Smartphones have arguably made a greater impact on the lives people in every walk of life than any other invention in recent history. For the last couple of years, the Samsung's Galaxy S series has been consistently among the best Android devices. The Samsung Galaxy S III is the newest and best iteration of this line to date and must be counted among the best smartphones on the market. For its excellent application of current hardware and software capabilities plus overall quality and usability, we have awarded it the TopTenREVIEWS Silver Award.
There are essentially two approaches to creating smartphones. The first is for the manufacturer of the device hardware also to create the software. That methodology made BlackBerry synonymous with the revolutionary devices a few years ago and now allows Apple's various versions of the iPhone arguably to be the most significant driving force in the industry. Other phone manufacturers have opted for collaboration with software developers for their operating systems – Windows Phone 7, Symbian and by far most notably, Android. There's extreme competition among smartphone makers to be the best at exploiting the ever-expanding capabilities of the Android OS, and the synergy of the Samsung Galaxy S III is impressive. The Galaxy S III comes with Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, installed. Being at the top of the Android competition is no mean feat.
In an unusual distribution move, the Galaxy S III is available from all the giant wireless providers in the U.S. One of the phone's most significant performance features, 4G LTE, may well dictate your choice of carriers. Verizon Wireless has the most extensive 4G LTE coverage followed by AT&T that is adding markets rapidly. Sprint is far behind but is aggressively pursuing network expansion and U.S. Cellular's 4G LTE network is still in its infancy. T-Mobile has no 4G LTE capability so HSPA+ will have to suffice. It's fast but no better than a distant second by comparison
Our hands-on review shows that the Samsung Galaxy S III has the look and feel of a premium smartphone. It's thin, light but sturdy, and handsome by any standards. There's no question though that the most prominent design feature is its very large, 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD touchscreen. It's fabulous for watching videos and viewing pictures in the typical HD 16:9 aspect ratio. It's nice, too, for displaying websites, email or other text in a size that doesn't strain the eye. The one drawback to the big screen is the overall size, particularly the width, that it requires of the phone. While many in our office were perfectly happy with the span, several found it to be a little awkward for making phone calls. Others found that the size prevents comfortable one-handed use. Clearly this is a matter of personal preference but is one to be considered.
The screen quality is, however, unquestionable. Images and video can be viewed in full 1080p HD thanks to the substantial 1280 x 720 pixel resolution. The image remains clear from a remarkably wide angle so when friends gather around to be impressed, even those who are way off angle will get a good show.
The design is otherwise modernly minimalist. The nearly edge-to-edge display leaves room only for the home button and small, touch-sensitive back and menu keys at the bottom. The top features tiny circles that house the front-facing camera, ambient light and proximity sensors, and, of course, the earpiece. On the device's rear, the main camera, LED flash and a speaker are lined up near the top.
The phone is made largely of plastic but it nonetheless offers a premium feel in the hand. Available colors include Pebble Blue and Marble White on all of the U.S. carriers that offer the Galaxy S III, but AT&T customers have the additional option of Garnet Red. The finish is nicely textured and affords an appealing, premium appearance.
The Galaxy S III comes with the full suite of multimedia features that have become obligatory for smartphones. The 8MP rear-facing camera, with LED flash, is among the high points. It takes great pictures in the completely automatic mode including a tap-to-focus feature but also offers a range of customization options. The Best Photo feature takes pictures at the rate of 3.3 shots per second then allows you to select your favorite. There's also a Burst mode that takes stills as long as you depress the shutter release. Further, the High Dynamic Range mode combines several shots at various exposures then combines the best parts of the image for the ultimate result. Beyond still photographs, the camera also records remarkable video footage in full HD 1080p.
Even the front-facing camera has had a major upgrade. Not long ago, comparatively pitiful VGA cameras were the default hardware for these poor cousins. Driven largely by the ability for mobile phones to make video calls, the Galaxy S III offers a 1.9MP camera that's ideal for that purpose as well as for taking self-portraits. It even has the ability to take video in 720p.
We've made extensive calls on our two in-house Samsung Galaxy S III phones, one on the Verizon Wireless network and the other using AT&T. Call quality has been consistently among the best phones we've used. To make things even better, you can select a number of enhancement functions, including volume boost, that can be engaged during a call if things get a little noisy.
The speakerphone also works nicely. A handy feature allows you to place the phone face down on a flat surface, such as a desk, to mute the speakerphone. You can also simply cover the screen with your hand for the same result.
We remain impressed by the ability to place video calls on a cell phone and the Galaxy S III is a great platform for doing so. The relatively high-resolution front-facing camera is particularly well suited to the task. The practicality of making video calls is dependent on data transfer speeds on any phone so this function works far best when 4G LTE is available. Of course, it's also a drain on your calling plan's data allowance so we urge caution about using it too extensively on the cellular network. Wi-Fi is generally a better option.
The large phone comes with an equivalently large battery, which we're happy to say is user-replaceable so if you're a very heavy user you have to option to carry a stand-by battery with you. Even without a back-up battery though, the Galaxy S III gives respectable battery life with typical usage. Stand-by time is estimated at up to 12.5 days on a 3G network or 8.3 days on 4G. Talk time is estimated at 8 hours. Obviously your individual usage will determine actual time before a recharge is necessary.
The Samsung Galaxy S III is available with your choice of 16GB or 32GB of integrated storage. The phone will accept up to a 64GB microSD card for memory expansion.
Computing power is supplied by a very capable Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processor clocking in at 1.5GHz. That's augmented by a generous 2GB of RAM creating a device that's highly responsive and ideal for multitasking.
The Samsung Galaxy S III offers a voice-command activated virtual assistant called S-Voice. It can be used to open apps, place calls or send messages. You can also direct it to take photos, play selected music or set an alarm. While it resembles Apple's Siri in intent, the execution is not as polished or elegant, especially now that iOS 6 is available.
The Galaxy S III allows for the use of NFC, Near-Field Communication, technology. While the deployment of NFC is catching on a bit slowly, it promises to make many types of short-distance transactions faster and more convenient. It can be used for such things as paying for purchases with your phone, gaining access to secured areas and obtaining or using coupons. The S III includes a feature called S Beam which gives you the ability to share files between compatible devices by simply touching the phones back-to-back. To accomplish that, S Beam uses NFC to establish the connection then instantly makes the transfer using Wi-Fi Direct. If Wi-Fi isn't available, the entire transfer can be made using just NFC.
There's no shortage of competition in the smartphone market generally and certainly not among Android devices. Big screens are among the most highly desirable features for many people and the Samsung Galaxy S III has just about the biggest you can get without losing its utility as phone. It comes with a vast selection of features all nicely integrated into a handsome package. If you're looking for the best in cutting-edge smartphones, this is definitely a top choice.
The Galaxy S III's touchscreen is expansive and ideal for viewing HD video. The phone offers a fast dual-core CPU and 2GB of RAM for no-lag performance.
Resulting from the big display screen, some users find the device a bit awkward to use as a phone or for one-handed typing.
Solidly positioned as one of the best smartphones yet, the Samsung Galaxy S III offers snappy performance, impressive cameras and great multi-tasking capabilities.