Scouting Report: Samsung Galaxy S III

[Every time a hot new gadget is announced, the buzz can reach a boiling point before anyone stops to think about what all the fuss is all about. In our Scouting Report series, we’ll cut through the marketing jargon and examine what makes a certain product special—or in some cases, simply overhyped.]

The Samsung Galaxy S III (see my detailed review on PCWorld) has got to be one of the most hyped smartphones this year. It is also coming to six U.S. carriers so it will also be one of the most heavily advertised smartphones this year. So is it worth all of the buzz?

Display

The S III has a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display with a 1280-by-720-pixel resolution. This is the same display technology as on the Galaxy Nexus; according to Samsung, however, the Galaxy S III’s display is “more refined” than that of the Galaxy Nexus. Luckily, we happened to have a Galaxy Nexus in house so I could do a side-by-side comparison for the PCWorld review. I loaded the same gallery of photos on both phones and noticed that the colors on the S III looked brighter and more vivid than on the Galaxy Nexus. The Galaxy S III displayed a greater range of colors than the Galaxy Nexus did in our color-bar test, too. Unfortunately, I could still see some bleeding between the colors, which is a sign of oversaturation. One cool thing is that despite the Galaxy S III having a larger display than its predecessor (4.8 inches versus 4.3/4.5 inches), it isn’t much bigger in size. There’s very little bezel around the phone as the display takes full advantage of the hardware.

Performance

While the global versions of the Galaxy S III have Samsung’s quad-core Exynos chip, the U.S. versions are running on a dual-core Qualcomm S4 chip. Despite the fewer cores, the Galaxy S III performed very well in our tests. We ran a series of benchmarks on the Galaxy S III, and it blew away most of the competition. The Galaxy S III outperformed the HTC EVO 4G LTE, which has the same chipset, on the Geekbench, Andebench, and Sunspider JavaScript benchmarks. It lost out, however, to the LG Optimus 4X HD, which has a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor.

S Beam

S Beam uses Android Beam, a feature of Android 4.0, for sharing between phones via near-field communication (NFC). You can tap one phone to another and share photos, app download links, URLs, contacts, and so on. This feature works best with Galaxy S III phones, but I successfully shared some content with other phones equipped with NFC. I could share webpages with the Galaxy Nexus, but when I tried to share a photo, I got only a link to the Galaxy S III’s directory path instead of the actual photo.

S Voice

Like Apple’s Siri, S Voice can recognize a variety of commands. For example, you can say “snooze” when your alarm goes off and buy yourself a little more sleeping time. And like Siri, S Voice is a bit wonky—at least in my experience.

TouchWiz Overlay

I’m not a huge fan of Android overlays, but TouchWiz is better than some of the others I've encountered. The Galaxy S III runs Android 4.0.4 with Samsung’s TouchWiz 5.0 overlay. The latest version of TouchWiz looks and feels like the previous versions of the overlay: slightly cartoony, but easy enough to navigate. I really prefer the straight-forward look of native Android 4.0, however.

Verdict

The Galaxy S III packs in a ton of features—almost too many. But at its core, the S III is a beautifully designed, high performing smartphone. If you have an older Android phone or a Galaxy S II, you should definitely consider upgrading to the Galaxy S III (if you still want to stick with Android, that is). But if you just bought a new Galaxy Nexus? Don’t worry about it. The Nexus might not have as many cores as the S III, and the display might be a little smaller, but don’t feel bad if you just walked out of the store with a brand new Galaxy Nexus. Your Galaxy Nexus is still an excellent, current phone and offers something the Galaxy S III does not: A pure, untouched Android experience.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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