Face-Off: Which Carrier Has the Best Samsung Galaxy S III?
The Samsung Galaxy S III is the most talked about device this side of the iPhone, and for good reason. Its inventive sharing features. large 4.8-inch HD screen and powerful dual-core processor make it a force to be reckoned with. Add to that the power of Google’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and lots of useful interface tweaks and you’ve got a smartphone that can tangle with the best of them.
That fact isn’t lost on Samsung either. When it launched the phone, the company decided against allowing carriers to alter the device to their own liking and instead made sure that the Galaxy S III looked the same no matter what carrier it was on.
That just leaves on question: What carrier should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S III for?
Unlike the Galaxy S II, Samsung went out of its way to ensure that the Galaxy S III remained similar from both an aesthetic and performance standpoint across all carriers. As a result, each version of the Galaxy S III features a 1.5-Ghz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S5 processor and 2GB of RAM.
These components translate into relatively similar performance numbers across the board. It’s important to point out that benchmark scores are meant to provide users with a general idea of how well a system performs under different situations and vary each time you run them.
On the Benchmark CPU test, the Sprint version of the Galaxy S III scored a 4,239, while the T-Mobile version pulled down a score of 4,536. Meanwhile, AT&T and Verizon’s Galaxy S III’s scored 4,785 and 4,214, respectively. Each of these scores is far higher than the smartphone category average of 2,662.
When we ran the An3DBench graphics benchmark, T-Mobile’s Galaxy S III scored a 7,332, while the AT&T edition came in with a score of 7,272. The Sprint Galaxy S III offered a slightly lower score of 7,226. Verizon's S III was the worst performed, scoring 6,994. In fact, of the four Galaxy S III’s, the Verizon edition was the only one that didn’t crack the smartphone category average of 7,081 on the An3DBench test.
Despite their differing benchmark scores, each of the Galaxy S III’s offered outstanding performance in our real world testing. All four units performed well while playing Riptide GP, with only a hint of slow down visible during intense action. When we closed the app, each device was able to reorient itself from landscape to portrait mode and bring up the home screen in roughly one second.
Because of their identical internal components and our observations during real world testing, this round ends in a tie between all four Galaxy S III’s.
4G Coverage and Speed
One of the most important factors consumers consider when purchasing a new smartphone is how well each carriers' network performs. To determine which carriers' Galaxy S III offered the best performance, we loaded them with the Speedtest.net app and ran it at least 5 times in three locations around Manhattan. We then timed how long it took each device to load three websites, ESPN mobile, NYTimes.com mobile and our own Laptopmag.com.
Verizon Wireless: Verizon's 4G LTE network offers the broadest coverage by far, with availability in 337 markets. The Verizon S III managed an average of 11 Mbps downstream and 8.4 Mbps upstream while using the Speedtest.net app. Loading the ESPN mobile site took the phone an average of 4.4 seconds, while the NYtimes.com mobile site took 2.8 seconds. The image-heavy Laptopmag.com took 16.6 seconds to load.
AT&T: The AT&T version of the Galaxy S III recorded an average download speed of 9.9 Mbps and an average upload speed of 7.9 Mbps on Speedtest.net. That’s slower than the Verizon’s speeds. However, when it came to loading websites, AT&T came out ahead, loading ESPN and The New York Times’ mobile sites in 3.8 and 2.3 seconds, respectively, and Laptopmag.com in 9 seconds. AT&T currently offers 4G LTE coverage in 47 markets and counting, well behind Verizon but way ahead of Sprint.
T-Mobile: T-Mobile's HPSA+42 network is available in more than 150 markets, but the technology is behind 4G LTE, especially in terms of upload speeds. As a result, the T-Mobile S III offered predictably slower data speeds than both Verizon and AT&T’s networks. Downloads on Speedtest.net averaged 5.2 Mbps, while uploads came in at 0.85 Mbps. Loading websites generally took longer on T-Mobile’s network, as well. It took an average of 8.9 seconds to load ESPN’s mobile site, while The New York Times’ mobile site took 4.2 seconds. T-Mobile's Galaxy S III also took 29.3 seconds to load Laptopmag.com.
Sprint: Since Sprint is only just getting its 4G LTE network off the ground (15 cities and counting) the majority of Galaxy S III users will be stuck using Samsung’s superphone on an outdated 3G connection for a while. The mobile versions of ESPN and The New York Times' websites loaded in 47.9 and 17.4 seconds, respectively, while Laptopmag.com loaded in 2 minutes and 4 seconds. Speedtest.net wasn’t any kinder to Sprint’s 3G network, with download speeds averaging 0.25 Mbps and upload speeds sitting at 0.5 Mbps. Sprint can't flick the 4G LTE switch soon enough for the rest of the country.
|Carrier||Speedtest.net Download||Speedtest.net Upload||ESPN.com Mobile||NYTimes.com Mobile||Laptopmag.com|
|Verizon 4G LTE||11 Mbps||8.4 Mbps||4.4 seconds||2.8 seconds||16.6 seconds|
|AT&T 4G LTE||9.9 Mbps||7.9 Mbps||3.8 seconds||2.3 seconds||9 seconds|
|T-Mobile HSPA+42||5.2 Mbps||0.9 Mbps||8.9 seconds||4.2 seconds||29.3 seconds|
|Sprint 3G||0.3 Mbps||0.5 Mbps||47.9 seconds||17.4 seconds||124 seconds|
Winner: Verizon Wireless
Both Verizon and AT&T went tit-for-tat in this round, with Verizon beating AT&T’s Speedtest.net scores and AT&T loading web pages faster than Verizon. In the end, both networks left T-Mobile and Sprint in the dust, but Verizon wins this round because it offers 4G LTE speeds in a lot more places than AT&T.
When it comes to smartphones, battery life is key. You don't want to be reaching for an outlet by noon. We tested each of our Galaxy S III’s using our LAPTOP Battery test, which consists of continuously surfing the web over the phone’s data connection with the display brightness set to 40 percent. The average smartphone currently lasts 5 hours and 55 minutes. The good news is that each of our Galaxy S III’s easily topped that number, some by as much as two hours.
Out of our four units, it was the Sprint version that lasted the longest, a marathon 7 hours and 50 minutes. The Verizon unit came in at 6 hours and 55 minutes, while the T-Mobile version lasted 6 hours and 43 minutes. Bringing up the rear was the AT&T version, which ran for 6 hours and 28 minutes.
The Sprint version’s nearly 8-hour battery life, however, comes with a rather large caveat. Because our unit was connecting over 3G instead of 4G LTE, Sprint was able to beat out the competition by an hour or more. T-Mobile's HSPA+ network also tends to be more efficient than 4G LTE devices when it comes to power, which probably explains why the T-Mobile S III fared pretty well.
Taking data speeds and battery life into account, it’s the Verizon unit that takes this round. Sprint’s Galaxy S III may have lasted an hour longer, but its 3G connectivity is abysmal.
In order to gauge the voice quality of each Galaxy S III, we made calls to both landlines and mobile phones from multiple locations around our Manhattan office. Calls made using the Sprint version of the Galaxy S III sounded slightly distant and, at times, as if we were talking into a fan when calling both a landline and mobile phone. The AT&T model offered loud, but slightly grainy voice quality when calling a landline, which only worsened when we called a mobile phone.
Callers on T-Mobile’s network sounded a bit quiet, but clear when we called a landline. Calling a mobile phone, however, caused the quality to drop slightly. When we called a landline using Verizon’s Galaxy S III, we were pleased with its loud and clear voice quality. After calling a mobile phone, however, we noticed that the Verizon version of the S III became a bit muffled.
Verizon’s Galaxy S III provided hands-down the best voice quality of the four carriers.
Beyond the standard set of Samsung apps, such as Kies Air and AllShare Play, T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint each load their versions of the Galaxy S III with their own apps. T-Mobile users get Access T-Mobile, which brings you to your personal T-Mobile account web page; T-Mobile Hotspot and T-Mobile TV, which gives users access to live streaming and on-demand television channels from NBC, ABC, ESPN Fox News and many more.
AT&T’s app set includes AT&T Navigator, a GPS navigation app; AT&T Messages, which allows users to access their texts, calls and voicemail from one interface, and myAT&T, where you can check your bill and the Yellow Pages app.
Verizon's version of the Galaxy S III comes with Verizon’s own app store, Verizon Mobile Hotspot, My Verizon Mobile for checking your account information, V Cast Tones, VZ Navigator and Color, which allows you to shoot videos on your S III and “broadcast them live on Facebook." The app is very intriguing, but when replaying a video we shot, we noticed several artifacts.
Unfortunately, the Verizon version of the Galaxy S III doesn’t come preloaded with the Flipboard app, something that all of the other carriers included on their Galaxy S III’s. Of course, if you really want to get the app, you can simply download it through the Google Play store.
Sprint’s Galaxy S III comes with Sprint Hotspot and its Sprint Zone, which gives you access to Sprint-specific news, promotions, suggestions and general information about your device. Sprint may not offer many compelling proprietary apps, but it does offer one thing that no other carrier does: Google Wallet. That’s right, Sprint is the only carrier out of the four selling the Galaxy S III that also gives users access to Google Wallet via the S III’s NFC chip. That means you can use your phone to pay for goods at a host of retail locations with just a tap.
The fact that Sprint enables Google Wallet on the Galaxy S III means that it takes this round with ease.
Pricing & Value
Just because each carrier is selling the Galaxy S III, doesn’t mean each device has the same price. Verizon customers who purchase the Galaxy S III will pay $199 for the phone with a $30 per month 2GB data plan. Add to that $59.99 for 450 minutes of voice and unlimited texting, and you’ll pay $2,358 for the two years you connect your Galaxy S III to Verizon’s 4G LTE network.
AT&T customers purchasing the Galaxy S III will pay $199 for the phone with a two-year $30 3GB per month data plan (1GB more than Verizon at the same cost), $20 of for unlimited texting and $39.99 for 450 minutes of voice. Put that together and the AT&T version of the Galaxy S III will cost you $2,358 over 24 months, the same price you would pay on Verizon’s network. AT&T, however, gives you an additional gigabyte of data each month, as well as the option of an exclusion red Galaxy S III.
T-Mobile users have the option of purchasing the Galaxy S III with a 2GB "unlimited" data plan, unlimited voice and unlimited texting for $79.99. That data, however, is over T-Mobile’s 4G HSPA+42 network, which is slower than both Verizon and AT&T’s 4G LTE networks. The use of the term unlimited is also misleading as you’ll only actually get 2GB of 4G HSPA+42 data with the rest delivered at slower speeds.
T-Mobile also charges more for the Galaxy S III than any other carrier $279, versus $199 on Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. In total, you’ll pay $2,189 for 24 months of the Galaxy S III on T-mobile’s network. That’s more than $100 cheaper than AT&T and Verizon charge, but with a slower data connection.
Out of all of the carriers, Sprint offers the Galaxy S III for the least amount of coin. Customers pay $199 for the phone with a 2-year contract. That contract can cost you $79.99 for 2GB of unlimited data, as well as unlimited voice and text. In total, you’ll pay $2,095 over 24 months for the Galaxy S III on Sprint’s network.
There’s just one problem. Unless you live in one of the 15 markets covered by Sprint’s 4G LTE network, you'll be running on 3G until the company expands its 4G LTE offerings.
Although AT&T will charge you the same price as Verizon for the Galaxy S III with a two-year contract, AT&T offers 3GB of 4G LTE data to Verizon’s 2GB. T-Mobile's plans are less expensive, but you'll have to pay more up front for the device and have to live with a slower network. Sprint's unlimited data advantage won't be one until you can get 4G LTE in more places.
Taking three rounds for itself and tying in one, Verizon’s Galaxy S III is the clear choice for Samsung fans. Not only does it feature better voice quality and a long battery life, but it offers fast 4G LTE data in the most number of cities. AT&T is worth a look if you want more data each month for less money. The T-Mobile S III simply isn't as compelling as the other carrier options because it costs more up front and doesn't offer 4G LTE performance. Sprint's version will--along with unlimited data--but we'd suggest waiting until its network comes to your neck of the woods.
Overall Winner: Verizon Wireless
|Carrier||Performance||4G & Web Browsing||Battery Life||Voice Quality||Apps||Pricing & Value||Total|