Bored with your iPhone? Samsung thinks it has the device for you. The Korean company has been nipping at Apple’s heels with an aggressive marketing campaign that has helped make its Galaxy smartphone one of the most popular alternatives to the iPhone. The rivalry has reached new heights, as the two companies have recently engaged in a court battle, each accusing the other of ripping off one another’s designs.
But the Galaxy S III, Samsung’s latest and greatest smartphone, doesn’t look much like an iPhone clone. And the new handset, which hit stores in Taiwan last month, appears to be winning hearts. The company says 10 million units have been sold globally within the first two months of its release.
I spent a week using the S III, and it’s easy to see the appeal of Samsung’s new handset, even though its features are somewhat over-hyped.
The S III’s biggest selling point is size. It offers significantly more viewing space than the iPhone, with a loud and proud 4.8-inch touchscreen. And coupled with a crystal sharp resolution that’s practically as good as the iPhone’s “retina” screen, the S III feels like a breath of fresh air, especially if you like to read or watch videos on your smartphone. The picture quality is simply excellent.
Then there’s speed. The S III is zippity fast, thanks to top-notch hardware — a 1.4 GHZ quad core processor and 1 gigabyte of RAM — as well as solid software, the latest version of Google’s Android, nicknamed “Ice Cream Sandwich.” Apps open and run swiftly, making my iPhone 4 seem sluggish by comparison.
DESIGNED FOR HUMANS?
These traits make the S III one of the more attractive smartphones out there, and a tempting switch for some iPhone owners. But it’s far from perfect. I was constantly frustrated by the “back” button, which Samsung has placed at the lower right side of the phone. The back button, which isn’t actually a button but a touch-sensitive area below the screen, is way too easy to press by accident.
For me, this amounts to a glaring design flaw in the S III. I lost count of how many times I was suddenly flung out of whatever app I was using because my finger would unintentionally brush the back button while handling the phone. This was especially annoying when surfing the Web or using the camera, and I felt like half my time spent using the device consisted of constantly pressing the home button and swiping my way back to my original app. To this end, the S III does not live up to the first half of its slogan “Designed for humans, inspired by nature.”
When it comes to bells and whistles, the S III has plenty of software features that make a smartphone sound really smart. Don’t get swept away by Samsung’s promotional videos and advertising, though. Many of these functions are nice in theory, but not quite practical.
S-Voice, Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri, is one example. The voice-recognition function works well on certain tasks, such as setting the alarm clock or dictating text messages in English (the service is not available yet in Mandarin). But often, S-Voice was hit or miss. Whenever I asked it to call my contacts, it recognized some names but not others. I never knew what to expect when telling it to open apps: S-Voice responded quickly and correctly when I said “open Dropbox” but sputtered and did nothing when I commanded it to “Open Maps.” On the whole, the technology is still rough around the edges when it comes to S-Voice (as is the case with Siri). In reality, S-Voice was fun to play around with occasionally, but I didn’t use it very much.