When I was in Israel two weeks ago, my friend Ken rushed up to tell me he had just gotten one of the first Samsung Galaxy S III smartphones to reach the country. It was easy to imagine a similar reaction occurring in many other countries, as well. This has been one of the most eagerly anticipated phones in … well, months. (But years might as well be centuries in the realm of new high-tech products.) And, sure enough, Samsung said it expects to ship 10 million of these phones by the end of this month.
Frankly, I had not paid much attention to all of the pre-announcements and announcements. After all, the Galaxy S II was introduced less than a year ago. But I tried Ken’s phone, and it was quite impressive. It had a gorgeous, large display and was very fast. There was no waiting for a website to come up, and email flowed in without hesitation. And its built-in GPS using the free app Waze worked perfectly on the highway. (Waze is an Israeli company that provides a free app with turn-by-turn directions and local traffic reports based on users sending back their information.)
When I returned home, AT&T loaned me one of its Galaxy S III samples, and I’ve been using it for almost two weeks. I like the phone a lot, but it seems more evolutionary to me. I’ve not experienced quite the blazing speed I did on Ken’s phone. It could be the network, or because the phones in the United States use a different processor. Nevertheless, it’s the best Android phone I’ve tried.
Samsung has accomplished an amazing feat. It has designed a phone that’s nearly as easy to hold as an iPhone, easily fits in the pocket, yet has a huge 4.8-inch display that makes the iPhone’s 3.5-inch display look out of date. And the Samsung is a few grams lighter.
The Samsung display is a little more than 4 inches long by a little less than 2.5 inches wide, while the iPhone is roughly 3 inches by 2 inches. The Samsung has almost a 70 percent larger display area, something that’s really noticeable when reading Web pages and emails. Text appears much larger, and there’s more of it. It’s no wonder Apple has been pursuing Samsung in the courts — Samsung has become its biggest competitor in smartphones.
But there is one downside to the AMOLED display: While the colors are more vibrant, its performance in direct sunlight is noticeably worse than an LCD display. I tested it on the Del Mar beach, and while I could read email on the iPhone, it was impossible on the Samsung. The display also uses up the battery more rapidly. Fortunately, it’s user-replaceable, and it's a whopping 2100 milliamp-hour, about 40 percent greater capacity than the iPhone. In my use it lasted about the same length, getting me through one day with moderate use.
The S III is sleek and thin, but not as a result of using exotic materials. It’s all constructed out of plastic. Its back cover is a thin snap-off part that has a brushed metallic blue-gray finish. I don’t find it attractive and prefer the model with a polished white finish.
The phone uses Android 4, the latest version of the constantly evolving Android OS. It offers many improvements over the previous version, including the use of folders to group apps, easier access to common functions, improved fonts, a spell-checker, voice input and a lot more. In addition, Samsung adds its own apps: Direct Call, S Beam, S Memo, S Planner, S Voice and Smart Stay. Direct Call dials a number on the display by just lifting the phone to your ear, and S Memo is a more advanced version of Apple’s Notes.
With all of the changes, this phone requires quite a bit of learning and exploration, even if you already have used an Android phone. That’s the other side to the flexibility and customization that Android provides. More settings, some deeply buried, make the learning process slow and introduce surprises. For example, every once in a while, when I opened a new page, my display would dim, making it hard to read. The only way to fix it was to turn off the auto-brightness control, but there was no reason for the brightness to change. I also encountered a few system crashes and freezes, not uncommon for a new release.
The Samsung’s 8 megapixel camera on the back produced high-quality images. Phone conversations were good, both ends crisp and clear, and during my testing I experienced no dropped calls.
Most new phone models have different names depending on the carrier. But the Samsung Galaxy S III is one of the few models with the same name for all the carriers. Each works on the networks’ 4G networks. Cost is $200 with a new contract.
If you’re looking for an Android smartphone, this will be one of your top choices for speed, functionality and desirability — until the Galaxy S IV comes along.
Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer" published by Financial Times Press and available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other booksellers. He has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others; holds 30 patents; and is an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Baker can be heard on KOGO AM the first Sunday of each month. Send comments to email@example.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor. Baker's blog is blog.philipgbaker.com, and his website is philipgbaker.com.
A new meaning for 'bookcase'
There’s a new line of cases for the iPhone, iPad and MacBooks that is most unusual and unlike anything that’s ever been available. Andrew Green, co-founder of Twelve South, explained that the company had no intention of getting into the case business, with the scores of companies already competing. But, being located in Charleston, S.C., with its heritage of preservation, he encountered some old leather books that inspired him to take a new look at cases.
He noticed that the hard covers and spine of a book offered much more protection than did a soft sleeve. As a result, the company developed a line of cases that look like old books, made of leather and embossed much like the antique books he found in the local libraries. The company’s line of “BookBook” products has taken off, with some models available in Apple stores.
One of the surprising benefits, he told me, was that the case offers an effective disguise. He’s received a number of comments from customers whose homes were burglarized, yet the “old book” sitting on the desk was left behind, with the computer inside. The cases range in price from $60 to $100. (twelvesouth.com)