BitDepth#845 - July 31

Putting Samsung's SIII smartphone to the test.
Samsung strikes back
Samsung’s SIII smartphone sports a capable eight megapixel camera and a smaller front facing camera as well. Avoid the digital zoom at all costs. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

As a competitor to Apple in the smartphone and tablet markets, you’ve got to give Samsung points for tenacity.
Buffeted by almost continuous lawsuits from Apple, some of which have blocked its products from sale in lucrative markets, the company has continued to work on its phones and its newest phone, the SIII, is the official phone for the 2012 Olympics.

The improvements from the original Samsung S to the SII were evolutionary, but with the SIII, the company isn’t just avoiding the key points of Apple’s many lawsuits against them; they’ve begun to produce a remarkable and distinctive phone in its own right.

The SIII starts with a daunting list of features that make it a formidable contender in the smartphone market.
Each user will find something interesting and downright pleasing in this new model, but there are some additions to the SIII that make it worth serious consideration.

It’s fast. You really don’t need a phone to be fast in the way you hope your new laptop will be, but it’s a pleasant surprise to find that no matter what you ask the SIII to do, it responds briskly.
All that extra horsepower (the new phone sports a quad-core central processor and a powerful graphics processor) makes the odd gratuitous graphics effect possible and the Android swipe to wake on the SIII is like skimming water.
No, really. The screen mimics water responding to your finger during the swipe so well that it’s a little unnerving.

It’s sleek. The SIII is actually a little bigger than the SII, but it’s also thinner and more ergonomic. The SII felt like a phone, with a little bulge at the back that was useful during calls but all wrong for almost everything else. I’ve got large hands and the SIII feels right for me, but you should try it out for feel and usability.

Samsung has made the new model feel not just thinner and more rounded but, if such a thing can be imagined, more pocket ready. It has the feel of the Galaxy Note with none of that device’s heft.
Putting this device in a case might be a good idea for protection (the back case is thin polycarbonate, the screen is Corning Gorilla Glass), but anything that gets between this well-finished phone and my front pocket just feels like an intrusion.
Samsung may claim that it’s inspired by nature, but the phone feels like it was designed to be slipped into my pocket.

S Voice mostly works, but it’s designed more for function than whimsy. By opening up the voice recognition to digital learning, it’s likely that the Siri competitor will get more positive hits outside of the United States, but the process also demands a bit more from a prospective user.

You’ll need to launch the S Voice app and repeat your activation phrase (and you’ll want your own, because saying “Hi Galaxy,” the default, is just naff) four times. This teaches the software what your voice and accent sound like and eliminates the negotiation that Siri sometimes demands of a thick Trini twang.

You can set up common commands that you expect to use, and the software responds quite well to requests that you make on the spot. I found this country on a Google Map with one statement.

There’s a good range of default software on the device, and the Google Play store is becoming a sleeker, richer resource for software over time.
That said, the SIII feels like a great product that’s being hamstrung by its operating system. The Android OS is unquestionably the best response to Apple’s iOS available in the smartphone market to date, but it’s also an alternative that falls short on its selection of apps and delivers spotty updates.

To this day, updating Android on any smartphone remains something that most casual users would never consider doing and finding great apps remains an adventure for those willing to go through the hoops necessary to be able to access Amazon’s substantial appstore as well as Google’s puzzlingly named Play store.

Updating apps and device firmware is better done on WiFi even if you have access to Digicel’s broadband network.
The SIII uses several tricks to preserve battery life, it senses when you’re looking at it and puts the device to sleep faster overnight. The phone seemed to deliver 30 per cent more battery life over my experience with the SII.

Be aware though, that the SIII uses a MicroSim, so you’ll need to request a new SIM from your carrier if you have an older phone or cut it down yourself. I bought a SIM cutter and carriers (to be able to put the cut down sim in a traditional phone) for around US$10, but some be warned that some older SIM cards don’t cut properly.

If you’re comfortable with an Android based smartphone, the SIII ticks almost all the checkboxes you’ll be looking for in a device and adds a few new spins that make it an aggressive competitor in a crowded marketplace.

SIII details
Screen size: 720 x 1280 pixels with a pixel density of 306 ppi.
Bluetooth 4.0
Android 4.04 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
MicroSD card slot (up to 64GB)
Stereo FM radio
Android software connection for Mac
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