Samsung's latest superphone is just around the corner, and with it comes the promise of a better camera and software features that make Android 4.0 more indispensable than ever.
Samsung Galaxy S III is a looker
Editors' note: CNET has yet to review the unlocked version of this phone, but you can read the full reviews for the Samsung Galaxy S3 for T-Mobile and AT&T. Or check out CNET UK's review of the global version.
NEW ORLEANS--Samsung's newest flagship smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S III, has crossed the pond and landed in my hands at CTIA 2012.
Quite a few commenters on CNET's live blog expressed their disappointment, saying that the Galaxy S III is an evolution, not a revolution, that they wish it had a better camera, that it came in ceramic material, and that the design wasn't that compelling. I must respectfully disagree on all three counts, and here's why.
I found the phone's design and two colors -- marble white and pebble blue -- immediately compelling. The handset's plastic looked far more premium than other devices. Yes, the white version is shiny plastic, but the silver accents give it a more premium look and feel. The "pebble blue" color (which to my eyes is more like a slate gray with bluer overtones) looks like it has a brushed finish.
I'm not sure how to describe the feel in the hand to naysayers, but it was comfortable, and almost felt like the phone was conforming to my palm. The slickness didn't bother me, but I do wonder if it'd be a little slippery in some circumstances.
The design is also accessible, with the 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED screen (1,280x720 pixels) taking center stage. Samsung does this purposely, to make the handset as universally appealing as possible, and I think it's a good strategy.
The one point of contention I see is that central select button, which raised shouts of dissatisfaction with a lot of CNET readers. I personally like the hardware button on most of the European models of the Samsung phones, but this one in particular is a little squashed and narrow; I'd prefer a larger rectangle or a square.
Android Ice Cream Sandwich
The Galaxy S III features Android 4.0 ICS with its TouchWiz interface. I've never been the biggest TouchWiz fan, but I found this version a little less intrusive, and the phone navigable and easy to use. Samsung's TouchWiz does add certain enhancements that we'll get to in a moment, so I have to appreciate the layer.
One of the most impressive features is the 1.4GHz Samsung Exynos 4 quad-core processor on this global model. It felt very fast, but of course the data network also contributes to impressions of speed when it comes to data-heavy tasks like loading Web sites and uploading photos.
Since Wi-Fi always struggles within the concrete depths of a convention center, there was some legginess there, but I can't attribute that to the processor. I'll need more real-world tests to really gauge the internals.
The camera is another major area of interest. Here it's an 8-megapixel shooter that can shoot 1080p HD video. For all you naysayers who were hoping the rumors of a 12-megapixel camera would pan out, bite your tongues. After all, the outdated assumption that the more megapixels you have the better simply isn't true (and here's why).
While I didn't have enough time with the device for any amount of intense photo testing, I will say that the photo software looks familiar and indoor photos taken in the terrible convention center lighting didn't do the phone any favors. However, I did manage to take the Galaxy S III to a nearby park for some outdoor shots, where I got better acquainted with the new software-sharing features. The photo quality was strong in daylight, and burst mode and sharing had potential. You'll find more on my hands-on experiences with the Galaxy S III camera here.
The front-facing 1.9-megapixel camera supports shooting 720p HD video, something new for Samsung. There's some sensor intelligence in there that can keep the screen lit while you look at it, a scenario suited for video chats.
Samsung has put a lot of work into differentiating itself from rivals with its apps. There are a lot, many involving sharing using AllShare Play, a DLNA protocol app, and many involving Wi-Fi Direct. For instance, you can open the AllShare Play app to view content across your AllShare apps on the smartphone, tablet, computer, and so on.
There's also a group photo-sharing app that leverages AllShare, and an enhancement on Android Beam, which uses NFC technology, or near-field communication, to "beam" URLs, map data, and smaller chunks of information between compatible phones. S Beam uses Wi-Fi Direct to send files up to 1GB in size, including photos, music and video files, and documents. You don't have to have Wi-Fi on to use it, but you do need a phone with S Beam.
The app that probably captured the most attention is S Voice, a Siri-like presentation that builds off Samsung's voice actions app. It works as promised, doing things like fetching the weather or a map, placing calls, and so on, but one element I do like is being able to wake the app up when it idles by calling its name.
Another great voice element is being able to speak commands to do things like answer or ignore phone calls when they come in.
This is by no means my final word on the phone, which has no U.S. release date apart from "summer" and few details on what might change, apart from LTE readiness, when it does come to our shores.
So far, I think it's a worthy and welcome upgrade to the Galaxy S II in every way. It looks and feels good, it has the specs and the apps to make it feel like it isn't rehashed, and the quad-core processor will make a splash if it comes to the U.S. (I'm not holding my breath.)
I'd say it does verge on being unnecessarily large, but thankfully it isn't as ludicrously big as the Samsung Galaxy Note with its 5.3-inch screen. I also wonder how some of the apps perform on a day-to-day basis -- I'm a little skeptical that they'll always work as seamlessly as I'd like when it comes time to share and dictate commands. Nevertheless, I am really looking forward to spending more time with the phone in the near future, like when Samsung begins its 10-city world tour come summer.
Catch all the latest news from CTIA 2012.