The Samsung Galaxy S3 is here. It's big, it's bold and it's probably going to be one of the best-selling phones of the year. But how does it compare with the HTC One X and the iPhone 4S?
We've dug into the spec sheet, fondled the phone itself and mused deeply on what a smartphone is to find out. Here's what we found…
More on the the "Next Galaxy" -
Body and build
Samsung Galaxy S3 - Plastic, Gorilla Glass II
HTC One X - Plastic, Gorilla Glass
iPhone 4S - Metal, toughened glass, oleophobic surface
If you want a giant-screened phone, you'll have to accept that your mobile will have a plasticky finish that probably won't feel quite as good as the hard and dense vibe of smaller metal phones. It's not a hard and fast rule that big phones can't use a metal like aluminium, but most manufacturers stick with plastic to keep weight down.
The HTC One X has taken a leaf out of Nokia's book, with a Lumia 800-like plastic finish. Samsung's Galaxy S3 comes in two shiny plastic finishes - white and a dark blue brushed metal-effect, but it's still definitely plastic. LIke the Samsung Galaxy S2 before it, the battery cover is a very thin piece of plastic. It looks nice, but doesn't feel a million dollars converted into phone form.
On the other side of the fence, the iPhone 4S is covered on each side by layers of toughened glass. It helps to keep the phone feeling ultra-premium, but doesn't half make you worried about dropping the thing.
Dimensions and weight
Samsung Galaxy S3 - 131 x 63.7 x 8.9mm, 133g
HTC One X - 134 x 70 x 8.9mm, 130g
iPhone 4S - 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3 mm, 140g
Using plastic as the main body material pays off in weight. Both the Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X are significantly lighter than the iPhone. We say significantly, but its only so in phone design terms. The sub-20g difference is only worth worrying about if your arms are weaker than our puns.
What's less easy to forget is that the Samsung and HTC are both very large, on account of their oversized screens. Two centimetres in length and one in width makes the larger phones completely different to hold. In our experience, though, larger phones slip into most pockets fairly easily because they're so thin. The iPhone 4S is the thickest device of the three and - let's face it - it's hardly a porker.
Samsung Galaxy S3 - 4.8in Super AMOLED, 720 x 1,280 pixels
HTC One X - 4.7in Super IPS, 720 x 1,280 pixels
iPhone 4S - 3.5in IPS, 640 x 960 pixels
An important question for phone buyers in 2012 is - IPS or Super AMOLED? As more manufacturers start to move on from the so-so S-LCD screens of 2011, these higher-performing screen types are becoming the standard at the top-end in 2012.
The HTC One X and iPhone 4S use a variation on the IPS type - which stands for in-plane switching. These screens are also used in iPads, and most top-end tablets. Benefits include excellent viewing angles and great overall picture quality. The one chink in the IPS armour is the use of a universal backlight. In a dark environment, the luminescence of the backlight is visible - appearing greyish or blueish.
The Samsung Galaxy S3's Super AMOLED screen avoids this effect. It uses light-emitting pixels rather than a standard backlight, letting pixels displaying black stay perfectly dark.
Another big consideration in screens here is, of course, size. To watch movies or play games on, the extra screen inch of the HTC and Samsung Android phones comes in seriously handy. In the iPhone 4S's defence, the ultra-high 326 dpi pixel density lets you get your face pretty close to the screen without any eyestrain. While the HTC and Samsung feature many more pixels than the Apple device, their pixel pack-ness it actually a smidge lower - per inch - at around 319dpi.
Samsung Galaxy S3 - Quad-core 1.4GHz Exynos 4212, Mali-400 GPU
HTC One X - Quad-core 1.5GHz Tegra 3, GeForce GPU
iPhone 4S - Dual-core 1GHz Apple A5, PowerVR SGX543MP2
Cores are the new megapixels in the phone world. If you don't have four cores at the very least, you're not going to be able to hang with the cool kids. Of course, this theoretical power doesn't amount to much if it doesn't translate to real-world performance.
Of the three processors, the Tegra 3 is generally thought of as the weakest for graphics. It's routinely outperformed in benchmarks by Apple's current devices. Early benchmarks show that the Exynos 4212 is also significantly faster than the Tegra 3 - this time across the board rather than just in graphical performance.
However, in terms of getting apps and games that'll actually make full use of the power, you’re much better off with an iPhone. Android developers have to consider the masses of different chipsets Android phone and tablet owners might use, where iOS devs only have to consider the last few generations of A-series chips.
Devs don't just think about the lowest comon denominator, but they can't always max everything out for the luckiest phones owners out there.
Samsung Galaxy S3 - 16/32/64GB, microSD
HTC One X - 32GB, non-expandable
iPhone 4S - 16/32/64GB, non-expandable
A disturbing trend has begun in top-end Android smartphones. They've started leaving out the memory card slot that was once the staple of every Android phone. They have fallen to the way of the iPhone.
Apple's iPhone has never had expandable memory, and it's not something that's likely to change with this year's iPhone 5, either. However, leaving out the microSD card slot in the HTC One X is arguably even more annoying than it is in iDevices. You can buy a 64GB iPhone, but the HTC One X maxes-out at 32GB. That's not really enough to house a large music collection, plus apps and games.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 continues the trend of its predecessor the Galaxy S2, with at least 16GB of internal memory and a microSD card slot. Best of both worlds? Yes, although the 64GB does not come cheap.