Samsung Galaxy S III Review (AT&T)

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That’s right, it’s another review of the Samsung Galaxy S III.  This time we’ve got the AT&T version. It’s very similar to the Sprint version and shares many software features with the international version, so instead of reiterating everything from those reviews, we’re going to try to cover a few more things that you might not have heard about already and of course we’ll give you a different perspective.  What’s more, AT&T sent us the “pebble blue” version of their Galaxy S III, so if you’re sick of the white version you’re in for a treat. Read on for our full review of the Samsung Galaxy S III from AT&T!

Video Review · Specs · Hardware · Software · Performance/Battery Life Camera · Comparisons · Conclusion · Scored for Me

Video Review

Specs

The Samsung Galaxy S III ships with Android 4.0.4 and has a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.5 GHz dual core CPU with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of on-board storage (with a microSD slot for expansion). The front camera can take photos at 1.9MP and video at 720p, while the rear camera is an 8MP shooter with a flash, and can record 1080p video at 30fps. The Super AMOLED pentile display is 4.80 inches at 1280×720 resolution (making for a DPI of 305). The phone is quadband UMTS (850/900/1900/2100) with LTE support on AT&T. You also get Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, aGPS, digital compass, and NFC. The phone is 133 grams, and only 8.6mm thick. To power it all you’ve got a 2100mAh battery.

Hardware

The design of the Galaxy S III is the most unique I’ve seen from Samsung in recent years. This is the pebble blue version and we are very impressed with its beauty.

In the hand, the Galaxy S III is not as ergonomic as it could be. The thinness makes it more difficult to hold since there’s less surface area on the edges for your thumb and fingers to generate a stable grip. Though it’s not as pointy as the edge of an iPod Touch, and the round corners mitigate the thinness problem to some degree.

As is the case with all phones that have large screens, trying to reach the upper areas of the screen is an exercise in frustration if you only have one free hand to interact with the device. You’ll have to do some major finger stretching or scoot the device down your palm in order to get to some of the important parts of the operating system like the notifications tray. The most comfortable way to use this device is to hold it flat in the palm of your hand letting gravity keep it there while interacting with it using your other hand.  In the pocket however, the Galaxy S III’s thinness is quite advantageous since it does not cause too much bulk at all. At the top you’ve got the handset speaker along with some sensors, a 1.9 megapixel front facing camera, and an LED light that alerts you to certain notifications which you can customize in the settings.

Then you’ve got a massive 4.8 screen with a very thin bezel and at the bottom is a hardware-based home button flanked by capacitive back and menu buttons that kind of disappear into the body when their backlights are off. Unlike the white version of this phone, there is no backlight bleed on these buttons.

On the right side, is a small sliver of a power button. On the bottom you’ll see the microphone hole and a Micro USB port. On the left side is a thin volume toggle button. On the top is the 3.5 millimeter headset jack and a thin slot that you can use to pry the battery cover off. On the back is the 8 megapixel camera with a single LED flash and speaker. Since the camera lens covering is not inset at all, you’re sure to get some finger grease on there that can distort your picture quality. You’ll also see the AT&T logo, Galaxy S III logo, and lots of finger prints. After prying off the back you can see the 2100 milliamp per hour battery as well as the Micro SD card slot and SIM card slot. The battery cover plastic is very bendable, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Software

One of the fist things I did was create a better looking wallpaper image since most of the others were unimpressive. Though there are some interesting live wallpapers included. There’s one that animates news stories in the wallpaper background and one that shows stock quotes. We like the one that shows photos from my photo library, but we dislike that we have to manually select 100 of them and it crops most images in the worst ways possible.

The default widgets aren’t terribly attractive either. The weather clock widget has a goofy lens flare in the corner that doesn’t even come from the sun shown in the same graphic. We’ve also got a few other default widgets on other home screens that some might consider bloatware though others might find them useful. The exception is the Flipboard widget, which we like a lot. The Flipboard app is quite a good looking way to flip through news stories. By default, there are numerous seemingly superfluous apps included that are sure to confuse some users. For example, there’s apps called “messages”, “messaging” and “messenger” in the app tray. There’s also “ChatOn” and “Talk” which are a couple more messaging apps and the “Talk” app lets you do pretty much the same thing as the “messenger” app with the same people. Then you’ve got “Play Music” and “Music Player” which share similar functions and in the same vein you’ve got “Play Movies & TV” which has functions that overlap the “Video Player” app. It’s fun trying to remember all the differences though.

 

Samsung has also included a secondary video store called the Media Hub that duplicates functions of the “Play Movies & TV” app, but sometimes gives you different prices in case you want to bargain shop. Speaking of Samsung apps, they’ve also included S Memo, S Suggest, and S Voice. S Memo is a decent note taking and drawing app that also supports voice recording and syncs with your Samsung account. S Suggest is just another way of discovering apps. All it does is link you to the Google Play store to download apps that Samsung decides to feature.

Then there’s S Voice, which is a nice attempt at adding a new speech interface to the Galaxy S III, but it falls short of being useful. The deal breaker for us is the fact that it won’t read incoming text messages or any type of notification aloud. You can send text messages without looking at the phone sure, but when some one replies, you have to pick it up and read it yourself.

In terms of interesting customizations, Samsung has added quite a few features, many of which might never catch on and do not have any usability advantage whatsoever. For example the one where you hold a finger on the lock screen for a couple seconds while holding your phone up and then you rotate it to launch the camera. That’s way too convoluted. The one where you simply find a contact and then hold the phone up to your ear to dial without pressing a phone dial button is actually very cool, but it seems to default to the first phone number listed so that’s not much of an advantage if I don’t want to call the person at that number.

That brings us to the keyboard. Just like Brandon and Michael, I found its autocorrect feature to be horribly frustrating. You’ll want to install a better keyboard like Swype or SwiftKey.

Camera

The Galaxy S 3 is able to use its LED light for autofocus assist which is important for getting sharp photos in low light.  Unfortunately, the AF assist feature makes for a significant increase in shutter lag since it doesn’t attempt to focus until after you press the shutter button UNLESS you touch the screen to set a focus point first. In that case the light will come on for focusing and then it will shut off without taking a picture, but then pressing the shutter button will be faster.  Not having a dedicated camera button for half-press focusing and full-press shutter makes this process more difficult and more likely to miss the shot though for still objects it works well. Low light shots tend to be well exposed, however the amount of noise is very high.

In the above graphic, you can see 100% crop photos of the same scene from a Nokia N8, Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Focus S, and Samsung Galaxy Nexus.  All photos were taken in low light using the camera’s automatic flash and these crops are centered on the focus point assigned for each shot.  You can see that the Galaxy S III is very lacking in sharpness and texture while the N8 and Focus 8 seem to have decent detail and the Galaxy Nexus has the brightest exposure. Outdoors, however, the camera is quite good and boasts some fun optional shooting modes and a lag-free shutter.  In the above 100% crops we took the same photo on a tripod using the Samsung Galaxy S III, the Nokia N8, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and Samsugn Focus S.  The Galaxy S III seems to be having some sharpness and contrast problems in this scene.  You can see that the other phones have better detail though the Samsung Focus S appears to be artificially sharpened in the camera software while the Galaxy S III has a more washed-out appearance. This type of “blooming” highlights tends to happens in compositions that contain high contrast, but more evenly-lit compositions tend to turn out much better. While we love the idea of the panoramic shooting mode, Samsung’s implementation doesn’t work well at all.  Seams and duplicate shapes are far too frequent compared to HTC’s panoramic shooting mode for example.  Notice the double chimneys  in the photo above for an example. At first we didn’t think the camera was capable of zooming since there was no indication of the capability anywhere to be seen.  It turns out you can pinch-to-zoom with two fingers right in the viewfinder. Unfortunately the pinch-to-zoom feature is very jumpy thus making accurate zooming a bit difficult. We’d much prefer a single-finger slider control to the 2-finger interface though the volume buttons also let you zoom.

Overall, we think the Galaxy S III has a very capable camera.  As with any camera it’s possible to take great pictures but it’s also possible to take bad pictures.  If you don’t give the Galaxy S III time to focus, its shutter will often go off when you press the shutter button anyway, thus giving you very out-of-focus blurry pictures.  This is of course avoidable, but it’s important to be aware of it.

Performance

The Galaxy S III is certainly a fast device and the benchmarks support that claim, however I’ve noticed a bit of lag even on non-network-related functions.  For example, instead of being instant, pressing the home button usually takes about 1.5 seconds to switch to the home screen. This is actually by design, though, as the S-Voice client waits for a double-press of the home button to activate. While not obvious, if you go into S-Voice and disable this feature, getting back to the home screen gets much faster. Then,tThe time between pressing the power button and seeing the screen turn on (from standby mode) varies between 0.3 and 0.6 seconds which is noticeably not instant.  Even when unlocking the device with a rippling water slide gesture you’ll have to wait about a half second before the lock screen fades away.  The back button often takes almost 1 second to take effect depending on what else is going on, but it tends to be faster than the home button. Many of those issues may be design decisions, but it still gives you a sense of less-than-instant responsiveness though many people probably will not notice.

Below is a look at how the Galaxy S III performs in benchmarks (with HTC One X scores shown in parentheses). Quadrant: 4922 (4524) Smartbench 2012: Productivity 2850 (4676), Games 2848 (2737) LinPack Multi-Thread: 178.295 MFLOP, 0.95 Seconds (51.65 MFLOP, 1.62 Seconds)

Battery Life

The Galaxy S III has great battery life thanks to its 2100 mAh battery. With moderate use, expect to make it through a full day, plus a bit extra on the second day. With heavy use, you’ll barely get through one day.  That’s a bit better than your average high-end smartphone and since the battery is removable, you can easily carry a spare in your wallet for those weekends away.

Call Quality/Network Performance

The combination of a secondary microphone for noise cancellation, a plenty-loud earpiece, and software audio equalization gives the Galaxy S III the best call quality of any mobile we’ve ever tested. We are very impressed.

In terms of network performance, we were also very impressed… provided we were within range of AT&T’s LTE coverage.  In LTE areas, we got amazing 15-20Mbps download speeds and 6-12Mbps upload speeds.  That’s better than the cable internet speeds in many homes.  Unfortunately, when leaving LTE coverage areas, network speeds can suffer significantly.

Pros

  • + Gorgeous hardware design
  • + Thin and light
  • + Large 4.8″ HD Super AMOLED screen
  • + Fantastic call quality
  • + High speed LTE network support
  • + Great battery life
  • + Fast camera shutter responsiveness

Cons

  • – Poor on-screen keyboard
  • – Superfluous bundled software
  • – The back can get very warm
  • – Very slippery and sometimes difficult to hold
  • – Camera doesn’t always focus correctly when taking a picture

Comparison Videos

Galaxy S III comparison from the NYC Launch Event
Dual-Core vs Quad-Core SGS3 Comparison 
Samsung Galaxy S III vs. iPhone 4S
Samsung Galaxy S III vs Samsung Galaxy S II
Samsung Galaxy S III vs Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Samsung Galaxy S III vs HTC One X

Other Versions

Samsung Galaxy S III for Sprint
Unlocked Samsung Galaxy S III

In-Depth Feature Articles

One Day With S Voice Was Enough
The Galaxy S III Wants To Tag Your Buddies
A Look At Smart Stay on the Galaxy S III
Examining the Galaxy S III’s “Back End”
Sweet Moves: Gestures and Motion-Based Controls on the Galaxy S III
How To Root Samsung Galaxy S III

Purchasing/Availability

The AT&T version of the Samsung Galaxy S III is now available in AT&T retail stores as well as on the AT&T website for $199 with a two year service contract.  It’s available in “pebble blue” or “marble white” color schemes.

Conclusion

If you’re a hard-core Android fan and are considering buying this phone, you probably have plans to install (or cook up) a better ROM that might solve many of the annoyances that we’ve found with the stock build.  We don’t know when an official Jelly Bean ROM will be available from Samsung, but now that the source code is available, there are sure to be some great ROMs showing up in the developer community.  So expect to see some improvements once you start in on the heavy customizations.

The only other potential deal-breaker that you need to consider when buying this phone is the size of it.  If you only ever use your phone with two hands, then it won’t be an issue and you’ll find the large display to be really beautiful.  But if you’re often highly-mobile and need to be able to use your phone while carrying other equipment or otherwise keeping your hands full, you’ll probably find the difficulty in one-handed usage to be very frustrating.

Overall, we really enjoyed the Galaxy S III and can certainly see how Samsung is expecting it to be their best seller this year.

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!