Where the Samsung Galaxy S3 really pulls out a comfy lead over all and sundry is its sheer horsepower. Under its hood is a quad-core Samsung Exynos 4212 Quad processor, which is based on ARM’s Cortex A9 architecture. In use the phone feels pretty fast, with apps loading quickly and the interface flying smoothly by as you navigate.
However, there is a strange lag to the whole thing. It can take half a second or so for an app to load from being tapped, though once you get there the app is fully loaded and ready to go. This is in contrast to the iPhone and HTC One X where the app loads instantly but then the content of the app takes the half second to load. Both are essentially as fast as each other but the iPhone/HTC way feels quicker. There is one instance where there is a genuine lag though, which is when waking the phone from standby – for no apparent reason it can be quite temperamental and take a few seconds to get to the homescreen.
Putting the phone to the test with a few benchmarks, it’s actually beaten in single threaded tasks by the Cortex A15 powered chip of the HTC One S but when it comes to multi-tasking benchmarks it wipes the floor with the competition.
This applies double when it comes to gaming where the S3’s Mali 400 processor simply annihilates all before it. There’s little practical benefit to all this power here and now – certainly as compared with any of the other quad core phones – as there’s simply no apps that use it, but it’s always nice to have.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 comes out the box running the latest 4.0 version of Android so you have all the latest features from Google. But of course Samsung has made its own tweaks to give the whole phone a slightly different look, and it’s added a fair few features too.
Right off the bat, things are a little different. Swiping the screen to unlock it produces a ripple effect across the screen, which is rather snazzy. You can also jump straight to one of four apps listed along the bottom of the lock screen, which is particularly useful for jumping quickly to the camera in the absence of a dedicated camera button. However, we couldn’t find a way of customising which apps appear on this list, which limits its usefulness a little.
Once on the home screen the first thing you notice is that Samsung has stuck with its style for the docked icons at the bottom of the screen. Like previous Galaxy S phones the Apps menu sits far right with other icons to the left. In contrast the standard Google way has the Apps icon in the middle. Quite simply, we prefer the Google way. Similarly, it’s now a standard Android gesture that you can drag one app onto another to start a new app folder, but Samsung has removed this ability, making it an overly convoluted process to add a folder.
These couple of minor points aside, the general homescreen experience is good. You’ve got seven homescreens to fill with apps, folders of apps and widgets, with a healthy selection of useful widgets on hand. There is a fair amount of filler but equally some useful extras.
Swipe down from the top of the screen to bring up the notifications area and you’ve got a plethora of quick actions on hand for quickly toggling Wi-Fi on and off, muting the device and such like. Notifications are not only signalled by vibrations and tones but also by a blue light recessed in the top left of the phone. These notification lights are becoming more and more common now but it’s good to see Samsung hasn’t slipped up here.
One thing we must applaud Samsung for is that when on the central homescreen, pressing the Home button doesn’t zoom out to a thumbnail view of your homescreens. HTC does this and it’s infuriating if you accidentally press the Home button too many times. If you want the zoomed out view you can pinch inwards on the screen with two fingers.
In fact, gestures are something Samsung has gone to town with. You can rearrange your apps
by grabbing an app and spinning the yourself (and the phone) round to move through the homescreens. In the browser you can zoom in and out by pressing the screen with two fingers and tilting the phone back and forth. And, to jump to the top of a list you can double tap the bezel above the screen. The latter is a particularly clunky take on the standard iOS interface gesture where you just tap once at the top of the screen to scroll back to the top of a list. The Samsung version does not work very well, though is a welcome addition.
Yet more gestures include the ability to mute calls or pause music by simply turning the phone over, and you can take a screenshot by swiping the side of your hand across the screen (or pressing both the Home and Screen Lock buttons together)
Pop into the Apps menu and apps are arranged into (now standard) side scrolling pages, or there’s an option to show them in a list with one app per line. Quite why the former of these has become the convention on Android over and above a simple vertical scrolling grid, we don’t know but that it has.
Alongside the Apps tab is the Widgets tab wherein you can find all the fun widgets to add to your homescreens. There’s also a section for apps you’ve downloaded too.
All told Samsung has made some good changes and some not so good ones compared to default Android 4.0 so that overall the interface feels mostly slick and easy to use but certainly isn’t perfect, a phrase that sums up every re-skinned version of Android we’ve ever seen.