Samsung Galaxy S III: the phone is actually watching you

The Samsung Galaxy S III is watching you. That’s what it does. It watches and it listens. It knows your face and it listens to your voice. And if that sounds creepy, wait until you hear what the latest Android superphone will do to your friends.

“The phone is actually watching you,” explains Min Cho, Samsung senior manager, Sales & Marketing, Mobile Communications, with a glint in his eye as he runs Pocket-lint through a few of his favourite features.

“You will recognise whether the phone sees you or not. Generally, my screen timeout is set to 15 seconds and then it turns off.”

He continues to look at the screen. Fifteen seconds pass. The screen is still as bright as ever.

“Now it sees me, it recognises me. Even though I didn’t touch anything, it will not turn off. It recognises my eye contact.”

Very nice. Smart Stay, we’re told it’s called and, although this isn’t the kind of headline feature you’ll find on the spec sheet, it’s with touches like this the Samsung looks to elevate its latest hero handset from both the Galaxy S predecessor and the competition as well, Android or otherwise.

Smart Stay works by face recognition through the Galaxy S III’s improved, 1.9-megapixel, front-facing camera - a camera capable of capturing 720p video despite being the lesser of the two snappers on the device. The idea behind the feature, of course, is that you don’t have to keep pressing the lock button to keep the screen lit while you’re reading a long article, but it’s the importance of the software that powers it that begins to unfold as Cho explains where else Samsung has brought it into play on its phone.

“The camera is one of the most frequently used applications and it’s very important to us. We are very committed to enhancing consumer experience of photos. Now consumers can capture the moment with no lag between pressing the camera app button and the actual screen you’ll see before shooting; and faster shot-to-shot experience too. We have minimised the reloading time, so much so that you can take more than three different photos per second.”

While the phone, like most in this days and age, has the software to sense and balance the brightness, contrast, colour and the smiles and eyes of those in your frame, it’s what Samsung has chosen to do with that information that’s impressive. As with Smart Stay, the face recognition code is put to greater use than working out just how to focus your pictures. What your Galaxy S III will do next is cross-reference the faces in your photos with those associated to the contacts in your phone book app.

As a result, a feature Samsung calls Buddy Photo Share allows you to click straight through to your friends’ Facebook pages from the Gallery app where you can post the shot or comment or whatever it is you feel empowered to do. And there’s no obligation to go through Facebook at all. At the same time, a one-tap operation means you can share the same snap to the recognised contact by MMS or e-mail with the information pulled straight out of your phone book and into the viewing gallery. In fact, so much importance has the company placed on faces that it’s even chucked in a Face Slideshow where you can swipe through a series of your pictures with each zoomed in at visage level.

“Designed for humans, inspired by nature, smart and intuitively quick,” says Cho more than once in our session and it’s the latter two facets that Samsung seems most to be addressing.

With Steve Jobs once famously accusing Android of being for geeks, it appears to be the mass appeal and mass usability that Samsung has targetted most of all in an update which features comparatively restrained specs to previous phone arrivals. Indeed, it’s not without similarity to Siri that we’re introduced to the voice recognition software in the Galaxy S III.

“S Voice is beyond a natural evolution of Voice Talk which we had pre-installed in the predecessor, the Galaxy S II. Now we can actually listen to you and you can conveniently interact with it by simply talking to it because S phones now understand what you say through letter and language processing.”

Android, of course, is already well-equipped with voice interaction as standard but where Samsung has taken it further with the S III is by letting users unlock their device direct to certain functions without having to touch the phone at all. Given that S Voice needs to be trained, it should even be secure enough to respond solely to the owner.

“You can just say, ‘Hi Galaxy,’ and use one of four different customised wake up commands. ‘What’s the weather like today,’ and it will answer for you; ‘I want to take a picture,’ and then the camera application will open up. You don’t have to press the button any more.”

Of course, with Siri itself not receiving the warmest of responses so far, it’s debatable how much importance one should place on voice-recognition features at all. It’s clear that Samsung certainly wants to be in the game, though, and it’s not hard to see how asking for a weather report with the Galaxy S III placed on your bedside table is going to be a lot quicker than doing it manually - provided S Voice can recognise your first croaks of the day.

“We think we’re providing the best user experience,” says Cho proudly, “and the optimum viewing experience on the go is critical for that.”

That would certainly explain the 4.8-inch screen on the Galaxy S III, up from 4.3 inches on the diagonal on the S II and dangerously close to the super-sized 5.3-inch Galaxy Note.

“We have slimmed down the bezel so much that the portability is not compromised. It’s been guaranteed with a minimal design but, because of the bezel optimisation, it doesn’t look like a 4.8-inch phone, even though it is one. It’s become larger by just 16 per cent than the Galaxy S II.”

Indeed, the lines and dimensions - inspired by water, wind, sound and other elements of nature, so we’re told - are certainly an improvement on the Galaxy Nexus but to suggest that this softly-softly approach is all that Samsung has done would be to misunderstand how the company has been so successful in wrestling the Android crown from its competitors’ hands since the Galaxy line began. The Exynos 4 makes the S III the fastest and most powerful, according to Cho, and it’s on the back of these quad-core processors and 65 per cent faster clock speed that all the voice and finger-friendly features can run.

It’s hard to tell at this stage whether it will be the hearts and minds approach or the raw power that wins the customers over but, what does seem certain is this phone is set to sell.


Also check out Pocket-lint's in-depth Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy S III review, where we spent quality time with the new smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy S III: Everything you need to know

Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy S III review