Is Samsung's latest Android smartphone its best yet?
We’ve yet to be truly dazzled by an Android 4 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ smartphone, but our hopes were high with the new Samsung Galaxy S3. Its predecessor was our favourite Android smartphone of last year and this new model looks like a significant upgrade. The Galaxy S3 packs a large, high-resolution screen and a more powerful quad-core processor, although both the Google Galaxy Nexus (also made by Samsung), and HTC One X and S — all with Android 4 — are similarly specified.
Despite looking like an iPhone 3GS that’s been flattened by a steamroller, first impressions are good. The ‘marble white’ model we reviewed – it also comes in ‘pebble blue’ – looks and feels extremely well made, despite the plastic case. It’s a shame Samsung didn’t opt for a more premium material to match the premium price of this smartphone though. The specially treated metal HTC used for its One X feels much more opulent. Even so, the Galaxy S3 has a slim and stylish design that manages to be slimmer and lighter than the iPhone 4S, despite being much taller and wider.
The generous size of the Galaxy S3 is the result of Samsung cramming in a 4.8in display, which is the largest we’ve seen on any smartphone. AMOLED technology means the screen is wonderfully bright and vibrant, and the 720x1280 pixel resolution makes everything look extremely sharp. The screen does rely on PenTile matrix technology that normally makes text look fuzzy, particularly at small sizes, but any visual side effects are minimised here, since the individual pixels are small enough to be indistinguishable.
We normally complain about very large smartphone screens, since they make one-handed use more difficult, but there’s no denying that everything from web pages to video look fantastic on the S3's screen. Holding and using the smartphone is made more tricky by the two touch-sensitive ‘Back’ and ‘Menu’ buttons that sit below the screen, though. These are extremely sensitive and triggered by the slightest touch, making it all too easy to accidentally exit an application when reaching across the screen with a thumb.
The Galaxy S3 isn’t only the largest smartphone we’ve seen, it’s also the fastest and our tests show its quad-core processor to be quicker than similar chips in the other Android 4 smartphones we’ve seen. While this makes the smartphone feel smooth and snappy to use, the only apps to benefit from this extra performance so far are a few games. Thankfully, this doesn’t unduly affect battery life and the Galaxy S3 lasted for 12 hours in our video playback test with flight mode enabled. The battery can be easily removed, too.
Battery life also gets a welcome boost from the Galaxy S3’s ‘Smart Stay’ feature, which prevents the screen from automatically switching off when someone is looking at it. This can be used to conserve power when needed most, without the risk of the screen going dark at other times such asbetween taps when reading an ebook, for example.
The Galaxy S3’s S Voice is less useful. This supposedly offers voice control similar to Siri on the iPhone 4S, but it’s nowhere near as versatile at performing tasks or as accurate at recognising spoken commands. The microSD card slot for expanding the 16GB storage is a very welcome feature though, as is the eight-megapixel camera whose photo quality isn’t far behind that of the iPhone 4S.
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While the all-plastic case may lack the appeal of other Android 4 phones, the Samsung Galaxy S3 more than makes up for it everywhere else and this is going to be the Android smartphone to beat for some time to come
Good-looking screen; blistering performance; some clever software features
Screen may be too big for some hands; buttons too sensitive
Phone 0330 7267864
£500 without contract
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