The SGS3s all ship running Android 4.0.4 (IMM76D), which is just a few builds short of the current latest version of Android. Atop that is the latest version of Samsung’s controversial TouchWiz theme. Like almost all skins, that means a different lock screen, tweaked notifications shade, main launcher, and settings pane.

On the lock screen, there are application shortcuts which can be customized, along with a few other options. Weather, stock tickers, and an optional gestural camera shortcut are all TouchWiz enhancements. Like SGS2, missed calls or SMSes can also be directly addressed by swiping on their respective icons.

 

In the notifications shade, Samsung has added more power toggles. The bar slides right or left to expose those additional toggles. There’s also the date now printed alongside carrier, just left of the shortcut into the settings app which is standard in ICS. Speaking of the top status bar, TouchWiz also adds an optional battery percentage report - it blows my mind that this has been something you’ve needed to use a custom ROM to get for so long.

 

Samsung’s TouchWiz home screen goes with a 3D box left/right transition rather than the ICS stock planar swipe. For the most part however, the flow isn’t really changed from ICS. Widgets are added from a separate tab in the applications launcher, and Samsung hasn’t overwhelmed with way too many custom ones. The launcher is likewise a horizontally paginated application grid just like ICS. This can be sorted alphabetically or in a customized arrangement where newly downloaded apps get placed at the end of the list.

 

Settings gets a few new options that I think are worth going over. First is the obvious visual change which includes colorful icons that seem a bit corny but aren’t surprising. First is an option to customize the notification LED, but is pretty basic and probably will be supplanted with Lightflow for power users. Under Display is the option to enable “smart stay” which uses the front facing camera and keeps the display on when you’re looking at it, beyond the timeout length. I found that this does indeed work well, as long as there’s sufficient illumination for the front facing camera to see your face.

 
Right - CPU Spy with Power Save "CPU Power Saving" ticked

The next is more interesting - Power Saving. Under here is an option which enables you to change the SoC governor. Tick “CPU power saving” and the maximum MSM8960 CPU clock gets changed to 1.0 GHz instead of 1.5 GHz, giving you a nice savings if you’re willing to sacrifice some performance in turn for running with lower active power draw. I believe GPU clock also gets clamped as well, but can’t pull those directly. Outside of rooting and messing with the governor yourself, and a governor option pane on some ASUS products, this is the first time I’ve seen direct user access to CPU frequency since PocketPC days.

 

Also present are motion gestures, a lot of which I’ve seen before but never really fully utilized. Under security is that options pane I was talking about earlier for customizing the shortcuts on the lock screen, and enabling that camera launch gesture. Samsung also goes with its own browser customizations for Android 4.0.4’s stock browser, but it doesn’t deviate too much beyond just UI changes from what I can tell. Just like previous Samsung devices, I find the browser super smooth - gone are the days where browsing using the stock browser was a shuddery mess, though I still prefer Chrome Beta.

Messaging also looks very similar to how I recall it looking on the SGS2. Dialer also gets a change up and still includes a smart dial functionality.

 

Other than software preloads, which will differ between each carrier device, is Dropbox. Both Verizon and AT&T have opted out of the 50 GB for 2 years promotion, however the other carriers continue to enable this. I was told that the carriers who have opted out have done so because they view Dropbox as a competitor to services they’re backing or selling. I’m now up to 131.2 GB on my personal Dropbox account between free quests, the One series promotion, and SGS3 promotion.

The last part are two S - features. S Beam, and S Voice. S Beam is essentially a WiFi Direct augmented version of Android Beam to enable sharing more content than just what can be sent over NFC’s limited bandwidth. The gist of it is that you can send photos or files (even large video files) using S Beam over the WiFi direct link which gets setup using NFC. For example, from gallery, one can open a video, then put two phones together, tap and hold on the prompt, and NFC takes care of both setting up the WiFi direct connection and file transfer. In practice it works surprisingly well, even for large video files. I played around and saw a rate around 40 Mbps for transfers, which is pretty close to Samsung’s cited “1 GB in 3 minutes” (45 Mbps) speed.

 

Part of S Beam is the TecTiles initiative, which is a combination of the TecTiles programmer application, and Samsung branded programmable 1KB MIFARE tags available in a set of 5 from carrier stores and online. Even though there are other NFC tags available for cheaper, and similar applications on the market, getting this in a prepackaged format into customers hands will go a long way to driving NFC adoption, which until now has been glacially slow. I programmed both my contact data and my WiFi network (hooray, no longer will I type my 20+ character PSK into new phones, at least those with NFC) into tags.

 

There’s also AllShare Play, which allows you to broadcast either a document, files, or photos to up to 6 devices on the same WiFi network. Trying out sharing features was partially why Samsung sampled two SGS3s, so I gave AllShare a shot with my 100+ MB electromagnetics textbook PDF scan from my ECE381 days. Sure enough, it was possible to jointly browse slides and annotate on the two SGS3s - each member of the AllShare session gets their own colored pen for annotating. I could see this being useful if you managed to round up a number of friends with SGS3s. I wish that the resolution was higher, but if I had paginated this book to be single pages instead of spreads it likely would be sufficient to read the body copy and equations.

Last but not least is S Voice. There’s no putting this lightly - S Voice is definitely a Samsung approximation of Apple’s Siri. The promise is a similar level of conversational interaction with S Voice going off and fetching data from appropriate pre-programmed sources and reporting back. A double tap on the home button fires up S Voice, and a familiar tappable microphone interface guides you through voice prompts.

 

You can do a similar list of things with S Voice as you can with Siri, including asking for the weather, calling people, adding tasks, and setting alarms. A few S Voice features that were previously above and beyond Siri (such as launching apps) are now part of iOS 6, but in theory the level of functionality is pretty close. I’m actually fairly surprised about how much the functionality matches, and wonder if this is the new thing that Apple will attack aggressively with litigation. In practice, I found S Voice a lot less conversational than Siri. I still think voice navigation is kind of a trendy feature that ultimately is slower than just using my hands, unless you’re driving and can’t use the phone.

Introduction and Physical Impressions Battery Life
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  • dijimoto - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    I just realized it was in the title ICS version 4.0.4, ugh... Reply
  • EJ257 - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    So does it use both GPS & GLONASS simultaneously? Or can you set a default and it'll switch over to the other system whenever signal from one of them gets to be too weak? Reply
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    I enjoyed it a lot. I like the fact that 1080p video isn't cropped anymore. My cropped SGS2 1080p doesn't look that good and I use 720p as a result.
    The screen looks good too and mostly I think the SGS3 looks pretty good. But for me, it's not enough to make the upgrade from my SGS2. I just bought a nice chinese tablet (Cube U30GT if anyone wonders) which will keep me happy for some time to come. I won't upgrade this generation. WVGA resolution, SAMOLED+, Mali GPU and good custom ROM support are all enough for me, for now. Maybe next year Intel will bring something new or Android 5/6 will change things. But right now, my SGS2 does everything I need it to do.
    Maybe I didn't notice it, but I didn't see any references to bootloader/custom ROMs. For me, whether or not a phone is easily rooted, hacked etc. is an important part of my purchase decision. Maybe you can include a short discussion of that in the future? If you did mention it, I apologize. :-)
    Reply
  • chiza69 - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    I usually love your reviews Brian as they are often unique and give a different perspective compared to other tech sites. However, one thing that frustrates me, and is consistent in all your reviews is the performance category.

    All you do in this category is run benchmarks. Yes, benchmarks are always fun, but both the iPhone and most Windows Phones have proven that benchmarks do not make a system run smoothly. I mean look at the latest android phone, the Galaxy S3, with it's quadcore processor and top of the line GPU. Yes it is fast in benchmarks, but honestly it still cannot make Android as smooth as iOS.

    All I would like to see is that you add a video of typical performance on the phone, especially with the browser.
    Reply
  • name99 - Thursday, June 21, 2012 - link

    "Clearly there is 380 MB absorbed for both preallocated GPU memory, and possibly DRM / baseband, and after that subtraction the only way to get dual channel (2x32b) LPDDR2 is to make the jump to two 1 GB LPDDR2 devices."

    I don't get this. Why can't you have a 1GiB and a 512MiB package? Are ARM memory controllers less sophisticated than Intel ones and unable to handle such a config? After all this sort of config is standard on Windows --- 3GiB back in the day when that was all Windows could handle, now 6GiB on your mid-range laptops that are too cheap to spring for 8GiB.
    Reply
  • antony22 - Thursday, June 21, 2012 - link

    well been waiting for some reviews of the GS3 I was going to get this or the EVO 4G lte on sprint but after a read the whole article I think I made my choice now
    I cant believe that Samsung chose not to use the on board Wi-Fi and went with another chip when the on board is 28 nm while the BCM4334 is 45nm
    when i was reading the battery life test I thought hmm that is odd that the HTC EVO has better life on wi- fi than the GS3 even when they use the same SOC now everything makes sense and also the GS3 is slower too on wi-fi
    Reply
  • SanX - Thursday, June 21, 2012 - link

    Brian,
    In the section about display pixel angular dimensions (0.933 arcmin) you have used word "pixel" while it is actually just the green subpixel angular size. BUT THAT IS WRONG! The largest problem is the red subpixels angular distance (and contrary to laws of physics much less blue). This gives dirty feel of solid colors of red part of spectrum and jagg of lines. THAT IS EXACTLY the main problem of the pentile displays. And that's red and blue distance TWO time larger the green one and of course IS visible very well - just place the screen of LG Nitro nearby.

    Another problem is your 12 inch distance. Formally and practically the the optimal distance for reading is usually 10 inch (25 cm). This is also why in magnification of lens in physics 25cm is used. I typically take phone even closer - to 9". You barely stand pentile screens in this case.

    We always forget, but ideally for proper scaling of small fonts, because we have digital, not analog screens, it's not a one pixel angular size must be unresolved by our eyes but around TWO stacked ones. That gives 600ppi requirement. Only after that we will not see visible difference (jumps) in line thickness when scale fonts.
    Reply
  • Belard - Thursday, June 21, 2012 - link

    So... with these current "smart" phones... do anyone of them have good enough speakers to actually wake a person up?

    That would be a NICE little added benchmark. How loud can the phone get.

    I'm about to retire my SGS1... its speakerphone mode has always been garbage (being that it faced away from you) and the alarm itself has been pathetic. So bad, that I still us a 4 year old Sony dumb phone as wakeup alarm. Even when this stupid phone "rings", I miss half the calls because the speaker and its vibration are weak.

    How about this... make phones that actually FEEL good in the hand, not some danty tablet-size thingy that you can barely hold onto with your finger tips that doesn't FIT in a pocket. Sure, its fine for those who wear a purse and it seems some guys are wearing purses or bags... that's fine.

    But many of us guys put the phones in OUR pockets where there is money, wallets, keys and whatever.

    The SGS1 was already too damn big to comfortly fit into a pocket... the S3 and now bigger S3 should just make it much worse.
    Reply
  • Eridanus - Thursday, June 21, 2012 - link

    SD card slot? So they screwed up only customers of their Nexus crap? Reply
  • apoorvnaik - Thursday, June 21, 2012 - link

    As seen in your post, you say that a T-Mobile SGS3 will work on AT&T's network also but the specs on the T-Mobile's page say something else.

    Here's the link to the T-Mobile page

    http://www.t-mobile.com/shop/Phones/cell-phone-det...

    I'm looking forward to buy this phone and just wanted to make sure that it could be used worldwide.
    Reply

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