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The eagerly awaited Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone launched today at the Samsung Mobile Unpacked event held in London, England.

Top of the list of improvements is a larger 4.8 inch AMOLED display, which is 22 percent bigger than the previous Galaxy S II’s screen, while the phone’s overall size has increased by 16 only percent. The display is HD capable (720p), with a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels (306ppi) and a 16:9 aspect ratio.

The new Galaxy features more screen and less border.

Internally, the Galaxy S III has a powerful new quad-core 1.4GHz Exynos processor, and comes in models with up to 64GB of storage, plus the option to expand to an additional 64GB via microSD memory card.

There are also different Galaxy S III models to suit the capabilities of cellular networks available in different regions. The US, Japan and Korea, for example, will get an LTE, or ‘4G’ capable device. Other regions will get HSPA+ compatible devices. At this early stage it has not been confirmed which device will be coming to Australia; whether the LTE (4G) version will work on Australian 4G networks, or even what frequency the internal LTE radio uses.

Despite its many features, the Galaxy S III weighs just 133 grams and is 8.6mm thick.

We do know, however, that The Galaxy S III is packed with many other hardware elements including an accelerometer, digital compass, proximity detector, LED light, gyroscope, barometer and a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip.

There are two case colour options, including marble white and ‘pebble’ blue, along with a variety of different nature-themed wallpaper skins. While the phone has been stylishly designed (“for humans and inspired by nature”, according to the PR), with curved surfaces and a sturdy Gorilla Glass screen, there have been some negative comments surfacing on the Internet about the unit’s overly plastic feel.

Available in any colour you want, as long as it's pebble blue or marble white.

Photos and video

Two cameras are included. The front-facing 1.9 megapixel version is used for teleconferencing, facial recognition and other software features. The rear-facing camera still has an 8 megapixel sensor like its predecessor, but the optics and image processing capabilities have been improved to enable impressive new functionality, such as a 20-shot burst mode. This can capture six photos per second and pick the best photos from the bunch.

The lag between pressing the shutter button and the image being captured has also been drastically reduced, and the phone can detect multiple faces within group photos, enabling you to tap a face to zoom in and take a shot of just that person. There’s also 1080p video recording at up to 30 frames per second and, similar to the HTC One X, you can now take a still photo at the same time as capturing video.

The Galaxy's camera can detect individual faces in a crowd and zoom into the one you tap.

Software features

The Galaxy S III sports the latest version of Android’s 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)  operating system and has added some new TouchWiz features.  These include:

Smart Stay – this uses the phone’s front-facing camera to track your eyes and detect when you’re looking at the display. The idea is that the screen will dim when you’re not looking at it, and get brighter when you are. You can set an interval for the phone to stay on as well. Overall, this feature should help improve battery life.

S Voice – similar to the ‘Siri’ personal assistant found on Apple’s iPhone 4S, this natural language voice recognition system can identify your voice from others, and be used to control your phone for playing music, setting alarms and changing settings, as well as sending texts and email and messages.

Direct Call – when you want to contact someone and have their contact information open on your screen, you can simply hold the phone to your ear and the Galaxy S III will automatically dial the number for you.

You can share your screen with Samsung TVs and tablets using AllShare Cast.

Smart Alert – when you miss a call, the Galaxy S III will wait until you pick up your phone to remind you rather than beeping and buzzing when you’re not near your handset. Once you pick it up, the phone will notify you via vibration or LED lights.

S Beam – using the built-in NFC chip, the Galaxy S III can automatically set up an ad hoc WiFi network for sharing files between other compatible Samsung devices. Expanding on Android Beam technology, the Galaxy S III can transfer 1GB movie files in about 3 minutes, or a 10MB music file in 2 seconds, according to Samsung’s tests. There is also a ‘buddy photo share’ function that can simultaneously share photos to other Galaxy S III phone users from your photo library.

AllShare Cast – this enables file sharing with Samsung TVs, tablets and other devices that are AllShare compatible. This allows you to share your screen for collaborating with friends, as well as playing your content to (and from) different devices via WiFi.

PopUp Play – this is similar to the ‘picture in picture’ feature found on televisions where you can watch one channel in a small window while viewing another. Only in this case, the movie or video you’re watching can be displayed in a small window while you’re web surfing, checking your email, or other functions. You can also move the small video window around the screen in case it gets in the way.

Sharing is also easy between Galaxy S III phones - just tap and beam.

When do we get it?

Just a few hours after the Galaxy S III was announced in the UK, Samsung Australia issued this oddly confusing statement: “Samsung Electronics Australia is pleased there is continued interest about our Galaxy range in Australia, but we have no plans to make any announcements at this time”.

The Galaxy S III will be sold in other regions as early as the end of May and it’s difficult to imagine that it won’t be sold in Australia soon – it’s just not clear when this will be. We will keep you updated as news becomes available.

On paper, the feature-packed Galaxy S III looks to be strong competition for the iPhone 4S, not to mention the other Android-based smartphones available today. Is it an iPhone ‘killer’? On features alone it is – perhaps – for now, but Apple may quickly trump it with the iPhone 5, likely due around October. Also, while Samsung and Android offer similar options, Apple’s ecosystem of apps, iCloud and iTunes is still some way in the lead.

Up against the excellent SII, this new Galaxy, however, is considerably more capable and polished, and would be a welcome step up for anyone looking to upgrade. Watch this space for our in-depth comparison, coming soon.