Samsung Galaxy S3 First Review with Power Case
My new Samsung Galaxy S3 arrived a couple of days ago. Kogan added to the weirdness in their shipping that I documented in a previous post  by shipping the two phones on consecutive days with separate invoices for $789 each (as opposed to the $449 that I paid). This means that if customs were to track this down they could bust me for import duties (which apply whenever you order more than $1000 of electronics from another country) as multiple shipments in a small period of time are aggregated for tax purposes. It also means that it would be easy to defraud the tax office or an employer about the cost of the devices if I didn’t blog about it…
Phone and Case Review
To install the Samsung Galaxy S3 in the power case I bought from Kogan the back of the S3 has to be removed. One annoying implication of this is that when using the phone in it’s case I will either have to carry the back of the phone with me or have no option of removing the case during the day. The phone has to slide in to the case from a small angle and if it’s removed carelessly there seems to be a risk of breaking the power connector on the case.
The above photos show the kick-stand on the power case in use, I haven’t yet had an opportunity to use the stand for anything other than photography and as it’s made of thin plastic there’s a reasonable chance that it will break off before I ever use it properly.
One major deficiency of the power case is that it has no protection for the screen. The typical gel case will extend by about 2mm above the screen which means that you can place the phone screen-down on a table without a risk of scratching the screen. Also if a phone in a gel case is dropped on a hard surface it seems likely that the chance of the screen hitting a bump and cracking will be lower although I’m not aware of any research regarding how well this theory works in practice. This combined with the fact that the power case is smooth and difficult to grip makes it quite unsuitable for regular use. I am concerned that the added mass of the power case would increase the risk of serious phone damage if it’s dropped screen-down.
I plan to buy a gel case ASAP which I will use most of the time. I will swap the gel case for the power case on the occasions when I expect to spend an extended period of time away from home or an office where I can charge my phone. The power case really should have been designed with a flange that extends above the level of the screen on all sites. It also shouldn’t be smooth on the outside.
The Galaxy S3 equals the Galaxy S for the title of the most slippery phone I’ve ever owned. This combined with the fact that the Galaxy S3 is slightly thinner and also 10% wider and longer makes it a more difficult phone to hold. It’s a phone that really needs a case with a lot of grip.
The camera is reasonable given the fact that any device that is 8.6mm thick will have a very small focal length and also a very small CCD for receiving light. The laws of physics just don’t allow something the size of the Galaxy S3 to have a half-decent camera. My ideal mobile phone would be about the size of the Galaxy S3 with the power case, it would use the extra thickness for a big battery as well as a much longer focal length for the camera. I’d like a phone to be about 16mm thick over most of it’s area with a section that’s 20mm for the camera. The burst shot mode (which allows you to take 20 pictures rapidly) is good for capturing certain types of relatively slow movement (EG someone’s mouth moving when they talk). But it’s no good at all if you try to pan the camera while doing burst mode.
When I first started using the phone it gave me lots of hints about using various functions. This wasn’t particularly useful for me as most things are obvious to anyone who has much experience with computers and the non-obvious things are probably going to be forgotten if you are doing something else when the help system prompts you. It will be useful for my sister in law who’s getting the other phone, but the down-side of this is that I can’t configure her phone before delivering it. She needs to use it first to see all the tips.
The Galaxy S3 has a screen that’s 4.8″ diagonally which is slightly larger than the 4.0″ screens of my previous Android phones (Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 and Samsung Galaxy S). That gives 44% more screen area which is a good thing. Unfortunately many apps seem to display the same amount of data, I had hoped that 44% more area and 140% more pixels would result in most apps displaying more data by default. Fortunately ConnectBot (my SSH client of choice) gives me 60 rows and 120 columns on the Galaxy S3 as opposed to the mere 31 rows and 80 columns on the Xperia X10. I don’t use ConnectBot that often (a phone is a really bad ssh client no matter how you do it), but when I do it’s really important and the extra space matters.
The down-side of the larger screen for me is that the distance from the center of the palm of my hand to the end of my thumb is slightly less than 4.8″. This means that I can’t hold the Galaxy S3 with one corner in the palm of my hand and still reach the far corner of the screen. So I am forced to hold the sides of the phone for one-handed use which means that it would be easier for it to slip out of my hand. A further complication is that the settings and back buttons are very close to the edge of the phone and can be hit by accident very easily. Hopefully a gel case will alleviate that. But I have never owned a hand-held device which was so difficult to hold in a stock configuration.
According to AndroSensor (one of my favorite demo programs for showing useless things that a phone can do) the Galaxy S3 lacks support for measuring humidity and external temperature but it has all the other sensors. I think I can survive without knowing how hot and humid my pockets are, but it would still be nice to have every possible feature.
The default partitioning of the phone storage is to have all internal storage used for applications and none used for a VFAT filesystem accessible over USB. It’s nice that I won’t run out of application storage space (a problem I’ve had with every other Android device) but it does mean that I’ll have to buy a micro SD card before I can use the phone properly. Micro SD storage costs about $1.50 per gig in the size range from 8G to 32G, it’s not particularly expensive but it’s annoying to have the phone not be fully usable right from the start. Without using a SD card I have to use gphoto2 to download pictures from the phone so it’s fully usable in every way. But the cost of the power case, the gel case I’m about to buy, and an SD card make the phone less of a bargain.
The phone has more RAM, a faster CPU, and Android 4.1. These are all really good things, but nothing worth writing about in a review.
The power case is very poorly designed, I probably wouldn’t buy it if I knew then what I know now.
For one-handed phone use by someone like me with longer than average fingers a 4.0″ phone is about the largest possible. This doesn’t mean that phones should stay small, but it does mean that Apple weren’t being entirely silly when they released all the 3.5″ iPhones. Presumably a large portion of the population would find a 3.5″ phone to be as usable as a 4.0″ phone is for me. It now seems to me that as a 4.8″ screen is going to be impractical for one-hand use by almost everyone the phone designers should concentrate more on larger phones similar to the Samsung Galaxy Note. I think that the 4.8″ screen size may be ideal for some young children who could use it the way an adult might use a 7″ tablet – an Android phone seems to be a relatively common present for children in the 6-12 age range.
Generally I think that no-one should ever buy a new phone or tablet without trying one of the same size. While I am happy with the S3 it really doesn’t work in the way I expected.
Having 2.9* as many characters on screen for ConnectBot is a massive benefit. If I ever write another magazine article on a hand-held device the extra size and resolution will really help if I found a suitable editor (please make suggestions in the comments). For the WordPress client to write long blog posts on it then the screen could potentially be reasonably useful, but so far it seems that it’s more suited to reviewing posts and comments than to writing posts.
Generally the Samsung Galaxy S3 is a good phone and I think it’s great value for money when it’s less than $500.