Samsung Galaxy S3 review

Samsung Galaxy S III

The Galaxy S III was unveiled and launched only just over a year ago. That fact feels odd these days, when the Galaxy S4 is in the market and the S3 is firmly established as a hugely succesful Android smartphone. It was the first smartphone to truly take the fight to the iPhone, and as a consequence we live in a world in which the Galaxy S4 can compete on an even level with the iPhone 5, Sony Xperia Z, HTC One, BlackBerry Z10Nokia Lumia 925 and the rest of the high-end phone lineup. (See also: Moto G vs Galaxy S3 smartphone comparison review.)

But the Galaxy S III remains a top-level phone in its own right. If you bought one a year ago you are unlikely to be in the market for a new one. And there are good deals to be had on the Galaxy S III - you can pick it up on our own mobile phones deals site for around £20 a month.

Here we've updated our Galaxy S3 review to put it in context with the current market. Should you buy a Galaxy S III? Read on to find out. See also: Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 vs Galaxy SIII vs Galaxy Note II comparison review.

Samsung Galaxy S3: Design

The design of the Samsung Galaxy S3 is similar to its predecessor but different at the same time. For starters the phone is much more rounded with smooth flowing lines and rounded corners and edges, somewhat like the Galaxy Nexus. It looks much sleeker than the Galaxy S2, and the Galaxy S4 looks extremely similar to the Galaxy S3 in design. Put simply, it's just a bigger version.

Go to Samsung Galaxy S3 specs and pictures.

We're disappointed that Samsung has kept the physical home button which is saddled by two touch sensitive counterparts for Back and Menu. The Home button is a too thin and narrow and we'd much rather a full set of touch buttons but you can't have everything.

One design flaw is the lack of a Recent Apps button to access the multi-tasking feature of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Instead you have to hold the home button down, not something we found intuitive at all.

The buttons and ports are spread out around the handset with Power on the right, Volume on left, microUSB on the bottom and the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. The buttons are easy enough to reach and have a nice action, although we would prefer the Volume rocker to be a little larger.

Samsung said the shape is 'inspired by nature' but we don’t really care - what matters more is the size, weight and feel. The Samsung Galaxy S3 is very thin and light for such a large phone at just 8.6mm and 133g. It is comfortable to hold, partly because Samsung has reduced the bezel size keeping the dimensions down as much as possible.

The smartphone is almost exactly the same size as the HTC One X at 71 x 137 mm. It’s a really big phone and though it’s comfortable to hold it is sometimes difficult to use, having to stretch across the large screen with one hand simply due to its size. This is coming from a user with quite large hands so we fear that for a lot of users the device will be just too big for day-to-day usage. Visit: Samsung Galaxy S3 vs HTC One X comparison review.

The Galaxy S3 handset is available in pebble blue and marble white. The former has a nice brushed finish while the latter a glossy sheen. Both look nice but we prefer the blue option.

Galaxy S3: video review

Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone

Samsung Galaxy S3: Build quality

We can't help but feel the Galaxy S3 has too much of a plasticky feel, mainly brought about by its flimsy removable rear cover which effectively peels away from the back. This is a let-down and not something we want to see from such a 'premium' smartphone with such a high price tag.

Despite the overwhelming use of plastic, the Galaxy S3 feels well made. The thin metal rim running around the edge gives the phone good strength, offering only a small amount of flex when put under strain. The one-piece glass front feels especially nice so ignoring the rear cover it's a good effort.

The Galaxy S4 has maintained this design and build feel. It is also made mostly of plastic, but over time we have come to realise that being made of shiny plastic makes a phone more robust and impervious to scratches and bumps, which may be no bad thing.

Samsung Galaxy S3: Hardware

As expected the Galaxy S3 is powered by Samsung’s own Exynos 4 Quad processor, something we actually knew before the launch event. It is a 32nm chip based on the ARM Cortex A9 quad-core architecture and has a clock speed of 1.4GHz.

Strangely Samsung hasn't specified the amount of RAM but our benchmarking app tells us that it has 780MB which the specification sheet would probably tout as 1GB.

In the GeekBench 2 test the Galaxy S3 managed a score of 1659. The Galaxy S4 outdoes this with a 1.9GHz quad-core processor. It breezed its way to being a new record holder in both Geekbench 2 and GLBenchmark with results of 3227 and 41fps. The former is significantly more than the HTC One's 2721 previous record and almost twice that of the Galaxy S3.

The Galaxy S4 couldn't quite manage a treble win but still gave us an impressive time of 1092ms in the SunSpider test. The iPhone 5 remains the best phone in this area at 903ms.

But this is to forget the S3 remains a great performer. When it made the Galaxy S3 Samsung managed to achieve the kind of smooth performance previously only reached by Apple's iPhone. It's the kind of situation where we struggled to make the Galaxy S3, er, struggle.

For example, the phone can play video content in a pop-out window while you do other tasks. If you want proof of performance then there you have it. Other demanding tasks such as scrolling and zooming on a desktop version of website just happen with no lag; the processor puts up no fuss whatsoever.

The biggest lag we found was the short delay between pressing the power button to wake the handset up and the screen coming to life. But even then the delay was minor.

In terms of internal storage, the Galaxy S3 matches the iPhone 4S and has 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacity options. Much to our delight it also has a microSD card slot for expansion of up to a further 64GB. This choice is a big win in our opinion.

As we mentioned earlier the Galaxy S3 is a pretty big smartphone. This is mainly down to its 4.8-inch Super AMOLED screen which has an HD resolution of 720 x 1280.

The Galaxy S3 screen is stunning and comparable in quality to the one found on the HTC One X. It has a high pixel density of 306ppi where individual pixels are not distinguishable offering astonishing levels of detail. Viewing angles are very good; we found reflections in the screen more of a problem. The Galaxy S4 by contrast has a 5in screen, meaning it will be slightly larger than the Galaxy S3's 4.8-inch display. Its resolution has also increased - from 720x1280 up to a Full HD 1080x1920. This ups the pixel density  significantly from 306ppi to 441ppi.

In both cases Super AMOLED technology means colours a bright and punchy while blacks are very, well, black. It's partly what makes the screen have such an impact on the eyes but users wanting a more natural look will probably find the screen a bit garish.

Wireless charging is a stand out feature which is not only super cool but very practical too.

Other connectivity in the Galaxy S3 includes the standard Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and microUSB as well as near-field communications (NFC) technology and support for the digital living network alliance (DLNA) standard.

Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone

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NEXT PAGE: Samsung Galaxy S3 camera, software, battery and specs >>

Here's the rest of our Samsung Galaxy S3 review.

Samsung Galaxy S3: Camera

Like most modern smartphones the Galaxy S3 comes with dual cameras. The rear facing one is rated at 8Mp and has an LED flash while the front camera is a 1.9Mp shooter which can record HD video at 30fps.

We found the results to be good but we haven't been blown away by the quality. Most pictures were sharp and colours were suitably saturated. One thing the camera coped well with was pictures in a dimly lit room.

The camera app launches quickly and is easy to use. It also has various handy features including HDR, a burst mode which can shoot up to 20 images and Best Shot which takes eight photos and chooses the best one.

Samsung says it has zero shutter lag, which we found to be mostly the case. A feature called social tag allows you to link people in a photo to social networks like Facebook.

We found the front facing camera produced a brilliantly clear and detailed image with only faint hints of graining – a rare thing for a smartphone.

The Galaxy S4 has a 13Mp rear facing camera and a 1.9Mp front facing camera and both images and video footage from each was very impressive with excellent levels of details, good exposure and colour saturation on the default 9.6Mp (16:9) setting.

Samsung Galaxy S3 camera

Samsung Galaxy S3: Software

There are no prizes for guessing that the Galaxy S3 is running on Google’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. To be precise, version 4.0.4 coupled with Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface overlay.

The new improved version of TouchWiz is much better than previous versions with a sleeker and more modern look. There is a maximum of seven home screens which you can cycle through continuously. As usual with Android smartphones you can customise the interface with different widgets, wallpapers and app shortcuts.

At the bottom of the screen is an app tray with four slots for your most used apps and a shortcut to the Apps Menu. We like the notification bar which gives easy access to various settings such as Wi-Fi, Volume, Power Saving mode, Music player controls and, obviously, notifications.

The S4 ships with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. The interface is familiar to that of the Galaxy S3 so existing Samsung users will feel right at home. Other Android users shouldn't find it too hard to get used to either, since everything is located where you would expect it to be.

One tweak is that the settings menu has been split into different tabbed sections, but this isn't hard to get accustomed to. As well as the Google Play Store, the Samsung Hub is another source for games, movies, music and books.

What Samsung offers is seemingly endless amounts of software features on top of the usual Android ones. The firm did this with the Galaxy S3 to differentiate itself and has gone even further with the Galaxy S4. Since there are so many we'll go through each one, explaining what it does and whether it's any good.

Overall the user interface is just like Android smartphones from rival vendors. However, Samsung has gone all out with extra software features and apps to make the Galaxy S3 stand out from the crowd.

S Voice

One of the most prominent is S Voice, Samsung's voice recognition software similar to Apple's Siri. For starters you can use it to unlock the Galaxy S3 phone by saying something like "Hi Galaxy". More importantly you can ask S Voice to carry out tasks like get a weather forecast, send a text message, set a reminder or play music.

The software worked well most of the time but as we feared there were times when it didn't understand what we said. We also had to wait for a long time while the dialogue was processed. It can tell you where you are by opening Google Maps but couldn't tell direct us to the nearest post office, for example.

There's more bad news here because S Voice told us it was unable to send an email and we found the UK voice to be quite annoying. Generally Siri is a much more polished and usable experience.

Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone

Motion Controls

Samsung has added a number of motion activated controls - some we found gimmicky and some were actually useful.

Smart Stay is Samsung's eye tracking feature which ensures the screen does not turn off as long as you are looking at it.

Direct Call allows you to instantly call the contact you are browsing or sending a text message to by lifting the Galaxy S3 phone to your ear. Smart Alert tells you if you have any missed calls of messages when you pick you phone up. Both are handy features for most smartphone users.

Another couple of tricks that we liked are turning the phone over or covering it with the palm of your hand to mute sounds or pause music and double tapping the top of the handset to go to the top of a list you're viewing.

There are a couple of weird and pointless ones like panning the phone to move around a picture you've zoomed in on or moving an app shortcut between home screens.

We like all the neat additions which largely improve the Galaxy S3's usability, even if some are simply needless.

Apps

Our Vodafone handset came with a few extra apps but ignoring these, the Galaxy S3 doesn't come pre-loaded with too many apps. This is a good thing and there is still plenty of interesting apps to keep you busy and entertained.

AllShare Play as an app which lets you share content between multiple devices over the internet and via AllShare Cast can you put whatever is on your Galaxy S3 screen on a larger display like a TV, similar to Apple's AirPlay.

For music lovers there is Samsung's Music Hub which has been updated recently. The new service is currently exclusive to Galaxy S3 owners and allows unlimited streaming of music, a store and radio stations for £9.99 per month.

Samsung Galaxy S3: Battery

Samsung has fitted the phone with a whopping 7.9Wh battery promising rival beating battery life. Similar high-end smartphones we've seen have typically lasted a day before needing to be charged, but the Galaxy S3 lasted an impressive two days.

Of course the battery life will vary from user to user, though. Anyone who watches a lot of video content or plays games on the phone will likely find it needing a charge each night while others may see it last a few days if it's only used for the odd text message and phone call.

To help the user get the most out of the battery there is a power saving mode which can be enabled.

With a battery about a quarter larger than the Galaxy S3 and a display which uses less power despite packing more pixels, we would expect the Galaxy S4 to offer decent battery life.

So far we found the whopping 9.8Wh (2600mAh) battery hasn't lasted quite as well as we thought. During the space of a working day we lost 65 percent of the juice, albeit with a fairly heavy usage pattern. Again, the S3 is no slouch even now.

Samsung Galaxy S3

See also: Samsung Galaxy S3 vs Apple iPhone 4S comparison review.

Follow Chris Martin and @PCAdvisor on Twitter.

Samsung Galaxy S3 Specs

Network:
2.5G (GSM/ GPRS/ EDGE)
3G (HSPA+ 21Mbps)
4G (Dependant on market)

Display:
4.8" HD Super AMOLED (1280x720)

OS:
Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

Camera:
Main: 8mp Auto Focus with flash, zero shutter lag and BSI
Front: 1.9mp HD recording @30fps with flash, zero shutter lag and BSI

Video: Full HD (1080p) Recording and Playback

Connectivity:
Wi-Fi- a/b/g/n, Wi-Fi HT40, GPS/GLONASS, NFC, BT4.0(LE)

Internal storage:
16GB / 32GB / 64GB
External memory:
microSD Slot (SDXC 64GB exFAT Support)

Size:
136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6mm, 133g

Battery capacity:
2,100 mAh

Samsung Galaxy S3: Specs

  • Android OS: ICS
  • HSPA+ 21Mbps / HSUPA 5.76Mbps
  • 8MP AF with LED Flash
  • 4.8 Super AMOLED MIPI (C-Type)
  • A-GPS / BT v4.0 USB v2.0 / Wi-FI (802.11 b/g/n/a) OTG
  • Recording definition: 1080p / Playback at 1080p resolution
  • Sensors: Acceleration, Electromagnetic, Gyro, RGB, Proximity, Barometer
  • -1.5GHz Quad Core CPU
  • Simplanner/Video Hub/Chat ON
  • Android OS: ICS
  • HSPA+ 21Mbps / HSUPA 5.76Mbps
  • 8MP AF with LED Flash
  • 4.8 Super AMOLED MIPI (C-Type)
  • A-GPS / BT v4.0 USB v2.0 / Wi-FI (802.11 b/g/n/a) OTG
  • Recording definition: 1080p / Playback at 1080p resolution
  • Sensors: Acceleration, Electromagnetic, Gyro, RGB, Proximity, Barometer
  • -1.5GHz Quad Core CPU
  • Simplanner/Video Hub/Chat ON

OUR VERDICT

The Galaxy S3 remains an excellent smartphone. It offers a good design and build quality, despite our small niggles. Samsung has put together an impressive set of hardware resulting in silky smooth performance and extensive software features. It is certainly in no way outdated in the current market.

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