How do you review a phone like the Galaxy S III? It’s already been subject to so much speculation, exposure, and early judgment — some of it coming from myself, admittedly — that it feels overwhelming to try and condense what it means to everyone into a single treatise. To Samsung, it’s the new flagship handset to keep the company ahead of every other Android OEM through 2012, for most people it’s a device that stretches the definition of the smartphone form factor, and to mobile gaming enthusiasts it’s potentially the most powerful platform yet.
Being a spec leader isn’t new to Samsung, but the Galaxy S III betrays an even loftier ambition: South Korea’s largest chaebol wants to also be known as a front runner in software. Android 4.0 is the basis upon which Samsung has built a formidable list of new and returning enhancements: S Beam, S Memo, S Planner, S Voice, Smart Stay, Direct Call, and even a limited-term exclusive of the Flipboard Android app. Throwing in 50GB of free Dropbox storage for two years makes Samsung’s offering seem comprehensive, but is it cohesive? That’ll be the primary question to answer for people wondering if the long wait for the Galaxy S III has been worth it.
Everything you do with the Galaxy S III starts and ends with its 4.8-inch Super AMOLED screen, so it’s fitting that Samsung has sought to minimize the amount of material surrounding it. As big as the display is, it doesn’t make the phone feel terribly unwieldy. You’ll still find yourself adjusting your grip to reach the top corners, but there’s almost no degradation in usability relative to a 4.3-inch device like the Galaxy S II.
As is now almost standard across flagship handsets, one piece of glass covers the entire front, punctuated by the home button at the bottom and the earpiece at the top. A silvery band wraps around the Galaxy S III’s sides, and its curvature is extended by the rear cover, which is white on my review unit or a faux-brushed aluminum blue on the alternate version. I’ve never been a fan of plastic being made to look like metal — it feels disingenuous both on the part of the company selling the product and, subsequently, the person owning it — and I find it makes the Galaxy S III look cheap. It’s okay for Samsung to use plastic to build this phone, but less so to feign that it’s made of higher-grade materials. The white version suffers from this issue in a more diminished way than the darker variant — its silver sides have been subjected to a similar treatment as the Pebble Blue GS III.
Aside from being somewhat aesthetically challenged, the Galaxy S III feels like a very well built device. It’s thin, light, and shaped just right to make handling it a joy. While I still prefer the sharper looks of the HTC One X, the Galaxy S III feels gentler and easier in the hand. Perhaps we can finally accuse a mobile phone manufacturer of subjugating form to the needs of function.
Although the back cover is made of a glossy and seemingly flimsy plastic, Samsung’s previous Android handsets with similar plastic shells have tended to be very durable. The Galaxy S and Nexus S would pick up scratches easily, but you could drop them almost on a daily basis without fear of something cracking or buckling. Samsung also deserves credit for flattening out the rear of this phone — there are no more humps at the bottom as with the previous Galaxy S iterations, plus there’s no protrusion around the camera as you’ll find on the HTC One X.