In a smartphone world dominated by the iPhone, everyone is out to get the king. Samsung is taking direct aim at the house that Jobs built with its latest Android powerhouse, the Galaxy S III. I had some time to review both the AT&T and T-mobile versions of the Galaxy S III.
Slim, light and sexy. Those three words describe the Galaxy S III. It has a giant 4.8" screen that is about as good as it gets. It's bright, crisp and simply stunning for a smartphone. The screen is big but the phone doesn't feel as large as it is. It's super thin and light. I expected a smartphone THIS big to feel cumbersome in my shirt pocket. Not at all. Sure, the sheer size of the footprint may make it a bit awkward in your pants pocket but most people will be surprised how big the GSIII doesn't feel. The GSIII packs a quad-core 1.4 Ghz processor, one of the fastest on the market. It is a zippy smartphone. Flipping through menus and apps is as snappy as it gets.
The camera is a highlight of the GSIII. It's rated at 8 megapixels and takes fantastic pictures. You can take full size pics while shooting HD video. It also has a burst mode that takes eight pictures quickly in a row and then automatically selects the best one for you. If you don't like the suggested picture, tap others to save them too. For anyone who has ever tried to take pictures of kids or pets, this feature alone will sell this phone. The video looks great too. See for yourself, I posted a few sample pics and a video on Flickr.
The GSIII runs Google Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) but also has Samsung's newest TouchWiz software added on top of that. Typically I hate when smartphone companies feel they have to "fix" Android. In this case, Samsung did A LOT to impress me. TouchWiz 5.0 adds some amazing features into Android that make the GSIII standout. Here are some of my favorite:
The days of your smartphone shutting off the screen while you're trying to read a webpage are gone. The GSIII will use the front-facing camera to see if you're still physically looking at the phone. If it recognizes your eyes, it'll keep the screen on. Brilliant!
If you're looking at a contact or in the middle of a text message chat with someone simply place the phone against your face and it'll call that person. A simple idea that makes SO much sense.
Using NFC ( near field communication ) Samsung took Google's sharing capabilities and kicked them up a notch. Google Android's Beam feature lets you share websites, contact info and map locations all by simply taping 2 smartphones together. Samsung goes one step further allowing you to share photos and videos too. NFC is a great technology that we'll hear more about in the months to come.
AT&T versus T-mobile
For the first time Samsung has managed to get all four national cell phone companies to carry the GSIII without changing the name and without expecting a special version of the phone. This means the GSIII is virtually identical on AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint. With models from the first two carriers sitting in front of me as I write this I can tell you, they're the exact same phone. There are three key differences. First of all, one says AT&T on the back, the other says T-Mobile. Also, each carrier has pre-loaded a few pieces of exclusive software and network tools on the smartphone. I won't get into the nitty gritty of those apps because I don't think most users care. You're going to seek out the apps you want anyway.
The most important difference is the network. Both carriers call their network 4G but only AT&T uses the faster LTE technology. It makes a huge difference if you're in the right spot. I ran a few unscientific speed tests (using the Speedtest.net app). In my office near the Phoenix airport AT&T showed download speeds of about 17,000kbps, the T-mobile model only clocked in at about 5,300kbps. AT&T also crushed on the upload speed with 8,096kbps compared to T-Mobile's 920kbps. When I was home in the Southeast Valley it was a much different story. Both carriers showed a download speed of about 6,500kbps. AT&T surpassed T-Mobile on the upload speed but not by the huge margin I saw at the office. Clearly, AT&T's "4G" is much faster than T-Mobile but it will totally depend on location and network coverage.
The question for you is, does this even matter? Sure, web pages will load up faster, video will buffer less and Pandora will take a second or two less to begin. I think the most important factor for any smartphone user is to find out which carrier has the best coverage in the places where you spend most of your time. Crazy fast 4G doesn't do you any good if you're
sporting one bar of coverage at your home or office. Also, compare prices. Depending on your plan and situation, one may come out much cheaper than the other. Money always talks.
I hope Apple is paying attention. Samsung is ready to compete and
the Galaxy S III is its weapon of choice. It's fast, sexy and filled with cool new features that Apple isn't doing on the iPhone. Simply put, it's by far the best Android smartphone on the market right now and probably the best smartphone out there... period. I hope Apple has something big planned for the expected iPhone 5 launch this Fall. Otherwise, the Galaxy S III is the new king of smartphones.
The Samsung Galaxy S III is available right now on T-Mobile for $279 with a 2 year contract and a $50 mail-in rebate.
The Samsung Galaxy S III is not available from AT&T yet but the company is taking pre-orders and will sell the smartphone for $199 in July.
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