Samsung Galaxy S3

August 21, 2012

At the end of June this year, I upgraded from a HTC Desire HD to a Samsung Galaxy S3, so I thought after a couple of months of having my new phone I should write up a (really long) post on what stood out for me.

The positive

The screen and form factor is awesome! Due to the plastic body and the thin shape, this phone is really light and slips into your pocket nicely. The massive 4.8” screen really shines when watching videos and browsing the web. I regularly watch screencasts on my phone and the 1280x720 resolution gives me plenty of detail. The colour contrast is a lot higher than my previous phone, which makes the blacks look really deep and videos stand out nicely. The marketing video that the phone comes with does demo it off quite well!

The battery is fairly good. My requirement for battery life is that I can use it all day and by the time I get home / go to bed, it hasn’t died. Not a high expectation, I know, but these days its hard to expect more. This phone meets that requirement quite easily. On the days I don’t use my phone much, I get home after a days work with more than 50% remaining (which is huge compared to my last phone!) and on the days I use it quite heavily, I get home to about 30%-40% which easily lasts me the rest of the night. My usage generally includes syncing gmail, facebook, twitter, weather, RSS reader, work email (during peak hours), I am generally connected to wifi most of the time and I regularly browse the web and watch videos / listen to podcasts during my commute.

The general responsiveness is miles ahead of my last phone too! Day-to-day usage is smooth and rarely experience any lag. This will be improved even more when Jellybean is released (rumoured to be soon!).

“Smart Stay” is a new innovative feature from Samsung where just before the screen is about to timeout and turn off, the phone will take a photo of you with the front-facing camera and use face (or eye) detection to work out if you’re still looking at it. If you are, it will keep it on for another minute or so, if you’re not, then it will dim the screen and check again soon after, which then will actually turn it off.
This is to avoid that randomly-scrolling-to-avoid-the-screen-turning-off trick that most people will do when reading a long article. Thankfully, this feature is quite effective and I haven’t needed to do that for a while, although it doesn’t work very well in the dark!

In the settings, there is a section called “Motion”. I won’t go through all of the options, as there are about 10 different ones, but some are quite handy. By far the best one IMHO is “Direct call”, which lets you directly call a contact whose call log details, contact details or message details are displayed on the screen by simply putting the phone to your ear from that screen. Feels very natural.
Another nice one is “Smart alert”, which will give a little vibration when you pick it up from a stationary location if you have a missed call or sms.

The camera on this phone is not too bad either. Obviously it will never replace my dSLR, but it has some nice features that even my dSLR doesn’t have. The burst fire mode is really quick, but Samsung have introduced a feature called “best shot”, which will analyse each of the photos you took in the burst and pick the ones it thinks turned out the best, based on focus and face detection. You can adjust what was picked, and then the others are automatically discarded (saves you having to go through the 14 bad ones and delete them later).
The camera has a built-in HDR mode which works quite well too and the photo editor provides heaps of enhancements and corrections, including red-eye reduction, color balance, cropping, etc.

Another nice feature is found in the video player, it has a “pop-out” button! This means that if you’re in the middle of a video and you wanted to quickly google something, or reply to an sms, you can just pop out the video, which turns the full screen player into a small, floating, always on top window that you can drag around, do what you need to do, and then make it full screen again. Not something that I’ve needed to use very often, but on the rare occasion I have, it’s been quite nice.

I use my calendar religiously and on my older HTC, the default app looked nice, but didn’t have many features. I ended up swapping it out for Business Calendar Free just so I could get a month view with text, instead of indicators.
The stock Samsung calendar, S Planner, however is not too bad! It integrates with their S Memo, which I don’t use, but comes with a good number of viewing options, my favourites being their month view and analogue week view. It also has a nice “Quick add” feature that lets you enter “Dinner at Nandos tomorrow 7:30pm” and it does what you’d expect. This doesn’t support anywhere near as much as Google Calendar does, but its better than nothing!

I lashed out and bought an official Samsung Desktop Dock, and comparing this to my cheap eBay special I bought for my HTC, not only does it look quite nice, but it automatically launches the desktop clock app when I dock it and after 5 minutes it dims the screen and hides the other UI elements other than the clock. I like this feature a lot because I otherwise don’t have a clock in my room, so its really handy for me!

As with all things, there are pro’s and con’s. Here are some of the things I don’t like.

The negative

Android have decided to remove USB Mass Storage mode (my biggest pet hate with Android right now!) This leaves you with 3 alternative options for copying files to and from the device: Media Transfer Protocol (MTP), Camera mode or using an app such as Kies Air or File Expert.
MTP and Camera mode both don’t give you access to all the directories on the phone, but for just transferring media it should be ok. Note that MTP will work out of the box with Windows, but if you run Mac or Linux like me, you will need to install software to get it to work (and Linux is a pain for this!).
The reason for this change is because USB Mass Storage mode will mean you have to unmount the partition from the system in order to mount it to the computer, whereas MTP will allow you to access it in both places at once, but its slower and requires software.
For phones like the Galaxy Nexus, this makes sense as there is only one partition, but with the S3, I would like to see the option of just unmounting the memory card (with is separate from the system storage) and allow that to work with USB Mass Storage mode.

Another annoying thing I have found with this phone is sometimes the home screen will randomly die. This causes lag while all the widgets reinitialise themselves. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, its annoying considering its a simple software issue. Hopefully this is fixed with Jellybean release!

On a related note, I find the random delay between pressing the unlock button and the screen actually turning on to be annoying too, considering my older HTC was basically instantaneous everytime, this phone seems to vary quite a lot. I find myself pressing the button while its still in my pocket, just so by the time I have it in front of me, the screen is ready.

A couple of other minor things include the notification LED being really bright, which is ok, but while the phone is docked my bedside, it will light up the entire room quite easily. This is kind of funny considering “smart stay” doesn’t work well at night. Maybe instead of just green and red, the LED should have also included an IR LED for that.
Not only is the LED really bright, but when the battery becomes fully charged, it will turn on the screen and popup a notification, which is also not very nice when I’m trying to sleep.
I know most of you are probably thinking a solution would be to turn it off at night, but I scheduled my phone to download podcasts during these hours with BeyondPod - I think the pro’s outweigh the con’s in this situation.

Also minor, but there is no stock flashlight app, which I wanted to put in the lock screen shortcuts. It does come with a 2x1 widget, but to get a shortcut on the lock screen, I ended up downloading one of the million flashlight apps out there.

Speaking of widgets, the HTC widgets were really nice, but I find the widgets that came with the Samsung are not quite as useful, luckily they are in abundance on the play store too!

The other stuff

Here are some other noteworthy things which I haven’t really made up my mind if I like yet or not.

The music player has a feature called “Music Square” and I love the idea of it, but I’m not sure how effective it is. Basically you index your music library and it categorises each of your songs into 2 scales: ‘Exciting to Calm’ and ‘Passionate to Joyful’. These two scales make up the axes of the music square and by tapping where your mood is will play those types of songs. It’s a great idea and I need to experiment with it more to see how effective it is.

A lot of the features in the phone are voice activated. For example, you can say ‘answer’ or ‘reject’ when it is ringing (as long as the ringtone isn’t too loud); ‘snooze’ or ‘stop’ when the alarm is going off (as long as thats not too loud); ‘smile’, ‘cheese’, ‘capture’ or ‘shoot’ to take a photo (as long as your close enough for the phone to hear you); ‘next’, ‘previous’, ‘pause’, ‘play’, ‘volume’, etc. to control your music or the radio (as long as thats not too loud either).
As you can see, the usefulness of these features are dependant on the environment.

S Voice is Samsung’s answer to Siri, and even the UI’s look similar, but while its great in theory, I think the most useful thing about Siri on the iPhone or S Voice on the Galaxy would be SMS/email dictation, but that is the one thing these features don’t work that well for, at least for me anyway - maybe its just my voice!

The conclusion

In the end I am very happy with my new phone, it is leaps and bounds above my old phone, its really responsive other than the random home screen lag and unlock button delay, it has some nice new innovative features and is a joy to use.
Also, with the Jellybean release (hopefully) around the corner, it can only get better.

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