Samsung Galaxy S III LTE (GT-I9305) review
It's fair to say that the Samsung Galaxy S III is one of the most popular and most-loved handsets of the year. They're flying of shelves globally, and the insinuation that it's a knock-off of the iPhone doesn't seem to have found any resonance with the general public. After all, this isn't a cheap handset, it's an expensive piece of kit, that's selling in huge numbers.
So when EE announced 4G a few months ago it wasn't a surprise that Samsung appeared with an LTE version of the SGS 3. While much of the phone remains the same as the original handset, it seems worth a stroll through the differences in a separate review. So here, we'll focus not on the design but on what makes this phone different from the 3G SGS 3.
READ: Samsung Galaxy S3 review
Good 4G support
Unlike the iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S has much better LTE support for the UK. Because it supports 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz, when O2 and Vodafone launch their services on 800 or 2600 anyone with this handset will be able to use 4G with no problem. That's a huge advantage over some of the other phones that currently support 4G.
Our phone was provided for testing by EE though, so our experiences with 4G were based on its new network. And we have to say, coverage was better than we expected. Where we are, in an outer London suburb we can get 4G with modest signal strenght. Given that on T-Mobile we don't get 3G reliably, that's quite an impressive feat.
Like everyone, we've done some testing with speedtest apps, and got some impressive numbers back. Slightly bafflingly, the upload always seemed a little better than download for us. Indeed, upload speeds frequently bested what we can get on our home broadband. But this depends on a huge number of factors -like who else is using the 4G network, and how strong the signal.
We also tested the real applications for 4G by taking a train ride into town, and watching Sons of Anarchy on Netflix. Results were impressive. At no point did the streaming give up the ghost entirely - which would be bad - and although we got some quality drops, where the picture looked a bit rough, it mostly coped well. We liked that, a lot.
In entirely optimal conditions, this category 3 phone can download at 100mbps and upload at 50mbps. That compares to about 40mbps download and 5mbps upload on 3G. These maximum figures are mostly worthless, because we've never seen much more than 7mbps on 3G, and in our speed tests we've never got much above 18-20 on 4G either.
Although there's not a lot in it, the 4G SGS 3 has an altered specification too. For one, the 32 and 64GB capacities don't exist, there's just a 16GB handset available. We don't know if that will change in the future, but this is already an expensive phone, and adding extra capacities would increase that further.
On the plus side, the specification is now updated too. So there's 2GB of RAM instead of 1GB, which should keep things feeling very quick and responsive. We might be imagining it, but we certainly felt like scrolling around the apps screens was a little bit faster.
But even if we aren't right, the extra RAM will be a big help, it will allow you to have more running before the phone starts to get bogged down and needs a reset. The SGS does suffer from this - most phones do - so it's kind of handy to have a bit more oomph to smooth things out.
It's also interesting to note that as well as 4G, the 3G specs are also improved, with faster supported HSDPA transfer speeds promised. It's fair to say that, when running well, 3G is fast enough to blow the socks off you. Sadly, congestion and other issues mean that most people never see the best speed it's capable of providing. We've no doubt the same will be true of 4G in the near future.
That's right, the FM radio from the original S3 has gone. There is no FM radio in the LTE version. We guess that's because you're supposed to just stream everything over the internet now. This is a shame, because the FM radio in the S3 is really good, and we enjoy using it.
The original Galaxy S III has some odd battery issues. It's not the worst-performing phone we've used, but there seem to be times when it's a struggle to get through the day on a single charge. Some people don't find this, but perhaps our grim insistence that we use three email accounts and constantly have push updates sent about everything is the root cause of the problem.
Perhaps the biggest worry though, is that although the I9305 adds 4G LTE support, it retains the original battery. It stands to reason then, that if you do much of anything via the 4G network, you're going to see battery life sink quicker than the Titanic if you watch the film on fast forward.
You can certainly managed the SGS into being better with its battery, but it's nothing short of a pain. The point of smartphones is to use them for everything, if you do this with the Samsung, you'll come unstuck.
EE pricing and data limits
With 4G being so new, it was obviously going to come at a cost. To some extent, we applaud that, because if you simply pushed all the 3G customers on to 4G it would destroy the speed advantage - of course, only if your customers have 4G phones, but the iPhone 5 ownership is significant to create such an issue.
What's probably most absurd, is that EEs cheapest tariff has just 500MB of data allowed. We find it quite annoying that EE would tell us over and over how quick 4G is, and then provide a data cap so miserly that you could exhaust it within just a few minutes. What, exactly, is the point of that?
Sure, you can get 8GB tariffs too, but we're talking about a lot of money here, and that will put it way out of reach of most people. Indeed, it's £1,344 over the course of two years. Of course, that's probably the most generous data tariff in the UK these days, but even so, it's a big price to pay.
The regular Samsung Galaxy S III got 4.5 stars, and there's nothing inherently worse about this phone. But with the additional features being modest and the price higher it doesn't feel like the best way to spend your money.
Obviously, for those of us outside the 4G coverage area, there's almost no point getting this phone at all, although it does have a good range of 4G frequencies, so you should see support for other UK networks when they launch 4G services.
When they're on top form, in central London or the other cities the 4G service is available, it's a brilliant thing to behold, but the price in terms of line rental and the drop in battery life seem too steep to be worth paying right now. This is a device for those who must have the newest, the best and the most expensive. Leave this phone to the Chelsea footballers then, and get yourself the 3G one, it will do just fine for the foreseeable future, and you'll save yourself a fortune in line rental.
Our review handset was kindly provided by EE.