Pros: "Infinitely" sharp display. Lightning fast processor. Great camera/camcorder
Cons: Typical 4G phone battery life. S-voice isn't as good as Siri. Delicate body.
GALAXY S3 vs. iPhone 5
SCREEN and BUILD QUALITY
After iPhone4 introduced the “Retina display” the race was on for competing smartphone manufacturers to field displays which the human eye could not resolve. Problem is: the larger you make a screen, the lower the pixel density – therefore, the more pixels you’ll need to squeeze in and the more battery power and processor power you’ll need. Apple’s Retina Display display is only 3.5”, but it offers a 640x960 resolution and 326 pixels per inch. The Galaxy Nexus II featured a much larger, and arguably prettier 4.3” screen with a 480x800 resolution and 218 pixels per inch. Problem is, you can still see the pixels and photos, videos, games, etc just aren’t as sharp as on the iPhone4.
The Galaxy Nexus III’s display increases size to nearly 5” at a massive 4.8”. Pixel density has been increased to 306 pixels per inch at a resolution of 1280 x 720. While this is still fewer pixels than the iPhone4, the human eye simply can’t resolve individual pixels and the images you view look infinitely sharp. A 4.8” screen like this one is so large, that no matter what you are looking at, you needn’t strain at all to see. Text, graphics, etc all look superb.
While I like the overall design and feel of the Galaxy S III, I simply must say that I actually preferred the luxurious feel of the Galaxy S II. The SIII comes with an interchangeable plastic cover on the back which hides the Micro SD slot, the SIM slot and the 2100 mAh battery. The plastic feels sturdy, but when you spend this kind of money for a phone, you expect something more than painted plastic (Apple has spoiled us). In its defense, you have easy access to the battery – which you can replace if you find yourself on a very long flight or place without power access. MicroSD cards are steadily depreciating so you won’t get stuck wishing for more storage when you could simply buy more on sale.
The plastic also keeps weight low. The Galaxy weighs only a little more than the Droid Razr, while weighing less than the Droid Razr Maxx - despite having a larger screen than both.
The hardware improvements will quickly filter through the Android market and you’ll see other phones with this display technology and rival CPU’s. The big news this year is actually a Siri-like voice assistant called “S Voice”. It works roughly the same way iPhone4s does. You can ask about Weather forecasts, Google map directions, mathematics problems and there is a cool feature which lets you bring it out of idle by saying “Hi Galaxy!”.
The Cellular antennae is GSM and 4GLTE capable – a blessing for people stuck on AT&T or Verizon. 4G phones with displays this large suffer from poor battery life, but you can reduce connection speed to 3G or just WiFi if you happen to need to conserve energy. I found Verizon’s 4G connection to be outstanding in just about all the locations I tested the phone. The Speedtest.net application steadily recorded around 2.5 Mbps downloads and 2.9 Mbps uploads.
Trusted to power it all is a 1.4 Gigahertz quadcore CPU and an ARM GPU with 1GB of internal memory onboard. US and Japanese versions get a speed bump to 1.5GHz and 2GB of RAM. The Galaxy S II only offered 1.2GHz, and although this is a lot of power for a phone, it wore down when pressed by power/memory hungry apps – especially the camera. The CPU and the GPU inside have plenty of work to do just to run that gynormous screen.
Verizon's Galaxy S III is offered with 16GB ($199), 32GB ($249) and an upcoming 64GB of internal storage. TMobile offers the phone for $279 and $329 respectively. AT&T offers the 16GB for $199.
OPERATING SYSTEM and BATTERY LIFE
This Galaxy S III’s operating system was Android OS version 4.0.4 “Ice cream Sandwich” . There are plenty of features here that make the phone feel unique. You can use gestures on contacts for example: Swipe left and you can send them a quick text message. Swipe right and you call them. The front facing camera is able to unlock the phone or wake/sleep lock the phone by detecting your face (very cool).
Galaxy S II users will notice that the S III handles multiple apps far better than its predescessor without showing much slowdown whilst commonly used apps are active. Being able to handle more apps is a typical benchmark for new Android phones and a consequence of having more available RAM. Since Android 4.0 wants you to have more control over memory management, you can easily open a "running app" menu in the control panel and choose what to close arbitrarily, or close everything simultaneously.
Thanks to the massive memory allotment, the S III can even play downloaded movie clips in a small window whilst you are doing something else: i.e. browsing the web. Future phones will have this feature, but only once they have faster processors and 2GB of RAM or more. I like the feature and it's worth boasting about. I'm guessing the next iPhone will have to have something similar to compete.
The OS features numerous ways to save energy. The phone will not lock itself if it believes you are looking at it since it is essentially “watching” you via the front camera using a program called "Smart Stay". As soon as you take your face away, the phone turns off the screen to conserve power. Battery life is in short supply. You will likely need to recharge this phone every 8 hours if you run it without battery saving optimizations such as reduced screen brightness or disabling the antennae. Individual usage will vary, but, I was able to visually see battery life decreasing while watching Youtube videos over 4G.
No operating system is perfect. I found ICS to be confusing at times due to the wide range of customization available. Unless you are good at memorizing operating system command trees, you'll have trouble remembering how to toggle button sounds, haptic feedback and the subleties of shortcuts available.
A few weeks ago, one of my British coworkers asked me to take a picture of her so she could forward it to a media agency for a newsletter. It was a last minute thing and she handed me her T-mobile Galaxy S II so I could get a shot. I snapped about 5 pictures and she was disappointed in each one. I was shocked by how slow and how poorly the camera took each exposure and by its recovery time. I was also disappointed in the color saturation – the pictures looked washed out, but we were inside a building with soft lighting. I switched over to my iPhone4s and took just a single picture. The difference was astounding. The lighting and color saturation was perfect and she was immediately impressed – a moment I took advantage of to boast how good iPhone’s camera was. I also showed her the iPhone’s image enhancer – which tinted her skin making her appear to have a golden tan. She chose the pictures from my phone over hers and simply deleted those on the poor Nexus.
Using this moment as a baseline for the Nexus’ camera line, I moved onto the Nexus III hoping to see improvements in picture taking.
The Nexus III offers you an 8 Megapixel camera, a 1.9 Megapixel front facing camera and an LED flash diode. Pics are taken in very high resolution: 3264x2448p. Thanks to the phone’s faster processor, the improvement you’ll notice immediately is the extremely reduced shutter lag and you won’t be hard pressed to take a picture anymore. Pictures are taken and flashed into memory within a microsecond. You’ll also see less lag when browsing the photo gallery. Individual pictures taken occupy a file size slightly higher than 4MB and the older Nexus showed lag when loading or scrolling through them. This time around, they scroll like lightning.
There is the bevy of Android photo effects available and even a special mode for shooting in bright outdoors conditions. The phone comes with the “Touchwhiz” camera app to offer you lots of editing tools, but no matter what photo effect you want, you can find options on the Android store if Touchwhiz isn’t enough.
Because I make use of smartphone cameras and video cameras, I’m very critical of them. The Galaxy SIII’s camera performance is arguably better than my iPhone4s’ although the iPhone is simpler to use and pictures have slightly more detail. The SIII has a fantastic HDR mode which sharply renders and contrasts shadows and lighting variations - making photos that would normally be too dark look clearer and brighter where necessary. The video quality is also excellent. I don’t record at 1080p because the file sizes are too large and videos I upload to Youtube take too long to load. I limited video recording on the SIII to 720p and loved the crystal clear sharpness and lack of background noise. Thanks to the fast CPU, you can clearly see the high speed of the autofocus doing its work. It takes about half a second for the edges of an image to be smoothed out.
The Galaxy S III is a fantastic phone. I love the display and I love the smoothness of the operating system. For people who want a top notch Android phone, there is also the HTC One, but the Galaxy is arguably better because you have microSD storage options to complement whatever internal storage you get. The Droid RAZR/MAXX is a Joke compared to this phone. The Galaxy S II may feel better in build quality, but this phone kills it in noticeable performance.
It’s funny that smartphones have gotten so sophisticated that call quality takes a second seat to battery life and display properties. I found nothing noteworthy about the call quality. It was clear and the signal was typically “Verizon strong” (I live in NYC and we have EXCELLENT Verizon coverage). I used this phone’s audio player with a pair of bass boosting and noise isolating Beats Solo HD headphones. I was happy with the music and Youtube playback sound quality.
There is just one speaker on the back of the phone. As phones get slimmer, speakers get smaller. The SIII's volume is roughly as loud as the iPhone's, but probably not loud enough if you intend to use the phone as a GPS navigation unit. If there 's one thing I could complain about, it was the voice assistant's slow, often innacurate feedback and its unnaturally raspy “robotic” voice. Other than that, this is the Android phone you’ll want to carry you through the next year if you are upgrading.
If I wasn’t an iPhone user, I’d definitely keep the Nexus SIII for myself. Its size can take some getting used to, but it pays dividends when you want to watch videos.