Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy S III review

So, the Samsung Galaxy S III (with roman numerals) is finally here, and Pocket-lint is one of the first in the world to actually get its hands on one of the Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich-touting devices.

And, although we haven't had time to review it fully - including a more in-depth play with TouchWiz and the user interface other than specific new features - it's looking good. Very good indeed.

The handset itself is massive, measuring 136.6mm tall, 70.6mm wide and boasting a waistline of 8.6mm - which is basically as thin as its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S II, but much bigger.

It's heavier, at 133g, although that's really because of the extra glass needed to front the gorgeous 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED touchscreen, which is eye-searingly vibrant. And that extra weight doesn't matter much in the hand, you'd barely notice (too busy looking at the tasty display).

Its resolution is HD at 1280 x 720 with a 306 PPI, so much sharper and clearer than on the previous model and, if pushed, we'd say it is better when looked at in direct comparison to an iPhone 4S Retina display, certainly with colour representation, anyway.

Our initial thoughts are that off-angle it performs better than the Samsung Galaxy Note, which can introduce a green tinge when looked at it acutely, but we'd have to spend more time with it to find out for sure. It can definitely shine brightly though, with the maximum brightness setting being dazzling.

The other thing you notice immediately is that - contrary to much of the rumoured nonsense that has littered the internet of late - there is a home button, which is solid and very tangible, and Menu/Recent Apps and Back icons either side on the fascia itself - they glow when in use, fade away when not.

On the rear there's an 8-megapixel camera and LED flash, while the front houses a 1.9-megapixel webcam that is also employed for face recognition purposes. This is one of the SGSIII's stand-out new features, which Samsung has called Smart Stay. The phone intelligently sees when you're looking at it and ensures that the screen never dims when it has eye contact.

As Min Cho, senior manager of Samsung's Korean HQ's Sales & Marketing Team, Mobile Communications, told us in an exclusive chat: "The phone only sleeps when you do."

And that's not the only interesting new control function. There's also Direct Call, which allows you to call back someone who has left a message, sent a text or communicated with you in a number of other ways by simply lifting the phone to your ear. As long as they are in your contacts list, the Galaxy S III automatically dials the number. We tried it, and it worked as easy as you like. You can also turn off the mode if you don't want to call people accidentally when moving about.

Perhaps, though, the most useful feature, and one that is probably going to be talked about more than any other, is S Voice, Samsung's equivalent of Siri that does so much more than Apple's technology.

S Voice not only allows you to control certain functions, like with former Android voice recognition technology, but it now also understands a massive gamut of natural phrases. Plus, it can be customised with up to four separate wake-up commands. For example, you can set it to respond with the phrase "Galaxy" or "get up". This will unlock the screen and get the whole shebang going. And as that specific function will  respond only to your voice, there's no concerns over security.

Samsung has also integrated voice recognition into certain embedded applications, such as the camera app. Where before you had to scrabble to find a button -either on screen or off - in order to take a shot, you can now just bark commands. "Hi Galaxy, picture," will open the camera app, for instance, then "capture" or "cheese" will take a picture. It's very effective, and a better use of vocal triggering than asking your iPhone aloud to find a nearby restaurant when on a crowded train (only to be met with "I can only look for businesses in the United States...").

You can also now control your music on the phone, even if it is playing a song loudly in the background. It's all quite similar to the way Microsoft has integrated Kinect voice recognition into its Xbox 360 UI, which we're fond of here at Pocket-lint.

The camera application has also had a few significant improvements. The Samsung Galaxy S III is capable of recording video in Full HD (1080p) - much like other Samsung top end phones - and 720p through the front-facing cam, and while you're capturing footage you can now also take stills without halting the process. Like with the normal photo modes, there's zero shutter lag too, and minimum saving time.

There's also a funky new mode called Burst Shot, which, when enabled, takes 20 photos in quick succession (at six frames per second) and automatically chooses the one it judges to offer the quality based on a number of parameters. As the phone's rear camera has multiple face recognition properties of its own, it will look to see if your subject is closing his or her eyes, whether they are smiling, etc.

Face recognition also comes into play with general shooting and the ability to zoom. Whereas you would formerly have to zoom individually on a subject using pinch on the touchscreen, now you can just double tap the box that appears around their head - the Galaxy S III immediately frames them in the picture. In addition, a new slideshow mode will zoom into faces when they appear on any of your photos, scrolling through them if there's more than one person in the shot.

And that's not all... the new software's abilities will also recognise people in the shots if they are already in you contacts list, displaying their info when hovered over and automatically sharing the picture with them through Buddy Share if you so desire.

And, if you have your contacts sorted into groups, the app will automatically detect and sort your photos into the same groups too, ensuring that your family shots are all neatly tidied into the one easy to access place. You can also tag friends and family in each photo for Facebook without having to leave the phone's camera application. Impressive stuff.

Sharing content with others has been made much easier too, especially if they also have a Samsung Galaxy S III. The new device is NFC-enabled and comes with Wi-Fi Direct in-built, so Samsung has combined both Android Beam and Wi-Fi Direct into one technology it calls S Beam. This allows you to simply touch two handsets together in order to transfer picture or video files regardless of their size.

It works a treat, based on our hands-on test, with transfer speeds of up to 400Mbps (via NFC). Presumably, the Wi-Fi Direct option (offering up to 300Mbps speeds) has been added so that it could potentially communicate with non-NFC devices. Time will tell.

Other wireless highlights are supplied by the now Samsung standard DLNA-enabled AllShare Play, which allows you to access files on the phone through a laptop, Smart TV, etc, and new feature AllShare Cast which allows you to transmit HD content on to a compatible TV, effectively mirroring the entire display. It's great for playing games on a much bigger screen.

The phone is HSPA+ for the UK but will be LTE (4G) in other supported countries. It's a shame we don't have the networks sorted out over here in time, but it's hardly an issue considering its peers are similarly hamstrung.

One last new feature we instantly fell in love with is a by-product of the Galaxy S III rocking Samsung's new 1.4GHz Exynos 4 Quad processor and a healthy 1GB of RAM; pop up video. When watching video - HD or otherwise - you can still multitask, use the internet, send a text message and whathaveyou, and the clip will continue to play in a small pop-up window. And the best part is that you can swipe it around the screen, allowing you to access whatever you need underneath.

We tried it out with the internet and, specifically, searching for something on Google, and the clip ran as smoothly as if we hadn't touched it at all. Of course, it's in a much smaller form factor, but as soon as you go back to it, it expands to fill the screen again. Brilliant.

There'll be other surprises in the speed stakes to be had too, once we've played with the phone a bit more, after all the graphics processing is also quad core, with an increased clock speed of 65 per cent over the Samsung Galaxy S II. It'll certainly be interesting to see what Android developers can do with such extra power.

We suspect that power doesn't come at the cost of battery life either, with a 2100mAh cell on board, although from our play, we can't confirm that yet. The team behind the Exynos 4 Quad chip do claim that the processor itself has 20 per cent drain on the battery, but there's the bigger screen to take into acount, OLED or no.

On launch, the new smartphone will come with several pre-installed apps, including those detailed above. All of Samsung's usual hubs will be present and also Flipboard (with which you can get daily Pocket-lint news) and Dropbox. The latter will come as a brief shock to those who believed the rumours that Samsung was launching its own cloud service alongside the Galaxy S III, but its full integration here is much welcome, as is the 50GB of free storage space - wowsers!

So too, bizarre it may seem to some, is Samsung's decision to adopt micro SIM for its flagship phone. As we handle a fair few smartphones in Pocket-lint towers, all our SIMs are micro or cut-down, and some of the devices we get through our doors aren't as receptive to plastic SIM size-converters as you'd hope. But we can understand that others might not be so pleased with the news, especially those who hot swap devices.

At least it matches the microSD and MHL video output in minimising socketry. The former behaves as with plenty of Samsung phones before it, allowing you to expand the 16GB, 32GB or 64GB built-in memory (depending on which version you opt for) by up to 32GB, whereas the latter offers connectivity between the device and a HD TV.

Finally, this hands-on review would not be complete without talking about the feel of the phone in the hand and the overall aesthetics.

Coming in Pebble Blue and Marble White (we much prefer the white version), both flavours of the Samsung Galaxy S III have been designed with nature in mind. Indeed, Cho told us that the philosophy behind the phone is, "inspired by nature, designed for humans," which also runs through the choice of wallpapers and a water rippling effect (visually and aurally) on the unlock screen.

The rear is smooth and rounded, while the front, to be honest, looks like the Galaxy Nexus, if just a little larger. As previously mentioned, it's extremely light, but as the bezel is one of the thinnest Samsung has ever managed, the screen feels even bigger than its 4.8-inches.

If there's anything we were slightly down on it's that the back panel feels a little plasticky, especially when compared to other brands' flagship phones, such as the Panasonic Eluga dL1 or Nokia Lumia 900, but at least it keeps the weight down. This is not a handset to stroke longingly, this is a handset to use.

And, that's the point. Although it's early doors in our testing process, Samsung has created a powerhouse of a smartphone, one that can truly make claims to being a portable computer in your pocket. We've seen enough to know that iPhone 4S fans will be sick with envy.

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What do you think? Does this sound like your next smartphone? Let us know in the comments below...



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