Tech Test Drive: Samsung’s Galaxy S III stands apart from rivals

I performed a little parlor trick for my nerdy friends during a recent pool party: Flattening my hand and positioning it perpendicular to my smartphone’s screen and off to a side, I made a quick sweeping motion across the display.

A flash of light on the phone gave a clue to what happened: I had just created a screen-grab shot.

It is one of many maneuvers that can be performed with Samsung’s Galaxy S III, the latest and arguably greatest smartphone running the Android operating system. such features are one way Samsung is trying to set itself apart from rivals, like Motorola and HTC, as well as from Apple and its iPhone.

What you think of such features largely depends on your preference in smartphone platforms. my pals are iPhone users for the most part, so there was a bit of eye-rolling and snarky commentary poolside.

But I am impressed with how the once-primitive Android operating system is evolving and being enhanced by hardware manufacturers with software customizations and add-ons.

The latest hardware is impressive, too. HTC’s one X, sold by AT&T, is a stand-out smartphone with a fantastic camera, terrific audio, zippy performance, solid feel, decent battery life and nice screen.

AT&T also carries the S III, which arguably makes this carrier’s Android users the luckiest ones in the United States.

Just don’t get the one X in white; it scuffs and smudges up something awful. that goes for any tech gadget. Don’t buy it in white! I mean it.

In a twist, though, Samsung is making near-identical versions of its S III available to all the other top U.S. carriers. This is unusual, as Android phones tend to be carrier exclusives, and good news for Android users because they get one of the best phones on the planet regardless.

For this column, I used the AT&T and Verizon versions of the S III and found little to gripe about.

It’s notable for its beautiful, though somewhat dim, 4.8-inch AMOLED display, smooth operation and high-quality 8-megapixel camera. It’s about as tall and wide as a one X, but thinner.

I got the best data performance on the Verizon model — no surprise there, as the carrier has speedy LTE service in the Twin Cities, while AT&T has yet to bring its own LTE data access to the metro. It will happen this year, last I heard.

Otherwise, my experiences with the two handsets, both $200 with a wireless contract, were the same.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Gestures. I mentioned the screen-grab maneuver. The S III has a ton of other gestures — some unique to the S III, some shared with other kinds of Android smartphones — that make it a super fun though somewhat gimmicky device.

You can turn the phone face-down on a table or desk to silence it; tilt it to zoom in and out on a picture; pan left and right while holding an icon to shift it to another place on the home screen or an adjacent screen; tap the top of the phone to go to the top of a list or email; and lots of others.

You’ll spend a bit of time mastering the gestures, and have a blast, but how many are necessary?

No wonder my friends were scoffing.

Near Field Communication. This wireless technology built into new phones allows the transfer of data from device to device (from one phone to another or from a phone to an NFC terminal in a store to complete a purchase).

One simpler NFC feature called Android Beam, baked into the Android OS, allows for transfer of data such as contact information from one S III (or other recent-model Android phone) to another by tapping the phones together.

Samsung has added its own variation, called S Beam, that fuses NFC with a device-to-device Wi-Fi connection for transfer of files, like pictures or videos. such transfers between the AT&T and Verizon versions of the S III worked fine for me, but they won’t with other Android devices, at least for now, and are therefore of limited usefulness.

S Voice. I’m not getting the talk-to-your-phone thing. The latest version of the iPhone has Siri, and Samsung is responding with its own voice-controlled personal assistant called S Voice. I like neither, partly because they misunderstand me too often to be enjoyable.

If you’re willing to suffer through S-Voice’s rough edges, though, you can do a ton of stuff such as opening apps, sending text messages, searching contacts, navigating using Google Maps, playing songs, setting up appointments, updating Twitter or Facebook, creating voice memos, toggling certain settings on and off, performing simple search queries and finding local listings.

Replaceable battery.

Though battery life on the S III is pretty decent, it’s nice to be able to swap in a fresh one. You can’t do this with the one X. The S III also lets you add a storage card for increased capacity. one X? Nope.

An iPhone-like mechanical home button. thank you.

One minor wrinkle with the S III: as it was being rolled out, Google updated the Android operating system to version 4.1 (or Jelly Bean) from 4.0 (or Ice Cream Sandwich), which is the one on the S III.

Yet the phone can’t be updated, at least not yet. The unpredictability of when an OS update will be available for which devices is a bummer in the Android world.

Julio Ojeda-Zapata writes about consumer technology. Read him: twincities.com/techtestdrive and yourtechweblog.com. Reach him: jojeda@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5467. Follow him: ojezap.com/social.

Tech Test Drive: Samsung’s Galaxy S III stands apart from rivals


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