REVIEWED: Samsung's New Flagship Android Phone, The Galaxy S III

samsung galaxy s iii in bushes

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

Overall, I think Samsung makes the best Android phones. That’s part of the reason why it sells more than anyone else. 

It’s also why when Samsung launches its new flagship “Galaxy” phone every year, it’s a very big deal. 

This year, we have the Galaxy S III, the third-generation of Samsung’s popular Android line. Like its predecessors, the Galaxy S III sets the standard for what an Android phone can and should do. Everyone else seems to be playing catch up.

The Galaxy S III launches this month on all four carriers. I’ve been testing one for a few days now, and I really, really like it. Keep reading for the full review.

You can also click here for photos, specs, and more on the Galaxy S III >

After years of releasing one blocky Android clone after another, it’s refreshing to see Samsung pay more attention to design this time around. 

The Galaxy S III’s design is dominated by its 4.8-inch display. That may sound too big compared to the iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen, but Samsung was able to keep the phone’s bezel super thin so its body is still a reasonable, pocketable size.

It feels like the screen is floating in your hand when you’re holding the Galaxy S III. And like all Samsung displays, the photos, text, video, and graphics look super crisp and bright. It’s tough going back to a phone with a tiny screen after using the Galaxy S III. It’s that good.

Other than that, the overall design is sleek and smooth. You won’t find a straight edge on the Galaxy S III, which makes it a delight to hold.

And best of all, Samsung finally broke with tradition and released the Galaxy S III with the same design on all carriers. (In past Galaxy phone releases, each carrier sold a variation of the base model with different screen sizes and other hardware.) 

samsung galaxy s iii customised home screen

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

Now for the downside: I’m disappointed that Samsung still covers its high-end phones in plastic. You can tell the phone’s designers tried to mask the cheap materials by giving the phone a glossy finish, but as soon as you grip the Galaxy S III you know it’s not built with the same quality and care as the iPhone or even the BlackBerry Bold.

Using It
The Galaxy S III is Samsung’s first smartphone to launch with the latest version of Android, “Ice Cream Sandwich,” out of the box. That makes it the only Samsung phone you can buy right now with the best features Google’s mobile operating has to offer. 

But Samsung made some additions of its own to Android. The Galaxy S III has a bunch of special Samsung-only services, but I’m going to go over the most important ones.

First up is S-Voice, a voice-controlled assistant that is a blatant ripoff of Apple’s Siri on the iPhone 4S. Except it’s worse than Siri. And that’s saying a lot, since I already think Siri is pretty bad.

With a double tap of the Galaxy S III’s home button, the S-Voice app launches. The interface is nearly identical to Siri’s. You can ask it for the weather, to send a text, find nearby restaurants, launch apps, and a bunch of other tasks. These actions appear in little speech bubbles, and you can handle most actions without opening another app. (For some reason, S-Voice doesn’t let you compose emails.) More detailed questions will either pull up a Wolfram Alpha search or direct you to a Google.

Like Siri, S-Voice only works if you’re connected to the web. But I still ran into a few problems where S-Voice couldn’t contact Samsung’s servers to complete my requests. If Samsung’s servers are down, you’re out of luck, no matter how strong your connection is.

S-Voice isn’t as smart as Siri either. Whereas Siri can usually understand context and make a good guess at the answer you’re looking for, S-Voice needs you to be very clear and tell it exactly what you want. I did several side-by-side tests asking Siri and S-Voice to perform the same tasks or answer the same questions. Overall, Siri understood me better and got stuff done more quickly than S-Voice. But neither app is a perfect solution. At the end of the day, you’re still better off being your own assistant.

samsung galaxy s iii lock screen

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

Next, Samsung added a bunch of nifty content-sharing options to the Galaxy S III. The phone has a near field communications (NFC) chip that lets it talk to other nearby phones. Samsung uses this technology to power something called S Share. S Share lets you tap your phone against another so you can swap videos, photos, music files, and just about anything else over Wi-Fi. Transfers are incredibly fast, and I was able to swap a minute-long video to another Galaxy S III in just a few seconds.

There are other sharing options too. For example, you can pair your Galaxy S III with several others and opt to share photos taken with your camera. If a friend snaps a photo on his Galaxy S III, it’ll beam to everyone else’s he paired with over Wi-Fi. The drawback is that this process can take a while depending on the photo size and the number of people sharing at once. It also only works on the Galaxy S III, but Samsung says the feature will appear in future smartphones and tablets.

Speaking of the camera, it’s packed with a ton of cool features too. Unlike the iPhone, you won’t have to pay for a separate app to take better photos. The built-in camera app has everything you need. One of my favourite features is called Burst Shot, which lets you hold down the shutter button and take several photos in rapid succession. The phone then automatically selects the best photo of the bunch. (You can also manually select your favourite photo if you want.) 

Photo quality is pretty good too:

samsung galaxy s iii camera test flowers

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

The Galaxy S III will be available on all four major carriers (plus U.S. Cellular), but each network has its own quirks. I tested the AT&T model, which runs on the carrier’s 4G LTE network, the fastest wireless standard available. The Verizon model also has LTE. Sprint’s model will have LTE, but the carrier’s network isn’t live yet. Finally, T-Mobile’s 4G network is plenty fast, and even rivals LTE speeds in certain cities.

Bottom line: Although speeds can vary wildly, just know that the Galaxy S III will give you fastest connection possible in your area and on your carrier. You’ll be happy.

samsung galaxy s iii hbo go app

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

Battery life, at least on the AT&T model, was atrocious. I barely made it through a day of normal use. One day, I didn’t have much time to look at my Galaxy S III, so it was in standby almost the entire time I was at work. When I checked it before going home, I was already at 50% battery life. I was down to 30% by 9 p.m. The back of the phone also gets super warm, even if you’re just checking your email or browsing the web. 

It appears that giant, power-hungry screen and super fast LTE come at a price. Not good.

But overall, the Galaxy S III has the hardware to back up its impressive software features. It’s powered by a dual-core processor, which is a bit slower than the special quad-core processor the international version of the phone has. But it does the job. The GSIII never choked on me, even when I was streaming HD video or playing games.

Should You Buy It?
I hate saying this every time I test a new Android phone, but the Galaxy S III really is the best one you can buy today. (The HTC One X is still a very close second. It’s going to be a tough decision if you’re an AT&T customer.)

Prices vary a bit from carrier to carrier, but just about everyone is selling the Galaxy S III at a $200 starting price with a two-year contract. It goes on sale starting this week, but the launch date varies on each carrier. You’ll have to check with your provider for more details.

Here's the box. The Galaxy S III comes in white or blue. I got to test both.

Unboxed! Let's take a closer look...

The phone is huge. But as you can see, most of it is screen. Nice.

Here's the rear camera. It takes great photos and the camera software is full of handy features for making them look even better.


Here's the front-facing camera for video chatting. The Galaxy S III also has a feature that will keep the screen on if you're still looking at it. The camera automatically switches on for a second and uses facial recognition to accomplish this.

The Galaxy S III's design is gorgeous. I love the curves and the simple home button.

It's also very thin. Here you can see the volume rocker.

The power/sleep button is on the other side.

There's a headphone jack on the top.

And a micro USB port on the bottom.

Here's the lock screen. There's a neat rippling effect when you swipe your finger over it to unlock the phone.

Here's the default home screen. Look how bright and clear that display is.

Samsung has a bunch of pre-loaded apps, widgets, and services. Everything you see is fully customisable.

Here's a closer look at the home dock. You can keep your favourite apps here. You can also see the two light-up function keys on either side of the home button. These remain hidden until you press either one.

As usual, AT&T loads Android phones with a bunch of useless crapware. You'll want to remove it immediately. Samsung and Google's software is all you need.

The Galaxy S III is the first Android phone to officially run Flipboard. It comes pre-loaded.

Here's how I customised my home screen. I made a bunch of folders for my favourite apps.

AT&T's 4G LTE network is great for streaming video, but it'll eat up your data plan. Be careful!

Here's a look at the blue version of the Galaxy S III. Shiny!

I prefer the white version. Both colours will be available on all carriers.

Here they are side by side.

Now for another great Samsung phone

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