Samsung Galaxy S III Delivers a Top-Notch Android Handset

Thank heaven the new Samsung Galaxy S III line of smartphones about to be released by the major U.S. wireless carriers is, as its marketers proclaim, "designed for humans." What if Samsung aimed the devices at other species?

Samsung Galaxy S III
Source: Samsung
Samsung Galaxy S III

The highly anticipated successors to Samsung's popular smartphones are sleek, attractive and, though you can make a compelling case for the recent HTC One devices, the finest Android handsets I've come across.

Not that Samsung has achieved perfection. The S Voice feature that lets you tell the phone out loud what to do is a poor alternative to Siri on the iPhone 4S, which invites inevitable comparisons. S Voice was sometimes slow to respond and not always able to understand what I was asking. (Not that Siri is flawless.) It does let you set alarms and get a weather forecast and, like Siri, will tell a lame joke. You can also use your voice to wake up a locked phone. But I had mixed results.

Galaxy S III has a beautiful 4.8-inch mammoth high-definition display that's not quite the behemoth that is the 5.3-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy Note "phablet" phone tablet. Galaxy S III weighs 4.7 ounces, but doesn't feel heavy, and is a mere third of an inch thick.

The phone has a slippery plastic feel that may bother some but didn't bother me. While I generally appreciate the aesthetics, I did accidentally press the back button just below the screen.

With the customary contract, it will sell for about $200-$230 for versions with 16 gigabytes of storage, rising to about $250-$280 for 32 GB. Models are coming from AT&T, Sprint , T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular .

Samsung supplied two units for testing, a white model from Sprint and a "pebble blue" model from AT&T. The phones have a microSD slot for extra storage concealed under the back cover and near the removable battery. On the battery, I got through a full day of mixed usage.

The phones have zippy dual-core Qualcomm processors and run Android 4.0, known as Ice Cream Sandwich. You don't feel strained when a bunch of programs run at once. The units, however, did run a little hot. When Wi-Fi was out of reach, the 4G LTE network on the AT&T phone outperformed the poky 3G network on the Sprint.

Galaxy S III is an excellent camera phone. The rear 8-megapixel camera has an LED flash and can capture full 1080p HD video. The front camera can handle lower-quality HD. A "burst shot" option lets you capture up to 20 photos in a burst at around three photos per second. You can capture stills from the same screen while shooting video.

If the phone recognizes faces of people you have previously tagged — it worked with my mug — you can easily send photos directly to them .

Another feature, called Share Shot, lets you instantly share pictures with other Galaxy owners who have turned on a function called Wi-Fi Direct. You can transmit pix to up to five devices — up to a football field away, Samsung says — potentially handy for friends attending the same gathering. The feature worked in my tests, but I'm not sure how useful it will be in practice. Each person you are sharing images with must turn on Share Shot and turn on Wi-Fi Direct. And you're probably not going to want to share everything, so you'll have to remember to turn them off.

Yet another sharing feature is called S Beam. You place two Galaxy S III's back-to-back to transfer pictures, videos, documents and music files, even when you don't have a Wi-Fi or cellphone connection. The idea is that you can share whatever is on the screen — a movie, say, that you are watching on the video player. The process wasn't always seamless. S Beam works in conjunction with a similar Android Beam feature that is also on hand to allow you to share contacts, Web pages, YouTube videos, directions and apps by placing devices back-to-back.

Samsung is touting a Smart Stay feature that detects when your eyes are fixed on the screen to prevent it from dimming or locking. Another feature: If you're in the middle of a text conversation and decide to call, you can simply lift the phone to your ear to make the call.

Most human beings will like the Galaxy S III, as I did. After all, it's a phone designed for us.

The Bottom Line

Samsung Galaxy S III

$200 on up, from all major U.S. carriers

Pro: Attractive Ice Cream Sandwich phone has sleek design and large, lovely display. Excellent camera phone. Various sharing options.

Con: S Voice is imperfect.