Last night I had the priviledge of attending the Samsung Galaxy S3 launch event in Sandton. Having already played with the Galaxy S3 last week (one of my friends already owns one), I wasn't really expecting to be blown away. However, familiarity with the device didn't dampen the spectacular launch event at all.
It all started with the media launch, where each attendee was given a special (rather expensive) gift:
That's right, folks! The Galaxy S3 can do everything but make you coffee, so to compensate, Samsung gave away a Nespresso machine with a refill pack of capsules!
So back to the launch event, less words more pics:
In short, an epic launch party complete with lasers, pyrotechnics, dancers, promo girls, entertainment, drinks and great food! Ok, enough about that, I'm sure those who missed out are jealous enough already. So, onto the phone itself!
I'll dispense with the specs (you can find them on many other sites and reviews), but let me break down the highlights:
- I will start by saying that this phone is really beautiful! It is very slim, light and the curved body makes it very comfortable to hold. The back is smooth, yet grippy (the special HyperGlaze coating maybe helping here). Ergonomically, I can't fault the phone. Some may find the use of plastic distasteful in a high-end device, but I prefer it for it's lightness and ruggedness (and that it's not as cold to hold on a winter morning).
- It is fast. Not noticeably faster than most dual-core devices (like the Galaxy Note), because most apps don't even stress a dual-core phone, let alone this quad-core beast. We have yet to see how fast this phone really is. Samsung have a nice demo of it's speed: Pop-up Play. This allows you to view high definition video in a little popup window while you can do other things, like browse the web, view photos, respond to messages, etc. In practise, this is far less gimmicky than it sounds, and the switch between full-screen and pop up is seamless and fast. Multi-app multitasking finally comes to smartphones. You still might not think you need a quad-core, but the promise of Ubuntu for Android (or other desktop environments running on your phone) means you'll want to future-proof yourself.
- The screen is fantastic! Not only is it about as large as it can get, while still fitting into a "phone" form factor, but it's also AMOLED (meaning extremely high contrast ratio - deep blacks, rich colours), and of high resolution. Some may talk about sub-pixel arrangements, but what I can tell you is that the screen looks perfect - no visual artefacts, crisp text, gorgeous photos and videos.
- It has great cameras. The above photos were taken with the older Galaxy Note 8 megapixel camera. The S3 has an 8 megapixel camera with several improvements, like backside illumination and zero shutter-lag, which boils down to even better photos! Even the front camera (1.9 megapixel) can take high-definition video! More impressive is the software enhancements: you can take 20 shots in a burst (using Burst Shot, just hold down the shutter button and release when the moment has passed), or ask the phone to take a burst of 8 photos and recommend the best one (using Best Photo). I tried this and it works as advertised - it picked the sharpest image of the group. You can also grab a photo while recording a video. When you take a photo with your friends, with Buddy Photo Share it can recognise them from their contact photo using facial recognition, and will immediately ask you if you would like to share the photo with them, right there and then. Often you will take a high definition movie, but can't share it with friends because it's way too big to bluetooth or email. With S-Beam, you start playing the video, then place your phone back-to-back with your friends phone, and up pops a dialog asking if you would like to transfer the video to your friend (this part uses NFC). It then uses Wifi Direct to transfer the file speedily. This is a feature I tried out, and apart from having to ensure that NFC and Wifi Direct were enabled, it worked as described. A favourite feature of mine uses the front camera to detect whether or not you are reading the screen, and if so, delays the display timeout. This even works in the dark! I tried it out in the dimly-lit booth and it worked perfectly - when it activates, you will see an "eye" icon appear for less than a second and disappear.
- At long last, Samsung have added a notification LED to a phone! As is the theme with this phone, they didn't stop at the hardware. With Smart Alert, you just pick up your phone and it displays any missed notifications on the screen.
- Samsung put in a lot of effort on the software side. Many of the features are advertised, like S Voice which allows you to set reminders, place calls, look up the weather, etc. just by speaking to the phone in your natural voice (accent-and-all). I didn't try this, so I am not sure how well it works. Less publicised is the fact that on your Alarm app, you can enable "Briefing". When you do, your alarm rings in the morning, then the phone reads out to you your appointments for the day, unread emails, news, and/or weather. With Direct Call, when you receive an SMS, you can just pick up the phone to your ear, and it will call the person who sent it. Better yet, you can do this from the Contacts app - just find your contact, and put the phone to your ear. The judo-swipe gesture to take a screenshot is implemented here (as on the Galaxy Note), and the S Memo app has also been included to allow you to scribble notes. This can be sync'd with Evernote or Google Docs. In the Contacts app, if you have a lot of contacts, you can use the alphabet index on the right to slide to the first letter, then you can slide slightly left and then slide to the second letter.. There are many of these hidden gems, which you will discover over time as a Galaxy S3 owner.
- Regarding TouchWiz, several improvements have been made, but there is one glaring omission: you cannot drop one icon onto another to create a folder (as with stock ICS launcher). Hopefully this gets added at some point. I know a lot of readers will think that TouchWiz is a reason to *not* get this phone, but you would be wrong. Firstly, it is easy to install the stock ICS launcher, gallery, people, camera, etc. apps. Just grab the APK's from XDA-developers forum or Google Play. There, TouchWiz gone. In addition you can disable TouchWiz apps if you want (a new ICS feature), so no bloatware problem. However, Samsung gives you so much more than stock ICS, for example AllShare Play that allows you to stream media to your TV, or even play a game on your TV while using the phone as a controller!
- Along with this phone, Samsung is launching the Video Hub, where you can rent or purchase movies and videos, even in high definition. Movies start at R10! We are one of only 7 countries where the Video Hub has been launched - so great to see Samsung take South Africa seriously.
Wow, ok in summary: the Samsung Galaxy S3 has top-class hardware, coupled with amazing and intricate software features (that warrant more of your attention), and they've found a good way to describe the total package: designed for human beings - it sees you, listens to you, and responds to you. Sure, that sounds like a cheesy marketing tagline, but how else do you describe the million-and-one clever things the phone can do using it's sensors? On hardware alone, it might be a toss-up between the top-tier competitors, but add in the software features and additional services like Video Hub, and it looks like we're on for another run-away success product for Samsung. To Samsung: that was a kick-ass launch for a kick-ass product, thank you!