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Samsung Galaxy S3 - Screen and Controls

By Edward Chester

Updated:

Summary

Our Score:

9

User Score:

Screen and Controls

Cutting right to the chase, the S3's screen is excellent and is a huge upgrade over most screens from previous generations. Its sheer size is enthralling when watching video or playing games, making the iPhone 4S look positively backward in this regard. It's also colourful and sharp thanks to its 1,280 x 720 (720p) pixels, and has great viewing angles.

Samsung Galaxy S3 iPhone 4s HTC One X Union Jack

However, there are a number of issues.

In practice we found the automatic brightness setting was way off, constantly making the screen too dim, which is annoying as it means regularly having to change this setting manually to balance readability and battery life. Bizarrely there are also four separate brightness levels reserved for the web browser only – one for the browser, fine, but not four. Moreover, overall brightness is lower than we were expecting, being outdone by both the iPhone 4S and HTC One X. The result is that the S3 isn't as good as those two in bright conditions.

Then of course there are the downsides of the size of the thing. Sure, it's a notch smaller than the very popular Samsung Galaxy Note and only a tad larger than many other large premium Android phones, but there's no denying it's a bit of a handful.

iPhone 5 vs Galaxy Note vs Galaxy S3 vs LG 4X HD vs iPhone 4S

Samsung Galaxy Note, Samsung Galaxy S3, LG Optimus 4X HD, Apple iPhone 5, Apple iPhone 4S

Comparing dimensions with the rest of the big phone fraternity, the Galaxy S3 is slimmer than the rest but is in fact the tallest and widest apart from the Note – no surprise given it also has the largest screen at 4.8in (again aside from the Note). At 133g it is surprisingly light, though.

Frankly, we're still somewhat in two minds as to which overall philosophy we prefer – the small phone accompanied by a tablet approach of the iPhone and iPad or the "one device to rule them all" style of these larger phones. Ultimately it comes down to how you operate as to which you'll prefer, but we still tend to like the slightly smaller phones. Or at least if we were going for a large device we'd go for something that added extra features such as the stylus of the Galaxy Note. After all, if you need two hands to use the thing anyway, why not use a stylus to be more accurate about it - it's better for Draw Something at the very least.

What's more, within the context of these large phones, the Galaxy S3 didn't feel as easy to handle as we'd hope, despite some laudable attempts to make it so.

Its curved edges make it sit quite comfortably in the hand but along with the glossy back they also make it very slippery. Indeed to us the phone's 'designed for humans' label seems woefully misjudged. Despite the screen lock button being put on the right edge, where it should be easier to reach than the top, we actually found it little easier. If you have particularly large hands you might be able to reach but for average hands or smaller it still doesn't fall under your fingers when holding the phone normally. Designed for giants?

Likewise, the physical home button should in theory make things easier as it saves you having to reach for the power button to unlock the screen. But, again Samsung has slipped up. We found it an awkward manoeuvre to reach the button as it's too near the bottom of the phone and it's too narrow. Also, we found we quite often accidentally pressed the two touch-sensitive buttons to either side, which is aggravating to say the least.

Samsung Galaxy S3 - Screen

As such, despite its screen lock button being on the top edge, and it having a touch-sensitive Home button (i.e. one that can't be used to unlock the screen) we actually found the HTC One X pretty much on par in terms of handling.

Much of this is nitpicking, and we strongly doubt anyone will be driven to distraction by any of these issues but overall it does leave us feeling that there's still work to be done to really make these large phones practical for one handed (i.e. practical day to day for busy people) use.

Getting back to the screen, the other reason it's a potential issue is that it uses an HD Super AMOLED display. What does this mean? Well, the AMOLED bit means it uses pixels that are self-illuminating, with no need for a backlight like on LCD displays. This results in amazing contrast, with black and other dark colours not looking washed out when next to bright colours. Meanwhile the HD bit denotes this as having a peer-matching 720p (720 x 1280 pixel) resolution. The combination of these two means watching video and playing games is a truly mesmerizing experience on this phone.

So far so good, but it's the lack of the word Plus - as seen on the Galaxy S2 - that is the concern. This lack denotes the display as using a PenTile subpixel arrangement. Here, instead of using three subpixels (Red, Green and Blue) for each pixel it only uses two (Red and Green, then Blue and Green). This results in a number of visual oddities including a slight shimmering/moire effect in some moving images, a raggedy look to the edges of fine text, coloured fringes between bordering black and white pixels and a slightly grainy look to solid blocks of colour.

All these elements were particularly noticeable on earlier Pentile AMOLED screens but the much smaller pixels on these latest high resolution screens means most are almost imperceptible now. It's only really the moiré and graininess that are visible. The former stands out when using the camera or watching video where movement highlights the shimmering effect, while the latter can still come through on solid colours such as the white backgrounds on web pages. You also quite often get horizontal or vertical lines that should be the same width appearing as different widths, such as the text box in a web browser. It's the sort of thing that if you're aware of it, you'll probably still find it slightly annoying but equally you could quite easily use this phone for a year and never notice.

Samsung Galaxy S3 - Screen

Samsung Galaxy S3 Screen Closeup - note how you can almost see the red, green and blue subpixels on the block of white.

HTC One X - Screen

HTC One X Screen Closeup - this screen has a similar level of sharpness but colours look smoother.

iPhone 4S - Screen

iPhone 4S Screen Closeup - the iPhone 4S (and iPhone 5) have slightly sharper, smoother looking displays

The final thing to consider is AMOLED can have a slightly blue colour cast to the whole screen that only gets worse at an angle, and colours can look over-saturated too. However both these issues aren't too noticeable here. Comparing the HTC One X and S3 side by side, the S3 does look a bit blue but then the One X does look a bit red, and Samsung seems to have toned down the saturation a bit so everything looks a bit more natural.

When all is said and done, the S3 screen is still excellent, it's just not taking screens to another level. The Galaxy Note and Galaxy Nexus both offer essentially the same experience in terms of AMOLED quality while the HTC One X's LCD display is better for some things (reading text and web browsing) but worse for others (watching video). Meanwhile if you aren't dead set on getting a massive screen the iPhone 4S still impresses when it comes to raw quality but boy does it look like a baby compared to these monsters.

Tiny Turtle

March 23, 2012, 5:31 am

Do a search for "Samsung Galaxy S WiFi 4.2 white" and realise you really should remove this article as the image you post up top is just a photochop of that devive.

http://www.phonedog.com/2012/0...

Ian Porter

March 24, 2012, 2:01 am

@ Tiny Turtle,

I don't think you compared the photos on the two articles closely enough. They are very similar but not the same.

Snapafun

April 19, 2012, 3:02 pm

Very keen to see the end product. I'm attempting to replace my aging N95 with something that will give me everything I've had with the N95. From GPS through to Office Apps. Virtually a mini laptop with the bonus of being a phone. Replacing the N95 has become a trial but Samsung seems to be offering what I'm keen to try - Don't like Windows so looking forward to Android this time round.

markc1728

April 20, 2012, 9:31 pm

I assume this is the UK version (makes sense as this is a UK site). Happy to be corrected but I would presume the US versions won't have the Exynos processor as it isn't compatible with LTE is it?

This has always been my biggest problem with the S2, I really like it but there's a ridiculous number of sub models out there (particularly in the US). All have different processors and some have LTE and some don't, some work with 3G in the UK others don't. It's just too complicated to buy one unlocked as the model is too fragmented.

Looks like the S3 will have at least 2 (and probably 3 or four) models. This is only going to get worse until a standard frequency for LTE is adopted and it comes as standard on all phones.

AHYL88

May 4, 2012, 2:56 pm

Ohh yeah, this is our jam right here; a phone that has everything in spades, especially storage capacity! Sure it'll be one hell of an expensive investment but we won't care once we start using it! Can't wait to try it out!

JonDavid

May 4, 2012, 4:22 pm

Does anyone know anything more about the wireless (inductive?) charging on this thing. So glad to see another device with this tech, I find it incredibly useful.

BobaFett

May 4, 2012, 5:32 pm

Can someone please correct this on page 1: "the riggers of everyday life". It should be "rigours".

ebuttery

May 4, 2012, 5:38 pm

For all the subtle differences in technology between these phones, the reason I will get an S3 over the One X is very simple. The "on/wake up" button on the HTC is at the top, and the Samsung has it on the side.

It sounds so minor, but makes all the difference with these phones. The HTC simply can't be used one handed simply because of this button placement. When will they learn!

Saying this, the removeable SD and battery also sway me to the S3.

markc1728

May 4, 2012, 6:26 pm

I'm intrigued to see it in the flesh. But the more I look at it the more plasticy (cheap) it looks.

It's hardware is top of the line and the software looked first rate last night too. But as a device it just doesn't look top end next to the One-X or even the S2 SkyRocket.

And the hardware maybe about to take a beating from LG. They have announced a phone with 2GB (though what this will be used for is beyond me, draining the battery I expect).

Ed

May 4, 2012, 6:43 pm

Gosh darn it, must've autocorrected. Cheers for the spot.

Milo

May 4, 2012, 7:43 pm

Glad I didn't hold out for the S3, just isn't a quality product. I know I'm proably a fan boy but my One X arrived three weeks ago and it's fantastic, lovely to hold oodles of tech, pogo pins for a lossless docking system (hurry up with that htc) and the wireless hdmi for output to HD tv. Never had an issue yet with the battery dyoing before I get home, and anyone that may be "worried" about the lack of graphics power should just look at riptide or head over to tegra zone, heck even the wather widget is soo good it scrolls in 3D as you flip from screen to screen.... Oh, and 32gb is huge, and don't forget dropbox..... another 25gb of free cloud.

markc1728

May 4, 2012, 9:14 pm

I like the HTC very much but you have to pay a significant amount extra to get that second 16gb. Whereas a 16GB SD card can be had for next to nothing (in the grand scheme of a premium phone).

And the 25gb of free cloud is only half what you get with the S3 so I wouldn't think that is a selling point for the One-X (And in my opinion cloud storage is next to useless away from WiFi without a 4g connection).

Goodmane

May 4, 2012, 10:24 pm

- Still no camera shutter button.
- Still no dedicated audio processor as per iphone so it can handle music without getting hot or use lots of battery.
- Still no large sensor in camera
- No standard micro hdmi out

I'm a little disappointed, mainly because of the camera shutter button, but I'll probably still get one, if only for the amazing OLED screen, which having used a Galaxy S for the past few months, I cannot now do without!

Chris

May 4, 2012, 10:25 pm

Are we sure that third physical button is the new ICS app switch button and not a plain old menu button? I've seen videos of this thing that require the user to hold down the home button in order to access the multitasking menu, while the third button functions as a traditional menu button.

If that's the case, then (in an incredibly odd move) Samsung have equipped this phone with pre-ICS buttons.

Alternatively, the videos I've seen are just pre-release software that has since altered.

Well Spoken Waffle

May 5, 2012, 1:02 am

this. the xperia s didn't have it and neither did any of the one series. even nokia use it on the n9 and lumia 800 - it seems like common sense, the placement of the on button.

i'd like to feel the device in person - i'm more than a little disappointed in the choice of materials. my lumia 800, for example, proved polycarbonate can be a premium feeling material. a little part of me is hoping the material choice gets changed a little.

Amir

May 5, 2012, 8:11 pm

When deciding between my HTC and Galaxy (which feels like many years ago!) there were a few things which swayed me towards the HTC...
1) Removable battery
2) Sd card slot
3) General Build

All three reasons why I've *Upgraded to the Galaxy S3.

In terms of build, my HTC is Heavy... with no apparent benefits of using metal over plastic (somone please enlighten me?)...
I'm looking forward to carrying a smartphone without the left half of my blazer appearing to have suffered a stroke.

(I also won a Samaung Galaxy Tab pre-ordering through the Carphone Warehouse... this may have sweetened the deal :)

Michael G

May 6, 2012, 9:09 pm

Edward.

You're the one reviewer on here who I find always writes well written, solid reviews. I'm generally quite critical of some of the journalism on TR, but not you.

However, please can you, and everybody else, get this notion out of your heads that plastic materials are sub-par in quality to metal.

I studied materials at University, so I'm afraid I do know what I'm talking about.

There are, simply put, hundreds of thousands of plastics out there, and plastics can possess so many different properties. They can be tough, rigid, brittle, flexible. Going back to the Galaxy S2, it has a flexible battery cover. Many journalists and people slated the phone for this, saying it was cheap and liable to break. This was simply untrue, there are numerous videos of people folding the cover in half dozens of times, only for it to spring back to normal. It was, actually, an extremely sensible material choice, because it means the battery cover will never break when you take it off. With a rigid battery cover, there's always a chance of it snapping when you remove it, or when it's not on the phone.

So, taking that as an example, plastic does not mean cheap. In fact, many plastics are more expensive to develop and produce than metals.

Also, look at how the iPhone deals with being dropped onto hard surfaces. Being made of rigid materials, it copes very poorly and the screen and back cover shatter very easily. Compare this to the S2, which is very difficult to break, and suddenly this whole metal better than plastic argument in starting to look frail.

Yes, aluminium does look nice. It feels better than plastic. But a phone can be plastic and still be made of premium, solid materials that deal with the stresses and strains of everyday life better than metal.

I have a Galaxy S2, friends have an iPhone 4. Their iPhones are scratched and look messy. My Gs2s plastic build has held up impeccably. The only, only part of my phone that has been aesthetically marked is the speaker. And guess what that's made of? I'll give you a hint - it begins with an A.

So, sorry this was long, but it had to be said. Please - stop assuming plastic means weak, poor and cheap. It doesn't, plastics can be more durable, more flexible, and more premium in build quality than metal.

Ed

May 7, 2012, 4:55 am

Hi Michael, thanks for the kind words. Always nice to know someone values our efforts.

I fully agree that plastic does not necessarily mean cheap, nor that it isn't the best choice of material. That's why I haven't absolutely slated this phone like some people/publications have - it's not downright ugly, just not much of a looker.

I still think the Lumia 800 is the best looking/feeling phone available precisely because of its plastic build. But the key is that Nokia has combined that superb plastic finish with good design which I feel Samsung has failed to do. It just looks so lacklustre. Yes, this is a subjective thing, but so is every judgement on design. Of course you could just pop an alternative battery cover on it but there's no getting away from that iffy looking purple model - seriously, no black version?

As to the point that some plastics are more expensive, i'd be very surprised if any such material has been used here. Both this and the S2 appear to use the same basic plastics as most other handsets.

The reasons why you're seeing scratches on iPhones and not your phone are that the iPhone is perfectly flat and black so scratches show up more and conversely the S2 is all curves and chequered patterns. You could argue this justifies Samsung's curvy design this time but here the whole back surface is shiny so is likely to show its scratches more easily.

Overall though, as I say, the key point is design, not the choice of materials.

Martin Daler

May 7, 2012, 1:16 pm

I'd have to agree with both of you. I rail against the perceived notion that metal = quality, plastic = cheap. And yet, when I picked up the original Galaxy my first impression was "cheap and nasty".

Metal dents, metal scratches and moreover shows that it is scratched, metal shields RF signals. Overall a poor choice for a mobile phone. Glass chips at the edges, or shatters, and once scratched the scratches shout at you.

Polycarbonate, as used by Nokia, does seem to be an ideal material. Thru-coloured to minimise the effect of scratches, tough and virtually unbreakable, etc. But Nokia has been brave enough to compromise on a few extra millimetres of body thickness, and the lack of a removeable back cover. Samsung seem to be in thrall to anorexia, so have been forced to use an impossibly thin, and hence necessarily pliable back cover.

Just as food is not only about nutrition but also about the pleasure of eating, so product design is not just about fitness for (technical) purpose but also about the visual and tactile pleasure of using the device. Samsung's material choices may be technically spot on (eg. a thin metal back cover would be a disaster), but they do seem to have forgotten about the subjective impression of holding and using their device. So they end up with an expensive device which feels 'cheap'.

ElectricSheep

May 8, 2012, 4:45 am

@Michael G

SGS2 - "The only, only part of my phone that has been aesthetically marked is the speaker. And guess what that's made of? I'll give you a hint - it begins with an A."

Err, the SGS 2's speaker, at the bottom of the phone is, wait for it...plastic! Not aluminium :) Confusing the Ally camera surround section?

HTC HD2. This is how you build a phone with the best of both worlds. Plastic chassis with a anodized Al battery case cover. The phone felt solid in the hand, reassuringly robust and yet has plastic areas at the top and bottom for antennae.

The mobile phone market is going through what the car market went through over the past 10 years. Today it is actually quite difficult to buy a car that is intrinsically rubbish. Even the cheapest vehicles which have suffered an enormous amount of corner cutting in the production, still perform pretty well whilst returning decent MPG and have reasonable safety levels.

The phone market is the same. The hardware war is levelling off, reaching spec saturation where adding more cores, more RAM, faster CPU's etc, is becoming as futile as the old single Core PC GHz wars did. Ultimately a mobile phone's usefulness and productivity is incredibly limited by it diminutive size, compared to, say, a laptop.

I think that an ever increasing number of customers will be looking to buy in to a design ethos more than a never ending, over-hyped, hyperbole of specs one-upmanship.

I agree with everything said about plastics. Top quality plastics really can feel fantastic (Lumia 800) - But, they will not, for a while escape the engrained social perception that they are cheaper and 'lower' grade than metal equivalents. I'd still *much* prefer a heavier phone with metal sections over a lighter and more robust plastic one.

The SGS2/3 in a dark (easy to scratch, I know) anodised aluminium (or titanium £££) case would be lovely. But the future's high grade plastics, for the prole's at least. For the rest, they always have the Nokia Vertu! (for the time being).

Michael G

May 8, 2012, 8:45 pm

I can't reply to my comment thread for some reason. Anyway.

@ElectricSheep No, you're incorrect. Speakers on phones are at the top, because that's where you ear goes. The only plastic thing at the bottom of the GS2 is the home button, how on earth would it work having the speaker at the bottom where your mouth goes?! It's at the top, and it's made of metal, and it's chipped. I think you're getting microphones and speakers confused, and the microphone of the GS2 is a tiny little hole on the bottom of the bezel. And guess what? No chips, scratches, nothing.

:)

@Ed I think in this case I'm going to have to sit back and accept your comments that the GS3s build doesn't have the premium feel to it. My gripe is with people complaining about the use of plastics, implying that by using a plastic, a phone is cheap and the build quality is not as good as metal phones. I've seen more than enough evidence, both on the net, and first hand, that my plastic GS2 holds up far better than an iPhone4. I've dropped it so many times and there's not a scratch, but drop an iPhone4 and you're almost certainly going to shatter case. The metal just doesn't absorb the shocks at all, plastics will absorb shock better. Anyway, until I've seen and handled a GS3 myself, I will have to agree with you on this occasion!

@Martin Regarding your last paragraph, I agree entirely. I actually have a degree in Product Design - believe it or not! - and we actually studied that as a subject quite extensively, how products make you feel emotionally, and different principles such as affordance. Giving the user positive feedback is pivotal to good product design. However, I do feel my GS2 makes a good trade-off. The bezel is plastic, but it feels very solid to me, and the gun-metal polished look to me looks just as good as a metal bezel.

People keep saying plastic phones are flimsy and cheap, but my GS2 has always felt extremely solid, and the choice of materials has always seemed to me to be very sensible without being much of a compromise on how it feels.

And that is why I posted...to try and get people to think differently about plastics and stop assuming they mean the phone is cheap.

Chris

May 8, 2012, 10:09 pm

It sounds like Sheep and yourself are referring to different things. Your phone does have at least two separate audio output transducers, each specialised for a certain function.

What I usually refer to as the 'speaker' is on the rear of the phone, toward the bottom, as ElectricSheep describes. It plays music, ringtones and other sound effects, and is also used during speakerphone calls.
What you're describing, I'd call the 'earpiece', which is used exclusively during regular phone calls.

I've written Android apps that address each out these output devices individually, and that capability is provided by the Android API.

bobsta

May 9, 2012, 7:01 pm

I must be getting old. The S3 brings nothing new nor exciting to the smartphone arena. To me, it just appears to be a re-hash of the S2 with improved components. Definitely not worth the £500 that's been charged.

eddie864

May 18, 2012, 6:08 pm

I'm still undecided. I have an HTC Desire S right now and while it's only a single core 1Ghz processor it's fast and the phone quality feels great. My only criticism is the sound quality on internal speaker is poor and quiet. Was considering a Sensation XE then the One X came out. Despite the 32GB on board memory I still would like a micro SD slot. I'm a fan of HTC Sense and having used a vanilla Android phone I much prefer it. I've never owned a Samsung phone so it would be a learning curve I'm sure. All that said... The S3 seems to offer much more, even if actually it's a little over tech! What a difficult decision as any contract will run for two years! Anyone got any deal sealers for me???

eddie864

May 18, 2012, 6:16 pm

I'm trying to make the same choice. One X or Galaxy S3. I've got a Desire S currently and I love it. 32Gb on board, frankly is overkilll, my desire S has a 32Gb sd card with 12 Gb used. Is the S3 going to be too techy and complex for me? Is Touchwiz on Android 4 as good as sense 4? Lots of questions that can't be answered until the phone is released retail...

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