You may have watched the launch of the Galaxy S III live from London, almost six weeks ago. At some point you may have been horrified with the nature theme (pebbles, water, etc) and the “made for humans” catch cry. Honestly, I still cringe a bit when I see a commercial with those words in it.

Perhaps you were disappointed with the plasticky (actually polycarbonate) materials used in its construction or the Pentile pixel arrangement used in its display. These issues were well discussed in the tech world immediately following the launch.

If your response to these issues was a concerned or negative one, you certainly weren’t alone. It was with these same thoughts “buzzing around” in the back of my own mind that I nervously attended the Australian launch of the Galaxy S III a couple of weeks ago. Since then I have been carefully considering the pros & cons of the most eagerly awaited Android phone of 2012.

Throughout my time with the Galaxy S III I have compared it with my own daily driver – the Galaxy Nexus; which is (in my opinion) the standard-bearer for Android 4.0 phones in terms of the software experience.

In my own mind, the primary question from the very outset has been this: Is the Galaxy S III a phone that I would want to make my own? Is it worthy of my choosing? Is it worthy of yours? Basically, could I recommend it? Let’s see.

Pros

  • Smooth navigation throughout the OS
  • Efficient use of power
  • Excellent camera (for a phone)
  • Ergonomic design
  • Huge, bright, clear display

Cons

  • Home button is awkward to press
  • TouchWiz deviates too far from ICS “Holo Theme”
  • No 4G or DC-HSPA+
  • Bland design
  • Auto-brightness is too jumpy, and low.

What we like

Performance..

The word that comes to mind is ‘Effortless’. Navigating home screens, the app drawer and the bundled applications gives you the feeling that the phone is taking everything in its stride. It’s a bit like skimming a smooth stone across a calm lake. You know effort is needed to hurl that stone but what is seen is the graceful skimming across the water. See what I did there?

Honestly, I have no idea how many of those four cores are at work during different operations but the phone rarely skips a beat. With some phones (even my Galaxy Nexus) some applications will lack the smooth, effortless behaviour I’m referring to. The Galaxy S III has powered through everything I’ve thrown at it without breaking a sweat. The only time it faltered was when I had three different cameras running at the same time – understandable, I’d say.

Battery..

Perhaps even more than its effortless power, I loved its ‘Efficiency’. For the first couple of days my usage was heavy. I could not kill the battery in a full day’s use! Other days were moderate. Weekends are usually light use; depending what’s happening in my world. I will say this: With light to moderate use you can get through the weekend without looking for a power point.

Depending how many accounts you have syncing in the background and how often you have them notifying you, I have no doubt you could get through 3-4 days of light use – particularly on wifi. I did manage 2.5 days last weekend with mixed use. Unfortunately, as it is with these things, your mileage may vary. I’m sure you could kill the battery in half a day if you sat there playing games or streaming video non-stop on full brightness.

Oh, Smart Stay actually worked (kept the screen on while I was looking at it) except in a dark place where it couldn’t see my face. I set the Screen Timeout to 15 seconds so it would turn off quickly if I wasn’t using it. In daylight I forgot I even had a timeout. I would estimate a 90% success rate unless it was dark. Again, your mileage may vary.

Camera..

I’ve used the Galaxy Nexus as my main camera for the last 6 months. In the 6 months prior, it was the Galaxy S II. On a personal level, this is the make or break feature for me. If you’ve used a Galaxy S II you will know that the interface has much of the granularity of a Samsung Digital Camera. There are a few more options but it’s basically the same layout. It’s feature laden but not simple. Those of you upgrading from a Galaxy S II (or most pre 2012 phones) will be happy to know that the Galaxy S III has a super fast shutter to go along with its new sensor.

That sensor! Sony deserves the credit here. They have created a fantastic little bit of optical genius that lets in lots of light, even in low light areas – compared to other phones, that is. Don’t expect to replace your DSLR with this though. Teardowns show that it is pretty much the same sensor that’s used in the iPhone 4S. Make of that what you will! Suffice to say, I managed to get some results that I was happy with, both in bright and low light scenes. Free tip: use Night Mode at night and make sure you hold as still as possible.

In terms of video performance, it’s pretty darn good. Couple that sensor with Samsung’s encoding experience (they’ve been doing this a long time) and you have little reason to spend money on a dedicated digital camcorder of the cheaper variety – except maybe for better stabilisation. Note: If you upload to YouTube they do a great job of fixing shakiness for you!

Specifically we’re talking High Profile @ Level 4.0 AVC encoding at 16.7 Mbps & a 29.4 fps ave frame rate for 1080p video capture. They’re the deets that Media Info is reporting to me on the sample I just shot. The YouTube sample will be compressed but still looks good. Also, the 1.9 MP front facing camera shoots the best HD video chat or vanity pics you can get on a phone at the time of this review, period.

Display..

That display! It is lovely. And big! HTC OneX / XL owners will chip in here and tell you that their display is better [It’s made by Samsung, incidentally ;-)] and in terms of brightness and natural colour tones, they’d be right. But seriously, the display on the Galaxy S III has a beauty of it’s own. Pentile haters can get their microscopes out and go for their lives if they like. It’s all pointless though because none of their complaints are discernible in normal daily use.

Listen people: There are no funky greys or whites (known as luminance grain) that plague the Galaxy Nexus to be seen on the Galaxy S III. The blue tinge that is seen from extreme angles (do you use your phone like that?) on Amoled displays I have not noticed at all on the Galaxy S III. What I have noticed is stunning blacks (better than on any LCD display) and superb contrast (the measurable/visible difference between the darkest and lightest points the display is capable of) that makes colours really ‘pop’. If that’s not your thing you can adjust it with one of the 4 screen modes in the display settings. Please forgive that rant!

Audio..

Briefly, audio performance and quality with music is best in class thanks to a dedicated Wolfson DAC on board. Yes, this means Voodoo sound is possible people! Also, call performance is excellent thanks to a secondary noise cancellation microphone that worked well for me. I used a Telstra sim.

Design..

Lastly, and most contentiously; The Design. It appears in both the Pro and Con list. It is a Pro because it feels absolutely natural in the hand. Also, Samsung have worked some incredible magic in making the coating, which they call hyperglaze, to be so smooth yet quite grippy. It looks like it will slip out of your hand, but it doesn’t. Go figure? Also, despite not looking incredibly robust, it seems not to get scratched. Remember the back of the original Galaxy S or Nexus S? Shiny, scratchy yuck :-( If you’re concerned about it picking up stains (I have the white version) fear not, it doesn’t.

For what it’s worth, there is none of the creaking, flexing or poorly fitting componentry associated with neglectful design or construction. In the hand it feels solidly made and amazingly comfortable despite it’s size. I like that it’s not hefty, like a big aluminium phone, but I’m not so naive as to think that all of you guys will share this sentiment.

What can be improved

Some of these issues here present are long-term areas of need for Samsung to work on. Some of them may be deal-breakers for you. Some of them are minor. Here we go…

Auto Brightness..

Auto Brightness tends to jump around a bit. It doesn’t adjust gradually, which would be ideal, but rather it jumps quickly from dark to light and vice versa. I noticed it more in the first couple of days of use – honestly, I’m not sure if the phone adapted to it’s differing environments or maybe I just got used to it. Thing is, other phones do it better.

Still on Brightness, it seems Samsung has opted for a slightly lower default auto setting than most other phones I’ve used – probably to save battery. My Galaxy Nexus is quite similar. Maybe it’s an Amoled thing? I certainly don’t notice it on my Nexus S. Galaxy S II is Amoled though and plenty bright. Anyway, it’s too low at times.

Custom Overlay..

Here’s another subject to set the Cat amongst the Pigeons: Touchwiz4. Samsung’s insistence on a Colourful, Cartoony, Gingerbready user overlay. To be frank, I actually didn’t mind it too much. It’s a matter of opinion I guess. I realise some people hate it! Personally, I prefer the Holo Theme of stock Ice Cream Sandwich that appears on the Galaxy Nexus. Samsung don’t want to put off previous Galaxy S owners – I get that. Still, it’s getting a bit old now and it messes with Android 4.0’s core design language. That’s all I’ll say. If you want more detail, we regularly discuss these things on the Ausdroid Podcast and usually rant about them!

Home & Capacitive Buttons..

The Home Button. It’s harder to press than the ones on the previous Galaxy S phones. It’s kinda narrow and takes some getting used to. I don’t like it. I hope they change it in the next model. People with big fingers may find it quite difficult. Let me know in the comments. Is it just me?

Although I love having more display at my disposal thanks to the capacitive buttons being below the screen, in practice the operation is a lot slicker and more accurate with on screen buttons. My Galaxy Nexus is just plain easier to use with on screen buttons. I will say, however, that the “return” of the menu button being down the bottom is quite welcome. The 3 dot action button is something Google hasn’t perfected yet, in my opinion.

No 4G..

If 4G (and Dual Carrier HSPA+ when outside 4G areas) is really what you’re after and you’re in an area that supports it, you don’t want the International version of the Galaxy S III. Sorry to be blunt, but it’s just not there. Admittedly, this is only a concern if you’re going with Telstra right now,here in Australia. Telstra may release a 4G version soon. We’ll have to wait and see. Personally, I had no issues using HSPA+ on the Galaxy S III.

I found it was fast enough to do 99% of my tasks without any drawbacks. The 1% would probably be if I wanted to upload or stream a very large file – like a 1080p video perhaps. If you’re a 4G evangelist, feel free to list the advantages in the comments section. In the areas I moved around Melbourne I regularly saw speeds between 4-12 Mbps in the downlink and 0.3 to 3.6 Mbps in the uplink. If you need more than this I would suggest the HTC One XL. You can read our review here.

Design & Construction..

Lastly: The Design. The front looks OK. The back is uninspiring at best. From the side it looks quite good: Surprise, surprise! Although, up close its fake metal rim is just that – faux metal. ie Plastic. The Galaxy Nexus is more visually appealing and that’s not saying much. The white One X has a leg up in this area with a stunning design which is beautifully crafted. By comparison, The Galaxy S III is Plain Jane. It’s not ugly, but not gorgeous either. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so you be the judge for yourself. Note: It is amazing how much vanity plays a part in smartphone ownership!

Is the design a deal breaker? You must answer that for yourself. For me it’s not. Does that mean I wouldn’t like it to be more visually appealing? No way!

Specs..

  • Exynos 4 Quad (4412) Quad Core Cortex A9 CPU
  • ARM Mali400MP4 GPU
  • Android 4.0.4 w/ TouchWiz 4 UI
  • 4.8-inch 1280×720 (306 PPI) SAMOLED HD Display
  • 850/900/1900/2100MHz HSPA+ (21.1Mbps / 5.76Mbps)
  • 16/32GB Internal Storage + microSD card slot for up to 64GB External Storage, 1GB LPDDR2 RAM
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
  • 8MP Rear Camera with 1080p/30 & 1.9MP Front Camera with 720p/30
  • 2100mAh Battery
  • Wolfson DAC

Conclusion

The Galaxy S III is easy to recommend to anyone looking for a Top-of-the-line Android phone. Opinion is divided on whether it’s better than it’s biggest Android competitor – the HTC One X / XL. Check out our reviews of those phones too!

If a fast, fluid experience is what you’re after, there’s really no better Android phone at this time than the Galaxy S III. Samsung has matched powerful hardware with optimised software to create an enjoyable experience that will last all day thanks to great battery life.

If you’re a design snob (It’s ok, I’m a coffee snob) you may prefer the One X. If you’re a 4G snob you’ll likely prefer the One XL. If those things aren’t crucial for you then I would suggest the Galaxy S III is as good as it gets right now in terms of overall features (many I cannot list due to space) and performance.

PhonePlansPriceHow to Buy
Samsung Galaxy S III 16GB
Samsung Galaxy S III 16GB
Vodafone3 Plans available
From
$88/mth
Min. Total Cost $1,056
Call Vodafone on
1300 864 388
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  • Geoff Fieldew

    My first review for Ausdroid. Be gentle please.

    • GreviousMcG

      Seriously dude, do you call this a review??

      Well, I do!! Good work mate.

      • Geoff Fieldew

        you got me.

    • Phil Tann

      Great Job Jedi!

      • Geoff Fieldew

        Used the force. All of it ;)

  • Damon Lewis

    The Galaxy S 3 doesn’t use Touchwiz 4, it’s a newer version (although clearly an upgrade to TW4.0). I disagree that the design is uninspiring, whenever I look at my phone (and trust me, I do it a lot) I can’t help but marvel at the size of the screen and the curves on the edges.

    At first I found the home button hard to use but I prefer it over on screen buttons, I’m not a fan of those at all (too easy to accidently hit while doing stuff at the bottom of the screen). Also no virtual buttons means more screen space :D

    I just wish it had 1.5 – 2GB of ram, I’m constantly sitting with 100MB free (and you can see many people complaining about the launcher having to reload).

    Also, pebble blue is about 50 times sexier than marble white!

  • Hemen Parmar

    Great work. Thank you for in-depth review.

  • fez_spencer

    Mate,brilliant work!

  • nextleveldon

    Great review – I am so glad that you aren’t on the “pentile is rubbish” train that most American ‘tech’ sites are…here’s hoping that Telstra get that 4G Snapdragon with 2GB RAM that was rumoured to be heading to Canadian carriers.

    • http://ausdroid.net/ Buzz Moody

      For the record, I’m also on the “pentile is rubbish” train.

  • SOLO

    Great review. I’ve had mine three days and am in love (jumped from S1). The home key takes some getting used to…everything else I either haven’t discovered yet or can live with.

  • Sharene

    Excellent review!! I love my Pebble Blue S III. I upgraded from an S I so its a huge step for me and its blown me away. I’m really happy with it.

  • brissieguy78

    I’ve had mine now for a week and the one downfall is how slow the homescreen takes to load when you push the home screen button at the bottom and exit out of apps. It seems to take forever.

    Other than that first class handset.

    • Milty C

      I may be wrong but this may be related to S talk. Thats why some people are disabling s talk to prevent this delay. Its a shame because you shouldnt have to to disable something just to get it too work properly.

      • Damon Lewis

        I hear the same. Turn off the wake up command and it should be quicker (touble tap home will still activate s voice though)

      • NOZ

        It’s not about disabling to get it to work properly. In order to have s voice available as a double tap…the delay is necessary to distinguish between 1 and 2 taps. Atleast from my understanding.

  • Milty C

    wow your first review and they gave you the GS3 ! Not bad at all. Great Review. Ive read and watched virtually every review out there and i totally agree with all the pros and cons you mentioned.

    I cant understand why samsung keep giving touchwiz this brown “nature look”. Virtually everyone else wants Android to have a futuristic / holographic look except for samsung.

    Your also spot on about the buttons. Its great that the menu button is back but then they removed the multitasking button

    I really think the galaxy nexus does it the best, but app developer need to make sure that the “three dots” menu button ONLY appears at the bottom right when needed. Currently the menu button pops up anywhere and everywhere depending on the app, and this is confusing for everyone.

  • Mr Jay Tee

    “The 3 dot action button is something Google hasn’t perfected yet, in my opinion.”…I thought that the “3 dot action button” was used in ICS for backwards compatibility with apps not correctly encoded to “Google design standards” (Eg – Holo / ICS apps)…So I’m thinking that probably won’t happen, shame thou as 90% of apps still need to use it…We can dream…
    I’d like to see a GS3 running Nova Launcher, then I might possibly consider trading up from my GNex…God touchWiz is ugly : P

    • Damon Lewis

      I agree that the luncher is ugly but the touchwiz framework adds lots of good things (ie. some better apps, more codecs).

      Here is my main screen with nova launcher: http://img849.imageshack.us/img849/2312/screenshot2012062016555.png

    • http://profiles.google.com/tran.mikey Mike Tran

      There’s always CM9 and AOKP, Surprisingly they are both pretty stable thanks to all the ground work done with the SGSII

  • maxx power

    I got my pebble blue s3 on Friday and I must say its a damn sexy phone. I have no complaints at all so far. I upgraded from the s2 and it’s noticeably faster and smoother. The battery life is great. I agree with the over sensitive auto brightness and the home button takes a little getting used to but overall I’d recommend this phone to anyone.

  • Glenn B-May

    Look, the only thing that really defeats a great, industry-leading handset, is the state of the carriers! But this is the phone to beat, in my opinion. It’s hard to stay attached to my iPhone with offerings like the ones coming out of HTC and SAMSUNG atm. But whilst I have a 1st generation iPhone with the market-leading carrier, I’m a little way off justifying the expense of getting another handset. Having said that, it’s the HTC One X/XL and the Galaxy that are front-runners for my cash when that day arrives, hopefully soon! Terrific review. Really looking forward to more.

    • NovemberEcho

      Jeepers, still hanging onto a 2G iphone. Surely you’d be up for a new contract by now eh? heck you could go for any device on the market today and it would be a significant upgrade (at the very least it’d have 3G), it’s got to be 5 years old!

      Cheers
      Zane

  • mondy

    The small home button is googd i think. Its not acutely hard to press as it comes out like half a millimitre

  • http://twitter.com/ZR_IW Zac Wilkinson

    You forgot the link to the HTC One X/XL review in the conclusion.

    Otherwise great review :)

    • Geoff Fieldew

      Thx. Fixed now.

  • vodka4boris

    Good review – agree with all your Cons except:
    TouchWiz deviates too far from ICS “Holo Theme”Bland design

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Susan-Martin/100003697994211 Susan Martin

    I’ll stick with my Samsung Galaxy Note, and loving it to death.

  • Timmy

    Had this phone for about a week now. First time I charged the phone, light would come on, it’d display it’s charging, but the battery doesn’t go up. Had to restart the phone for it to work.

    Used it heavily yesterday with phone calls for about 1-2 hours, texting, whatsapp, and surfing the net occasionally, most of the time on 3G not wifi. Had the phone’s battery discharging from 6am, and was at 20% at 4pm. Not too shabby but would have expected more.

    Most surprisingly is that microsoft active sync email exchange is using most of my battery at this stage. normally it’d be cell power or screen display. anyone else experiencing this?

  • Chris

    I received by blue s3 yesterday after upgrading from the original galaxy s and absolutely love it! Super responsive. The only thing I don’t like, is the integration of predictive text (I’ve always hated it) and Continuous Input. You can’t have one without the other! I’ve loved this since it was introduced in the Galaxy and if someone could point me to a work around I’d be in heaven.

  • Paul

    Great review, have had my white once for 9 days now after 15 years using nokias. The only bugbear I have and maybe this is my inexperience with android is how do I move apps off the phone memory and onto the sd card. Can do it on my wifes HTC Desire but can’t seem to do it on here using the apps manager, any ideas?

    • Damon Lewis

      From what I understand it’s not supported on the Galaxy S 3 (without rooting and using a 3rd party program)

      • Paul

        Thanks Geoff & Damon for the advice

    • Geoff Fieldew

      The Nand Flash chip (phone memory) is likely much faster than your microSD card anyway. Until you fill up the 2.2GB of partitioned app storage you need not worry. This is a very different beast to the paltry storage limits of the Desire.

  • gadget guy

    this is a good comparison between htc one kl and galaxy s3

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612159946 Steve Nightingale

    Geoff – great review and I pretty much agree with you on all points bar a couple. I’ve come from an SGS2 which was great until I upgraded to ICS via Telstra. I changed over to the SGS3 thinking that it would be only an incremental improvement but was wrong on all accounts. It’s a big step up I feel. I thought the 4.8 inch screen would be too big. Nah. Love it now. I like the display and it’s much better than the SGS2. The colours and vibrancy are great. I love the white, looks very classy, especially with a clear silicon case. I quite like the design and makes the SGS2 look dated and my friend’s iPhones like bricks.

    I agree with you on the auto brightness thing. I’ve watched the screen and sometimes it doesn’t know what it wants to do, especially indoors. Once it does make up its mind it’s fine. I don’t mind Touchwiz, it doesn’t bother me but it bugs me that as you flick across the seven home screens the live wallpaper doesn’t move with it (I use the My Beach HD wallpaper). Just a minor quibble though.

    The battery is a massive step over the SGS2. I’d be lucky to get three quarters of a day with the original battery, a full day out of the uprated battery. I can get about 24 hours out of the SGS3, depending on usage over the course of a day.

    Overall I’d thought I’d be a bit meh with the SGS3 but I have to say that I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with how much better it is over the SGS2. The fact that I’m also the first in office with an SGS3 is just a bonus… ;-)

    • Damon Lewis

      I think the wallpaper thing is a bug. If you use a stock wallpaper then it will scroll but if you attempt to set your own it doesn’t scroll (it does on every other phone though so it must be a SGS3 bug, will probably be fixed in a firmware update).

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612159946 Steve Nightingale

        It’s no biggie Damon. I have the wallpaper on autopan which has ended up being a nice little workaround. Has worked out better in the long run.

    • Geoff Fieldew

      Thx Steve. I also have a GS2 for comparison. There is some really sweet power management in the GS3. It seems to use very little resource when the screen is off. This was a disappointing thing with the GS2 – that it would chew through battery when not in use. My Galaxy Nexus is also quite power efficient but not quite as good as the GS3. I hope you continue to enjoy it.

  • Frank Benign

    Pretty sure the HTC One X display is made by LG

    • Geoff Fieldew

      Maybe, but the SLCD factory was a joint venture by Sony and Samsung. Sony pulled out this year and afaik Samsung have taken it over. Therefore I suspect Samsung make SLCD 2 and SLCD 3 also.

      Interestingly, HTC seem to have excellent calibration on these displays which I believe they do in house. Google are the worst calibrators ever – just look at the Nexus 7.

  • Carmel

    Love this phone…but i am coming from a Blackberry, which in my uneducated experience was the Worst. Ever. Phone. Period. Ever. Ever. Couple of cons tho: very slow uploading to Facebook, and fails to connect quite regularly. And while the camera is remarkable, it’s not so good outside, especially long distance photos…I have taken a photo of the west gate bridge/city skyline which is quite good to the naked eye, but in a photo from this phone, I couldn’t even see the bridge… But it is even better than my 12 mp compact indoors. Having said all that, I love this phone and as I said to someone the other day, “I’m probably not even scratching the surface on what you can do with this thing”.