Australia’s first Samsung Galaxy S3 review

In the hand

With a bigger size and a 4.8 inch panel, how the Samsung feels in the hand is obviously an important thing.

The good news is that the company has crafted a very nice device, with enough curves and contour to allow the handset to rest comfortably.

It’s not like Motorola’s RAZR handset, a mobile that gave us too harsh a square edge and really did feel like we needed the biggest hands ever to hold onto it comfortable. Nor is it the same massive device that Samsung’s Galaxy Note proved to be, offering a tablet like experience that could fit in your pocket.

Rather, the phone only feels marginally bigger than the Galaxy S2, and barely any heavier. In fact, Samsung has even managed to keep the thickness down, now only 0.1mm thicker at 8.6mm.

The gimmicks

More than just another mobile phone, Samsung has added a bunch of features designed to make the handset more than just a telecommunications tool.

One of these is S Voice, a feature that aims to let you speak directly to your phone and have it do things for you, as if the phone was your personal secretary. You can ask it things in your language like “What’s the weather like” or “Set an alarm for me at 7pm for Friday” and the phone will do it for you.

You’ve probably heard of Apple’s human interface “Siri,” and we’re pretty sure Samsung has, as S Voice is basically Samsung’s version of this feature.

For the most part, S Voice is able to comprehend much of what we asked of it, processing half of our questions and statements with ease. Many of the things we said did get muddled, and at times we just gave up and performed the web searches ourselves. We noticed that by default, S Voice is set to censor things, so if you plan on calling any friends names, you’ll just send them a word filled with a bunch of asterisks.

We also noticed that S Voice didn’t appear to have anywhere near as much personality as Siri, with Apple allowing you to ask more random geeky questions to its vocal counterpart than Samsung’s. A few questions we could get away with included “what is the Matrix”, “what is the meaning of life”, and “how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck would”.

Smart Stay is another of these features, one which may result in reduced battery life.

The basic premise of Smart Stay is that instead of having the screen switch off while you’re watching a video or reading a webpage, Smart Stay takes advantage of a face tracking camera and doesn’t switch off your screen, only dimming when it realises you’ve fallen asleep or aren’t there.

Our tests with Smart Stay showed that while it can work in this way, more often than not the screen wouldn’t turn off even when we’re not looking at it, staying on for minutes and draining the battery further. Smart Stay is certainly a cool concept, but could do with a good firmware upgrade or two to make it work better.

Smart Alert is another of these, and feels like something dragged back from older smartphones that shouldn’t have been removed from the first place. When someone leaves a message, a little colour LED will blink at the top of your handset to alert you, even when the screen is off. Also, the handset will vibrate slightly when you pick it up, in case you’ve switched the alert LED off.

There isn't as much personality as Apple's Siri, but you can ask S Voice some rather unorthodox questions.

And, have you ever started writing a message to someone, only to realise it would be easier if you called them instead? Direct Call is a feature that will let you raise your phone to your ear while typing that message, making the phone call the person you were writing to. Yes, it’s another gimmick, but one that will probably get much use from how convenient it is.

Strangely, many of these features are actually disabled from when you first setup your phone, forcing you to dig into the settings and find them yourself.

There are a few other bits that we haven’t spent as much time with, including S Baro’s use of the built-in barometre, S Beam’s use of transfering files over NFC (requires another Galaxy S3 or NFC-equipped Samsung handset), AllShare Play for sharing a screen with multiple devices, applying facial recognition to check out what friends are doing in photos with Social Tag, and a few others.