First Impressions: The Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE on AT&T

Another year. Another fantastic Galaxy S.
Now in its third iteration, this Samsung slab of high-tech is finally making the rounds, and I got to play with the AT&T variant at the Los Angeles release party.
Packing a suite of bleeding edge features, let’s take a quick look at Sammy’s new Uber-Phone.

This generation of premier phones has been marked by an interesting trend of HUGE screens and LIGHT weight. Like the HTC One X before it, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is almost disturbingly light. Sammy has always used light weight build materials (flexible plastics instead of glass or aluminum), but it’s always a shock to see a near mini-tablet device then almost fling it off the table when you pick it up, because you miscalculated how much muscle it would take to move the thing.

Specs shouldn’t be a surprise by now. A MONSTER 4.8” 720p SAMOLED HD screen, paired up with a Qualcomm Krait dual-core CPU. 16GB of onboard storage (upgradeable via SDHC) and 2GB of RAM. 8MP zero lag rear camera capable of taking stills while shooting 1080p video, and 1.9MP front camera which can shoot 720p video. NFC is included, LTE is screaming fast, and the whole affair is powered by a 2100mAh battery which is user replaceable.

It’s important to note that I was somewhat disappointed by the announcement of this phone. After seeing HTC’s design revolution on their new One series, the Sammy announcement felt somewhat hum-drum. It looked like we were due another, only slightly updated Galaxy Nexus. While I still think HTC has won this round from a design standpoint, getting the SGS3 in my hands has completely changed my mind on this phone. This phone is pretty exciting to use.

Performance is incredible. It’s using the same chipset as the One X, and Qulacom has produced a dual core which can can hang with most current-gen quad cores, while using less power. It’s staggering. This kind of horsepower all but eliminates the stutters and hiccups found throughout ICS. Apps leap into action, homescreens glide, app drawers zoom into view. It’s a beautiful experience, and really showcases the strides Android has made over the last year.

The screen is excellent. It’s not simply a larger version of the SAMOLED HD on the Nexus–Sammy has worked a little more voodoo into the panel. Colors pop a little more, and even though it’s larger (which should reduce pixel pitch) and still a pentile grid, text and fine detail didn’t suffer to my eye. The LCD in the One X is technically better, but even side by side, I think many would be hard pressed to pick an objective winner.

The camera is brutal. It essentially mirrors the performance of the One X camera, but I appreciate that it’s not quite as squirrelly about adjusting the exposure. On the One X, the exposure felt like it was constantly changing with the slightest of movements; the SGS3 is a little more conservative with its adjustments. It’s my new favorite phone camera, and we were pulling off shots during the party which would’ve made iPhone owners cry.

Zero-lag shutter is amazingly quick, and the camera is able to resolve shots in very dark situations–like taking pictures of people at night lit only by candles and smartphone screens. We’re at a point where phone cameras rival (and sometimes exceed) what you can do with a standalone point and shoot.

I could kiss Samsung on the mouth for providing us a replaceable battery and upgradeable storage. HTC has the prettier design, but Sammy has given us a more flexible phone. In a year, your battery will start to degrade, and wont carry as much charge as it used to. My favorite way to refresh a phone is to buy it a new battery, and this wont be a problem on the SGS3.
For you media junkies, filling up 16GB isn’t really a challenge, but being able to drop another card into the phone to double or quadruple your storage is a godsend.

Touchwiz on the SGS3 is an interesting halfway point between the almost ZERO skinning on the RAZR and the near TOTAL skinning on the One X. I still don’t like skins which interfere with the basic functionality of Android, but thankfully this version of TW seems a bit more conservative than the last. Many pieces of the Holo UI are still intact, and most of the polish seems to be on making the UI more colorful. Sammy has included additional software to add functionality, and their current focus seems to be on “sharing.” With AllShare, Bluetooth, Wifi-Direct, NFC, and Android’s built in flexibility for app support, there are a plethora of ways to get media off of your phone and onto someone else’s.

I’m ultimately positive on anything which gives me control over how to share media, but the current services on the SGS3 were either a bit finicky to use or were tied directly into proprietary Samsung accounts (which most Android users will not have), so there’s still a little room for these to mature. Eventually Wifi Direct will be great, but it’ll need more cross-platform support to take off.

Smart Stay is an interesting concept. It supposedly uses the front camera to scan your face, and will delay timing out the screen if it detects you are still looking at the device. In nighttime conditions it seemed a little inconsistent in detecting our use.

Much ballyhoo was made over SVoice, Sammy’s in-house answer to Siri, but it pales in comparison to the built-in Google Voice search baked into JellyBean. It’s a nice stop-gap, but it’s not as functional as what we’ll receive once the SGS3 gets 4.1.

Data performance is great. AT&T continues to improve its LTE network, and it shows in devices like the SGS3. With that much processing horsepower in the phone, you aren’t bottlenecking while pulling 20Mbps downloads. Apps which feast on data are well fed, so pulling up Google+ meant I had near instant access to new content, and was able to upload pics and vids quickly.

HD Youtube videos were not an issue, and Netflix loaded about as fast as it does on my home cable connection with my PS3.

I’ve got to give Samsung a slight edge over HTC this round. HTC has the more attractive design and a prettier screen, but Samsung’s flexibility with battery and storage space make it a slightly more attractive proposition for me personally. I wasn’t wowed by the announcement of this phone, but all of the subtle improvements ultimately culminate in a piece of hardware which feels much greater than the sum of its individual bullet points.

Many thanks to the AT&T Mobile Review Crew for a great night!

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