Samsung Galaxy S III review: A rock-star phone, but does it deliver?

Samsung's Galaxy S III is one of the most hotly anticipated Android phones ever. We test it to see if it lives up to the hype.

It isn't every day a phone like Samsung's Galaxy S III comes into the world. The Galaxy S III is practically a celebrity, thanks to both the massive public interest surrounding it and the Olympic-sized promotional push Samsung's providing.

Hype and presentation, however, don't always equal greatness -- and these days, there's no shortage of eye-catching smartphones available. So does the Samsung Galaxy S III do enough to stand out from the pack?

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Samsung Galaxy S III

I wanted to find out. I've been using the Galaxy S III in place of my own personal phone for the past several days -- going back and forth between a white AT&T model and a blue T-Mobile model -- and I've learned a lot about where the phone shines and where it falls short. So dim the lights and get ready: Our latest rock star is about to take center stage.

(Note: The Galaxy S III will be sold by all four major U.S. carriers as well as U.S. Cellular. We've included a chart that lists some of the details; you can find the full rundown of launch dates, prices, and model availability in my carrier-by-carrier guide.)

Body and display

Samsung has made much of the fact that its Galaxy S III is "designed for humans" -- and what's more, it is "inspired by water, wind, leaves, and pebbles." (Please, someone gag me now.) Here's the truth: The "magical" marketing speak is great for commercials, but it has little to do with the real world. The Galaxy S III is just a phone.

That said, it's a very nice phone, and its quality is apparent the second you pick it up. The Galaxy S III is a sexy piece of hardware, all angles and curves; its back panel is so smooth and glossy that you can actually see your reflection in it.

The Galaxy S III's casing is made of plastic, like most Samsung phones. Though the back panel feels a bit flimsy when removed -- bend it too far and it might just snap -- the material feels durable when in place.

The Galaxy S III is 2.8 x 5.4 x 0.34 in., making it slightly longer and thinner than the HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy Nexus (U.S. versions). The phone weighs 4.7 oz. -- a hair more than the One X and 0.4 oz. less than the U.S. Galaxy Nexus.

The new Galaxy doesn't feel overly large in the hand, which is quite a feat when you consider its supersized 4.8-in. screen. Samsung has managed to include a large display while still achieving a sleek-feeling form; the phone is well-designed and quite comfortable to hold. The glossy back feels somewhat slick compared to the textured material on a phone like the Galaxy Nexus, but despite my initial concerns, I never felt the device slipping from my hands.

One thing I did feel was heat: Both the white AT&T model and the blue T-Mobile model occasionally became quite warm to the touch during use (and not even resource-intensive use -- just casual Web and social media browsing). The phones never got so hot that I couldn't physically hold them, but they got hot enough that I was acutely aware of the temperature, both on the back casings and on the glass displays.

Speaking of displays, the Galaxy S III packs a 1280 x 720 HD Super AMOLED screen. The screen looks good: Colors are bright and blacks are satisfyingly deep. Display aficionados may balk at the Pentile-based nature of the technology, which is generally considered to be less impressive than the LCD-based alternative seen on phones like the One X. While there's certainly merit to that argument, it's hard to call the Galaxy S III's display a weak point; even looking at the Galaxy S III and the One X side by side, the difference in display quality is difficult to detect. Unless you're finely tuned in to subtle display differences, you're going to be pleased.

A warning, though: The autobrightness feature on the phone isn't so great. The display frequently adjusted itself to a too-dim setting during my use, which proved to be mildly irritating. (You can, of course, set your brightness manually, but that sort of defeats the purpose of having an autobrightness tool.) Hopefully Samsung can correct this via a future firmware update.

The Galaxy S III has an LED notification light on its front that alerts you to missed calls and messages; if you want, you can use a third-party LED notification control app to make the light even more useful. The phone has a volume rocker on its left side, a headphone jack on the top, a power button on the right, and a charging port on the bottom. The charging port can be used to connect the phone to a TV or monitor via HDMI, though you'll need a special adapter to make it work. (Adapters from older Samsung phones won't do the trick.)

It's worth mentioning that unlike past-generation models, the Galaxy S III will be relatively constant from carrier to carrier. The back-of-phone branding and app additions (a.k.a. bloatware -- more on that in a bit) are the only real differences in the various networks' phones.

Samsung Galaxy S III carriers and pricing

Carrier Launch date Models available
AT&T June 21, 2012 16GB ($200)
Sprint June 21, 2012 16GB ($200), 32GB ($250)
T-Mobile June 21, 2012 16GB ($230** or $280***), 32GB ($280** or $330***)
U.S. Cellular Mid- to late-July 16GB ($200*), 32GB ($250*)
Verizon Wireless July 10, 2012 16GB ($200), 32GB ($250)

*After $100 mail-in rebate. **20 monthly payments of $20. ***After $50 mail-in rebate.

All prices require new two-year contracts.
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