Samsung Galaxy S III first impressions

Camera app

Last week, Samsung Canada loaned me their latest flagship Android smartphone, the Galaxy S III (or S3 as the cool kids call it) ahead of their big launch June 21th in North America:

Playing with the new Samsung Galaxy S III

After being thoroughly impressed with the Galaxy Note, I was excited to try out the latest generation of the Galaxy line.

Like the Note, the S III has a huge, beautiful screen, measuring 4.8 inches of HD Super AMOLED goodness making the iPhone seem small in comparison (the Note was 5.3″):

Samsung Galaxy S3

While it’s physically larger than the iPhone, it’s actually (slightly) thinner:
Samsung Galaxy S III

The back is a glossy plastic that feels solid:
Samsung Galaxy S III

Samsung Galaxy S III

One of the new features of the S III that I really like is Smart Stay. When you’re reading a long article or email, the display always seems to dim just before you finish. With Smart Stay, the front facing camera will try to detect a face before dimming. If it sees your face, it won’t dim until you look away.

Another new feature on the S III is S-Beam which allows users to wirelessly (via NFC) share more than just contacts. You can now share photos, videos, music and just about any other kind of file you have on your device with another device. This makes sharing very simple and reminds me (in a good way) of a simpler time when all my friends had Palm PDAs and we’d beam (via IR) contacts back and forth.

The S3 was the first device I’ve used with the Face Unlock feature as well so I had to try it out. It seems to work about 60% of the time for me, with the failover pattern swipe if the lighting conditions aren’t good enough for the front facing camera to detect me. I tried to spoof it using my id badge photo but it didn’t work but it is labeled as a ‘low security’ option when you choose your screen lock method so keep that in mind.

Here’s a few other highlights and lowlights from my brief time with the S III:

I liked:

  • the screen is amazing – I thought I wouldn’t like the bigger screen form factor (and have downplayed the larger screen rumoured to be coming on the iPhone 5) but the S III, like the Note, really stands out as a great screen. It’s weird but it makes my iPhone 4S feel like a much older smartphone/PDA when compared to the S3
  • battery life has been excellent
  • overall speed of the device is great with no typical Android lagginess and the LTE 4G didn’t hurt either for surfing
  • the camera – finally an Android camera that doesn’t suck with plenty of options for photo geeks like me (although I’ve heard it’s the exact same one as in the iPhone)
  • Burst mode/best photo – a great feature that lets you take a burst of photos (~10fps) and then choose the best of the lot with it suggesting the best pose/smiles/etc if people were detected in the shot
  • notification LEDs – I forgot how much I miss these on my iPhone. I love being able to just look at the phone on my desk and know that I’ve got a Facebook message, an email or Twitter mention without having to even touch the phone. The S III LEDS are hidden in the bezel and are controllable in settings as to how they behave

I didn’t like:

  • the home button – it’s a physical button flanked by two touch buttons…I’ve been used to all touch (perhaps overly sensitive) buttons on my Android devices and the S III has a oddly shaped button that requires a significant depress to register
  • the color scheme – I had the white with silver edging…didn’t care for the silver highlight – weird personal preference I guess. All white would have been nicer…but would likely be moot if you put the S III in a case

Samsung Galaxy S3
For me, as of this moment, the S III seems to be the best Android experience available although I haven’t personally tried out the HTC One X which is another hot Android device right now.

I really like what Samsung has been doing with their devices lately and as I’ve been wanting for years, they are finally a true competitor for the Apple juggernaut. So many devices are marketed as an iPhone killer but fall so far short it’s not even funny. Not so with the S III.

If I had to chose between an iPhone 4S and the S III right now, it wouldn’t be the easy choice it used to be. Even with my previously mentioned fragmentation, Marketplace and other Android issues, the experience on the S III has really been compelling and hits on a lot of things I look for in a device like this.

The Samsung Galaxy S III will be available in Canada beginning June 21th with all major cellular providers taking pre-orders now.

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