Samsung Galaxy S III reaches new heights

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The buzz for Samsung’s new headline handset has been building all year, but finally we can separate the hype from reality – the S III doesn’t disappoint and confirms Samsung as Android king, for now at least

The Galaxy S III has returned the trophy for most desirable handset to Samsung’s HQ. Other high-end handsets are finally giving Samsung a run for its money, and the S III hasn’t changed that, but for many people looking for the best they can get, this is it.

It is safe to say that the Samsung Galaxy S III is one of the most eagerly anticipated handset releases from any manufacturer apart from You-Know-Who.

The Galaxy S II affirmed Samsung’s place as Apple’s main challenger, and is in no small part responsible for Samsung overtaking its US competitor as the world’s largest handset maker.

Only the next version of the iPhone is likely to arouse much more excitement. UK retailers are already reporting that they have taken more pre-orders for the S III than for any other handset this year.

That anticipation will largely be satisfied by the S III, which is undeniably a great handset. But rival manufacturers, especially Samsung’s main rival – the high-end HTC – won’t be too downcast.

The S III may now be the best device overall on the market. But it hasn’t managed to put as much clear water between the Korean firm and its rivals as the hype would have suggested.

Slimline substance
One of the first differences any S II fan will notice is Samsung’s decision to go with far softer lines, perhaps in an attempt to pick up more female customers. Or maybe to avoid any possibility of being sued by their friends in Cupertino.

It is still recognisably part of the Galaxy range. But gone is the square, business-like approach of the S II.

Instead, the S III has rounded corners and a flattened pebble look. It is a far more welcoming design than the S II’s, and fits in the hand more comfortably.

The back of the handset is smooth and slick, meaning it can slip out of the hand. This is accentuated by its lack of weight – like the S II, it feels very insubstantial.

However, while that might have been an issue for some when the S II was released, Samsung now has a strong reputation for quality so a lack of heft does not mean a lack of substance.

The lightness is a plus that enhances the user experience – the amount of time spent staring at these screens can sometimes mean that holding one for many minutes on end is a drag.

The lightness and smooth lines and materials make the S III a pleasant phone to hold. But the lack of unusual lines and hard materials used by HTC on the One range, or the condensed design genius on the iPhone, may put off some consumers.

For others it will be a breath of fresh air on a handset aimed right at the top end of the market.  The overall design is complemented by the S III’s glossy Super AMOLED screen, which superbly displays films. Streaming live football is almost good enough to make your HD TV superfluous.

Cartoon character
The screen repeats Samsung’s almost over-saturated take on colour, but it looks great in its lack of realism.

At 4.8 inches the S III’s screen is just 0.1 of an inch larger than the 4.7-inch screens that are becoming common on high-end devices. It doesn’t appear to make much difference.

Whether the screen makes much of a difference or not, the S III more than matches any other handset for video viewing quality.

The breezy physical appeal of the S III is reflected in the intuitive implementation of Samsung’s version of Android, TouchWiz.

HTC’s Sense 4.0 user interface offers a far cleaner, no nonsense approach, compared to the S III’s sometimes cartoonish character.

Nevertheless it is simple and intuitive to use, a step closer to the completely frictionless experience most operating systems aspire to.

Now with widgets
Samsung has also avoided overloading the S III with too many widgets or apps to crowd out the home screens.

The three blank screens on the S III offer up the possibilities of what you can add rather than trying to force a method of working on you.

Widgets which Samsung has included from start-up are well chosen.

A standard music player and a link to Samsung’s video hub are to be expected, and are well designed.

In addition, the review handset I was given included a default widget for the Flipboard app, which aggregates news sources based on publication choices and input from your Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Until trying out the S III, I hadn’t used Flipboard, but its inclusion as a widget pushed me into doing so and it doesn’t feel at all out of place.

The only slightly incongruous addition is Samsung’s own S Suggest widget, which, once loaded up for the first time, fills one of the S III’s five home screens with suggested apps for download.

Clicking on one of the suggestions takes you through to the Play Store rather than directly installing the app on your phone, making it nothing more than a suggestion engine of which there are already many.

However, it is likely to introduce users to new apps simply because of its prominence in the OS, assuming new S III owners don’t delete it immediately.

Of course, the physical design touches and virtual interface tweaks are in many ways just window dressing for Samsung’s main selling point – performance.

Full article in Mobile News issue 516 (June 18, 2012).

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