Was Samsung saving the best for last? Now that the Galaxy S III has been released on all the other major carriers, it's finally making its debut on Verizon Wireless. Verizon's version sports the same swift 1.5-GHz Snapdragon processor, a large 4.8-inch HD screen and a blazing 8-MP camera. You also get the same bevy of innovative features that will make your iPhone-toting friends jealous, such as sharing photos and videos with a tap and keeping the screen on with just your eyes. Is this where you should spend your $199?
Editor's note: Portions of this review were taken from our other reviews of the Galaxy S III.
Click to EnlargeTaking its cues from nature, the Galaxy S III has rounded corners and a pebble-hitting-water sound effect when you touch the screen, which lends a sense of tranquility when using this phone. Despite its large size (5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches), it doesn't feel too large in your hand like behemoths such as the Galaxy Note.
However, it's a slippery little devil; by contrast, we never worried about losing our grip on the Incredible's rubberized back. Impressively, Samsung squeezed a 4.8-inch display into a 4.7-ounce design. The Droid Incredible 4G LTE weighs the same, yet has a smaller 4-inch screen.
The Galaxy S III is also thinner than the Incredible (0.34 versus 0.46 inches), and just a hair thinner than the Droid RAZR Maxx (0.35 inches). We like that the S III's power button is on the right instead of up top, so we didn't have to awkwardly stretch our fingers to use this device.
Like AT&T, Verizon offers the S III in Pebble Blue and Marble White.
At the bottom of the screen, the Galaxy S III has a home button and two capacitive buttons on either side; Menu on the left and Back on the right. The home button feels solid, but we had some trouble adjusting to using one physical key and two capacitive keys. We'd much prefer a dedicated Recent Apps key to a Menu button. Instead, you have to press and hold the Home key to multitask.
Display and Audio
Click to EnlargeThe Super AMOLED display on the S III is a mixed bag. On the plus side, it offers full HD resolution (1280 x 720 pixels), which means you can see a lot of a Web page without scrolling and enjoy sharp-looking text. And, it delivered wide viewing angles and excellent contrast when viewing "The Avengers" trailer on YouTube.
However, the S III registered 213 lux using our light meter, which is than half the brightness of the HTC One X (525 lux). Though it has a lower resolution of 960 x 540, the Incredible's screen is also brighter (414 lux). The category average is 300 lux. We had some trouble reading the S III's display in direct sunlight.
The S III's back-mounted speaker boomed when we streamed Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." The sounded tinny, but it didn't distort.
Software and Interface
Samsung's updated TouchWiz interface rides on top of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on the Galaxy S III. Most of Samsung's additions are welcome, though you'll have to dig to activate or tweak many of the features.
In addition to sporting a fun pond theme on the lock screen that creates ripple effects with each touch, the S III provides four lock screen shortcuts you can swap out as you see fit. (It's under Settings/Security.) By default, the choices are Phone, Mail, S Note and Camera. You can also have a news ticker display along the bottom of the lock screen.
We like the S III's quick settings bar in the notification shade, which let us toggle everything from the Wi-Fi and Airplane mode to power-saving settings.
The Galaxy S III features seven home screens you can populate with widgets and shortcuts. The main screen houses a weather widget up top that's powered by AccuWeather.
The Pop Up Play feature is pretty neat. You can start watching a video and then continue watching it as you enter another app. It's like picture-in-picture on a phone.
For now, universal search (which lets you search apps, contacts, email, music and more) works on the Verizon S III. However, we suspect this feature to be removed as a result of a legal dispute between Samsung and Apple. The Sprint version of the S III was recently "updated" to kill this feature.
Click to EnlargeThe Galaxy S III has one of the better keyboards we've used. The keys have ample space between them to avoid typos, and we typed quickly while making few errors. Using the T9 Trace feature, you can also swipe between letters to make words. We entered full sentences in S Memo and in the Email app easily with one finger.
Motion settings and Smart Stay
Click to EnlargeYou can do a heck of a lot with this phone just by using multiple gestures. For instance, Direct Call enables users to call a contact by bringing the phone up to your ear while you're in the Messaging app.
Another motion feature enables you to scroll to the top of a long list (like your inbox) by tapping the top of the S III twice. Other neat tricks include the ability to silence sounds by flipping the phone over. The latter feature effectively muted an incoming call, but didn't work with a track we downloaded from Play Music.
Perhaps the coolest feature inside the S III is Smart Stay, which looks for eye contact to prevent the screen from dimming while you're reading content.
A Focus on Sharing
One of the biggest themes of the Galaxy S III is sharing, whether it's beaming photos or videos to nearby phones or sharing content with a nearby TV. Here's a quick overview of the features and how effective they are.
S Beam: Like Android Beam on steroids, S Beam leverages NFC technology (for the initial handshake) and then Wi-Fi Direct to transfer files between two phones. It took us just 29 seconds to beam a 30-second 1080p video from one Galaxy S III to another, a task that we wouldn't even attempt over the Web because of the 63 MB file size.
Buddy Photo Share: The Galaxy S III can remember faces in your photos to make it easier to share images and post them to Facebook. When you take a photo, you'll see a yellow box outline subjects' heads, which you can then match to contacts in your address book.
When you tap that person's name, you'll see four different options: Call, Message, Email and Social. Tapping the social icon launched the person's Facebook wall, but didn't ask us to post the photo.
Share Shot: Galaxy S III users can broadcast the images they've taken to other nearby Galaxy S III phones. Available as a shooting mode within the camera, this feature also uses Wi-Fi Direct, so you don't need to connect to a hotspot. (The phones create a network of their own.)
AllShare Play: Samsung has made streaming content to a TV and other connected home entertainment gear more intuitive over Wi-Fi. You'll see an icon show up in the top left corner of your playback window if you can share a piece of content with a device (in our case, a 50-inch Samsung TV). However, photos were slow to show up on the set, and the network choked on our 1080p video.
S Voice borrows liberally from Siri's interface design with a microphone button down below and dialog boxes on a black background for questions and answers. The S III has a long list of voice-activated talents, from texting and navigating to an address to scheduling appointments and alarms.
Click to EnlargeUsing S Voice was comically frustrating, as it repeatedly misinterpreted our commands to hilarious ends. "Open VZ Navigator" was interpreted as "Safereader" and "Launch Gmail" ended up as "lunch Gmail." When trying to send a message to our boss, his name came out as "Mark Spina," "Marks to an hour," and the closest, "Mark Spoon Hour."
We eventually got it to open Gmail and VZ Navigator, but our initial efforts left us less than confident in its reliability.
S Voice incorporates a few features the iPhone won't have until iOS 6 launches this fall. For instance, you can speak Twitter updates into the phone, after which you can post or cancel with a tap (but not edit).
Like most top-end Android phones with LTE speeds these days, the Galaxy S III uses a 1.5-GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, but offers 2GB of RAM. These components translated into impressive benchmark results.
On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, the S III notched 4,214, compared with 2,999 for the HTC Incredible and 2,619 for the Android average. On the multicore section of the Linpack test, the S III pulled ahead once more, scoring 161 to the Incredible's 138.
So what about graphics? The S III scored 6994 on An3DBench, which is on a par with the Android average (7,060) but a hair below the Incredible (7,111) and the Razr Maxx (7,387). The S III also beat the One X on Quadrant, which measures CPU, I/O and 3D graphics. The Samsung registered 4,713, versus 4,105 for the HTC. The Razr Maxx came in at 2,567.
In everyday use, the Galaxy S III was snappy in some respects, but laggy in others. Swiping through home screens was smooth, and most apps open instantly.
However, this phone was noticeably slower to return to the home menu from apps than the One X or iPhone 4S. We also noticed a slight delay when launching the Recent Apps menu.
The S III comes with 16GB of storage, but can accommodate up to a 64GB microSD Card.
4G Speeds and Coverage
Click to EnlargeAnd we thought the AT&T Galaxy S III was fast. Verizon's Galaxy S III averaged 23.2 Mbps downloads on Speedtest.net, a good 10 Mbps faster than the AT&T version. The HTC Incredible 4G LTE averaged 16 Mbps down, also on Verizon's network. Upload speeds, while a brisk 5.7 Mbps, were a bit behind the AT&T S III, which averaged 9.9 Mbps.
When surfing the Web, the S III downloaded the full New York Times desktop site in 8 seconds, ESPN.com in 9 seconds and Laptopmag.com in 12 seconds.
Click to EnlargeSamsung bundles a bunch of its own apps for the Galaxy S III, including AllShare Play, Kies Air (for transferring content between phone and PC) Music Hub, Music Player and Media Hub (for downloading movies and TV shows). The content selection was fairly current, including "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" and "Contraband." Titles are $3.99 to rent and $17.99 to buy, but aren't available in HD.
Other highlights include S Memo, S Suggest (app recommendation engine) and a Voice Recorder. Verizon apps include Mobile Hotspot, My Verizon Mobile and VZ Navigator.
The Color app lets you take videos and "broadcast" them live to Facebook. However, in replaying a video we shot of our office, we noticed numerous artifacts.
Unlike the AT&T S III, the gorgeous news reader app Flipboard is not on the Verizon S III. Still, you can download it, as well as hundreds of thousands of apps and games from the Google Play Store, such as the fun "Temple Run Brave Game."
The Verizon S III also has the Verizon Apps store. While the apps contained within aren't any different than you'd find in Google Play, Verizon does a nice job of categorizing them by function, even including an "Aplicaciones" category of Spanish-language apps.
Camera and Camcorder
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Click to EnlargeThe 8-MP camera in the S III is seriously fast, letting us capture up to three photos per second. If you engage Best Shot mode, the phone will take eight shots and let you pick the best one. So how good are the photos? Outdoor shots generally looked sharp and well-saturated. A photo of a red flower popped against a green backdrop.
However, some of the S III's images turned out soft with a slight haze, especially when compared with the iPhone 4S. Engaging HDR mode helps, really bringing out the clouds in one shot, but Apple's device did better in auto mode. Indoors, the S III's images looked somewhat fuzzy in low light. The flash was powerful enough to compensate in those situations.
Voice Quality and Battery Life
The S III delivered accurate, if slightly digitized, sound when making calls to a landline. We didn't hear any fuzziness on the line, although we wish the receiver volume were a bit louder. If you get an incoming call and don't have time to take it, you can quickly respond via text using one of several canned messages or create your own.
The 2100 mAh battery inside the Galaxy S III should get you through most of the day. On the LAPTOP Battery test, which involves continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE on 40 percent brightness, the device lasted 6 hours and 55 minutes, nearly half an hour better than the AT&T version, and an hour better than the category average. The Droid RAZR Maxx is still the champ in this category with 8:25.
Samsung TecTiles and Accessories
The S III's most ingenious accessory is a sticker. Samsung's NFC-powered TecTiles tags ($15 for a five-pack) let you toggle all sorts of settings or perform certain actions with just a tap. When you download the free TecTile app, it's a cinch to program what you want the device to do once it comes close to the sticker, whether it's engaging silent mode or setting your alarm.
Other accessories include a desktop dock (with speaker line out and microUSB; no HDMI), HDTV adapter and multiple case options.
Click to EnlargeNow that we've tested the Galaxy S III on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, which is the best? All have the same huge display, slim design, and cool features such as S Beam, Share Shot, and Motion controls, not to mention a fast and accurate 8-MP camera. In the end, Verizon's Galaxy S III wins out, as it offers the widest coverage 4G LTE coverage, not to mention the longest battery life. But regardless of the network, the Galaxy S III is a real winner.