More fast, thin, and a little bit cheap feeling of Samsung Galaxy S III hands on

Thursday, May 3rd 2012. | Gadget News

samsung-galaxy-s-iii-4fa33f0Samsung today launched its keenly-anticipated Galaxy S III flagship Android phone. We played around with it at Samsung’s remarkably expensive and busy event in London’s Earl’s Court.

The hardware spec of the Galaxy S III is second to none. Quad-core 1.4 GHz Exynos 4 processor (a Cortex A9 design, so essentially the same CPU core as found in the NVIDIA Tegra 3, Texas Instruments’ OMAP 4, and Apple’s A5, among others) with an integrated ARM Mali GPU, paired with 1 GB RAM, 16, 32, or 64 GB of flash (though at launch only 16 and 32 GB models will be available), and a whopping 4.8″ 1280×720 HD Super AMOLED screen. The phone sports a wealth of sensors; 8 MP rear camera with LED flash, front-facing 1.9 MP camera, accelerometer, GPS and GLONASS positioning, compass, gyroscope, and, rather weirdly, a barometer. If 64 GB isn’t enough, you can add micro-SD storage, up to 64 GB SDXC.

The first units to launch will be 3G with 21 Mbit HSPA+ support; later Samsung will launch an LTE version in the US. Other connectivity is provided by 802.11a/b/g/n, NFC, and Bluetooth 4.0. The battery has a huge 2,100 mAh capacity.

The screen uses a Pentile matrix: each pixel is made up of a pair of either red and green or blue and green sub-pixels, instead of the traditional red/green/blue trio. Pentile gets a bad rap, because under some circumstances it can make text look a little blurry, or add color fringes to black-and-white images, and under a microscope, Pentile matrices look weird.

But this is fodder for the fanboys to complain about. In practice, the screen looks good. AMOLED screens sport high contrast and deep blacks, and the unit in the Galaxy S III is no exception. The resolution is high enough to leave text looking crisp and clean, and while there may be Pentile artifacts if you look carefully enough, close enough, in normal usage it’s simply a great looking screen.

The screen is big, and as a result, the phone is big. At least, it’s tall and wide (it’s only 8.6 mm thick). But not so tall and wide as you might expect: Samsung has cut the size of the bezel down, so the Galaxy S III’s footprint is only a slightly larger than that of its predecessor. The narrow bezels, combined with the light weight (133 grams), and that thinness, make it comfortable enough in the hand, though those with particularly small hands may struggle.

Comfortable enough, but also rather cheap. This isn’t the first Samsung smartphone to be built out of plastic, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Plastic is a good material. I have nothing against plastic. Plastic is lightweight. It’s forgiving; glass phones smash, metal phones dent, but plastic phones just flex (at least, to a point). It enables a tremendous variety in colors, textures, and finishes. Nokia’s Lumia 800 and 900 phones are both plastic, for example, but their appearance, texture, and solid feel have been widely praised. Likewise the HTC One X, which like the Lumia’s is a machined block of polycarbonate.

Unfortunately, Samsung uses the same thin, flexible, cheap-feeling plastic on the Galaxy S III as it did its predecessors, and it makes the phone feel like it cost about $2. Since I doubt it will cost $2, this is not a good thing. Both the Galaxy S III and the Lumia 800 are plastic phones—both polycarbonate, so the same family of plastic, in fact—but only one of them feels high quality, and it’s not the quad core flagship device.

Samsung says that the phone has some kind of a “hyperglaze” coating, and while it’s not at all clear to me what the implications of “hyperglaze” actually are, I do know that the phone comes in two colors: Marble White (also known as as “white”), and Pebble Blue, which is dark blue that’s basically black. As an added style element that does nothing to improve the aesthetics of the phone or diminish its apparent cheapness, there’s a silver-colored ring around the edge.

Samsung also continues to use capacitive buttons on the front of the phone, and these continue to be as user hostile as always. They’re too easy to hit accidentally. I hear that they can be done well; they aren’t on the Galaxy S III.

The shape of the phone is all curves; no sharp corners or edges. It was apparently modeled on the shape and feel of a pebble. Samsung is going to great lengths to emphasize how “organic” the whole thing is. I’m no chemist, but I suspect that most pebbles are inorganic (unlike the phone’s carbon-based plastic shell).

The “organic” aspirations are most apparent in the software, and Samsung’s latest iteration of TouchWiz. The Galaxy S III is an Android phone, and yes it runs the latest and greatest 4.0.4, but Samsung made little mention of that. TouchWiz and the company’s various branded applications were the stars of the show.

To make it feel more “natural”, you tap the lock-screen and little ripples appear, and splish-splash noises are heard. Fortunately, not every part of Samsung’s custom UI is pointless gimmickry. Tap and hold the lock-screen, then rotate the phone into a landscape orientation, and it’ll unlock straight into the camera app. Pick the phone up and it’ll show you any notifications that you might have missed. Samsung isn’t the first to do this kind of thing, but it seems eminently sensible; these phones know a lot about their environment, so it’s wise to make use of all that data.

The application that Samsung was most proud of was S Voice, a Siri-like natural language voice control system. A noisy press event isn’t the best place to try out something like this, so I don’t want to sound too critical, but it wasn’t very good. Although Samsung claims it supports both English from both sides of the Atlantic (and a few other languages), it made hard work of my neutral, accent-free British English. When I got it to understand what I asked, it did successfully manage to fulfill some simple requests—telling me about the weather, setting alarms, that kind of thing.

The camera app is probably the most important app after phoning and texting apps, and the camera app worked nicely. The phone can take bursts of up to 20 pictures at 3.3 frames a second, with a feature to automatically pick the best picture of the burst (where “best” includes criteria such as “in focus” and “the person is smiling”). It has face detection and you can double tap on a face to zoom in and focus on that face specifically. It’ll recognize faces in the picture and tag photos accordingly; it even lets you conveniently send pictures to the people identified in the picture automatically.

I didn’t personally try them, but other Samsung apps include S Beam and a pair of AllShare programs.

S Beam is Samsung’s 21st century take on IrDA beaming, allowing quick and easy sharing of files, say, between Galaxy S III handsets. It’s very similar to Google’s Android Beam feature, but has a Samsung twist: as well as slow NFC, it can also use fast Wi-Fi Direct. TVs can get in on the action too with AllShare Play and AllShare Cast. Play lets you play media on TVs via Wi-Fi Direct; Cast duplicates the phone’s screen on the TV. For TVs that don’t support Wi-Fi Direct (which I believe to be most of them), Samsung is releasing a dongle that plugs into an HDMI port.

Another thing I didn’t try—because they’re not turned on yet—is Samsung’s new Hub features. The company already has a subscription music service, Samsung Music Hub. It’s extending this with a scan-and-match feature, similar to Apple’s iTunes Match; it’ll search your hard disk for songs, and allow you to play anything it finds from the cloud. It seems that Samsung is also greatly expanding the number of songs available; currently it boasts 12 million, and this is being upgraded to 17 million. To Music Hub, Samsung is also adding Video Hub, offering film purchases and rentals. These services, as well as existing ones like Samsung’s Games Hub, go head-to-head with Google’s Play. I imagine the most important factor will be which one has the things you want to buy.

The software felt fast and responsive for the most part. There was the occasional sluggish animation or slight delay while scrolling, but in general, the software felt smooth, if a bit complex and busy. Performance should be good with that processor; while I didn’t have time for any serious benchmarking, it ran SunSpider in 1,488 milliseconds. This is fast; it beats the HTC One X, though is still a little behind the x86-powered Lava XOLO X900.

Disappointingly, for all its sensor prowess, the phone doesn’t come with a stylus. Samsung’s advertising for the Galaxy Note has me convinced that “life needs more than texts and smiley-faces;” a stylus (with a proper digitizer, for accurate drawing) is clearly something we should be demanding from our handset manufacturers. Alas, the Galaxy S III has none. Samsung will sell the C Pen, a capacitive stylus, but it doesn’t come with the phone, nor is there a garage/holster in the phone to store the stylus. It’s almost as if the Galaxy Note advertisement were lying, and that in actual fact, humans can cope just fine with texts and smiley-faces.
To help sell the Galaxy S III, Samsung is expanding its use of
To help sell the Galaxy S III, Samsung is expanding its use of “Pop-Up” retail units, which will operate as concessions within other stores and retail locations.

Other accessories include docks and chargers. The phone supports wireless charging. Samsung claimed to be the first here, which obviously isn’t true, since the Palm Pre could be charged wirelessly too. There might be some missing nuance, such as the first to charge wirelessly with a specific technology (there was some mention of “resonance”) or something. The personnel on the show floor seemed vague.

The Galaxy S III is a conservative evolution of the Galaxy S II. The hardware is feature-packed, and TouchWiz has a number of interesting and potentially useful unique features. Android purists will be disappointed at the custom software, but for everyone else, it’ll be well worth consideration when it’s released later this month. It’s just a pity that for all the innovation on the inside, and all the work that Samsung has done on the software, the whole thing is wrapped up in a package that’s so mediocre. Flagship phones deserve better than flimsy plastic.

Related For More fast, thin, and a little bit cheap feeling of Samsung Galaxy S III hands on