Sunday, May 13, 2012

Samsung Galaxy S III specs review

Samsung pulled a bit of an Apple with the delivery of the Galaxy S III, we heard from many opinions when the phone launched last week. It upgraded the Galaxy S II just enough where it counts, compared to the competition, and focused on what you actually can do with the phone, introducing a number of unique interface and functionality improvements.

Nothing wrong with this strategy actually - the company has already blown our collective Android minds, and now it’s in it for the long haul. Last quarter Samsung made the record $5 billion profit, 73% of which came from the mobile division. Its main competitor - Apple - also saw mobile devices making the lion’s share of its $11 billion profit, so now the stakes are so high that, make no mistake, every feature that the Galaxy S III has or doesn’t have, had been carefully planned.


Let’s start with the chassis - granted, it’s again plastic, but why aren’t we seeing phones with 4.5”+ screens made of metal, ceramic, or anything more premium than the polycarbonate on the Galaxy S III? Even HTC, which is fond of having the chassis crafted out of aluminum, went with polycarb for the 4.7” One X. The only exception we can think of is the 4.8" Pantech Vega Racer 2, which is ceramic, but comes bulkier than the Galaxy S III. Have a look at the video below, if you want a taste of how the S III might have felt like with a glass ceramic chassis.

The reasons for the choice of material are simple - polycarbonate is light, durable, allows for superior wireless signal penetration, and is uniformly colored inside and out, so when you scratch it, the mark remains with the same color.

Now the rounded shape of the Galaxy S III and the “Hyper Glaze” coat on the blue version are acquired tastes, but when you pry off that paper-thin back cover, you’ll find a swappable 2100mAh battery, and a microSD card slot. That’s more than we can say for any other flagship, be it the HTC One X, iPhone 4S, or the Sony Xperia S, and it was something we used to take for granted with Android phones just a few months ago. The micro SIM we’d probably have to stomach from now on, since the mobile phone makers are moving even further, to the nano-SIM standard, that is about to be approved very soon. Just go ask your carrier for one with an adapter to replace your regular SIM, if you are getting the device off-contract.

What’s more important is that the Galaxy S III is only a tad wider and almost as thin as the Galaxy S II, making it about as comfortable to reach with your thumb across the screen for one-handed operation, but it will still be a stretch if you have smaller hands. The bulk of the screen size difference - 4.3” vs 4.8” - has gone into the elongated profile of the S III, which we found pretty smart first time with the Xperia arc, and manufacturers have been warming up to the idea ever since.

Still, we’d like to see less bezel, but the addition of the home key at the bottom, which allegedly was thrown in at the last minute, might have warranted the current design. Management probably rightfully deduced that the Galaxy Nexus is an Android enthusiast device, and a poster phone for Android ICS, while Samsung plans to sell millions of Galaxy S IIIs to all kinds of people, so issuing a device with buttonless front was probably deemed a pointless risk in the heated debates.


Recently it turned out that it’s not one of the usual suspects Qualcomm, NVIDIA or Texas Instruments that is in the most dual-core smartphones, but actually Samsung’s ARM-based processors. That’s due to the fact that it not only makes the homebrew Exynos silicon for its own phones, but also supplies the Ax-branded chippery in Apple’s mobile devices.

The Galaxy S III everyday grind will be pushed by either the quad-core Exynos 4412, or the dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4. They are made with the brand new 28/32nm production generation for mobile chipsets, meaning a significant leap in performance vs power consumption compared to the 40/45nm Cortex-A9 chips we had until now.

Why didn’t Samsung use the 2GHz dual-core Cortex-A15 Exynos 5250? Because it didn’t need to. It’s made for tablets, as Samsung kindly demonstrated to us at CES this year, powering a 2560x1560 pixels screen with its ARM Mali T-604 GPU. There is no point of scaling to put it in a phone, where nothing over the current 1280x720 pixels makes sense.

Samsung, for that matter, overclocked the Mali-400 GPU to 400MHz+, which the 32nm chip allows easily, and now the Galaxy S III beats everything in the graphics benchies, save for the quad-core PowerVR GPU in the new iPad, which, however, has to power the “Resolutionary” 9.7” screen, and will most likely be scaled down for the new iPhone, since, again, it makes no sense there.

The earliest we can see Cortex-A15 chips in phones or even tablets will be for the holidays, when maybe NVIDIA will try to be first just for the taste again, while mass usage of A15 chips in our mobile devices won’t happen until early next year at least.

Samsung Galaxy S III specs review
Moreover, the power consumption advantage of Cortex-A15 vs A9 comes for a large part from the die shrink, and the Exynos 4412 is already shrunk to 32nm, plus it actually sports some A15 features like internal 128-bit instructions support, and has a proprietary ISP like HTC's ImageChip, for all those camera and motion sensing shenanigans of the Galaxy S III.

Both Exynos 4412 and Snapdragon S4 are now at the top of the Android benchmarking game, so your Galaxy S III won’t feel underpowered, no matter which one ends up in it. If your carrier has an LTE network up and running, you are likely to end up with Qualcomm’s MSM8960 chipset, which has the newest 28nm LTE radio integrated in it.</div>

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