires handling in all maner of situations, seriously, a bad choice. I’ve tried hard to look after my latest investment in technology, but after 2 weeks that glossy surface is already scratched, though only minor, both on the back from just placing it down and also in the top corner of the supposedly tough Gorilla Glass 2 on the front, from having it in my pocket, screen always toward my body – without keys! The screen slopes slightly downtowards around the edges in a convex manner so there’s no protection from surface contact if inadvertently – or purposely faced down to mute the S3 which is a feature. I’ve also noticed a very slight gap between the edge of the screen and the body which is likely to be a dust, grime trap over time.ย  I’ve now invested in a silicon case and screen protector film, but I intend to shortly get a much sturdier “Otter Box”, which will offer far more protection at the expense of adding a little bulk to it’s already formidible form factor.

Galaxy S3 - Gorilla Glass 2 scratch

Galaxy S3 – Gorilla Glass 2 scratch

I’ve read and heard a few comments saying the S3 too big, but because it’s very thin with curved edges and well rounded corners it’s actually very comfortable in jeans pocket and compared to the HD2, it’s easier to slide in and out as needed. To me, it also felt more ergonomic to handle than the One XL because of it’s curves, though perhaps subjectively, some consider it looks a bit retro in design. In that regard you could say the white version with it’s big chrome bumber and rounded body is reminescent of ’70s cars like the XB Falcon – mmmm,ย  where as the square edged plainer One XL is like the XD Falcon of the 80’s – ARRGH, perhaps not.

As for button placement, out of habbit from using HTC devices, I reach for the top more often than not to turn it on, but the power button is more conveniently placed where you index finger sits on the right side when you hold the phone naturally or pick it up – the right way, which due to its symetry is often not the case. It can also be turned on from standby by pressing the “home” hardware button on the front under the screen – I guess this is why Samsung chose a physical button instead of a more subtle option like the search and menu buttons either side. It’s very convenient when mounted in a cradle in the car, though turning it off/standby requires pressing the side power button. The long press for power off options is too short. Double pressing the home button launches S Voice (more on that later) and holding it down opens a task switcher/manager – which functions well but is not as polished as that on the One XL. The volume buttons are on the left side easily operated by the thumb when holding. All buttons have a positive feel with little play adding to the impression of good build quality.

There’s a headphone jack on the top edge and a Micro USB slot on the bottom edge – good placement when in a cradle. A USB to HDMI cable is available from Samsung. The supplied in-ear style headphones provide decent sound with solid bass when fully inserted, but block out surrouning ambient noise. Many might say that’s a good thing, but I usually like to hear something of what’s going on around me and I much prefer my bluetooth headset for that reason –ย  which work faultlessly with this device. The rear facing speaker at the back generally provided adequate sound, but is on the quiet side for hands free phone calls in a moving car with ambient road and engine noise.

The back cover is plastic, shiny and quite thin, but it fits very snugly to the body and is quite secure. Samsung sell an aftermarket back cover which included a flip over screen cover – if only they come out with a rubery matt finish one. It conseals the removeable battery, Micro SC slot and Micro (or is that mini?) sim card.

Samsung Galaxy S3 camera & Volume buttons

Samsung Galaxy S3 – camera, speaker & Volume rocker.

The rear camera lens sticks out just enough to stop most of the S3’s back contacting whatever surface you place it down onto. It has a slightly raised surrounding edge with helps protect the lens glass a bit and doesn’t protrude nearly as much as the lens on the One XL. There’s also a flush front mounted camera lens and proximity sensor.

I’ve been fairly critical in my comments above, but I’m satisfied with the overall hardware of the phone in regard to build quality, ergonomics and function compared to the HTC phones I’ve had previously.

Oh, that’s right, it’s a phone too! Calls have been clear on my end, the external speaker is “just” and only just loud enough for hands free use whilst driving. It’s better than the Wildfire S though by comparison. The other end has had trouble hearing me on occasions when not on speakerphone, but that could be me mumbling. Reception is slightly better than any of my previous HTC phones. I have an area underneath my house where I generally get no reception and I got one bar ๐Ÿ™‚ Bluetooth has also been better with faster and more consistent connection to my Motorola headset. GPS is much faster to get a fix, I’ve only used it Geocaching (which requires precision) once so far, I used default settings and my location was varying by around 8 metres, so took some honing in, but it may have been the weather.

Calendar Screenshot

Calendar Screenshot – what’s with the brown?

S3 – Reduced size original image

S3 – Original size cropped portion.

SOFTWARE
Given my history with HTC phones, I’ve spent a lot of time using the sense interface on both Windows 6 and Android (Eclair, Froyo & Gingerbread), running on my HD2, before I dropped it :(. I spent quite some time researching and trying Samsung’s “TouchWiz” interface running on “Ice Cream Sandwich” before my purchase. Touch Wiz … not a very compelling name, I think something’s been lost in translation to English …ย  sounds like you should wash your hands after you’ve finished fiddling! Given all the gloss hardware, you’d be best to wash them before-hand.

Anyway, the difference between these two interfaces to me is insignificant. They achieve the same thing, sometimes in a slightly different way. Take Samsungs method of adding stuff to the homescreens for example. You can long press on a screen, select “add to Home screen”, then “Apps”, then long press the app to place it – or more simply open your apps menu, long press on an app and place it. During general use, I find TouchWiz faster & less cluttered, though perhaps less flashy and slightly less visually appealing (perhaps why some folks choose the iPhone?). I much prefer Samsung’s keyboard than HTC’s as it takes up less screen space and a better layout, however, I use the pre-installed TouchPal keyboard, much like Swype. I do have a few minor niggles about Samsungs choices however. S-Note and Calendar widgets – why are they beige when everything else is black? On a 5.8″ screen, why is the default icon layout 4×4 – with no other option? Seriously! And there’s no landscape mode for Touchwiz. But honestly, they’re my only whinges. Oh, and there’s no pause when taking video!!! why? There is though with Samsungs voice recorder ๐Ÿ™‚ Another massive plus is the default music player can play songs sorted into folders. It also has SoundAlive – an equalizer built in.

The beauty about software is – it can be changed. To get around some of these issues, I’ve downloaded the free GO Launcher from the market – without “rooting” my phone I can now choose 5×4 or even 5×5 icons and a huge range of stunning themes – many are free, along with Go Locker to customise the lock screen. I also found a nice transparent black widget for the calendar and I don’t use S-Note as I discovered catch.com years ago and love it. In short, don’t get hung up about the interface, experiment – that’s one reason why you didn’t buy an iPhone right?ย  ‘Cause you can customise ๐Ÿ˜›

Aside from the beige widget, the Samsung calendar is much easier to use and has more integrated features than the HTC calendar. Samsung’s build in Alarm is so good, I no longer have to use Alarm Clock + from the market – it even reads out the weather, todays appointments and the top news article for me. In driving mode, the S3 reads out appointment alarms, incoming text messages and tells me how many new emails I have. Perhaps this is an ICS feature, but I’m impressed! The phone dialer interface is easier to use,ย  and there’s no lag when switching to speakerphone. Hear that HTC? None!

I haven’t had much success with Smart Stay, which is supposed detect your face looking at the screen – so I’ve just upped the screen time-out, no biggie, it’s a feature HTC didn’t have anyway, but sometimes it would be a nice feature if it worked. I’ve had mixed results with S-Voice. It’s great for “turn on wi-fi” etc, but when it comes to “Note: mop head and bucket” – I won’t tell you what it said about my mother, but she definitely wouldn’t be happy! I got better results by changing the settings to use Google voice, UK settings. Sounds much posher too ๐Ÿ˜‰

Samsung have also included Navigon by Garmin. Once you download the free maps over wifi it will save on your mobile download quota, but some extra features attract a charge.

Samsung Galaxy S3 Camera

Samsung Galaxy S3 – showing the brushed finish on the blue model.

I’m generally pleased with the camera results, photos are clear without being oversharpened and colours aren’t bad – nothing photoshop can’t fix. In high constrast shots, often skies are blown out with over exposure. The auto HDR setting is very good for bringing out dark forgrounds. It can be a bit tricky trying to get the camera to focus and expose where you want it to. I haven’t taken much video, what I did take was a play that was quite dark. The S3 tended to expose the dark parts correctly but over exposed lighter parts – like faces – on the standard settings. Because of the lack of light, it was a bit grainy, even more-so when zooming in. I think with some practice and fiddling with setting, results will improve.

Every phone I’ve had – or researched – has had some short-comings and the Samsung Galaxy S3 is no exception. It’s not perfect, but it’s bloody close and over all, I’m very happy with it and it’s going to take some beating.

Here’s some improvements if phone developers read this …
– Please, matt finish not gloss.
– Front facing stereo speakers top and bottom of the screen
– 41 megapixel camera like the latest Nokia 808
– Quad core AND 4G
– build in kick stand
– a bottle opener would be nice ๐Ÿ˜‰

One response to “Samsung Galaxy S3 Review

  1. I took my S3 swimming – it was submerged in 1.6m of chlorinated pool water for about 15 minutes – AND IT SURVIVED!!! After shaking as much water as I could out, I placed it in rice for 24 hours and it came back to life, with only a small glitch with the headphone socket sensor seemingly being affected – saying they were plugged in when they were not.

    I’ve now upgraded to the Samsung Galaxy S5 – thinking the only real advantage for me would be the camera (and mild “waterproofing” after my swim), but as happy as I’ve been with the S3, the S5 ROCKS!!! Faster, better battery life (almost double without using powersave!), better signal strength, GPS, IR control makes for a great multi-room, multi remote, screen is bigger (room for numbers on keyboard) and I use the health app more than I thought. I don’t use the fingerprint scanner though.

    While the S5 is physically not much bigger, the corners are less rounded and the back less curved so it does feel bigger in the pocket. I use a spigen Slim Armour dual layer case which doesn’t add to much to the form factor while offering nice looking reasonable protection and I’ve installed a toughened glass screen protector – much better than plastic film.

    I also got a “Pressy” ($25 crowd-source project) – a programmable button that fits in the headphone socket – which I mainly use for (almost) instant camera access and torch. Finding it pretty good even though the software (from play store) is still in early development.

    I’ve also switched to Nova Launcher – much less bloated than Go, faster, smaller and no nagging adware – so good I paid for the Pro version. Running a 7×6 desktop grid to make better use of that massive screen, and 6 icons in the sliding dock. I sort icons into folders and use widgets to keep clutter down.

    Still no bottle opener or kickstand, but nice effort Samsung.

    S5 Nova Launcher screenshot

    Like

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