Samsung's new flagship phone is coming to America. Actually, it might be more appropriate to say it's blanketing America — the Galaxy S III is coming to all four major US carriers, plus a couple of smaller regional companies like US Cellular and C Spire. AT&T's model is shipping now, starting at $199.99 with a two-year contract, and we got a chance to test the new device ahead of its release.
When we reviewed the Galaxy S III's international version a few weeks ago, we discovered a phone that immediately jumps to the top of the Android heap. Its display and build quality can't match the HTC One X and its gorgeous Super LCD 2 screen, but the GS III is well-built, screaming fast, and filled to the brim with software that actually improves on the Android experience. It has an excellent 8-megapixel camera, fantastic call quality, and solid battery life. We still worry about Samsung's tendency to not update its devices on time (or at all), but as it stands now the Galaxy S III is one of the best Android phones you can buy.
Lots of carriers, one Galaxy S III
The most surprising thing about the American Galaxy S III is how much hasn't changed from the international model. We've been trained by Samsung to expect the Galaxy S devices to become the Fascinate, Captivate, Epic 4G, Mesmerize, Vibrant, Epic 4G Touch, and all manner of other strange nouns and adjectives. This time, it's just the Galaxy S III, no matter where you buy it — Samsung has pulled off a feat only Apple has managed before. Nearly everything about the phone made the trek stateside to both AT&T and Sprint, like the hardware Home button, an excellent feature that's typically hacked off by carriers. It's available in "Pebble Blue" and "Marble White" — our review unit was white.
The only significant change for the US versions of the Galaxy S III is that they're powered by Qualcomm's 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor rather than Samsung's quad-core Exynos SoC, which is inside the international handset. The Exynos is a serious workhorse, but the S4 is no slouch, and as we've seen time and again it's one of the most capable processors available. In our benchmark tests the AT&T Galaxy S III measured a hair slower than the Exynos, but its scores across the board were still at the very top end of Android handsets.
|Quadrant||Vellamo||GLB 2.1 Egypt (720p)||GLB 2.1 Egypt (1080p)||AnTuTu|
|Galaxy S III (AT&T)||5,039||2,352||56fps||28fps||6,746|
|Galaxy S III (Sprint)||4,525||2,167||55fps||28fps||6,420|
|Galaxy S III (international)||5,283||2,008||101fps||59fps||10,568|
|HTC One X||4,430||1,614||65fps||32fps||11,322|
|HTC One S||5,141||2,420||57fps||29fps||7,107|
It may not be quad-core, but no matter — the S4 is powerful
The S4 is also known for being one of the more power-friendly chipsets out there, so we expected solid battery life out of the American GS III. The phone lasted four hours, 31 minutes on the Verge Battery Test, which cycles through a series of websites and high-res images. The test is particularly strenuous on an LTE handset, because as we've seen AT&T's LTE is quite the battery drain. In more normal use, the Galaxy S III lasted a full day of tweeting, browsing, texting, and calling, but I definitely needed to charge it every night.
We'll forgive the handset for not blowing our minds with its longevity, especially since it's worth the tradeoff: we saw data speeds as high as 9.5Mbps down and 16Mbps up during our tests in midtown Manhattan. Reception is steady and reliable, and call quality is stellar.
When we met with Samsung ahead of the Galaxy S III's US launch, reps told us that the only difference in its devices would be the "carrier experiences," and after some pushing basically said that meant bloatware. We expected the worst, but both AT&T and Samsung appear to have exercised some restraint in preloading apps. AT&T includes AT&T Navigator, myAT&T, and Yellow Pages (does anyone use Yellow Pages?), and Samsung includes apps like Kies Air and S Memo, but the crapware load is lighter than almost any Android phone I can think of.
The Galaxy S III is one of the best Android phones we've ever seen, equalled only by HTC's One X. Samsung's competition for AT&T customers is steep — the carrier sells the One X, the iPhone 4S, and a handful of other high-end phones — but thanks to everything from intuitive software to the excellent LTE connectivity and still-impressive battery life, the Galaxy S III is certainly worth a look next time you're in the market for a new phone.