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Computerized Investing > October 20, 2012
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by Joe Lan, CFA

$200–$300 with two-year contract; around $750 without contract.

Samsung’s third phone from its Galaxy series gives the iPhone a run for its money.

Wayne Thorp, editor of Computerized Investing, is taking a one-week hiatus from writing the Gadget Corner. I will be doing a review of the new Samsung Galaxy S III in his stead.

The Samsung Galaxy S III is the third version of Samsung’s flagship cellphone line, named the Galaxy series. This top-of-the-line phone is designed to compete directly with the iPhone 5, along with other flagship phones from HTC and Motorola. The Galaxy S III boasts some of the best hardware available on any phone today, and is the one phone that is actually giving the iPhone 5 a run for its money.

Design

It is hard to talk about the Samsung Galaxy S III without first mentioning the screen size. Samsung has never been afraid to push the boundaries with size, increasing its phone’s screen sizes with each new Galaxy phone. Samsung was one of the first companies to create phones with 4-inch screens. In fact, every iPhone before the iPhone 5 ran on a 3.5-inch screen and Samsung’s first Galaxy phone was released with a 4-inch screen. The second iteration of the Galaxy phone was released with a 4.3-inch screen, which was once again among the largest of its time. The current Samsung Galaxy S III boasts a 4.8-inch super AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode), which, yet again, is one of the largest screens available.

For this current Galaxy iteration, Samsung went away from the rectangular shape and instead incorporated rounded edges. The phones dimensions are 5.4 inches by 2.8 inches by 0.3 inches and the device weighs 4.7 ounces. The phone currently comes in two different colors—marble white and pebble blue. There are rumors that more colors will be available going forward, including sapphire black, titanium gray and amber brown.

The glass used to encase the front touch screen is Corning Gorilla Glass 2, a type of damage-resistant glass that has held up surprisingly well. Personally, I do not use a screen protector. I am never careful with my phones, banging them into objects and often keeping them in the same pocket that my keys are in. With that said, I have yet to notice any visible damage to the glass. The rest of the phone is made with polycarbonate plastic. I do have a slight grievance with the feel of the phone on the back. The back of the phone does not feel as solid as that of the iPhone 5, or even my previous HTC phone. However, the material used does allow the phone to be considerably lighter than my previous HTC phone, even with the significantly larger screen.

Hardware

Phones are becoming increasingly powerful and hardware does matter. The Samsung Galaxy S III offers arguably the best hardware currently available in phones. The international version runs on a 1.4 GHz quad-core (yes, four cores) processor. The U.S. version runs on a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor. The phone comes with 2 GB of random access memory (RAM) and you are able to choose from 16 or 32 GB of internal flash memory storage. Samsung also notes that a Galaxy S III version with 64 GBs of internal flash memory will also be made available. In addition, the phone offers a removable micro SD slot that can hold micro SD cards up to 64 GBs in size.

Performance

At the end of the day, the hardware available is meant to increase phone performance. The Samsung Galaxy S III comes with Android 4.0, nicknamed Ice Cream Sandwich, which is much more stable and faster than its predecessor for Android phones—Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). The phone is responsive and quite fast. I have installed numerous apps very quickly without any problems and can switch between apps effortlessly. I have also run some speed tests on the phone that gives an aggregate score for the performance of the phone, combining processor, memory and graphics performance. Sparing you the boring specifics, I can safely say that this phone is most likely the fastest phone currently available. However, I want to also note the HTC One X is very close in performance speed.

Web browsing is a breeze. The phone’s 4G enables users to load pages very quickly. One area where Android phones have a clear advantage over iPhones is the Flash compatibility that Android offers. I’m not sure if the iPhone will ever have that feature.

Features

The screen, with its 1,280-by-720-pixel display, is beautiful. The size is definitely on the larger end and is not suited for everyone. I have fairly large hands, but I still find myself supporting the phone with two hands, especially when using various apps. Furthermore, I have to adjust where the phone is in my hand if I want to tap the edges of the touch screen.

Two cameras are built into the phone—an 8-megapixel camera on the back and a 1.9-megapixel camera on the front. The rear camera is able to record in high definition 1080p. From my tests, both the camera pictures and the videos came out crisp and sharp. If you move the phone too quickly while video is recording, the image looks slightly “liquid,” for a lack of a better term.

Several unique new features are available with the Galaxy S III that makes sharing files and photos much simpler. The near-field communication (NFC) technology on the phone allows Galaxy S III users to transfer pictures, music and other files by simply tapping phones back to back. In addition, the Share Shot app that comes installed on the phone allows users to share photos instantly. These features come with one caveat—those you are sharing with must also be using a Samsung Galaxy S III.

Applications

The applications available on the iOS still outnumber those available on Android. However, Android applications have become increasingly abundant and advanced. There is no longer a noticeable difference between the breadth and sophistication of applications available on iOS and Android. All popular applications are available through the Google Play store, which is similar to Apple’s iTunes store. I run a number of financial applications on my phone, such as wikinvest, Mint and Scottrade. In addition, I have some popular games like Angry Birds. Each of these applications works seamlessly on the Android operating system. I have also successfully placed trades on my phone and have yet to have my account hacked.

Another strength Android phones provide is its flawless integration with Google. I use Gmail for my personal emails and Google Drive as my personal “cloud.” I can quickly access any files or documents on my phone that I have uploaded onto Google Drive from my computer. Gmail also works perfectly.

Battery

The battery life on this phone is superb. I have never actually run out of battery if I charge the phone at night and use it throughout the day, though I have gotten close. Typically, I use the phone to browse the Web, run apps and play music during my commute and at the gym. On a light day, the phone can last almost 24 hours, which is far longer than my previous HTC phone.

Overall

The phone is incredibly powerful with top-end hardware. The Android operating system has come a long way, though from my personal experience, it is not as refined as the iOS on the iPhone. At times, the phone lags when performing basic functions, and with the type of processor it possesses, there should be no reason for the phone to ever lag. In fact, simper operations, such as typing text messages, will lag at times, but large applications, such as games, load faster than on any other phone I have used. This points to superb processing power, but an operating system that is imperfect.

The overall build of the phone is good, but not great. The front of the phone looks spectacular and the screen is simply beautiful. However, the back of the phone feels somewhat cheaply made. The iPhone 5, by comparison, has an element of “niceness” to it that is hard to describe.

Finally, this is Samsung’s flagship phone and is meant to go head-to-head with the iPhone 5. I can safely say that Samsung has indeed created a phone that is up to the challenge. Both phones have strengths and weaknesses and the final verdict will depend on the user.

Depending on how much memory you want, the phone will cost $200–-$300 with a two-year contract and requires a data plan. The price is comparable to all the top new phones available.

Pros:

  • Large, crisp 4.8-inch screen
  • Strong battery life
  • Seamless integration with Google services
  • Top internal hardware available for phones

Cons

  • Screen may be too big
  • Android operating system lags
  • Plastic feels cheap on back

Samsung Galaxy S III

$200-$300 with two-year contract; around $750 without contract.

Joe Lan, CFA is a former financial analyst for AAII.


Discussion

Tom Jones from TX posted about 1 year ago:

The issue is software. I made the mistake of buying a Google Nexus tablet, only to find out that a critical application, even though in Google Play, was well behind it's iPhone version and would soon be dropped altogether. The tablet hardware was great, but without that app, completely useless. Be suspicious.


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