Samsung Galaxy S III Review: One X Marks The Spot


Six months ago the Galaxy Nexus (i9250) replaced the iPhone 4 as my full-time, carry everywhere phone; for reasons that I'll save for another time. My wife also jumped over to the Galaxy S II (i9100), and like you, we've been waiting for the GSIII (i9300) for a while now. It's deservedly one of the most anticipated phones of the year, but is it the best so far?


Frankly, the Galaxy S III has big shoes to fill. The GSII was front of the Android pack last year, picking up our editor and readers' choice awards in the process. It still pips the Galaxy Nexus as the most used Android device visiting Giz AU each day, and lives on with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and a newer beefed up 4G model. The Galaxy S III doesn't have LTE ("4G") in Australia…yet. We reported at launch that Samsung says it's “in discussions” with Telstra regarding a 4G version to “follow with in the future”.

While the yanks get a Galaxy S III supporting LTE, they're also stuck with a dual-core CPU. Our version blazes quad-core all the way: 1.4GHz Cortex A9 / Exynos 4 Quad with a Mali-400MP GPU. Apparently, similar incompatibilities between quad-core and LTE chips are also why Telstra's LTE-ready HTC One XL is dual-core versus the quad-core One X.

Ah yes. The One X/XL: the other current heir apparent(s) to the king of Android crown. HTC is back in fine form and its flagship devices and the Galaxy S III are clearly inextricably linked. On paper, I'd give the edge to the GSIII:

HTC One X

- 4.7-inch (1280x720) Super IPS LCD2 screen (~312ppi) with Gorilla Glass - Quad-core Tegra 3 - 8MP rear camera, 1.3MP front camera (720p) - 130g, 8.9mm thick - FM radio - 1GB RAM, 32GB internal storage - No expandable storage

Samsung Galaxy S III

- 4.8-inch (1280x720) Super AMOLED screen (~306ppi) with Gorilla Glass 2 - 8MP rear camera, 1.9MP front camera (720p) - 133g, 8.6mm thick - FM radio - 1GB RAM, 16/32GB internal storage - MicroSD expandable storage (up to 64GB)

In Quadrant (an Android CPU, I/O and 3D graphics benchmark we've used in previous reviews), my test Galaxy S III unit scored 5244 to the One X's 5034. The dual-core One XL achieved 4400 and my tricked-out Galaxy Nexus came back with 2354. The new phones are zippy as hell, and in real world use, I didn't notice a huge difference performing common tasks or moving around the TouchWiz/Sense UIs. Speaking of everyday use…

Using It

As a Galaxy Nexus owner, the GSIII felt invitingly familiar and its thinner top bezel means it's only fractionally bigger than Google's device, despite the larger display. I prefer the GSIII's smooth and curved finish on the back, even if the plastic (and faux metal trim) give a slightly inexpensive impression. It's definitely well-made though, and design can be subjective. For me, the HTX One X/XL comes out ahead in style, particularly the white version.

The Galaxy S III's button layout is just like its predecessor, complete with (for better or worse) capacitive back/menu buttons on either side of a slimmed-down physical home button. Press once to go back to your home screen, hold to bring up the ICS task switcher (with Samsung task manager bonus), and double-click to start S-Voice. The rear speaker is also far better placed for landscape gaming: anyone who has had fingers constantly muffle sound on the Galaxy Nexus will know what I mean here. The speaker is also louder on the GSIII.

As with the Galaxy Note and Galaxy Nexus, Samsung has opted for a PenTile sub-pixel arrangement for the GSIII's display, which is said to have the effect of looking brighter with less backlight to help extend battery life. Critics will point out that the flipside can be instances of blurry text or noticeable graining. The whole display debate bores me, so here's my takeaway. I had to look real hard to find such faults with the GSIII's gorgeous screen. It delivers deep blacks, brilliant colours — and critical to me coming from a Galaxy Nexus — a much truer white temperature, without blue-tinges when you're viewing the screen at an angle.

In true Samsung fashion you can switch between dynamic, standard and movie LED modes, and they've again gone heavy-handed with auto-brightness. Personally, I can't resist just how vivid the screen is at full brightness. However, put side-by-side, the One X/XL screen does seem to 'pop' more.

What We Like

The Galaxy S III packs a 2100mAh battery (compared to 1800mAh on the One X/XL), and with power saving help, you'll easily get through a day of browsing, calls and Google account sync with battery to spare. Meanwhile, my Galaxy Nexus relies on JuiceDefender like a crack addict.

The 'Smart Stay' feature can be handy when you're using an aggressive power mode. It uses the GSIII's camera to determine if you're looking at the screen and not switch off — though it doesn't like low-light. Actually, Samsung has gone to town with interesting features. Decide that it's better to just call someone mid text and 'Direct Call' will automatically dial their number when you hold the phone to your ear. When you pick up the GSIII, 'Smart Alert' will vibrate and use the notification LED if you've missed a call or a message. 'Pop up play' lets you watch video in a window while multi-tasking. You can also tilt to zoom and perform gestures like physically double tapping the top of the phone to jump back to the start of a long scrolling page.

Noteworthy bonus apps include 50GB free Dropbox storage and Navigon turn-by-turn navigation.

Oh, the Galaxy S III is also a great phone. You know, to actually call people. Call quality was top-notch — aided by a secondary noise-cancellation microphone and a Wolfson Micro WM1811 DAC. Samsung's dialler/contacts app has also never looked better.

What We Don't Like

My wife runs GO Launcher EX on her Galaxy S II because even with ICS running the show, TouchWiz kind of blows in my humble opinion. However, the new TouchWiz Nature UI on the GSIII is a vast and snappy improvement. Were I to keep the phone, I'd still probably use a custom launcher — if only to make better use of the screen real estate for my icon grid and gain a scrollable dock. Some of the GSIII's stock sounds/alarms are also kind of naff.

True story: Giz AU's editor Luke got the evil-eye from a lady in Woolworths when his GSIII was set by default to 'whistle' for email notifications. Wish I was there for that. Editor's note: I wish I was anywhere but there for that. Terribly embarrassing.

The Samsung-fest arguably goes a shade too far with a variety of useful, but tediously "S-branded" apps. S Beam looks most interesting: it uses Wi-Fi direct and an NFC handshake to share contacts and links between devices. I've not really found myself using S-Memo (notes) or S-Suggestions (app recommendations). Samsung's S-Planner and Email apps both had me longing for the pure Google calendar/email app experience of the Galaxy Nexus.

Then there's S-Voice, which — let's face it — is a total Siri clone in both UI design and function. But I'm glad it's there. You know the deal by now and it pretty much does what you'd expect. But outside of performing basic tasks while driving, I still feel that Siri/S-Voice is a party trick. You may feel differently.

Cameras

I'm not a fan of my Galaxy Nexus' 5-megapixel camera, especially in low-light situations. The Galaxy S III, however, roars back in 8-megapixel style coupled with a 1.9-megapixel HD video chat camera. It has what's basically an instant-shutter and there's a range of useful shooting modes that go beyond auto-focus and face detection: burst mode (six per second), auto-snap upon smile, HDR, and an insanely intuitive panorama engine. Obviously the GSIII won't replace my DSLR, but wow, I'd be more than covered at a press event if I forgot to bring the camera bag with me.

Meanwhile, the One X/XL takes 0.7 seconds to snap a photo (which is still pretty great) and has a four photos per second burst mode. Its stand-out camera features: real time effects and the ability to capture photos while shooting a video, without having to switch back and forth.

Video

Galaxy S III</h3

HTC One XL

Galaxy Nexus

Galaxy S II


Galaxy S III

HTC One XL


Images

Click to zoom in...

Galaxy S III

HTC One XL

Galaxy Nexus

Galaxy S II

Accessories

The Galaxy S III lacks an HDMI port, so you'll need the $40 HDTV adapter to mirror out to your big screen. Word is that older MHL adapters unfortunately won't work — but on the upside, an 11-pin USB version will enable USB to go. Other accessories include a desktop dock ($50), stylus pen ($30), and an official flip cover ($35).

Should You Buy It? (The TL;DR Version)

If you want all the bells and whistles and LTE speeds aren't a must for you, then hell yes. Especially if you're off contract (See: Who Has The Best Galaxy S III Deal In Australia?) . You'll get a quad-band HSPA+ device with great camera features, microSD storage and speed to spare. The GS III is available in 'Marble' White and 'Pebble' Blue.

For Android data speed freaks, the HTC One XL is now your go-to LTE phone (at least until the LTE GSIII complicates matters). The One XL and the One X are also where you should start if screen quality and design are at the top of your shopping list. Seriously, it's close enough that you're really going to have to try these puppies in person. We couldn't encourage anything less.


Comments

    .... till the iphone 5 comes along and puts these all to shame!

      You mean plays catchup with features that Android flagship phones have had for the last 6-9 months. I don't mean to sound like too much of an android fanboi, but all apple does is polish/overhype features that have been in other phones for some time.

        ... and please don't be 'That other guy'.

        Let's just appreciate that technology across the board is awesome and going awesome places.

      Please don't be 'That guy'.

        Pretty much this. His comment would have been just as intelligent and less annoying if he just posted "First!!!1!11one1!11".

      Any clues as to when the 32Gb SIII is available???

        Already available via Vodafone. I've had mine almost a month!

      I dont think so..s3 has been developed so far ahead that it takes ages for apple to catch up. The only reason iphone is successful is because of design and UI. In terms of performance no way ..

      Thats a huge assumption on your end. The 4S didn't manage to put the GS2 to shame, even though it came out 6 months earlier. Being an Android owner myself, Im holding off on buying the GS3 (even though im massively tempted) because I want to see what santa brings from Apple (new iPhone 5) and Microsoft (WP8) by years end. No commitment from my end to any OS - only best phone wins for me.

      til the wp8 nokia comes along and puts all these androids and iphone 5 to irrelevance

      hahahahaha, ha ha ah aha ... hahahaha... hahaha...oh your were being serious O_o

      BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

      I hate to burst the your Apple fanboi bubble but that's not going to be the case at all. Recent sales figures released by apple indicate that that iphone sales have fizzled. The reason, according to apple is that people are putting off iphone purchases in anticipation of the release of iphone 5. However, apples reason (which has more to do with placating investors) is quite different from reality which is that newer android phones like htc one x and gs3 are getting better, but faster and cheaper with larger screens to boot and are thus wooing current and potential customers away from Apple's flagship. You know apple is in a panic when it starts making lame excuses about how people are not buying iphone now because they are "waiting". Think about this for a moment. Can you or anyone else ever recall a time when apple made excuses about sales of its iphone? The end is near as apples core is about to implode. Lest you think I am an android fanboi, and be aware that I have had all iphones since the 3g and I got rid of my 4 a couple months ago in favor of the one x. I was an apple fanboi and this was my first experience with android OS. Needless to say I haven't looked back. The iphone was the smartphone equivalent to a bike with training wheels. It was great to learn on but I now need to move on to faster, bigger, and better. Mark my words apple will disappoint in the coming months.

    IMO I'd find it hard to recommend given we've just seen that JB is completely win and awesome. Samsung doesn't have a great track record with updates.

    BUt if you don't care for updates I'd say this is a pretty good option as far as Android devices go. The skin has been toned down big time (Barring the ridiculous S-Whatever branding as mentioned in the article).

    TL;DR: Bring on the 2012 Nexus phone(s).

      You will see JB for the GSIII, it's too new to not have it. How long it takes though is another matter (and that's the case for all non-Nexus devices honestly). I have a HTC One X but they are both great phones, I'm just not convinced the S3 is worth the extra $$ and I really despise touchwiz - but TW has it's fans as well.

        They've already announced JB for S III. It's stupid to think they wouldn't update it.

          I'd be more concerned with how they're going to integrate the new features. I've heard not-so-great things about the SII's update to ICS.

            Ive got a work mate who updated his GS2 to ICS and loves it. Hasnt had one problem and even said the other day how its actually resolved a lot of issues for him, made navigation easier and looks better. Win for him.

    I read the article but dont recall the expansion slots being mentioned - if you're a music addict and want to take some library with you you're gonna need more storage especially since the larger storage versions of these phones are thin on the ground

      "- MicroSD expandable storage (up to 64GB) "

    I am really happy with the GS3. Was a debate for me over the HOX and S3, but S3 won out. Huge upgrade from my iPhone and very happy with the price im paying, paid $747 for the phone with free 16gb SD Card at DSE and now on the $12 LiveConnected plan. Screen and speed are amazing, you wont regret this one.

    Reception? Call quality? You know, the things you need a phone for.

      "Oh, the Galaxy S III is also a great phone. You know, to actually call people. Call quality was top-notch — aided by a secondary noise-cancellation microphone and a Wolfson Micro WM1811 DAC. Samsung’s dialler/contacts app has also never looked better. "

        Call quality is mentioned as shown by michael.
        You're right on reception however, but i think the fact it's not mentioned implies that it was fine. In most instances reception is based more on your carrier than phone. So unless you have access to the phone on all major carriers to assess reception you would be presenting a bias review of only one carrier.

        Unfortunately no mention of HD voice quality.

      Call quality is mentioned:
      "Oh, the Galaxy S III is also a great phone. You know, to actually call people. Call quality was top-notch ...."
      you're right on reception however, but i think the fact it's not mentioned implies that it was fine. In most instances reception is based more on your carrier than phone. So unless you have access to the phone on all major carriers to assess reception you would be presenting a bias review of only one carrier.

    The HTC One XL won me over, but oh the agony of choice! :P

    I had the One X for about 12 days, but I had to return it due to disappointing performance, user experience, and build quality.

    I was curious about it since I've never owned an HTC phone before, so I thought about giving it a shot. In retrospect, I shouldn't have.

    Personally, the HTC device felt and looked pretty cheap to me, but I went for it anyway. Should have listened to my guts. It sort of reminded me of a cheap Chinese knock off of a Lumia.

    After only the 4rd day, I noticed the phone was getting pretty dirty too because of the unfinished plastic.

    Performance was decent, with some lag and stutter as Sense is known to do. I was also surprised to get through only 7 hours of moderate usage before my battery notified it was low. The only thing I thought was good was the screen.

    After being frustrated with the quality of my new HTC, I was tempted to return it so I flirted a bit with the S3 at my local TMo store. I rarely make impulse buys, but I left the store 30 minutes later with a new S3 in my hand. That's how much I loved it.

    I still had the One X at home, so I compared the two side by side.
    The Galaxy S3 definitely looks more luxurious, and it felt more comfortable in my hand.

    The S3's performance was also stellar, with no lags that was present on the HTC. I also routinely got a full day's worth of battery even after heavy usage, which is a huge plus. Camera quality seemed sharper and more vivid. I especially liked the SD slot and smart stay feature. Ah, and my favorite is being able to wake up the phone as I'm driving and snoozing my alarms by voice.

    The S3's UI was really pleasant and easy to use, which was a big contrast for me because I felt HTC's Sense was really clunky and cartoony.

    The screen was the only thing that was a wash between the two, but given everything else the S3 was better at, I made up my mind.

    TL;DR or long story short, I returned the One X, and I've seriously never been happier.

      was it the 4rd day or the ,door?

        Sorry I meant 4th.

      Is this a real comment or astroturf for Samsung?

        How could this be astroturf? I realize I'm not from Australia, so maybe yours and my experience may be different?

        Sorry, I'm not sure if they're actually deleted, but the comments were gone for some time before they reappeared.

        This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

          Soooo Ethan, been working at Samsung long??

    I was going round and round on which phone to get (OneX or SGS3) and im so glad I waited for the SGS3. Its by far the best phone Ive ever used. USB on the go is incredibly useful!
    As a side note regarding the features you didnt like (S Apps and Launcher), just remember this is android not iOS and only too easy to disable the app or download a new launcher, Im now using ADW...

    I'm a bit sad that this article doesn't mention the (in my opinion) superior build quality of the HOX.

      It's actually not true that the One X has superior build quality, which is a common misconception.

      I've owned both the S3 and the One X, and I ended up with the S3 as my keeper, build quality being one of the deciding factors.

      Both devices are made of polycarbonate, and the only difference is that the S3 has a removable back cover while the HTC unfortunately does not.

      Before I returned it, the HTC One X I had was prone to picking up dirt and clothing dyes which made it look grimy.

      Side by side, the S3 also looks more premium, while I thought that the HTC looked like a cheap Chinese knock off of a Lumia.

      I struggled for ages on whether to get HTC One XL/X or the GS3 after using them in the shops and generally preferring TW over sense I got the GS3 build quality is great!
      I actually though it might be pretty crap but it wasnt.
      Would recommend this phone for anyway battery life is awesome compared to my old iphone.

        I've heard the One X picks up clothing dyes, but I've had mine for 2 months and not found that problem.

        Also, not sure about others but I don't really want a removable back. Is that a popular feature?

        Also, a knock off of the lumia? really? Do you mean, except for the shape, colour, build quality, buttons, bezel, camera ...?

        Finally, I have a HTC One X and am very happy with it. However, the SGSIII looks awesome, and I would probably be very happy with that too. Just looking for some balance in comments.

          Yes a knock off of a Lumia. I should have been more specific, but I was referencing the front. The backs do look different.

          I don't care about trivial differences like color, corner shapes, etc. I'm talking about the general design philosophy and main impression. It looks completely lifted from the Nokia phone.

          And yes, a removable back is a desirable feature. Who wants to get stuck with a dead phone after the battery malfunctions, or be tethered to a charger because you can't replace a low battery, especially with a poor battery like the one in the HTC?

          I realized this after getting the One X and getting annoyed.at the short battery life and the need to charge it often.

          I forgot to mention, "balance" doesn't mean giving equal amounts of praise and criticisms. It means giving the fair and right amount of praise and criticisms.

          If the S3 gets most of the praise compared to the One X because it was correctly ascertained, then that's balanced. To try to artificially manufacture positives for the One X just to make it look "balanced" is actually giving an unbalanced review.

          I've owned both phones, and my comment above was trying to give an informed opinion to those who are thinking about looking at both devices.

            To be fair Ethan, "balance" is what a review is, like that above- "Seriously, it’s close enough that you’re really going to have to try these puppies in person. We couldn’t encourage anything less.".

            What you have been posting is a poor experience, in your eyes, with the One X and a good experience with the SIII. Hence, you've probably got a bit of a bias towards the SIII.

            I've had my One XL for nearly a month now. I was a little disappointed with the jitteriness of Sense (as usual) but found MOST of my problems were actually app related, not phone related. Once I'd tied down which ones were either just crap or not properly compatible with ICS, it's working much better. And since Google Chrome came out of beta, my battery usage has gone from 50% in an hour of 3G/4G browsing to less than 25%. Yes, it's still a battery hog......I've got 5 chargers.....and a battery pack.....it's not an issue. And I've got 4G to boot.

            I DON'T like the build quality of the Samsung. It is not, IMO, significantly different from the S2, which is a great phone (apart from TW as you mention) but feels cheap. I felt the same way about the S3. The One XL is solid, very stylish and quite tough, in my use. I have a small scratch on a corner after dropping it on concrete, but that's all.

            So, in short, I've had a pretty good experience with the XL. I've had no experience, other than demo in the shops with the SIII. So I'm almost certainly biased towards the XL. But that's fine. Each to their own. Your posts aren't a review though. Just an experience and an opinion.

              I appreciate your feedback. I didn't say that I was writing a review. I in fact specifically mentioned I was writing about my personal experience.

              True that my personal experience and yours may not mean much in and of themselves, but taken as an aggregate with others, each comment becomes important to the big picture. If more people seem to be more satisfied with their S3 over the One X, then that meant there were more people with opinions like myself, even if there are some outliers. Should everyone stop giving their opinion just because someone says "Hey! There are always outliers!"?

              I'm happy that you're enjoying your one x, but you've found work-arounds without which other's HTC experience would be as unpleasant as mine. Most people won't be as knowledgeable as you and won't be able to fix their device, so their HTC experience out of the box would be disappointing.

              It's a little humorous how people can simultaneously say they don't like the build quality of Samsung and like the build quality of HTC. Humorous because they're probably not aware that both are made from identical materials. The only difference is one has a removable back and the other does not.

              Aside from my own experience, I've been reading a lot of user reviews, and from reading them you can conclude that Samsung's build quality is extremely solid and tough. Design depends on personal preference, and I already gave my opinion on each design.

              In the end, I'm glad both you and I enjoy our devices. If I didn't enjoy the one x, doesn't mean you didn't, and vice versa. It just appears most people's opinion is that the S3 provides a better experience.

        Despite the two devices being ultimately made of the same material, the HOX's design is unibody, meaning no parts that can be removed in a drop, which would expose the electronics underneath. I have no idea what you have been doing to yours, I've had mine for a week & zero grime. Granted, I do baby the thing, but still. They are both arguably the best available devices, but it's not a misconception that the HOX has better build quality. You're entitled to your opinion though.

          Unibody does not mean better build. Just because something that was meant to come off comes off during a fall doesn't indicate it was bad build quality. At worst, it may be an issue of inconvenience if it comes off, but inconvenience and build quality are not the same. Unibody is simply a design preference, not a significant influence on build quality for these devices. This isn't "opinion", it's simple material engineering fact.

          Sorry if I wasn't clear, so I hope you're not misunderstanding me. I'm not saying the One X has bad build quality, I'm saying it's a misconception that it has better build quality than the S3.

    Any idea if the S3 LTE version will sport a quadcore, or a dualcore like the One XL?
    Will the LTE version be available on other networks? When can we expect it?

      If the answers to that question were already known, I'm sure Gizmodo would have written a post about it.

      LTE version of the Galaxy S III only comes in a dual-core Snapdragon processor, but it bumps up the RAM to 2GB. As Danny mentioned in his post, the quad-core Exynos processor has compatibility issues with LTE devices. I'm still waiting for the day we get to have the best of both worlds too.

        Thanks Elly.
        Yeah, I was hoping they might have found a way to fix the incompatibilities by now, (wasn't sure if the Telstra model would be fixed, or like the US version).
        Not sure I can wait that long..
        Quadcore Vs 2Gb LTE.. Decisions, decisions.

    I'm sorry, but putting an 'S' in front of every Samsung-designed feature is just as petty and annoying as apple's 'i'.

    Many people have been anticipating the Samsung Galaxy S III for some time. There is some criticism about the design, but Samsung hit all the right notes for this smartphone in terms of power and hardware. The Samsung Galaxy S3′s battery life isn’t quite the best, but it is one of the better ones.
    http://www.careace.net/2012/05/25/samsung-galaxy-s-iii-battery-life-is-longest-of-any-competing-smartphone/

    Anybody having problems with SIII dumping charge??

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