The Samsung Galaxy S3 has finally been revealed! After months of leaks and rumoured spec sheets circulated across the web, we've finally been able to go hands-on with the real-deal. And, from what our brief time with the handset has revealed so far, it's looking like a beauty. Read on below for our initial thoughts on the latest Android superphone.
The fact that the Galaxy S3 was "inspired by nature" was one of the central tenets of Samsung's launch event for their top-tier handset. And if nature likes its phones super-slim and super light, Samsung have got it nailed. A tad bigger than the Galaxy S2, it measures 136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm, weighing 133g. Curving at the edges and available in "Pebble Blue" and "Marble White" shades, it's a comfortable fit and weight in the hand, able to slip nicely into a tight trouser pocket.
That's despite housing a whopper of a 4.8 inch Super AMOLED HD display. Sitting above the one long physical home button, and back and menu touch-sensitive keys, the 1280x720 resolution display is stunning, with crisp, colourful visuals hitting an impressive 309ppi pixel density. The iPhone's Retina Display needs to watch its back.
Under the hood you'll find a 1.4GHz quad core processor, which flew through all the phone's functions in our short testing session with ease, though we're worried it (along with the screen) could prove a bit of a drain on the battery. That's a substantial 2,100 mAh, though we'd like to put it through its paces in a real-world usage scenario before stating whether or not it's enough juice for a decent amount of use.
There's also an accelerometer, GPS/GLONASS connectivity, proximity and gyro sensors, and a barometer onboard, as well as WiFi a/b/g/n, the ever-more-prevalent NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and, where available, 4G LTE connectivity. Available in 16, 32 and eventually 64GB storage capacities, it offers more flexibility than the iPhone by housing a microSD slot for up to a further 64GB too.
Running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Samsung have once again re-tooled and included their TouchWiz UI overlay. That whole "inspired by nature" feel rears its head again, with a live lockscreen that looks as though waves of water are rippling over your device, and a water droplet sound as you unlock the handset.
Game Hubs and Video Hubs more or less return as before (being spaces devoted to gaming and TV and Movie purchasing apps respectively), but the Music Hub now also includes a music streaming service that sounds a bit like the iTunes Match service, allowing you to stream any of 18 million songs that you've purchased through one of Samsung's partners before.
Elsewhere, all the usual Ice Cream Sandwich features like a drag-down notifications bar, customizable screen layouts and ample amounts of widgets feature. The lower fixed app dock bar has also been extended to allow five apps to sit at the bottom at all times, just like with the large Galaxy Note.
Apps and Features
Samsung have jam-packed the Galaxy S3 with neat little features to make it really stand out from the Android crowd.
For starters, there's an innovative battery saving feature called Smart Stay, which uses the front-facing camera to track your eyes, dimming the screen when you look away and keeping it well lit when you're locked on it, say, reading an eBook. If it works as it should, it'll mean you'll no longer have to tap your handset every couple of minutes to stop the screen from timing out, or instead have to delve into the settings and turn the time-out feature off at the expense of battery.
Samsung are also pushing hard their own Siri rival S Voice. A voice recognition app, it lets you search the web, set calendar reminders and check info on things like the weather, just by talking to the phone. You can even wake up the phone by saying "Hi Galaxy". It's geeky, but when it works, kinda cool too. It's hard to say yet whether it's a match for Siri, which itself has had a few problems making its way intact over to UK shores. But with Samsung openly distributing their SDK by the sounds of things, this could get more legs once it gets into the hands of app developers.
S Beam is Samsung's wielding of NFC tech, advancing the work introduced with Android Beam. Tapping two Galaxy S3s together lets you transfer content at an astonishing 300Mbps over Wi-Fi direct. Massive video files or photo libraries can jump between two Galaxy S3 handsets almost instantaneously this way. Annoyingly though, it's functionality is limited to S3 handsets, despite a handful of other NFC-packing smartphones theoretically being able to work with it too.
A Smart Alert feature sounds useful too, instantly letting you know you have notifications waiting for you upon waking the phone with a gentle vibration and soft flashing light.
To round things off, the Galaxy S3 comes with 50GB of Dropbox cloud storage. Take THAT, HTC...
As you'd imagine from a phone with a 4.8 inch Super AMOLED HD screen, media playback is top notch on the Galaxy S3. With stated supported video codecs including MPEG4, H.264, H.263, DivX, DivX3.11, VC-1, VP8, WMV7/8 and Sorenson Spark, you're going to struggle to find clips incompatible with the phone.
They'll all look great too, with vibrant, accurate colours and deep inky blacks. The power of the quad-core processor also allows for a feature called Pop Up Play, which offers limited windowed multitasking with video content. You'll be able to take watch a video, hit a button and see a miniaturised version of it overlayed onto whatever else you do with the phone. Its application is limited, but an impressive show of power from the Exynos processor nonetheless.
The phone also offers nifty wireless mirroring to Samsung TV displays or those connected to a sold-seperately streaming box, as well as group sharing of content across multiple nearby handsets.
Samsung have clearly spent plenty of time working on their imaging systems, and while the 8MP sensor may sound like standard fare these days, the camera's other specs are not. A super-fast start up time of 990ms gets you snapping away in the blink of an eye, with zero shutter lag and the ability to fire of 3.3 photos a second. A 20 in a row, six per second, burst mode also features, alongside Best Shot, which takes 8 pictures, and intelligently picks out the best based on framing, lighting and blur, as well as elements such as open or closed eyes on the subject.
Things get even more advanced with the facial recognition features. Snap a friend, tag them once, and every subsequent picture you take of them in the future should automatically be tagged too. Groups of people appearing in the same shots can also have group tags applied. It'll make organising large photo libraries a piece of cake, and sending snaps to pals even easier; simply tap a subject to be presented with the option of emailing the image to them or posting it to their social networking site of choice.
Elsewhere, more standard features like High Dynamic Range (HDR), panorama, Smile Shot and Beauty Modes are onboard too, as well as plenty of manual settings for things like Exposure values.
Though we spent less time with it, 1080p video recording is also onboard. Just like the S2 before it, the results from our early tests looked a real treat, with video stabilisation options working superbly. Up front, a 1.2MP camera for video calling and shooting 720p video is also available.
Messaging and Contacts
You know what, it's a phone too! It makes calls! And sends messages! And Samsung have done their best to get this looking great too. Again, smart features abound; if you're halfway through a lengthy SMS message to a contact for instance, get bored and simply raise the phone to your ear, the Galaxy S3 will call them instead. The same goes for making the gesture after receiving a text. Nifty. There's also an "In Call Sound Equaliser" that should bring voices to the fore over background noise.
Address book contacts can have a Facebook and Google+ account tied to them, while a decent sized software keyboard with a decent auto-correct option also made an appearance.
It was going to take some beating, but the Galaxy S3 looks well on its way to outshining the former king of Android, Samsung's own Galaxy S2. The hardware is still up to scratch, and provided new software features like Smart Stay and the camera's facial recognition abilities perform as they should, there's seemingly little to drag this handset down at first glance. But we'll reserve our final judgement until we've had an extended play with the fun. We can't wait to get our hands on the Galaxy S3 for a final, full review. And be sure, you'll be the first people to know what we thought of it.