Samsung Galaxy S III: The complete FAQ

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Samsung Galaxy S III FAQ

After months of hype and rumors, Samsung's Galaxy S III smartphone is finally in front of us.

Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S III at a media event in London Thursday afternoon. The phone is set to launch on May 29th in Europe and throughout the U.S. and other countries later this summer.

So what's the new Galaxy all about, and when can you get your hands on it? Here are answers to all of your burning questions.

What does Samsung's Galaxy S III look like?

A fine first question, indeed. According to Samsung, the Galaxy S III is "inspired by water, wind, leaves, and pebbles." It's also "designed for humans" to "mimic the warmth and beauty of nature." Er...right.

Marketing mumbo-jumbo aside, the Galaxy S III is a 5.4 x 2.8 inch phone with a hefty 4.8-inch display. It may be large, but it's thin, measuring in at just 0.34 inches in depth; it also has a thin bezel that helps keep the device from feeling too bulky. It's light, too, weighing 4.7 ounces. The HTC One X, for comparison, weighs 4.6 ounces, while the U.S. version of the Galaxy Nexus and the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx both weigh 5.1 ounces.

The Galaxy S III features a contoured design that's reminiscent of the Galaxy Nexus. Like the Nexus, it also has plastic casing -- no HTC One-esque metal material here -- but this device features a new finish, available in either "Pebble Blue" or "Marble White" design.

Samsung Galaxy S III FAQ

How 'bout the hardware -- what's under this sucker's hood?

Samsung is staying curiously quiet about the specifics of the Galaxy S III's processor, but the general consensus is that the phone uses a new 1.4GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos chip. That aside, it packs 1GB of RAM and has an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with zero shutter lag and flash along with a 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera with HD recording capabilities. It has a 2100 mAh battery and boasts support for NFC and Bluetooth 4.0.

And the screen? What kind of display tech are we talking about here?

The Galaxy S III has a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display with 1280 x 720 resolution. That's pretty darn similar to what we have on the Galaxy Nexus, which rocks a 4.65-inch HD Super AMOLED display with 1280 x 720 resolution.

So...Super AMOLED, eh? Does that mean the new Galaxy has a Pentile display?

Most likely; that's what the lack of a "Plus" in the display type name tends to indicate. Like with the Galaxy Nexus, though, the resolution is high enough that the quality should still be quite good by most standards. If you're a display aficionado and are concerned, you might check out this analysis to see how the phone's pixels look up close and personal.

What's the story on Galaxy S III storage?

The Galaxy S III will be available with either 16GB or 32GB of internal space at launch. Samsung says a 64GB option will also be available at some point.

What about external storage?

Demanding, aren't we? I kid, I kid. Rest assured: The Galaxy S III has a microSD card slot that supports up to 64GB of external storage. That's an interesting change from the current trend, which has veered away from external storage in an attempt to shave off millimeters from device profiles.

Does the Galaxy S III have any cloud storage included?

Yesirree Bob: Samsung is bundling in a two-year 50GB Dropbox subscription with all Galaxy S III purchases. If you want to keep the subscription beyond those two years, of course, you'll have to pay 10 bucks a month or $100 a year; otherwise, you'd be defaulted back down to Dropbox's free 2GB level.

Is the Galaxy S III's battery removable?

It is! Unlike many recent high-end Android phones, the Galaxy S III has a user-removable battery, so you can easily swap it out if you wish.

Does the Galaxy S III run Ice Cream Sandwich?

Samsung Galaxy S III TouchWiz

Sure does -- though not in any stock, Google experience sort of way. Samsung's Galaxy S III ships with a heavily customized version of Android 4.0 that is unmistakably a TouchWiz-flavored version of Ice Cream Sandwich.

In addition to its familiar interface modifications -- which, depending on your perspective, are either gorgeous or godawful -- Samsung has added several interesting new features into the Android platform with its Galaxy S III phone. The highlights:

  • "Smart stay," a feature that uses the phone's front-facing camera to detect what you're doing and respond accordingly. For example, the phone's display won't shut off while you're actively looking at it.
  • "S Voice," a souped-up voice recognition and command system. This actually sounds pretty cool: You can turn your phone on by simply saying "Hi, Galaxy" (or any other phrase you program in), and you can use natural language to conduct searches and perform various device functions -- anything from adjusting the volume to launching the camera app and snapping a photo. You can even say "snooze" to shut up the device's morning alarm (I can think of a few other good phrases for that function).
  • "Direct call," a feature that comes into play when you're texting someone and then move your phone to your face. In that scenario, the Galaxy S III will automatically dial the person you were texting -- no additional action required.
  • "Smart alert," a feature that kicks in when your phone is first picked up after a period of inactivity. It vibrates to alert you of any missed calls or messages.
  • "Pop up play," a feature that lets you play video picture-in-picture style, in a movable box that stays on top of other applications.
  • "S Beam," a modified version of Google's ICS-level Android Beam function that allows for faster NFC-based phone-to-phone wireless transfers of data (assuming both people have Galaxy S III phones, of course).
  • "AllShare Cast," a function that allows you to wirelessly broadcast content from your phone's screen onto a compatible TV.
  • "Burst shot," a camera feature that captures 20 superfast back-to-back photos and then automatically selects (what it thinks is) the best image of them all.
  • Flipboard for Android. Yep, the popular digital magazine app from iOS is coming to Android, but only on the Galaxy S III for now. Flipboard says it'll have the app available on other "select" phones in "the coming months," but it sure sounds like it's inked some type of temporary exclusive deal with Sammy to start.

As you'd expect, Samsung has also tacked on a bunch of stuff that's basically bloatware -- various "hubs" for buying content and that sort of crap. Hey, let's face it: For all their good qualities, Samsung's Galaxy devices aren't exactly known for being bloat-free.

How does the Galaxy S III handle the basic Android buttons?

While Google is moving toward a button-free approach with Ice Cream Sandwich -- in which phones have no physical navigation buttons and those functions appear on the screen instead -- Samsung is sticking with a hardware-based button setup with its Galaxy S III device. The phone has three buttons: a physical home button in the center and capacitive menu and back buttons on either side.

The home button functions as the multitasking tool, as it has in pre-ICS releases; you long-press it to bring up the system app-switching menu. That's a contrast to Google's vision for ICS, in which commands are less hidden and a dedicated multitasking button performs that same function.

The inclusion of a menu button strikes me as particularly strange, as the menu function itself is a legacy command Google is working to phase out of Android applications. In apps that have been updated to Android 4.0 design standards, commands all appear on-screen -- even those for overflow menus -- which makes the presence of a physical menu button seem like an odd and ultimately redundant choice.

Blah, blah, blah. When does this thing actually go on sale?

Samsung says its Galaxy S III will launch on May 29 in Europe and will expand to other countries sometime in the summer. The phone will eventually reach 145 countries and 296 carriers. That's about as specific as the company will get at the moment.

Some reports, however -- namely one by CNET -- suggest that the LTE U.S. version of the Galaxy S III won't launch until this December. Samsung has not explicitly confirmed that information, saying only that it is "planning a U.S. version" that's "optimized for the fastest LTE and HSPA+ networks in the U.S." and "will be available in the summer of 2012."

The company also added in a vague disclaimer: "Exact timing and retail channel availability is not being announced at this time."

And to answer your next question: Pricing hasn't been announced yet, either.

Will different carriers get different versions of the phone like they have with past Galaxy S devices?

Samsung hasn't commented directly on the possibility other than to say that the phone's specifications "may differ on the LTE version." The company certainly seems to be pushing the idea of a specific and singular thought-out design for this device, though.

That said, last year Samsung held one press event to announce the Galaxy S II and then months later held another event at which it revealed the various U.S. carrier variations. So only time will tell what's really in store.

When future Android versions come out, will Samsung actually update this phone in a timely fashion?

I wouldn't place any bets on it. Samsung has traditionally been pretty bad about Android upgrades (see my Android 4.0 report card from this year or my Android upgrade analysis from last year for some perspective). While no one can predict the future, the company's track record thus far doesn't inspire confidence, to say the very least.

Speaking of which, how's that Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade treating you these days, Galaxy S II and Galaxy Note users? Oh, that's right...

Do you have a somewhat cheesy official marketing video that shows some of the Galaxy S III's features in action?

Goodness -- I thought you'd never ask. Behold:

What about Galaxy S III accessories? Anything interesting?

Samsung's got quite a few things planned for this phone. The company talked about a wireless charger for the phone as well as a flip-cover for the screen, a desktop dock, car dock, battery charging stand, HDMI adaptor, and "S Pebble" music-playing companion.

Is the Galaxy S III better than [insert other phone name here]?

Android Power Twitter

I've said it before and I'll say it again: It all comes down to what you want in your device. There's nothing about the Galaxy S III that makes other recent high-end devices look inherently worse or outdated in comparison. It has a lot of compelling qualities, as do devices like the Galaxy Nexus, HTC One X and S, and Droid Razr Maxx. Android is all about choice and diversity; within the realm of current high-end devices, there really is no single "right" choice for everyone.

But those other phones aren't designed for humans with the inspiration of water, wind, leaves, and pebbles.

Touché, my friend. Touché.

Are you designed for humans with the inspiration of water, wind, leaves, and pebbles?

All right -- I think we're done here.    

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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