It is the most high-profile and talked-about Android smartphone of 2012. Samsung did a great job of creating pre-launch hype and even pushing forward its global announcement to time it closer to the launch date. Yes, Samsung did try to execute Apple’s playbook and succeeded in doing so to a great extent. But does the Galaxy S III live up to all the hype surrounding it? Will it be able to justify a higher price tag than the similarly equipped and better looking HTC One X? Let’s find out. Also Read - Samsung Galaxy S5 now available for Rs 34,000 under buyback offer
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Samsung has never really focused much about the appearance of its smartphones in the last few years. Most of them look alike – a rectangular slab of plastic and a huge display tailed by a home button. The Galaxy S III is no different, barring the slight curves around corners. The bezel has been squeezed from the top and bottom to ensure it feels closer to a phone than a “phablet” when held.
Samsung has given a new “hyperglazed” finish to the back cover, which gives the Pebble Blue version a slightly brushed metal finish but the white variant looks, er, plastic. The back cover is removable and thankfully it ain’t as flimsy as the Samsung Galaxy S II’s.
The edges of the Galaxy S III have a faux metal trimming that not only looks cheap but is prone to scratches too. I won’t be surprised if it wears off after a few months of usage. Needless to say, the Galaxy S III is not much of a looker, especially in front of the HTC One X.
What the Galaxy S III lacks in raw sex appeal, it more than makes up when it comes to pure unadulterated power. It is armed to the teeth with the latest top-of-the-line hardware that money can buy. The Exynos Quad processor clocked at 1.4GHz with 1GB of RAM blows the competition away, including Nvidia’s Tegra 3 that powers the HTC One X in every benchmark test. The 2,100 mAh battery is the largest we have seen on a smartphone and it shows in its performance too. The Galaxy S III is the first Android smartphone with a 4-inch plus display that has lasted me for over 24 hours.
Talking about the display, there has been a lot of chatter about the Galaxy S III’s 4.8-inch Super AMOLED display, with many people complaining about its PenTile nature. Let’s face it folks, at 1280×720 pixels and a pixel density of 306ppi, it is only with a microscope that one can see the sub-pixels. Last time we checked, that wasn’t how people interacted with displays. Having said that, the gap between the Galaxy S III’s Super AMOLED display and the S-LCD 2 display on the HTC One X is not as wide as it used to be with earlier generations. In fact, I preferred the One X’s display under sunlight. The ambient light sensor on the Galaxy S III is partially to blame, which would fluctuate wildly and would keep the display on the dimmer side than what was necessary. Samsung should be able to resolve this with a software update. The current solution is to disable auto brightness setting and tweak it manually.
Another area of much debate, that even has reviewers divided, is the Galaxy S III’s camera performance when compared to the One X. Samsung has added most of the tweaks that HTC did with the camera interface including burst shot more, the ability to click pictures while recording videos, HDR and near zero-lag while clicking pictures. It also adds new software features that recognizes faces from the user’s contacts list and also has a “buddy share” setting in the camera that automatically shares pictures with people it identifies in the photograph.
During my usage, I found very little to choose from between the two. The Galaxy S III captured more details and crisper shots under adequate lighting but the One X gave better results in low light conditions and in burst mode. To be honest, both cameras are top-notch for most users. Unless you are anal about minute differences and if that’s the case, you’d be better off with the Nokia PureView.
The Galaxy S III comes with 16GB of internal memory (approximately 11.3GB is available to the user), which is lower than the 32GB internal storage on the One X of which approximately 25GB is available. However, where the Galaxy S III scores is the presence of a microSD card slot that supports up to 64GB cards, provided you can find one of them. It also offers 50GB of free Dropbox space, which is double of what HTC is offering with its One series. Add to it the presence of a removable battery and the pan tips a bit in Samsung’s favor.
Just like HTC, Samsung has also customized Android ICS with TouchWiz but ensured it is not as heavy on the system to drag the performance. TouchhWiz on the Galaxy S III is a hit-and-miss affair. On the lower tray of fixed icons, Samsung has retained Android’s menu icon by making it a five-icon tray. Things get messy when a user wants to customize the icons that adorn that tray. There is no way to remove icons and these can only be replaced by another icon. So in order to replace the mail icon with Twitter, a user would have to first bring the Twitter icon to the homescreen and then replace the mail icon by dragging the Twitter icon over it. Similarly, one cannot create folders by dragging an icon on top of another. One would have to first create a new folder by a long press on the homescreen, selecting the create folder option and then dragging icons on it.
One of the neatest touches that Samsung has done to TouchWiz is the two scrolls of quick settings options on top of the notification bar. These would bring every possible setting one would typically want to access quickly and regularly.
However, the biggest additions to TouchWiz are the new apps/services/functionalities that Samsung has added. Let’s start with S Voice, which reminds us of Apple’s Siri. Well, remind would be too soft a word considering Samsung has ripped off almost everything including the icons and the way the chat bubbles appear. Similarities aside, I was fairly impressed with its success in understanding our accent. It can also do much more than Siri like opening some third-party apps (though it failed to open the Amazon Kindle app even when it correctly recognized “Kindle Amazon). I also found S Voice to be a little slow when compared to Siri when it came to comparing processing times. I’d say it is a good start but lots needs to be fixed when it comes to having a voice-based assistant, for both Samsung and Apple.
Another feature that Samsung is talking about is Smart Stay that basically uses the front camera to track whether the user is looking at the display. It overrides the screen timeout setting if the user is looking at the display, which makes it a useful feature while reading or browsing the web. However, the concept in itself faces some usability challenges. Firstly, it cannot work in darkness as the camera is not able to detect a face. Secondly, since the front camera has to have the user’s face in its viewfinder, it does not work if the phone is angled slightly away from the user. But when the conditions are perfect – the front camera sees a face – the Smart Stay feature works.
Then there is the Pop Up Play feature that lets users multi-task while watching a video. Essentially the video player pops out and can be placed on any app like text messaging or web browsing. It’s more of a gimmick than a feature on a 4.8-inch display but I can see its functionality on tablets that have bigger displays. (You can check out our video demos of these new features here.)
The Galaxy S III is the kind of device that you really look forward to, get a little disappointed when it doesn’t feel as premium as you expected it to be but then it grows on to you quickly as you start using it. Which is a bit different from the HTC One X, which essentially took everyone by surprise as soon as it was unveiled at MWC earlier this year.
The Galaxy S III’s plastic body is a disappointment initially but once you get out of the shock you are more willing to trade it for its light weight and thin profile. The battery performance is second to none, especially for a phone with that massive a display. The camera too delivers what it promises and would please users.
On the flip side, the ambient light sensor flaw can get annoying and the quirks of TouchWiz UI might lead some to root their phones and get the stock UI or some third-party UI. Also, during our usage we were unable to play videos in .mov format, while it played almost everything else we threw at it.
And of course, there is a question of future software updates. Samsung has been notoriously slow when it comes to providing software updates. Think about it, Samsung started pushing the Android ICS update for the Galaxy S II only when it announced the Galaxy S III and it hasn’t reached every user, yet.
If you are looking for the top-of-the-line Android smartphone, look no further than the Galaxy S III. Our usage and benchmarks both plot it ahead of the HTC One X. However, there is that “little” matter of pricing. The Galaxy S III carries an official price tag of Rs 43,180 but is widely available online for Rs 38,900. The One X, on the other hand, can be had for about Rs 35,000, if you know where to look. And at these prices the One X holds the edge. Yes, its performance might be slightly slower than the Galaxy S III but it doesn’t have any impact on usability as it is fast enough.
If price is not a limiting factor, we would suggest the Galaxy S III. If it is, then you can either wait for the prices to come down (they eventually will in a month or so) or go for the One X. One thing is for sure, we have never had such close competition between two rival Android smartphone vendors, ever.
IMAGE CREDIT: Rohit Sharma