Following the international launch of Samsung’s (and Android’s) most anticipated device in history on May 29th, it is now also available in South Africa on most carriers. A lucky few, including myself, were able to attend the official launch of the Samsung Galaxy S3 at the Sandton Convention Centre on the 7th of June, and we were there to get our first hands-on experience of the new flagship device.
Now, we will look at the first impressions of this impressive device with a hands on preview, that will soon be followed by a full review once we get the opportunity to use it on a day-to-day basis.
Function and Media Briefing:
Coming off the success of its predecessor, Samsung has decided to go all out in the world wide release of the Galaxy S3. It is now available in 129 countries. They expect to sell even more than the record breaking 20 million units shipped of the Galaxy S2 and this was very evident when we arrived at the convention centre.
The employees were all standing at the ready, welcoming the media before the public launch started a couple of hours later. The media was allowed a couple of minutes with the device, before we had a short briefing from the marketing and sales directors of Samsung SA, followed by a quick Q&A. After the session, I was able to get hold of the Director of Samsung South Africa, Deon Liebenberg to answer a few of my questions:
Me: Mr Liebenberg, what exactly are your expectations of the new device in South Africa?
DL: We are expecting it to be even bigger than the S2. South Africa is a growing market for this segment of devices, and we think we have a product that will help it grow even further. Samsung SA sold half a million smartphones in the country in the past year, and we are expecting a 50% rise for the current financial year.
Me: After the success of the Galaxy S2, we had the Galaxy Nexus released a couple of months ago. We were very disappointed to find that the marketing on this device, which we feel is not only the best Samsung, but best Android phone to date, was non-existent. What is your marketing strategy regarding the S3?
DL: We have already piloted a massive marketing campaign for this device. We will be much more aggressive than we were previously in South Africa. You can rest assured that the word will spread, and most people around the country will know about and want this device sooner rather than later.
This is something I can attest to, as I already saw the first Galaxy S3 commercial, which is the same as the international version, shown on South African TV. Also, when driving back to the airport, two of the major carriers had already installed huge billboards on the N1. I was able to get one final question with Mr Liebenberg:
Me: This is for the Android fans out there. There have been rumours that Samsung will also produce the next Nexus phone in conjunction with Google, after the huge success (more so overseas than here) of the Galaxy Nexus. Is this true?
DL: Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to comment.
Well that’s a pity.
After the media briefing, the rest of the invitees were allowed to enter, and the festivities started with a bang, with Jo-Ann Strauss the MC for the night. All the features of the smartphone were shown and having been the same as those previously reported, there were no surprises. Entertainment followed, with people from around the globe enjoying every minute of it. But that’s enough of the formalities; let’s look at what we were able to learn about the performance of the device.
The device looks a lot like the Galaxy devices we have seen in recent times. It looks more like the Galaxy Nexus than like the Galaxy S2, which is a good thing. The large 4.8 inch screen (even larger than on the Nexus), isn’t awkward on the device. The shape of the device compliments the screen and is comfortable to hold. It’s also very light, at a mere 133g.
The glossy plastic is very attractive, really standing out from the crowd. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the Pebble Blue phones, only the Marble White ones.
The Enyxos 4412 1.4GHz quad core processor packs a powerful punch, and that is immediately evident from the fluidity of the device. It is also brilliant at multi-tasking. We will talk about the software later, but the phone has an interesting feature that really shows off the processing power of the device. It’s called Pop Up Play. While watching a full HD video, you can minimize it to about an eighth of the screen size while still playing, and you can go ahead with any other task on the phone. The video never lagged while I opened emails, browsers, apps etc.
The 2,100mAh battery is a big improvement. You can expect up to 20% more battery life compared to the Galaxy S2. More notably, there is an adaptor going on sale soon, which allows for wireless charging. Now that’s a handy addition, but we have no word as to how close the device needs to be to actually charge.
The biggest part of the pitch of the device was the software. If you are a pure Android enthusiast, you may remember that the TouchWiz skin that Samsung used on the Galaxy S2 was, well, ugly. When we heard there would be an upgraded version of TouchWiz on the Galaxy S3, people were afraid of the same problem experienced on the previous incantation.
With the brief time I played with the device, I can tell you that Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich looks a lot better with TouchWiz. Samsung have taken the criticisms into consideration, and changed it a lot. It feels more like stock Android, being much more simplistic than on the Galaxy S2. It is a big improvement on the previous version, but it still doesn’t compare to the Android experience you get from running stock. Samsung should be commended for a huge step in the right direction, though.
The five icons on the base of the home screen are similar to the the Galaxy Nexus, contributing to it feeling more like stock Android. The app drawer has just been moved from the centre to the right side of the tray. Samsung continuously threw around the slogan “Inspired by nature, designed for humans”, which it is clear in the software, with splashing water, sound effects and seasonal wallpapers.
The built-in keyboard is great, almost exactly the same as on the Galaxy Nexus. It works very well, obviously helped by the larger screen size, diminishing the chance of hitting the wrong letter. The Galaxy S3 comes with a lot of gesture operations – part of the “designed for humans” thinking.
You can tap and hold the screen and rotate horizontally to open the camera application. Using the same accelerometers, a new calling function has been added. If you are looking at contact details, or a mail or message received from a contact, you can simply raise the phone to your ear, and the contact will be dialled. Once again attributing to the feeling that Samsung will punt in the marketing campaign, “the phone knows what you want to do”.
The Smart Stay feature makes the device detect (through the front facing camera) whether a face is looking at the phone. If not, or if one’s eyes close if you fall asleep, it will switch the display off automatically.
One of the biggest talking points, of course, is S-Voice. Samsung’s effort to introduce a Siri-like function for voice interaction was working during our hands-on experience with the device. Everything you would expect it to handle, it did, like unlocking the phone, controlling the music and video players, and capturing photos. I can tell you that it works pretty well, although the function hall was a bit noisy and we will have to run more thorough tests in the time to come. Since it requires a data connection to work, we know that it will learn over time, and we can just hope that it improves. It did seem a bit sluggish at times.
It is a good looking phone, with an impressive high definition Super AMOLED screen. We will talk about the Pentile architecture used in the screen in the full review, as it may bother some eagle-eyed observers, but I can assure you it is a very good screen. The processor looks likely to challenge for the top spot among Android devices. It is very fast, responsive and fluid.
There are many intriguing TouchWiz features that we will investigate in greater detail, but it does make the device a well-rounded package (even if you are a stock Android die-hard). Samsung obviously concentrated heavily on the software, and if they manage to polish the features and get it working flawlessly, the company will have another bestseller on its hands, no doubt.