The Samsung Galaxy S3 is one of the most highly-anticipated smartphone of 2012. It’s mainly because of the stellar success of its predecessor and Samsung’s over-all performance in the Android handset market. Check out our full review of the Galaxy S3 i9300 after the break.
When we first saw the Galaxy S3 during the global launch in London back in May, we were not that crazy about its design. The hardware was pretty impressive, the additional Samung features were nice but a bit gimmicky, yet the design did not really sink in that well with us (close to saying it’s an acquired taste).
However, once you’ve held the Galaxy S3 and used it for some considerable amount of time, your perception of the handset’s design will probably change and learn to love it. We were fortunate enough to be able to use both the Ceramic White and the Pebble Blue for this review.
Design and Construction.
Since the popular Galaxy S2, Samsung has made a lot of changes in the design of the Galaxy S3. The material used is still the same polycarbonate component with a glossy coating Samsung referred to as hyperglazed.
We got both the Ceramic White and the Pebble Blue variants to review and noticed a slight difference between the two. Both have that glossy coating over the materials but the Ceramic White has more of a plain or flat texture while the Pebble Blue has that brushed pattern beneath that hyperglazed surface.
The body of the handset is more rounded and looks closer to the Galaxy Nexus than the S2. The curved back panel allows it to fit more comfortably on the palm of your hands, giving you a better grip of the handset. However, the glossy finish also makes the device a bit slippery in some occasions (slipped off my jacket pocket once and twice on my desktop table); hence, we recommend getting a case for the device as soon as possible.
The construction of the S3 is pretty simplistic with very few exterior embellishment. The 3.5mm port is on the top left corner; the power button is on the upper right side; the volume control is on the left side and a micro-USB port is at the bottom. There are two microphones — one at the top and one at the bottom, the other could be for active noise-cancellation.
At the back side, you will find the 8MP camera with the LED flash on its left side and the speaker on the right side. The front panel features the physical Home button at the bottom end along with two soft keys that sandwiches it (Menu and Back). It’s curious that Samsung used the Menu and Back soft keys on the handset since these two were prominent with Gingerbread rather than ICS which already incorporated the soft keys into the screen. The only reason we can think of is that TouchWiz UI 4.0 has skinned ICS and removed those native keys.
To better appreciate the handset design, we’ve prepared a short unboxing video of the Galaxy S3 below:
We also noticed that the battery cover is also plastic and so thin that you’ll need to be careful when taking the cover off lest you might break it.
On the Ceramic White variant, the two-tone complexion is white with a silver lining on the side while the Pebble Blue has a dark-blue body with a ocean-blue lining. It will really be a matter of taste which of the two you prefer. Apparently, there’s been a lack in supply of the Pebble Blue variant because of some manufacturing delays.
Nevertheless, we find the device very firm and solid. The implementation of the design is done very meticulously and the hyperglazed coating does have its advantages. Despite the 4.8-inch size of the handset, we are able to use it with one hand comfortably and with ease. Of course, that’s really dependent from one person to another.
Samsung uses a Super HD AMOLED display on the Galaxy S3. It only means that the handset uses an AMOLED screen (with an integrated digitizer) with a 720p HD resolution (1280×720 pixels). This gives the Galaxy S3 a pixel density of 306ppi.
While that isn’t really at the top of the pixel density charts (the Galaxy Nexus has 316ppi, the Xperia S has 343ppi and the One X), it’s right up there with a lot of flagship handsets. Both the Galaxy Note and the Galaxy Nexus shared the same Pentile technology with the Galaxy S3.
Nonetheless, we loved the bright and crisp display of the Galaxy S3. Outdoor visibility if decent to good and manages to be usable even with glare caused by direct sunlight (only to a certain extent).
The entire front panel is covered with a single solid sheet of glass that spills toward the edges. The physical Home button looks like it’s made of aluminum and is carved out of the glass, separating it from the rest of the homogenous surface.
The glass surface is slightly raised (or embossed) so the viewing angles are pretty close to 180-degrees (especially when watching videos or movies).
Android ICS and TouchWiz UI.
The Galaxy S3 came out with Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS v4.0.4) out of the box. They also added a custom skin using Samsung’s own TouchWiz UI 4.0. The UI has improved a lot since the first time we saw it in the Galaxy S3 a couple of years ago. It’s simple yet fluid and we’re liking the design of the native icons, widgets and layout.
The UI is pretty clean and simple. If you’ve used a Galaxy phone from Samsung before, you will already be familiar with TouchWiz. The little additional touches, the transition effects and smoothness of the navigation really adds to the prettification and usability of the device.
A lot of widgets have also been added and incorporated into the UI. We also noticed the drop-down menu added more options and shortcuts to more-commonly used features.
Samsung added a lot of interesting features that uses motion sensors and gestures. We liked the Direct Call feature and have used it a lot of times. Smart Stay seems like a very neat feature but using it is a hit or miss (really depends on the ambient light).
The Pop-up Play looks gimmicky and the fact that there is an app in the Google Play Store that the do the same makes it not that unique. In fact, the Super Video app supports two floating videos at the same time.
While there are a number of Samsung-exclusive apps pre-installed in the S3, you have access to hundreds of thousands of apps in the Google Play Store (both free and paid). And if you get bored of the TouchWiz UI, you can always download a custom launcher like Go Launcher EX.
Well, hi there, Galaxy!
The S Voice is one of the newer features introduced with the Galaxy S3. It is an evolution of the Voice Talk app found in the Galaxy Note (powered by Vlingo).
It is obviously a play on the Apple’s Siri personal assistant. Surprisingly, we realized that S Voice is much more usable than Siri because it supports our location (meaning, you can ask for location-based services).
S Voice managed to pin-point us to a map when we asked “where I am”, and also gave us the local weather and answered who the president of the Philippines correctly.
The voice is also more human and less robotic compared to Siri. Of course, we also experience some issues with “accent” and “pronunciation” with S Voice.
Multimedia and Camera.
While the S3 still had the same 8MP camera like the S2, the sensor has been vastly improved. Image quality both in stills and video are really good. The snapper is very fast and can do up to 3 shots per second with a burst of 20 continuous shots which is great for action scenes.
Chekc out some of our sample photos in the gallery below:
Images are crisp and well-saturated, the exposure levels are even and the colors are rich and vivid. We can definitely say that the S3 has one of the best built-in camera in a smartphone.
The native camera app has a lot of functions and features including shooting modes like HDR and Burst shot (at 20 continuous frames). There’s also Face Detection but it’s a hit or miss when used in the field.
The S3 can capture full HD 1080p video at 30fps. The camera can auto-focus while recording or you can switch the focus area by tapping on the object on the screen.
Check out our sample clip below (make sure to select the 1080p version on playback):
The camera also has the ability to take stills while recording and there are options in the settings for enabling Outdoor Visibility and Anti-Shake (video stabilization).
The speaker of the unit is situated at the back beside the camera and while it is obviously facing away from the user, the volume of the audio isn’t sacrificed. Sound quality is good though we could not really say it’s the best we’ve ever used on a smartphone. The speaker is also slightly muted when you lay it down on its back.
The S3 also plays full HD video and movies very smoothly. The AMOLED screen adds to the crispness and brightness of the videos although we’d suggest using a headphone to better appreciate the audio/sounds when doing so.
The Pop-up Play is a neat trick which allows you to watch a video on a small floating screen while doing something else, but as we mentioned earlier, it’s just that — a neat trick.
Performance and Benchmarks.
Samsung has done very well in making the S3’s performance as smooth and fluid as possible. The handset is very fast, very responsive and can handle a lot of tasks and running apps all at the same time without any noticeable lags.
We also liked the idea of maximizing the features offered by NFC and WiFi Direct. We’ve tried the S Beam between two Galaxy S3’s and it worked very well in transferring large files in such a short time. NFC was used to quickly pair the two handsets then WiFi Direct kicks in to deliver blazing-fast data transfers.
This feature currently works with the S3 at the moment but with the announcement of JellyBean, it will be standard to Android handsets.
Based on the numbers alone, the Galaxy S3 trumps all other smartphones in all three (3) benchmark tests we did — Quadrant Advanced, Antutu Benchmark and NenaMark 2.
With a Quadrant score of 5,859, it’s the highest we’ve seen on any handset or tablet we’ve ever tested or reviewed. The same goes with Antutu benchmark — the S3 surpassed the 10k mark with a score of 12,044. The Nemark 2 score gave it an impressive 58.8fps rating.
Again, these are just benchmark results and though they may not represent real-world performance, it’s a good indication of the relative performance of the S3 compared to other handsets in the market. But, by the numbers alone, we can already say the S3 is the “King of Benchmarks“.
Call Quality and Battery Life.
Voice calls on the Galaxy S3 are pretty clear and loud. We did not experience any drop calls in the last couple of weeks using it.
The 2100mAh Li-ion battery on the S3 might seem enough but if you’re connected to a 3G network all the time, you’d be lucky to survive the day without recharging your unit. However, with moderate use, we’re surprised that the handset can actually last two full days with casual internet and mostly calls and SMS.
We also noticed that the power-saving mode of the S3 works pretty well when the handset is in idle. The again, the battery life will greatly depend on your usage behavior.
With the launch of the Galaxy S3, we noticed that Samsung is slowly inching towards the cloud and adding more soft features into their devices. They’ve already proven they’re really good at making their own hardware so adding a more compelling ecosystem (aside from the basic Android ecosystem) is the next logical step.
The Galaxy S3 certainly delivered the promise a lot of people were expecting, and maybe even more. It’s got the impressive hardware and a mature platform to run on. Samsung has done it again and we are pretty sure they will be selling millions of S3 (and millions more) in the coming months.
Samsung Galaxy S3 i9300 specs:
4.8-inch Super HD AMOLED screen @ 1280Ã—720 pixels (306ppi)
1.4GHz Samsung Exynos 4 Quad processor
16GB internal storage
up to 32GB via microSD card
HSPA+ up to 21Mbps
8MP rear camera with LED flash
1080p @ 30fps video recording
1.9MP front-facing camera
720p HD video recording
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n with WiFi Bonding
2,100mAh Li-Ion battery
Android 4.0 ICS with TouchWiz UX
8.6mm thickness, 133gram weight
The Samsung Galaxy S3 has a suggested retail price of Php32,990 and is available in stores nationwide. Local telcos are also offering it under postpaid plans — comes free with Unli Data Plan 2000 with Smart and Supersurf Plan 2499 with Globe.
What we liked about it:
â— Top-notch performance
â— Great camera
â— Quad-core processor
â— NFC & WiFi Direct put to good use
â— Good battery life
â— S Voice is pretty usable
â— Free 50GB DropBox account for 2 years
What we did not like:
â— Still pricey
â— Glossy finish makes it slippery
â— Some gimmicky features
Disclosure: The White Ceramic S3 was provided to us by Samsung Philippines while the Pebble Blue S3 was provided to us by Lazada Philippines (sells for Php31,989 in their listing here).