Samsung Galaxy S3 Review
The Samsung Galaxy S3 was one of the most anticipated smartphones for 2012. The buzz around this phone was just off the charts! Foreign and local bloggers/tech journalists were writing about this as early as Mobile World Congress. Add to this the fact that the S3’s predecessors, the Galaxy S2 and the Galaxy Note, delivered outstanding sales numbers for Samsung and you end up with high expectations for the S3.
After several months of waiting the Galaxy S3 was finally launched in the Philippines in three separate events by Globe, Samsung PH, and Smart. We’ve had a unit for a couple of weeks now and the question we’d like to answer about the Galaxy S3 in this review is this: Does the Galaxy S3 live up to the hype? Read on to find out!
Samsung Galaxy S3 Spec Sheet
- Quad-core 1.4GHz Samsung Exynos CPU
- 1GB RAM
- 16GB/32GB/64GB internal storage, microSD expandable
- 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED Screen, 1280 x 720 (~306 ppi)
- 8-megapixel Camera, records 1080p video
- 2,100mAh removable Battery
- OS: Android 4.0 with TouchWiz
- S Voice (Simple and easy-to-use Voice Commands)
- Smart Stay
- Gesture Functions
- 50GB of Dropbox Storage
The body of the Galaxy S3 received mixed reviews from critics. According to Samsung, the design and over-all theme of the Galaxy S3 was inspired by nature (how vague can you get haha). I was puzzled why they made this claim after I unboxed it and three weeks later I still have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to the hardware. This isn’t saying though that the over-all design is bad. In fact the phone grown on me in the last few weeks since I’ve found the thin and curved form factor lends itself to being ergonomic.
Setting aside the “Designed for Humans” and “Inspired by Nature” tag lines, the Galaxy S3 is a slim and lightweight smartphone with a gorgeous 4.8-inch display. It hasn’t crossed the “Phablet” realm yet since the size difference between the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Note is still very noticeable. You can easily hold the S3 in your hand and slide it in your pocket with no problem. The size and design is somewhat comparable to the Galaxy Nexus except that this is much more sleek, smooth, and glossy.
The volume rocker is on the left side, lock/unlock at the right, headphone jack at the top, and the micro-USB port at the bottom. The camera and external speakers are at the top portion of the back and there’s a front facing camera and the notification LED at the top portion of the display. Noticeably missing is a dedicated button for the camera.
The backplate is removable and inside you’ll find the SD Card slot (yay for a lot of storage!), microSIM card tray, and the battery. Since the battery is removable you can buy an extra one and always keep it charged.
There’s been a lot of talk from critics saying that the S3’s display is far inferior compared to other smartphones. International tech blog The Verge goes on to say in their review that while the Galaxy S3 does in fact use a Pentile AMOLED Display, it’s not really a problem. After using the S3 for several weeks now I agree with them. I’ve owned an iPhone 4, 4S, and the Galaxy Note and those phones are supposed to have better displays but I honestly can’t spot the difference, lol.
There’s also no need to invest in a screen protector since the Galaxy S3 uses Gorilla Glass 2 making it tougher than your usual smartphone screen.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich but with the TouchWiz user interface. What does this mean (To techies, skip this explanation)? Google created the Android Operating System. Phone manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, and HTC customize this with various features and they tinker with the user interface. A lot of techies prefer the stock Android operating system which you can readily find in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus because they find it to be smoother, more responsive, and more customizable. There’s actually a way of installing that operating system into your Android smartphone but it’s process that a lot of people will find too long and complex. What does this mean for you? If you have the time and patience to study how to do it then by all means try. If not then I still think you’re going to enjoy the Galaxy S3 (unless you’re a hardcore techie and you really want to min-max this thing).
Okay with that out of the way let’s jump into TouchWiz Android 4.0 goodness!
Navigation: Quad-core in action
One of the biggest selling points of the Galaxy S3 is it’s monstrous Quad-core 1.4GHz Samsung Exynos processor. The processor plus the generous 1GB RAM actually allows the phone to power through the innate lag of Android. Most of the time you’ll get a smooth experience with the phone. There will be occasional slow downs but that usually happens when you have a lot of apps running in the background. To get a feel for how fast the navigation and basic UI is check this video out:
The quad-core CPU also allows the Galaxy S3 to do other cool things. For example if you unlock it by swiping your finger across the screen you’ll actually cause water ripples to spread where your finger makes contact. The graphics and animation are topnotch and I’ve found myself just playing with it when I’m bored, lol.
Multi-tasking and Pop-up Video
The quad-core processor also lets the Galaxy S3 do multi-tasking very well. One great example is the pop-up video feature. When you’re watching a video on your Galaxy S3 you can press the pop-up button at the lower right. This will shrink the video into a window which stays perpetually on your screen no matter what app you’re using. This means you can watch the latest episode of your fave TV series and tweet about it in the same time. This also means you don’t have to pause and exit the app if you need to send a text message. Just press the pop-up video button, open up messages, and text away while the video plays in the window.
For basic multi-tasking (switching apps) just press down on the home button and all the apps currently running on your phone will appear in some sort of vertical stack of windows. Just scroll up and down to go through the apps and tap the one you want to access. To close an app swipe it to the left.
Direct Call and Contacts
One cool feature of the Galaxy S3 that I end up using often is Direct Call. How does this work? When you’re texting someone or looking at a contact all you have to do is lift the phone up to your ear as if you were making a call and the Galaxy S3 will automatically place the call for you. No need to press a button!
Placing calls and sending messages on the Contacts app is also a different experience. You can swipe left on a name to send a message and swipe right to place a call.
Cool eh? Lol.
S Voice is Samsung’s response to Apple’s Siri. Unfortunately like Siri though it’s not that useful here in the Philippines. There are only a handful of commands that you can actually use. The basic ones like placing calls or setting alarms work but when you want to do text or tweet dictations it usually fails miserably.
S Beam allows you to transfer files and other stuff to another Galaxy S3 via Near Field Communications technology or NFC. Just turn it on and put your Galaxy S3 back-to-back with another Galaxy S3. Noemi of TechieGadgets wrote about this more exhaustively on her blog.
How is S Beam different from the Android 4.0 Android Beam? With Android Beam you can only transfer small packets of data. With S Beam you can transfer bigger stuff fast because the NFC actually activates a Wi-Fi Direct connection with the other Galaxy S3. The problem? It only works with Galaxy S3 smartphones.
Smart Stay and Face Unlock
Smart Stay is a new feature from Samsung which uses the front facing camera to check if you’re looking at the screen. The screen will only dim if you look away or put your phone down. This means the phone won’t automatically dim while you’re looking at it (which is annoying).
Face Unlock, just like with other Android phones with ICS, is not that reliable so just stick to either the PIN, Pattern, or the Swipe to Unlock features.
This is another good reason on why you should get the Galaxy S3. The camera not only takes amazing quality photos but it also is packed with features making it versatile and flexible. The quad-core CPU also comes into play here since the S3 can take photos at high speed.
Here are some sample shots that we took:
Other notable features in the Galaxy S3’s Camera app include HDR, Panoramic Shots, and Burst Shots. With Burst Shots you can take multiple photos pretty fast by just holding down the button.
Sharing photos on the Galaxy S3 is also easy. There are shortcuts to your favorite social networking apps: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and more.
50GB FREE Dropbox Storage FTW
Samsung was able to strike a deal with Dropbox so that you get free 50GB storage for the next 2 years. You can set your Galaxy S3 to automatically transfer the photos and videos you shot over to your Dropbox account if your connected to WiFi. This is a heaven-sent for bloggers who always transfer their photos to their computers.
I wasn’t expecting this but apparently the Samsung Galaxy S3 has a Wolfson Micro WM1811 Digital Audio Converter (DAC). This is a superb DAC compared to a lot of other smartphones and tablets out there. This gives the Galaxy S3 the potential to produce great sound quality. Unfortunately for you to tap into this you’ll need to get a portable amplifier (we recommend the FiiO E11) because the built-in amplifier of the Galaxy S3 (and most other mobile devices) is a bit weak.
As for movies the default video player of the Galaxy S3 is very capable. It can play most formats and the navigation page also looks awesome. Again we see the quad-core processor at play here since you actually get to see previews of all the videos in your device playing at the same time. It definitely makes the screen looks busy, haha!
You’d think that the Galaxy S3 would have sub-par battery life due to the quad-core processor but that’s not the case here. The 2,100mAh battery is more than enough to power you through most of the day. During the last few weeks that I’ve been using the Galaxy S3 I turn on Mobile Data at around 9AM, switch to WiFi when I get to the office, and switch back to Mobile Data when I leave at around 6PM. With Notifications on and brightness at 30%-40% I usually reach 15%-20% battery at around 8PM-9PM which isn’t bad at all.
Network, Browsing, and Apps
One of the things I really love about the Galaxy S3 is that it has an HSPA+ radio. This means you can connect to faster internet versus your usual 3G connection. I got our unit from Smart and they have good coverage already of HSPA+ in Metro Manila. I usually find myself in different parts of San Juan (Greenhills), Makati, Fort Bonifacio, and Katipunan and I rarely have problems connecting to the Internet. I usually hit at least 2 Mbps in speed tests which isn’t that bad at all.
When it comes to browsing the web on the Galaxy S3 we suggest you ditch the stock browser and download either Opera, Firefox, or Google Chrome. Personally I prefer Google Chrome due to the user interface and the over-all feel and speed of the app.
Just like the previous Galaxy smartphones Samsung is offering a bunch of accessories for the Galaxy S3. The ones we’ve spotted already here in the Philippines are the desktop dock, extra battery, flip cover, and the Samsung Jelly Cases. We haven’t seen the NFC-enabled tags and the C Pen yet but we definitely look forward to seeing both of them as well.
The only problem with accessories from Samsung here in the Philippines is the price. There’s no agreement between Samsung and the retailers for fixed prices so what happens is you get ripped off most of the time. For example when we saw the desktop dock being offered in the Samsung Galaxy S3 it was being offered for Php1,500+. Fast forward a few weeks later and the shops in Greenhills that are official Samsung distributors are selling it for Php3,500. That’s an insane and unfair mark-up.
I heard that the best place to buy accessories for Samsung is the Samsung Mobile store in Trinoma. I’ll try to check it out this weekend and update this post by next week.
Pricing and Availability
Buying the Samsung Galaxy S3 right off the shelf from gadget stores might be a bit expensive since the SRP is a whopping Php32,990. The good news though is that you can get it via affordable postpaid plans offered by the telcos. Just make sure that the telco you pick has good coverage (HSPA+) in the areas you frequently visit otherwise you’ll just get frustrated. The Galaxy S3 from Smart is available at no cash out for their Unlimited Data Plan 2000.
If there’s one thing I realized doing reviews like this is that you can’t just limit your perspective to the present. You also have to take a look at the product in relation to the next few years. Other than being an outstanding smartphone today, the Galaxy S3 looks like it’s “futureproof” at least for the next 2 years. The quad-core processor, great camera, gorgeous 4.8-inch display, HSPA+ connectivity (how I wish it was LTE capable though), expanded storage, and the accessories will definitely make it worth the 2-year postpaid contracts with telcos especially since we still use the Unlimited Data model here in the Philippines. All the additional improvements added on by Samsung via Touchwiz are mostly aesthetic in nature and you’ll only end up using a few of them often in real life but they’re still nice to have especially if you get used to them.