After the phenomenal success of the Galaxy S2, Samsung needed to pull out all the stops if the Galaxy S3 wasn't going to be an anti-climax. This is the phone, after all, which would cement its position as the biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world. Five minutes after I started using it, following a quick software update to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, I was certain that its place at the top was both safe and well deserved. Yes, it might be a bit large for some, but the S3 is so jam-packed full of features and so well designed that any worries about size are almost instantly forgotten.
Design and Build
Whilst it was very functional, the square design of the Galaxy S2 was never what I would call eye-catching or inspiring. With the S3, Samsung has gone in a completely different direction, producing a phone with barely a straight line in sight. The back of the phone has a high-gloss finish and smooth, rounded edges. Nothing breaks this smooth expanse except the camera lens, LED flash and a small speaker near the top of the case. I was slightly worried that this gloss finish would be slippery in my hand, but it actually seems to help with your grip.
Flip the phone over and the front is almost as plain as the back. A small speaker, front camera, ambient light sensor and notification LED sit neatly above the display, with just a single hardware button below it. That is until you wake the phone up and the hidden Option and Back buttons light up. These two buttons, which are capacitive touch activated, will vanish after a few seconds when not being used. The only slight problem I found was that these buttons are quite close to the edge of the case, meaning I did find myself touching them by mistake on a few occasions.
There is no getting away from the fact that the Galaxy S3 is a big phone. My everyday handset is a HTC Sensation XE; a phone that I had always thought was quite large. The knowledge that the S3 was larger still made me wonder if the phone would feel clumsy and awkward in my hand. Thankfully it doesn't! It certainly does take a bit of getting used to, but the thinness of the body (just 8.6mm) certainly helps to make the handset feel smaller than it is.
Of course, the whole reason for having a large phone is to have a large display. At 4.8in, the S3 display is half an inch bigger than the S2 display, and almost an inch larger than the iPhone 5. If it was much larger, the phone would be in danger of encroaching on the phablet (somewhere between a phone and tablet) niche that the Galaxy Note 2 currently sits in. As it is, the screen size makes it possible to watch movies and TV shows without straining your eyes too much, whilst remaining within the realms of what most people would call a cell phone.
The Super AMOLED screen, producing an impressive 720 x 1280 pixels, makes for rich, deep colours and superbly black blacks. Super AMOLED is a brighter, faster and less power-hungry version of the LED (Light Emitting Diode) screens that have been around for a while. Watching a HD movie on this phone is a truly impressive experience, but even simple things like browsing the web or viewing photos show off the quality of the display. It does seem to struggle slightly with text, but you would be hard-pressed to notice any lack if you weren't holding it side by side with the iPhone 5 or another phone which displays text particularly well.
Samsung has gone all out to make the Galaxy S3 as innovative as possible, and has packed it with more features than any normal person could ever hope to use. Many of the features, such as Direct Call, may have you wondering how you ever managed without them. With Direct Call turned on, the phone will automatically call any contact that is displayed on the screen when you lift it to your ear. So if you are halfway through writing a text message to someone and decide it is quicker to call, you simply lift the phone to your ear and Direct Call kicks in.
S-Voice is another feature that I didn't realise I had been missing until I started using it. S-Voice is really Samsung's answer to the iPhone's Siri app, and at its most basic level is a voice search tool. Dig a little deeper, spending some time learning how S-Voice works, and you can use it to silence alarms, compose emails, open apps, play music and manage your calendar. Just like Siri, it isn't perfect, but it does get much better with use.
Motions, which allow you to control aspects of the phone using movements of your hand or of the phone, are the other big innovation of the Galaxy S3. You can shake the phone to update a page, tap the top of the handset to scroll up a page or flip the phone over to silence it. If Smart Alerts are turned on, when you pick up your silenced phone, it will vibrate to alert you to any calls or messages you have missed. It really is all very clever stuff and, whilst some of the features are a bit hit and miss, I have found myself using them more and more as I get used to the phone.
Many people, including this reviewer, were expecting at least a small upgrade for the camera between the Galaxy S2 and S3. Sadly that hasn't been the case, with the S3 sporting the same 8MP camera as its predecessor. That is not to say the camera is particularly bad. The zero-lag shutter works well, images are generally crisp and clear, and the software can help to make getting the perfect shot easier. It would, however, have been nice to see at least a small jump in image resolution. It really does say something about the quality of this phone, when the excellent camera is probably the weakest part of the whole package.
The camera software has had an update, and now features a HDR mode, a very cool burst mode and lots of other clever tricks. The feature I found most useful, as someone who forever struggles to take a good picture, is Best Photo mode. Activate best photo mode, tap the shutter button and the camera takes eight photos in quick succession. Using the clever software, the camera then shows you which of these eight frames is the best quality.
As you might expect from Samsung's flagship smartphone, there is enough power hidden inside the Galaxy S3 to handle everything you could throw at it. The quad-core processor, build by Samsung themselves and backed up by a separate graphics processor, delivers exceptional speed and responsiveness. Everything about the phone feels fast and snappy, from home screen animations to image editing, even with multiple apps running in the background. This high performance does put some strain on the 2100mAh battery, but time between charges is no worse than other similar phones I have used.
Samsung could probably have made a few minor hardware upgrades to the S2, renamed it the S3 and still sold millions of units without breaking a sweat. I can safely say that the Galaxy S3 is no minor update, but rather a huge leap in terms of what a smartphone should be. Everything about the Galaxy S3 screams quality, from the superb display to the sheer amount of cool software features. Available from as little as $199 with a monthly call plan, this is a truly impressive phone with a very reasonable price tag. Until the Galaxy S4 arrives, I can't see any reason why someone would not want to buy this phone.