Samsung Galaxy S III Lightning Review: A Powerful and Feature-Packed Glossy Pebble of a Phone

By Gareth Beavis on at

Just as we were beginning to suspect Apple had the patent for "smartphone hype," along came Samsung and its Galaxy S III, which saw so much fervour when it was announced in May, we were worried people were breaking some sort of law. Considering its predecessor sold millions upon millions of units, a lot of expectation's been heaped on Samsung's shoulders for this quad-core launch. But how does it perform under the Giz microscope?

 

What Is It?

It’s the phone that’s designed to put the iPhone – and every Android phone - in the shade. It’s got that HD display with next-gen screen technology; Samsung’s new quad-core Exynos chip, and a whole heap of new software, including an eye-tracking ability to maintain screen brightness.

 

Who's It For?

Those that simply have to have the latest in smartphone tech – and especially the Apple naysayers. While those S II owners might think twice about upgrading, anyone on an Android phone from 2010 would be a fool of biblical proportions not to check out the Galaxy S III.

 

Design

When it comes to the Samsung Galaxy S III, there are people who will be swayed simply by the specs – but there are also those who'll have no idea about the benefits of a multi-core CPU and only want to know how it feels in your pocket.

This is probably the one area that the S III struggles in, as the HyperGlaze polycarbonate chassis is relatively cheap-feeling the first time you pick it up, thanks to the glossy back and faux-brushed metal.

The camera set-up has lost the iconic crafting of the Galaxy S II, and now looks like any other anonymous Samsung smartphone, with the volume button placement making it slightly tricky to activate the lock key on the other side.

However, while first impressions will be mixed, the build quality of the Galaxy S III is excellent. The toughened glass front feels very solid when stroked and prodded, and the ergonomic design of the chassis (inspired by nature, if you believe Samsung) fits very well in the palm -- almost like a pebble, thanks to its rounded edges.

Plus, in a snook cocked firmly in the direction of the HTC One X and iPhone 4S, there’s a removable battery with a slot for microSD storage expansion adjacent – a double win for phone fans wanting to customise their smartphone experience.

 

Using It

Samsung has definitely gone for evolution with the Galaxy S III, with a new version of the TouchWiz overlay sitting astride the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich.

This means the best bits of Samsung’s UI skin remain, with some larger and well-thought out widgets (which are often resizable too) making it easy to customise the Android experience down to the last letter.

The menu button, which looked like it was going the way of the virtual Dodo, is back once again, meaning you'll spend less time faffing-about looking for the menu icon within apps -- settings and options are only a feathery touch away.

The camera is strong, if not that much updated. It uses a very similar sensor as seen in the S II, and while the software optimisation has made it super quick and added in some key features, camera lovers might not want to use this as their daily snapper of choice.

But overall, the phone just works. Be it trying to force the interface to lag under the finger (it won’t) or playing graphically-intensive games (just lovely), the S III serves up oodles of power and performance that will struggle to be matched during 2012 (although it must be said that the HTC One X gives it a pretty good run for its money.)

 

The Best Part

The Super AMOLED screen offers terrific viewing angles and sharpness – the AMOLED HD technology might not be the best Samsung has to offer (we’re still waiting for Super AMOLED HD Plus on a smartphone), but to most eyes the difference is almost imperceptible.

Internet viewing and media consumption are much improved as a result and even Google Maps has been given an update to make use of the high-res technology.

 

Tragic Flaw

We’ve already covered it: the design. We can see where Samsung is coming from with the whole ‘nature inspiration’ (and claims it’s trying to evade any probes from Apple’s lawyers don’t seem wholly unfounded) but there will be those wandering into their local phone emporium and glossing over the slippery, shiny device.

 

This Is Weird

While not exactly "weird," the performance of two of the S3’s key features – S Voice and Smart Stay – didn’t do much to light our inner screen. The voice recognition accuracy of S Voice is just too poor to be used day-to-day (think Siri without the comedy comebacks), despite looking almost identical to Apple’s offering.

Smart Stay, which tracks your eyes to make sure the screen stays lit during use, works mostly, but there were times when it claimed to see you looking at the display and then shut it down anyway, which made its presence frustrating.

In fairness, Samsung has already promised to update these features, should tweaking be needed, so let’s hope this happens soon, as accuracy definitely needs to be much improved.

 

Should You Buy It?

In a word: yes. Get past the design and you’re looking at one of 2012’s leading smartphones: dizzyingly powerful, with a beautiful screen, and more storage than you can shake a USB stick at.

It’s not perfect (and we’ve yet to see one of this year’s smartphones reach that bar) but it’s very, very close… and will probably be enough to entice those that simply can’t bear the thought of waiting until October to pick up the iPhone 5.

- Screen: 4.8″ 720×1280
- Processor: 1.4 GHz quad-core Exynos
- Storage: 16GB/32GB/64GB, Up to 64GB SD card support
- Camera: 8-MP rear camera with LED flash, 1.9MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: HSPA/3G, Wi-Fi 80.211b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA, A-GPS, GLONASS, NFC, Wi-Fi Direct, USB On The Go
- Ports: microUSB (MHL compatible), 3.5mm headphones
- Battery: 2100mAh, removable
- Price: £500 off network

 

Availability

On sale across Europe at the end of May, O2, Orange, Three, T-Mobile and Vodafone have already confirmed they'll be stocking the Galaxy S III, along with Carphone Warehouse, which has confirmed tariffs will start from £36 a month.

- See the best offers for the Galaxy S III here