Samsung Galaxy SIII: is it still real love after a month?

Now that the excitement has worn off, and the mocking of the “designed for humans, inspired by nature” ads has commenced, Gearburn brings you the real deal. What it’s like to live with the Samsung Galaxy SIII.

It’s too damn big. The Galaxy SIII is really nice, but the screen-size war is as useless and distracting as the printer-and-scanner resolution war, or the camera megapixel war, or the king-size cigarette war. Bigger is not necessarily better — particularly when your thumb strains to reach the far side of the screen (and I have really big hands). We once had big and chunky devices because the technology was not up to tiny — now we have chunky devices because the manufacturers believe we want enormous screens.

We do. Enormous screens let you see more website, Facebook page and Angry Birds. Enormous screens are awesome. But, as Mick Jagger so incisively noted, you can’t always get what you want. You want to see a whole page of text, but you also want a device that fits well in your hand and your pocket.

Just plain huge

The Samsung GT-I9300 Galaxy S III, like the HTC One X and it’s other plus-sized ilk, is a handful. When I gave it back, I was rather grateful to get back to my battered but beloved HTC Desire Z, which I can use while driving without fear of every traffic cop within a hundred miles seeing that I am a selfish, irresponsible and recidivist law-breaker.

OK. So it’s too damn big. Also, you kids get off the lawn.

Now that’s out the way, let’s talk about the phone.

It’s pretty. Not terribly distinguishable from the One X, but two can be blonde and pretty at the same time. Just ask the Olsen twins.

It’s blazingly fast — with quad-core 1.4GHz  Cortex-A9 processor and a GPU, and a gig of RAM it’s got the horsepower to pull up tree stumps. Pages render quickly, the display is infinitely responsive, and (joy!) the GPS locks in almost instantly. From the time it takes to fire up Google Maps to the time that the GPS icon stops blinking is negligible (that being said, Google Maps did occasionally get its knickers in a horrible knot when trying to pan or zoom, freezing up in an ecstasy of fibrillating flickers — but that could be software bugs (although never had the same experience on any other phone)). Anyways.

Its camera is a delight. Sure, it’s as prone to blowing out horribly if there’s any light entering the frame from the edges (or shooting dark things with strong backlight) — but that’s a function of tiny windows and smaller apertures.

But you can go Blam! Blam! Blam! You hit the shutter button, you take a picture. Almost no lag. Super! Picture quality from the 8MP camera is exemplary (albeit consistently under-exposing if there’s back-lit subjects or stray light), and video quality also excellent.

Video quality is excellent at a claimed 30fps, but it does struggle a little with vibration and fast movement, and it does under-expose in back-lit conditions. Grain is very apparent in lower light.

The pic with the major flaring can be captioned: “Having an 8MP camera is great – having a camera that blows out when pointing anywhere near the sun not so much. Oh well, it’s a cellphone camera after all.”.

Call quality, sound quality from headphones – all top of their game.

So how about the super-awesome new technology? Also known as trivial marketing features?

Some of them are cool — burst mode photography is great, it’ll take a 20-frame burst to catch a tricky moment. The downside is that you have to select the pic you want to keep before you shoot again, you can’t go back and select the keeper later. So not as much use as you’d think if trying to catch some frantic action.

Shooting stills while video recording is cool as well. Best Photo (auto selecting best pic) and Buddy Photo Share might be cute, but I didn’t play with them much because I’m not a Japanese schoolgirl.

S-Beam, an NFC device to device transfer system, looks nice, but it’ll only work with another SIII. Whoop de do.

Direct Call: if you start typing an SMS, then get gatvol and just stick your phone to your ear it’ll phone them. Cute.

Smart Alert vibrates when you pick up the phone if you have missed calls or messages. Um. Yeah. Sure.

Pop Up Play — you can have a window-in-window over a video playing session to text someone or whatever. Whatever.

Smart Stay — front camera watches your eyes if you’re reading or watching something to make sure the screen intelligently doesn’t dim. Really? OK, if you say so, Samsung. I found the SIII a little annoying in that it’s auto-dim seemed a bit random. What helped is discovering after some time that the phone and the standard web browser have entirely separate and independent settings for screen brightness. Good to know.

Like so many products from South Korea, the Galaxy SIII is constantly binging and biddly-bopping and doodley-dooing at you every time you touch it. It takes a while to get the damn thing to shut up. Setting by setting, you can make it more acceptably taciturn. The way an electronic device should be. But I couldn’t stop it tiddly-bipping every time I put it down in the storage bin between the seats of my car. There, and only there. I have an old C-Class Merc from yore, I’m pretty sure it’s not talking to the phone using luminiferous ethers. Very mysterious.

So Samsung has packed it with more features than an entire Alpine landscape, and packed it with more technology than a Samsung Galaxy SIII. But is it any good? Is it an iPhone beater?

Of course it is. My old Nokia E71 was an iPhone beater. My feeling is the Galaxy SIII is impressive without being marvellous.

Feature packed

The feature-packing comes at the expense of attention to detail. The reason people love their iPhones is that everything that needs to work, works perfectly. The Galaxy S III is amazing, but also has a bunch of incredibly irritating niggles.

The on-screen keyboard is OK, HTC’s and Nokia’s are better. And it does not give you multiple keyboard options, so to stay sane I installed the Hacker’s Keyboard (yay, Android!). The web browser is incredibly unintelligent – especially when trying to post into web forms, like on forums. Hardly an esoteric requirement.

There are some annoying gotchas – the camera app is cool enough, until you try use any of the photo editing features, like adjusting hue. Then the other shoe drops – to use these features, you have to download the feature pack, which requires a Samsung App Store login. Don’t force me to do stuff with bait-and-switch, Samsung. Like the girlfriend of the guy who said he’d warn her in time found out – it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Google’s forcing of the handset manufacturers to a standardised physical interface means that devices no longer have joysticks/touchpads for cursor navigation – something that makes editing and selecting text infinitely easier. I miss that (the Hacker’s Keyboard has cursor keys, which helps a little).

Samsung needs to spend more time on polish, less time on bling. More time on function, less on fun shit. (Sorry, that was the best I could do.)

Bottom line

So. Bottom line. Is it a good phone? Yes. Is it a desirable phone? Sure. Is it an impressive phone? Quite possibly.

Would I buy one myself? No. It’s too big. It’s too fiddly. I would be petrified to drop it, because something this large and fragile would shatter into a million pieces. Actually, this is not strictly true, a friend has dropped hers three times, and it’s still fine. If you get it, buy a case, just to be safe. It does cost a packet.

Roger Hislop


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