Friday, December 7, 2012

Samsung Galaxy S III mini-review

 When the Samsung Galaxy S III was announced back in May, I walked away unimpressed by Samsung's efforts. While it was fast and has all the specs to make even the geekiest person giddy with excitement, the design, choice of finish and display was a let down to me. I expected more for the follow up to the mighty Galaxy S II.

Still, would a chance to use it for two weeks change my mind? As part of my #GemaltoNFC challenge, I was loaned one for two weeks. This was mainly to test the NFC payment feature. But for two weeks it also became my main phone where I tweet, check in and Instagram'ed pictures of coffee.

Powering the S3 is the Exynos 4212 SoC. This chipset contains a quad core ARM Cortex A-9 CPU (a now outdated architecture) and Mali-400MP GPU. This is impressive enough, but hardly noteworthy considering the move towards newer more efficient architecture such as Qualcomm's Krait and ARM's own Cortex A-15. The 1GB RAM is plenty, though many manufacturers, Samsung included, has since moved on towards using 2GB of RAM. Overkill for a smartphone? Well, at least you can multi-task easily. 16GB of flash storage can be augmented with a microSD card slot - a endangered feature these days one I am glad Samsung has decided to latch on to. Thanks to Samsung's generosity, you will also get 50GB of extra Dropbox storage.

With quad band GSP and quad band 3G DC-HSDA+ support, the phone is pretty much a world phone. A LTE version has also since been released. It also contains WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, A-GPS support (with GLONASS) and digital compass. Oh, and it also comes with wireless charging capability, a totally useless invention.

I mentioned earlier about how I found the screen disappointing. It isn't so much as the screen technology or colour saturation - all of which are great. The 4.8" Super AMOLED display has a great viewing angle, and works well in both outdoors and indoors condition, and it is very bright to boot. The over saturation isn't to everyone's taste but you can always dial down the saturation level in the settings. Sadly, the use of Pentile sub-matrix kills this otherwise nice looking screen. The screen's touchscreen sensitivity also appeared to be downgraded.

Beneath the slim body lies a 2100 mAh battery, a neat upgrade over the 1650mAh battery found inside the Samsung Galaxy S2. But with a beefier processor and larger battery sapping AMOLED screen with plenty of pixels to push, the S3 fell short of the current smartphone battery champion - the Motorola RAZR MAXX. It did put up a good fight, but fell short by a day. If you are the sort of person who tweets or use the camera a lot - do invest in a second battery.

Design wise, Samsung has moved away from the iPhone-ish "inspired" design it followed in the past. The S3 looks more like a proper Samsung phone - it is curvy, plasticky and well, ugly. Samsung has also claimed that the bezel on the S3 is thinner but a side by side comparison with the S2 proved that this isn't necessarily true. Ah, reality distortion. The liberal use of glossy plastic finish isn't something I would expect on a high end device like this and it feels cheap and light. HTC and Nokia on the other hand has gone on to design lovely looking plastic phones that feels premium - but then again both companies are in deep waters so perhaps Samsung knew their market wouldn't care.
The Galaxy S3 runs on the latest and greatest Linux fork, Android 4.1 Jellybean. As with all other Samsung Galaxy smartphones, the S3 also features Samsung's proprietary launcher/UI layer dubbed TouchWiz. While I've never liked third party OEM launchers, TouchWiz has evolved to something that is actually pretty powerful and usable, if a bit oudated and comical looking.

Like the previous version of TouchWiz, the UI supports up to seven panels on the homescreen. Shortcuts to Phone, Contacts, Messaging, Internet and Applications can found docked below, similar to what you would find on a typical iOS offering. Unfortunately the shortcuts can not be customised. Like the stock ICS app drawer, the one here is horizontal-based. Here you can create new pages or move applications into folders. It is bog standard launcher, one I wish Samsung would not bother with and in stead stick with the default ICS/JB launcher, which is good enough these days.

Outdated interface aside, Samsung has worked hard to introduce some new unique selling software features to the Galaxy S3. These includes S Beam, a take on Android Beam allowing owners to swap large files between each other using NFC and WiFi to communicate. Other features includes Direct Call, where using the gyroscope feature, the phone would anticipate when you would make a phone call, eye tracking - which stops the phone from switching off if it detects your eyes are still open. Finally, Pop Up Play allows users to multitask by resizing windows or overlaying them. It is just like on Windows 95, except for very few instances, it is largely redundant here due to the size of the screen.

The camera on the Galaxy S2 was one of the best I've ever used on a smartphone and the S3 is no different. The 8 Megapixel backlit illuminated sensor coupled with a wide angle lens takes amazing shots (for a phone, mind). Pictures taken with HDR mode produce HDR images that are some of the most natural looking shots I have seen taken with a phone. It is quite unlike the mode used on the HTC One X, which often produce over-contrasted HDR shots - which can be used to produce epic shots, but are hardly an indication of accuracy.

It won't come close to replacing your three year old compact camera, but it's good enough for occasional photography on most days. With sufficient natural light, the wide angle lens (25mm equivalent) coupled with HDR mode takes impressive landscape pictures. It struggles in low light situation, though still occasionally manage to capture good shots - provided you have a pair of very steady hands. It is however hopeless for low light indoor photography. Autofocus is fast and mainly very accurate. Of out of 200s shots I captured during the week, less than 1% were out of focus, and that's usually because I was in a hurry to make sure it came out right.

The following images are unedited samples, resized due to blogger limitations on image resolution:
Plus a selection of 100% crops:
For most parts, the images, even those taken at low light, turned out in focus and sharp. It is even more impressive that many of these were taken with HDR mode, a usual no-no as it tends to introduce blurry-ness. It does help if you have a tripod. Still, all of these shots with taken with just my bare hands holding the phone, often shaking with winter chill. Noises are minimal, though you do notice signs of aggressive noise reduction here and there that hampers on details. These aren't a big deal unless you are a massive pixel peeper who has a knack of printing out poster size photographs. Otherwise, pictures taken with this phone are fine for everything else.

Announced six months ago, the Samsung Galaxy S III is old news. It is however still a relevant phone that will continue selling in big numbers until Samsung announce its successor. Still technology has moved on quickly, and whatever unique selling points the Galaxy S III had when announced has since been surpassed by Samsung's competitors. The Nexus 4 runs on the latest and greatest quad core Krait-powered Snapdragon S4 Pro platform, beating the Galaxy S III hands down in terms of raw power. It doesn't have a microSD card slot and removable battery, like the Samsung does, and perhaps worse - it is made by LG. But hei, it costs only £279 for the 16GB version! Then there's the Sony Xperia T, a reasonably spec'ed device with dual core Krait and 13MP camera. It also happened to look prettier, and is cheaper to boot.

Still it's a neat device, but one perhaps not as deserving as the Galaxy S II was last year. Competitors has clued up and are catching up quickly, both in terms of hardware specs and design. Samsung does have an upper hand - they can easily blitz through any market with the sheer power of marketing and branding, something most companies just can't afford to in this bleak times. If you are set on the Galaxy S III, you wouldn't regret it. It's a powerful device that will last you a while. I just wish Samsung would hire some actual designers.

+ Great camera for a phone
+ Fast
+ Unique software features
+ microSD slot
+ Decent battery life
- Design, or lack of
- Pentile
- Touchwiz

1 comment:

Meghu said...

Samsung Galaxy S III mini Review price is set at as low as Rs. 24,349.They provide you 800 by 480 pixels, LED flash, dual-core 1GHz NovaThor U8500 processor, front facing VGA camera, 2,100 to 1,500 mAh for mini.1