Samsung's Galaxy S III smartphone will compete in the U.S. with the Apple iPhone, HTC One X, and Nokia Lumia 900. How does it stack up?
When the Samsung Galaxy S III goes on sale in the U.S. in June, it will face some heavy competition. HTC and Nokia have delivered some excellent handsets to AT&T's network in the last month, and there's always the iPhone 4S, which is about halfway through its yearly update cycle. That makes the Galaxy S III the most important handset of the year for Samsung, which is jousting with Apple for the worldwide smartphone crown.
Did Samsung do enough with this device? Let's take a look at what Samsung got right and what it didn't.
Thin and light. At 133 grams (4.7oz), the S III is incredibly light. It measures 8.6mm thick, which isn't the thinnest dimension in the smartphone market, but it's still really thin. Thin and light smartphones are easy to carry around and easier on the hand with extended use.
Awesome radios. The S III includes all the radios that matter: LTE, HSPA+, Wi-Fi, a GPS, GLONASS, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC. The 4G support is vital for this class of device, and by upping to Bluetooth 4.0, the S III will be able to work with an incredible array of accessories without affecting battery life. The NFC radio means the S III can be used for mobile payments and other tap-and-go actions.
Killer software. Android 4.0 with a toned-down version of TouchWiz? Yes, please. Based on Samsung's demonstrations during the launch event, the S III has a finely tuned user experience that is meant to make the phone as natural to use as possible. Since it is based on Android 4.0 we already know that it has a solid base. Samsung flexed its software chops with the S III in a way that sets the phone apart from its competitors.
Solid cameras. Samsung did some really interesting things with the camera. Never mind the specs, the S III's advanced facial recognition features for keeping the display awake or tagging photos is really neat stuff. The fact that it shoots 8- and 2-megapixels and 1080p/720p HD video with the back and front cameras, respectively, is an added bonus. Toss in zero shutter lag, and you have a winner.
Massive storage. The S III will come with three different built-in storage capacities: 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. This mirrors what's available with the Apple iPhone. However, Samsung went one step further and stuck a microSDXC slot in as well. This means users can choose to add another 64GB of storage, bumping the S III up to a total of 128GB. That's the same amount of storage as my laptop has.
As great as these features may be, though, there are some significant drawbacks that are worth pointing out.
Questionable display design. The Galaxy S and S II and Super AMOLED displays were simply incredible. With the Galaxy Nexus and now the S III, Samsung uses HD Super AMOLED but has switched to a PenTile pixel matrix. I've used PenTile devices, and I find the arrangement distracting. It essentially clouds up what would otherwise be a crystal-clear display. It offers some benefits, and many people probably don't notice the shortcomings, but smartphone aficionados will be put off by this spec.
Also, the S and S II had displays between 4.3 and 4.5 inches. Even with these display sizes, Samsung managed to keep the overall footprint of the devices small. By increasing the S III's display size to 4.8 inches, Samsung risks losing customers with small hands. Many people find even 4.3-inch displays to be too large.
Untested processor. Samsung is using its own quad-core Exynos processor for the S III. Each core is clocked at 1.4GHz and the device has 1GB of RAM. Early benchmarks suggest it's a data-crunching monster. The drawback, however, is that it uses Samsung's 32nm processes. Samsung said the battery will last all day long, but the Exynos doesn't appear to be as efficient as alternate chips, such as Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4.
Materials and design. One of the problems faced by Samsung's earlier Galaxy devices is that they felt cheap and "plastic-y." I've also never really warmed to the design, which I find to be a bit pedestrian. Samsung didn't fix these issues with the S III.
For some reason, polycarbonate is the smartphone chassis material of the year. Both HTC and Nokia have delivered excellent quality designs using this fancy-pants plastic.
Early hands-on reports said the S III feels a bit chintzy. This worries me a lot. Though cheap-feeling plastics haven't prevented Samsung from selling tens of millions of smartphones in the last few years, its competitors have upped the ante a bit. With the iPhone 5 rumored to be using a material called liquidmetal, Samsung needs to make sure the build and feel of its phones are of the best quality possible. HTC and Nokia have done much better with their polycarbonate devices, and that will make side-by-side comparisons at retail shops tough on Samsung.
The bottom line: Despite the flaws I've pointed out here, Samsung is primed to sell this device in what will probably be record numbers--at least until October.
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