By Jonathan Charles | Jun 21, 2012 11:16 AM EDT
Reviews are coming in for the Samsung Galaxy S3, the company's latest flagship Android smartphone and the follow-up to the successful Galaxy S2. As direct competition to the iPhone 4S, has Samsung finally managed to deliver a better phone than the Siri-infused 4S?
The Galaxy S3 measures 5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches, while the iPhone 4S measures 4.5 x 2.31 x 0.37 inches - smaller, thinner and slightly thicker. The main reason is because of the Galaxy S3's 4.8-inch screen, compared to the 3.5-inch display on the 4S.
As mentioned, there's a 1.3 inch difference in screen size between the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 4S. The S3 uses a Super AMOLED HD display with a 1280 x 720 resolution - the same as the Galaxy Nexus - while the 4S uses the Retina display at a 960 x 640 resolution. Bear in mind the 4S has less screen space to use, so even though the Galaxy S3 has a higher resolution technically, the Retina display is still the benchmark for devices. The Retina display on the 4S was described as a more washed-out screen, with light blacks, compared to the iPhone 4 by The Verge in its iPhone 4S review.
On the controversial pentile display in the S3, The Verge added that it doesn't "negatively impact the experience." However, the viewing angles were criticized and blue tinges were said to become more prominent as the focus moved from the center.
Of course, both phones use capacitive touch screens that support multitouch and perform very well.
Both devices have 3G connectivity; the S3 supports 1900, 1800, 900 and 850 GSM frequencies while the 4S offers 1900, 800/850 CDMA frequencies. In terms of GSM, the 4S supports 1900, 1800, 900 and 850 frequencies.
UTPS/HSPA is supported on both devices, with the same frequencies - 2100, 1900, 900 and 850 - supported. Others features include Bluetooth 4.0 support on the devices, while Wi-Fi support for the 4S is 802.11n, 802.11g and 802.11b. The Galaxy S3 supports the same connections, along with 802.11a.
Regarding LTE, AT&T offers the connectivity which saw speeds as high as 9.5Mbps downloading and 16Mbps uploading. Sprint's service wasn't as fast, however: it recorded 224Kbps down, and 529Kbps up. Sprint's service is gradually being introduced, so it remains to be seen how it performs when fully operational.
The Galaxy S3 also supports NFC, and Samsung's S Beam software. S Beam allows larger files to be shared over devices connected via the service. It's an improvement over Android Beam Google debuted with Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus, which has the same functionality but sends smaller files between devices.
However, there are two issues: S Beam only works with another Galaxy S3 device, and on Android Beam The Verge said it simply didn't work.
Media streaming is done via AllShare on the S3, and through AirPlay on the 4S.
The Galaxy S3's Exynos 4 Quad processor has four cores, while Apple uses it custom A5X chip - the latest generation - that has two cores and a clock speed of 800MHz. The problem is that Android apps aren't widely supporting four cores, so it's difficult to assess the performance of the S3.
Internal storage for the S3 is 16GB, 32GB and 64GB with support for external microSD cards with a maximum of 64GB of storage. Aside from the lack of microSD card support, the 4S offers the same three internal storage capacities as the Galaxy S3.
There's also the usual gyroscope, accelerometer and compass integration. The S3 also includes a barometer.
The S3 uses a 2100mAh battery, which supports wireless charging and is removable. The iPhone 4S uses a 1430mAh bettery, which Apple claims last for around eight hours. The Verge in its review claimed under "intensive use" the S3's battery lasted for around seven hours, though managed 14 hours when not performing heavy-resource tasks such as watching 1080p video. The review even said that 24 hours could be gained if managed properly, citing battery drain due to the AMOLED display and the automatically-illuminating feature.
The front facing cameras on the Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 4S are 1.9 and 0.3 megapixels respectively, with a video resolution of 720p on the S3 and VGA on the 4S. Both perform at 30FPS. Using the front-facing camera of the iPhone 4S isn't advised, because VGA is a low resolution.
On the other hand, both devices have eight-megapixel shooters on the back with LED flash, autofocus, and 1080p video output. Editor-in-Chief of The Verge, Joshua Topolsky, described the photo's taken by the 4S as "crisp, balanced, [and] colorful" to the point where it rivalled traditional cameras. The S3 produced "sharp and detailed" images, but the S3 predicts where users want to focus rather than tapping to perform the function like on the 4S. That's not always for the best, resulting in image white white skies because the phone focuses on the wrong area.
Samsung has once again loaded the latest Galaxy device with TouchWiz, its custom Android skin, layering Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich underneath. 4.0 brings features such as an improved Task Manager, which is basically a vertical version of cards from webOS, along with an improved browser. However, TouchWiz skins this entirely and therefore means the visual changes in Ice Cream Sandwich are largely non existent. The worry for owners is that Samsung is traditionally slow in delivering updates, so an announcement of Android 5.0 Jelly Bean at the Google I/O conference on June 27 could undermine the device.
The iPhone 4S is running the latest version of its operating system, iOS 5. Apple is launching iOS 6 this fall, and the 4S is supported. Notable features include the new Maps apps, which brings turn-by-turn navigation, and Facebook integration.
Both devices support video out, and the customary 3.5mm headphone jack. The S3 offers micro USB support.
The iPhone 4S is available now, starting at $199 for the 16GB version and rising to $399 for the 64GB version with a two-year contract. Buyers can choose from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. There's also the option to buy the phone sans contract, starting at $699 for the 16GB version and rising to $849 for the 64GB version. Black and white colors are available.
The Galaxy S3 is set for launch in June, but has been delayed on Sprint until "next week" outside of Web and telesales and on T-Mobile until June 27 in selected markets. AT&T reps claim the phone will be available from June 21 in-store. Colors available are Pebble Blue and Marble White. The Galaxy S3 is available on AT&T for $199.99 on two-year contract, $279.99 on T-Mobile when a $50 mail-in rebate is included, and $199 and $249 on Sprint for the 16GB and 32GB versions respectively. T-Mobile and Sprint are also offering two-year contracts.
So did Samsung beat Apple, and the iPhone 4S, with the Galaxy S3 as the article questioned? That depends on how "beat" is defined: Samsung has undoubtedly built a competitive device, and for users invested into Android and/or the Galaxy S line of devices then the S3 is a top-of-the-range phone with the likes of the HTC One X and the Galaxy Nexus. Compared to the iPhone 4S, it's certainly a rival, but the case for it being a better phone is less clear. Samsung's TouchWiz UI is one of the most inoffensive manufacturer skins out there, and is certainly more streamlined than Sense 4 on devices such as the HTC One X, despite its similarities to iOS. Samsung also brings users more choice: there's expandable storage and Android itself allows users to download what they want, how they want.
However, the Retina display on the 4S is still super clear. Samsung hasn't helped itself by giving the S3 a 4.8-inch screen, which is nearing Dell Streak territory and ultimately means the Super AMOLED HD screen doesn't look as good as the iPhone 4S or other Android devices such as the HTC One X. There's also the question of how much value the quad-core processor brings: apps on Google Play aren't widely supporting the hardware, and Apple is still supporting high-end games such as Infinity Blade 2 on the A5X - which is clocked at 800MHz - while maintaining consistently good performance on its newer devices.
So the Samsung Galaxy S3 is a very good Android phone, but a better option than the iPhone 4S? For those in the market for an Android smartphone, it's hard to recommend outside of the HTC One X and Galaxy Nexus. The former has a better display, and build quality arguably, while the Galaxy Nexus offers the stock Ice Cream Sandwich experience - and the changes Google made - out of the box. If buying a device now isn't essential, then it's worth waiting to see the probable iPhone 5 later this year and the next generation of Windows Phone devices. There's also the Google I/O, and potentially Jelly Bean - the next major version of Android on June 27.
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