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The new Samsung Galaxy S III from Verizon is almost here and we got the opportunity to take it for a test drive this weekend. It should be available at Verizon stores on July 12 (though some pre-orders may ship sooner or later) in either blue or white with 16GB or 32GB storage for $199.99 and $249.99 respectively with a new 2-year contract.
So how is it?
This is a large smartphone with a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display that is bright and crisp. However, it is quite slim and despite that large screen, it fits surprisingly nicely in the hand. I still found it a bit of a stretch to pull down the notification bar up top one-handed. The S III is also very light, which will appeal to many, but this lack of heft, along with its slick, plastic-feel surfaces can make it a bit slippery.
The S III has plenty of storage space and offers a microSD card slot, too. It uses a fast, 1.5GHz dual-core processor and though many were yearning for a quad-core processor (available in other S III versions elsewhere), the phone still felt quick to me. It sports an 8-megapixel rear camera with fast burst mode which shot bright and good-quality photos. Up front, there’s a 1.9-megapixel camera for video chatting. I didn’t see an option on the camera to silence the shutter noise unless I silenced the phone volume itself, which was a minor irritation.
Phone calls on Verizon’s 4G LTE network in Chicago were crisp and clear, and data download/upload speeds were nifty. Battery life was surprisingly good too – perhaps that dual-core processor and AMOLED screen help preserve a bit of energy.
Pre-installed apps from Samsung
Samsung was keen to stress some of the smartphone’s unique apps and services when the device was first revealed a few months ago, and it was fun to test drive some of these.
The comparison to Apple’s iPhone Siri voice-command inevitably cropped up when this feature was announced. S-Voice is Samsung’s take on a voice assistant. It does a fairly reasonable job, allowing you to check the weather, test its knowledge of state capitals or to open various websites or apps. It had no problem with me telling it “open yahoo.com” but far more problems when I tried “open androidapps.com,” thinking I wanted to open an app instead and producing a huge list of options of apps to use to complete the process. When I asked the S-Voice “Find a McDonalds near me” it didn’t have an answer and asked instead to search the web, but “Find a restaurant near me” produced some results.
Still, for opening apps, voice-dialing, searching contacts and simple on-device actions, S-Voice worked well. Having said that, it didn’t seem too much of an advance over Google’s in-built voice actions in Android. Speaking of which, Google was keen to stress its Google Now capabilities coming in the upcoming Android Jelly Bean 4.1, which cleverly take into account your previous searches and your physical location. As the S III is likely to be on the list of Jelly Bean updated devices, these new capabilities coupled with S-Voice may make the package more attractive.
There is a widget on one of the home screens which you can choose to activate. It recommends popular apps and games depending on your location and usage. I can see why this could be helpful, especially for first-time smartphone users. There are myriad apps out there, and knowing where to start can be tricky. The suggestions made were good, popular and useful apps in a variety of categories.
What’s nice about S Suggest is that it doesn’t force itself on you. If you’re an app expert already, simply delete the widget and don’t use it – it doesn’t run in the background or pop up annoying suggestions. But, for users new to the world of Android apps, it definitely has its benefits by highlighting some quality suggestions.
This new app and service from Samsung lets you share HD videos and your favorite songs by streaming multimedia content from the Galaxy S III to a compatible Samsung Smart TV or home audio system when connected to the same Wi-Fi network. It also lets you remotely access files on up to six Samsung devices. I didn’t get the opportunity to test this out, but it seems like a nice feature to have
Pre-installed apps from Verizon
This being a Verizon device, however, there are some pre-installed Verizon apps too, but a nice feature of Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4) is that these can be deactivated. You won’t be able to uninstall them completely unless you install a custom ROM, but the ability to at least stop them from ever running is welcome, and they don’t take up too much internal storage space. There are very few other non-Verizon apps pre-installed, which is a welcome change from previous HTC and Motorola devices we’ve looked at.
Ice Cream Sandwich and TouchWiz
The Galaxy S III runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, but Samsung’s proprietary skin (known as TouchWiz) runs above it. There is much debate about manufacturer skins, of course, and whether they enhance or detract from the Android experience. But with devices available like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and forthcoming Nexus 7 tablet, the ‘pure’ Android software device is out there if you really want it.
But there are a few things this Samsung interface does well, and many people may find them handy. For example, you can swipe a contact to call them or message them and there’s a feature called ‘Smart Stay’ which recognizes when you’re looking at the screen so it won’t time out and turn off. I also liked some of the device’s gesture controls, like swiping with the side of your palm to grab a screenshot or muting/pausing sounds by covering the screen with your hand while playing media.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S III on Verizon is a quality device with plenty of power, a great screen and good battery life. Apart from the stock Google Samsung Galaxy Nexus, it’s certainly one of the better smartphones currently available on the network. As far as Android devices across all networks in the United States, it joins AT&T’s HTC One among the cream of the crop.