Samsung Galaxy S3 review

Reviews Ben Griffin 17:45, 23 Dec 2013

We review the Samsung Galaxy S3, the Android device that is the successor to our 2011 phone of the year

Rating: 
4.5
Pros: 
Fantastic performance, Elegant design, Great screen and camera
Cons: 
Plastic casing is lacklustre, Samsung extras like S Voice feel gimmicky
Verdict: 
If you want the essence of the Samsung Galaxy S2 with more oomph or one of the best Android devices of 2012, the Galaxy S3 is for you

The Galaxy S3 was always going to cause a stir. By releasing the best Android phone of 2011 in the form of the Galaxy S2 the bar was automatically set very high, which then caused what we now affectionately call iPhone 4 syndrome: the process of having incredibly unrealistic expectations.

As the launch was rumoured to be close, everyone went into overdrive with opinions on what we may see (us included, admittedly). And when we did finally get a glimpse of the Android 4.0-toting smartphone, one word came into our minds after months of Christmas-type excitement: plastic.

Samsung managed to outsell the iPhone 5 when it first launched, according to a survey on consumer comparison site uSwitch. 30 million units were sold in the first 30 days of the handset going on sale. Samsung conmmented: 

‘Samsung Electronics announced on the 4th that the global accumulated sales of Galaxy S III for the past 5 months surpassed 30 million from the supply side. The sales of Galaxy S III reached 10 million mark in 50 days, 20 million in 100 days, and finally 30 million in five months. 

Simply put, one Galaxy S III was sold for every 0.45 seconds, and its daily sales stand at 190,000 units (for 157 days). Samsung Electronics once again claimed the clear leadership position in the smart phone market segment as Galaxy S III became yet another smash-hit with 30 million global sales record following in the footsteps of Galaxy S II.’

By August 2012, the Samsung Galaxy S3 was rumoured to have shipped ten million Samsung Galaxy S3s - an impressive number by any standards.

We know Samsung's build quality isn't the best but we struggled to hide a touch of disappointment at the South Korean firm knowing HTC had just released the One X – a beautiful piece of kit with aesthetics and quality working in harmony.

Fortunately, after a week with the device our main issue – how plasticky the device is – has faded away and we're now almost convinced that this could be one of the phones of the year. Quite a turn around indeed.

Samsung Galaxy S3 image

Aesthetics

While the Galaxy S2 was no oil painting, its slim profile and big screen impressed us no end. While the Galaxy S3 is a bit fatter and has a bigger screen, the profile is still relatively slender, making it slide into your pocket with ease and fit comfortably in the hand.

Those of you with small hands may find it a bit unwieldy, and that's a valid argument. Not everyone wants such a large smartphone, but the combination of lightweight materials, smooth plastic and a slim waistline ensure the feeling of size isn't emphasised unnecessarily.

Our review sample came in white, which actually looks less cheap than the pebble blue ironically. Coated in Hyper Glaze, a swanky marketing term for the plastic used, the white hides finger smudges nicely although it does seem to attract fluff from clothing. It does look very smart, though, especially with the understated silver Samsung logo adorning the backplate.

A matt silver surrounds the device, with what little edging there is around the 4.8-inch screen. We actually had to check that number twice because the form-factor is incredible. Next to the Nokia Lumia 900 or the Motorola Razr Maxx, it looks about the same size but the display is much larger, which is an impressive feat.

Samsung has decided to keep a hardware home button, which makes it easier to locate if you aren't looking at your phone or it's dark. On the right is the back button, which lights up in bright white when pressed. On the left is a button for bringing up options.

The search button you get on some Android phones is gone, but a Google search bar on the home screen makes this a non-issue.

Sadly, there's no dedicated button for the camera, which is a shame given the quality of the camera, but the lack of extra buttons does add to the Galaxy S3's minimal appeal.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 is available in a whole range of colours, including brown, black and silver, red on T-Mobile and even pink in Samsung's native Korea. 

Hardware

The Galaxy S2 was a powerhouse and the Galaxy S3 follows in the same footsteps. A quad core Exynos 4212 processor clocked at 1.4GHz ensures it's lightning quick. In fact, it's proven faster than the mighty Qualcomm Snapdragon S4, which was the current benchmark standard.

Suffice to say, no task will pose it a problem and games like Shadowgun looks an absolute treat. Frame rates remain high and constant, ensuring nothing detracts you from the action on-screen.

1GB of RAM and a number of storage options right up to 64GB ensures you have plenty of speed to back up the processor, and enough storage space for all your songs.

A Mali 400 GPU provides the aforementioned oomph in the visual department, and it proved more than capable for the job.

One negative of all this power is heat. Playing games does make the back of the device rather warm, but it's not unconformable. At worst, you might get sweaty palms.

Display

A 4.8-inch display is certainly not small, but as we said the Galaxy S3 manages to house it exceptionally well. In typical Samsung style, you get Super AMOLED technology, which means colours are vibrant and everything has a warm colour about it.

For fans of colour remaining at less saturated levels, there are four modes you can choose from to adjust them. Dynamic proves to be as vivid in colour as you can get, and Movie at the other end of the scale makes things look more natural. Testing all four, we found the middle two options (standard and Natural) to be the easiest on the eye.

Thanks to a 720x1280 pixel display, the detail is superb. We're talking a pixel density of 306ppi (pixels per inch), which is incredible on a display of this size. Make no mistake, HD quality video looks fantastic and so do photos.

Shadowgun, Epic Astro Story and Muffin Knight look almost as enticing on the Galaxy S3 as they do on the fantastic Sony Xperia S Bravia screen.

In summary, the display is top-notch but some members of the team have commented it could be a little brighter and the clarity isn't quite up there with the Sony Xperia S's display.

Camera and video

Once again, the Galaxy S2 was excellent in the video and camera stakes. Samsung has maintained these elements in the Galaxy S3 with the inclusion of an 8-megapixel camera and 1080p video recording.

There's excellent reproduction of colour when filming in 1080p quality, and the autofocus adapts quickly to quickly moving objects. Over-exposure and bluriness seems to be avoided with relative ease, although a steady hand definitely rewards you with better results, like with any digital camera.

The digital zoom does work well but going in too close means you see quite a lot of pixels. Zooming is also jerky, making it a bit pointless if you are trying some advanced shots for a school project or whatever.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich skimps somewhat on the built-in camera features. You can edit shortcuts, exposure value, and adjust some of the effects but you'll need something like Instagram or Photo Editor (which you are prompted to download if you try editing any photos on the device) to add more advanced filters or crop images.

A burst shot mode allows you to rapidly take lots of photos in succession, helping you to get the best shot.

It's a bit hit and miss but you would expect that - it's a very subjective thing dealt with by a crude algorithm so the human eye is still the best judge. Even so, Best photo did seem to favour eye contact and smiling when of a person.

We are definitely impressed with Android 4.0's camera features because the layout is simple and easy to use, making it accessible, and thanks to the camera on the Galaxy S3, the results are really impressive.

Operating system

We were never averse to TouchWiz 4.0 found on the Galaxy S2 - it was actually much less cluttered than HTC's Sense equivalent at the time, but nowadays we favour a more simple approach. Thankfully, Android Ice Cream Sandwich is much simpler and easier to navigate, although you will want a dedicated file manager app like Solid Explorer if you plan on moving stuff around.

From the touch screen you can swipe to a shortcut directly, although it's not immediately obvious how this works. We kept trying to drag our finger onto the camera icon in a swipe, but actually you are meant to swipe from the camera icon upwards to access it (and this is the same for the other shortcuts: phone, ChatON and browser).

At the bottom of each home screen is a permanent row of buttons, which link you to (from left to right) phone, contacts, messaging, internet and the apps draw. You can put whatever you like here, which makes them perfect for your most used tasks.

Above them on the seven screens can be whatever you like. The middle page default is the Google search bar, a rather attractive weather and time widget and a few other shortcuts. It's simple, easy on the eye and as with all Android phones, you can change just about anything with something like Launcher Pro.

Samsung made it very clear at the Galaxy S3 unveiling that it focused on being a natural experience. While the watery unlock screen and the accompanying sound effect is refreshing, there's little else to show for it. This isn't a bad thing - we like Android 4.0 enough to want it left alone, so we commend Samsung for staying away for the most part.

That doesn't mean there is a total lack of Samsung additions. One of our favourites allows you to bring your phone to your ear to ring someone if you were just becoming fed up of texting them. Little additions such as this may not sound exciting but it's the sort of thing that makes sense and pleasantly surprises you when you realise it's there.

Smart Stay, another Samsung addition, is meant to keep the screen from dimming and then locking when you are looking at the Galaxy S3. A little eye indicator appears at the top to remind you it's working, which is handy because it seemed to ignore us.

We could close our eyes or have them open and the screen would remain bright. Other times, Smart Stay seemed to ignore us completely. Given the unreliability, it's definitely more gimmicky than it is useful, which is perhaps why the default setting is off.

S Voice provides ample proof Samsung likes to copy Apple. Or, at least, borrow ideas. Sadly, S Voice is even more useless than Siri, which we never found ourselves using. Asking to Google something like 'Ray Ban sunglasses' ended up in 'Radium sunglasses'. Accents seemed to prove even more challenging, rendering its use to nigh-on pointless. You can't even ask it for your appointments - at least, we couldn't.

The last big addition is window-in-window. This allows you to watch a video while looking at your home screen or browsing the web. Only locally stored videos can use the feature, so YouTube videos are out of the question. But if you need to multitask with video it may prove useful, and we hope it can be improved on at a later date to allow for having two tasks side by side, Windows 7/8 style.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 is now upgradeable to Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. It's been a long time coming, with a few botched attempts in the past, but Android 4.3 is now avaliable. It's not the most up to date Android, considering 4.4 KitKat is out but it's a vast upgrade from the 4.2 it was running. So what comes with the upgrade?

Quite a bit as it goes: 

  • Support for the Galaxy Gear smartwatch
  • A refreshed user interface
  • Better microSD support
  • Bluetooth low energy support
  • Autocomplete feature on the dial pad
  • Multi window enhancements
  • Improvements to the photo sphere
  • A load of bugs and fixes for various areas
There does seem to be a few teething problems with the update though. Below are a few tweets of people who a little less than enamoured with the update to Android 4.3.
It's a shame customers aren't enjoying the update to Android 4.3. Samsung really need to step up its customer service skills and support for older handsets such as the S3.

General use

Apart from the size of the device, which will seem huge to ex-feature phone users and anyone who used to own an HTC Hero, the Galaxy S3 is easy to live with. Pockets - from a man's perspective, anyway - seem to accommodate it without any bother, and the device is strong enough to not feel like it's going to end up in bits. Apart from removing the flimsy back panel we had no damage, random lock-ups or other issues.

Android Jelly Bean has come on leaps and bounds, so we would definitely now recommend it to smartphone newbies as well as the tech-massive who love tinkering. And, of course, Google Play (formerly the Android Market) has an obscene amount of apps and games to enjoy, which means you will keep you occupied for the duration of your contract.

We did find the large screen was more prone to picking up reflections, especially when the sun comes out, and the smooth back panel is quite slippy, though. We also still secretly hoped for casing like on the HTC One X. You can't beat a bit of metal on a premium device.

Call quality was great and we experienced less signal drop-outs on our commute than we are used to. Depending on your network, you should find the Galaxy S3 capable in the actual phone department.

Battery

Unlike the quad core Nvidia Tegra 3 processors, Samsung has managed to keep the Exynos nicely efficient. Even with lots of gaming, video and music we could manage a day of use easily, sometimes two if we were a bit more sparing. For a smartphone as powerful as the Galaxy S3, it's a big achievement to see a reassuringly good battery life.

Conclusion

So what's our overall verdict? Well, we don't want to give it back, which is exactly how we felt with the Galaxy S2. Once again, Samsung has proven itself as the king of Android kingdom and there's no doubt the Galaxy S3 will fly off the shelves, even if it's not quite as game-changing as its predecessor.

It's not quite perfect and we feel a lot of the Samsung-added functionality is a little gimmicky, plus more could have been made of the natural theme, but it really doesn't matter when the rest of the device works so well.

Wrapped up in Android 4.0 is possibly the world's most powerful smartphone, a bastion of smartphone design let down only by the use of plastic. Fitting a screen of that size in a device of that size was no easy feat, but it really does pay off.

The only real barrier is the price, and that's still the case if you want the device SIM-free, but with so many competitive contracts out there you are getting a whole lot of smartphone for around £31 a month, which is surprisingly cheap.

If you want the best of the best of Android, the Galaxy S3 should be in your list of possibilities alongside the Sony Xperia S, HTC One S and the One X. You really can't go wrong with any of them.

In August 2013, The American Customer Service Index discovered more Americans are happy with the Samsung Galaxy S3, even if it is an old model, in comparison to the much fresher iPohne 5. That certainly tells us something, doesn't it?

Samsung Galaxy S3 best prices

Vodafone

Getting a contract directly from Vodafone gets you the S3, but it's a little more costly. You can order now on a £29-a-month, two year contract will set you back an additional £49 for the device itself. For this you get 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data.

Up your monthly cost to £33 and you get unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 1GBB of data, and the handset cost drops to free.

At £38 it's free for the Galaxy S3 handset. For that you get unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 2GB of data.

Bear in mind Vodafone gives you three months of unlimited data if you get any contract.

O2

The Samsung Galaxy S3 is available on O2's Refresh tariff, that allows you to pay for your phone and the tariff separately. You can pay £12 a month for 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 750MB data, £17 per month for unlimited minutes and texts with 1GB data or £22 per month for unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 2GB data. The device will cost between £20 a month and nothing, if you're prepared to pay £600 upfront for the device, that is.

Orange

The Samsung Galaxy S3 4G is available from £29.99 a month on plans from £36 a month (although you'll only get 3G service). £36 per month will get you 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB data, £37 a month will get you unlimited minutes and 1GB internet, while £41 will get you 900 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB internet. Orange's tariffs are probably the most cmplicated around, so we suggest you take a careful look at the breakdown on Orange's site before committing.

Samsung Galaxy S3 review roundup

Pocket-Lint 
The rear is smooth and rounded, while the front, to be honest, looks like the Galaxy Nexus, if just a little larger. As previously mentioned, it's extremely light, but as the bezel is one of the thinnest Samsung has ever managed, the screen feels even bigger than its 4.8-inches.

If there's anything we were slightly down on it's that the back panel feels a little plasticky, especially when compared to other brands' flagship phones, such as the Panasonic Eluga dL1 or Nokia Lumia 900, but at least it keeps the weight down. This is not a handset to stroke longingly, this is a handset to use.

Tech Radar 
Samsung's decision to focus on services and interaction as much as design will be the area that makes or breaks the Galaxy S3 – if they all work as intended, the rest of the competition will really have to work to catch up.

If the likes of Smart Stay or S Voice don't live up to expectations, this is still a cracking phone – it's the Samsung Galaxy Nexus on steroids and covered with Samsung's own overlay, which will divide opinion for Android lovers.

CNET 
While the screen is huge, the phone doesn't feel big. It's slightly larger and thicker than the Galaxy S II, but still feels comfortable in my hands. At 4.7 ounces, it's 0.6 ounce heavier than the Galaxy S II and about 0.1 ounce heavier than the HTC One X. The S III is, however, thinner compared with the One X -- 0.3 inch versus 0.35 inch.

The Samsung Galaxy S III sticks to the same plastic build, only this time it comes in blue or white. While the handset felt solid, the plastic rear just doesn't give a good grip like the Galaxy Nexus, and it doesn't feel as durable as the polycarbonate finish of the One X.

The BBC Samsung's new quad core processor - much faster and more energy efficient - plays high-definition video without lag or shuddering, even when I played the video in a minimised window in the foreground and used other applications in the background.

Overall, the Galaxy S3 is an impressive phone, likely to capture an even larger marketshare than its S2 predecessor managed to carve out.

Specifications

Typical Price £499.99
UK Launch May, 2012
Frequency GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900, HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100
Phone Style Candy bar
Thickness 8.6mm
Length 136.6mm
Width 70.6mm
Weight 133g
Built-in Memory 16/32/64 GB storage, 1GB of RAM
Additional Memory Up to 64GB via microSD card slot
High-speed Data LTE (regional)
Connectivity DLNA, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Hotspot
Screen Size 4.8-inches, 720x1280 pixels (306ppi)
Screen Colours 16 million
Designer Lens 8-megapixel, Simultaneous HD video and image recording, geo-tagging, touch focus, face and smile detection, image stabilisation
Designer Lens No
Camera Resolution 3264x2448 pixels
Zoom Yes
Flash LED
Video Resolution 1080p @ 30 frames per second
Ringtones Yes
Music Player Yes
Music Formats MP3/WAV/eAAC+/AC3/FLAC player
Song Storage Up to 64GB via microSD card slot
Radio Stereo FM with RDS
Speaker Yes
Video Calling Yes
Internet Yes
Browser HTML, Adobe Flash
Games No, but downloadable from Google Play

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