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Samsung Galaxy S3 Review


In the space of a couple of years Samsung has managed to propel its Galaxy range of smartphones from obscurity to almost the same level of fanatical devotion as the iPhone. The original Galaxy S became the biggest selling Android phone of all time, and the first phone to beat it in this respect was its successor the Galaxy S2. Now the third handset in the Galaxy S range looks set to smash records again.





It has already become the most pre-ordered gadget in history – beating any pre-order volumes set by the iPhone. Demand for the phone has been so high that Samsung has struggled to keep up supply levels. But is it worth all the hype, or is it just riding on the reputation of its predecessors?

The initial reaction a lot of people had to the Galaxy S3 was "it's ugly". There were reports that Samsung had specifically designed the S3 with the help of lawyers, after Apple had filed numerous lawsuits against Samsung over the look and feel of the Galaxy S2. Samsung of course denies this, claiming instead that the S3 has been "designed for humans", and "inspired by nature".

TouchWiz and Ice Cream Sandwich

This inspired by nature theme extends to the new TouchWiz UX Nature interface used by the S3. While bringing some new concepts to the TouchWiz UI, UX Nature is designed to make use of several new features added into Android Ice Cream Sandwich. While these little tweaks, such as being able to resize homescreen widgets, may seem rather minor, they have not been available on the Galaxy S2 and older Samsung phones that have recently been upgraded to ICS in the last few months.

Inspired by nature is not simply marketing speak – the new TouchWiz UX does feature natural colour schemes and wallpapers, fluid transitions and organic sounds, which all provide a rather natural feel. But aside from aesthetics, what are the major new benefits of ICS and the new TouchWiz? One of the most talked about, for obvious reasons, is S-Voice.

S-Voice

Apple has frequently accused Samsung of copying its ideas and with S-Voice you feel that perhaps they have a point – S-Voice is clearly meant to be competition to Siri. While Siri may not live up to expectations, or perform quite as well as it does in TV adverts, it was still the most sophisticated voice recognition system to hit the mass market when the iPhone 4S launched last year.

S-Voice is a natural language interface, and so is designed to understand everyday language rather than operating on a strict set of commands that the user must memorise. Like Siri, while S-Voice is fairly accurate it doesn't perform quite as well as advertised. S-Voice is still prone to misinterpreting commands, making it a fairly impressive feature but one that most people would not wish to rely on from day to day. S-Voice can be tied in to other features, such as Google Maps, and can be a handy way to navigate around, particularly while driving.

Display

The Galaxy S2 was considered to be pretty large when it was launched but now seems quite small compared to phones like the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy Note. The S3 is closer to the second two phones in terms of its size due to its large 4.8 inch Super AMOLED HD display. The phone is not as big as you might imagine when you hold it in your hands, but for many people it may simply be too large to comfortably use as a mobile phone.

The screen is exceptional though; there is no doubt about that. Super AMOLED displays have a level of brightness and vivid colours that are not enjoyed by standard LCD screens found on most devices, and it really makes a whole world of difference for video and other visual content. The phone has a 720 x 1280 resolution too, making it high definition, with a pixel density of about 306 ppi (iPhone 4S – 330 ppi). One drawback of AMOLED screens is that they can be harder to view in sunlight, although this seems to be less of a problem on the S3 than it was on the S2. Even though the S3 falls below Apple's "Retina" quality, it is pretty damned hard to spot individual pixels on the screen.

Camera

Cameras are perhaps one of the most important features on a smartphone for most people. The S3 has an 8 megapixel camera, just like the S2, which on the surface may make it sound like Samsung is not offering any improvement here. Megapixel count merely reflects the maximum resolution photographs that a digital camera can produce though, and 8 megapixels actually produces photos that would be considered too large for most everyday users. In other words, beyond 5 megapixels you need to look at other things to determine quality.

Rather than simply slapping on a 12 megapixel sensor and being done with it, Samsung has put a lot of effort into making the S3's camera more usable. The camera has zero shutter lag for starters, so actually get the photos you intended to. The camera will also take a burst of 8 photos so that you can pick out the best shot from a selection.

The S3 also features improved facial recognition. Many phones will claim to have "face detection", which simply means being able to identify something as a face, but the S3's face detection can actually identify individuals and automatically tag them in photographs. Social Tag, as it is known, will then provide the ability to message, call, or interact via social networks with individuals in each photograph by simply tapping on their face. With Buddy Share, it is much easier to share images with friends too.

Other Unique Features

Samsung developed eye tracking technology and this information was leaked prior to the launch of the S3. No one was quite sure how it would be implemented, with some suggesting the ability to scroll around web pages and documents by looking at them. Instead, this technology was implemented as Smart Stay. Smart Stay uses the S3's front camera to determine when you are actually looking at the device and when you are not, and can adjust the screen brightness accordingly to help save on battery life.

Speaking of battery life, we have found the S3 to perform extremely well here. Even with heavy usage while experimenting with the phone, the S3 managed to retain over half of its battery power over the course of a day. The S3 benefits from Android Ice Cream Sandwich and the new TouchWiz here, as both have introduced a number of tweaks to enhance battery performance.

Pop up Play is the ability to watch movies while doing other things. For example, you can continue to watch a video while typing out an email or message. Obviously this is one feature where having a larger screen is very helpful, because trying to do this on a 3.5 inch display would be a nightmare. Smartphones have for some time had the ability to play music while you quit out of the media player to do other things, but this is the first time that a phone allows you to do the same with video. We can see this becoming a fairly common feature over the next few months as entertainment becomes more and more important on peoples' phones.

The S3 also makes it pretty easy to share data with others. Ice Cream Sandwich introduced the NFC powered Android Beam, and Samsung has touched this up for the S3 as S-Beam. S-Beam is essentially the same thing as Android Beam – tap your phone against another NFC powered Android device and you can swap things like webpages, phone numbers and images. S-Beam does extend this to videos and music too, providing a bit more functionality than the standard Android feature on ICS.



Worth the Fuss?

There was a potential that the Galaxy S3 would just ride on the reputation of its predecessor and that it wouldn't offer much new or live up to expectations. Samsung has done a good job of taking the finer points of the Galaxy S2 and making them better while throwing a lot more into the mix too. Samsung could have just introduce a few incremental hardware upgrades – a faster processor, a higher megapixel camera and so on – but the Samsung Galaxy S3 demonstrates that Samsung finally understands what many Apple fans have been saying for some time now; everyday users don't care about how fast a processor is, or how much RAM a phone has, they care about what they can actually do with their phone. It turns out that with the Galaxy S3, what you can do is a lot more than you could with any other handset.

You can read a full review of the Samsung Galaxy S3 at Best Mobile Contracts, as well as finding a comparison of the cheapest contracts in the UK.

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