/ #Android #Design 

Samsung Galaxy S3 Impressions and Review

I have one of these Galaxy S3 things now. The phone is a technological marvel and is honestly one of the greatest pieces of Android kit I’ve used and I’ve gone through:

  • Google G1
  • HTC Hero
  • HTC Desire
  • Motorola Atrix

…so I’ve run the gamut of Android handsets, and have sampled one from pretty much each generation and watched Android develop.
There are plenty of reviews on the internet that will go into technical details more than me but here are some important facts.

The Great

Did I mention it’s fast?
- 2100mAh battery. Enormous. Good. - 4.8″ AMOLED screen. Also good. - Gorgeous 720p screen. Blacks are black, colours are awesome. - Front feels like it’s coated with teflon. Don’t put on any sloping surface near rocks. It will* *slide off and break. - Quad core Samsung Exynos CPU. Everything flies. No lag whatsoever. - Lightweight – weighs less than its younger brother, the Galaxy Nexus (that flagship Android 4.0 handset) - Lots of internal storage and a microSD expansion slot! - Runs Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) - Camera is blindingly fast. Samsung did well staying with an 8MP camera which allows the CPU to process the image in fractions of a second. Shots happen when you press the button, not 2 seconds later.

The OK

  • Battery life, despite having a 2100mAh battery, is still at around a day or so. You’ll have to carry a charger with you.
  • Charges slowly off USB – if you want to inject serious juice, you’ll need an AC socket.
  • Compatible with third-party ‘iPhone’ hands-free kits. The volume controls don’t work, but the mic does, meaning you can take calls while the phone’s in your pocket.
  • Some nifty tweaks to the default behaviour like being able to lift the phone to your ear to call someone from an SMS page without needing to navigate menus to do so
  • “S Voice” – Samsung’s answer to Siri uses the same ‘beep’ noise and is OK, I guess. AIVC is infinitely better and has a sense of humour.
  • Samsung apps are about what you’d expect from manufacturer-bundled apps.

Now that we’ve dealt with the great points of the phone, it’s time to talk about the UI.

Yes, this thing.
Now, at first glance, this is pretty good – it’s clean, clear organised and generally in keeping with what people are used to from Samsung.

However, there are some glaring horrible *built-in *flaws. It’s these that I want to talk about because I’m seriously pissed off with Samsung for reinventing the wheel and making it square. I’ll quickly list them here in handy bullet format.

The ‘*what the fuck?*‘

Why are you cropping to 9:16?!
- Non-moveable drawer button. Why make the rest of the icons in the dock moveable but lock the drawer button? - 4×4 desktop grid and non-resizeable widgets. Samsung, we’re not 6 years old. We can and should be allowed to customise our desktops. All widgets support being resized and degrade gracefully if you make them too big or too small. So why are you insisting on locking your desktop down? - Custom wallpaper aspect ratio. When you go to set one of your images as the wallpaper for the lockscreen and homescreen, you’re presented with a 9:16 portrait crop box. This means that your wallpaper is the size of one screen. You can’t scroll any but the default wallpapers that aren’t subjected to cropping. Again, why? When you scroll one of your own wallpapers, especially in a third-party launcher (I’ll come to this later), the wallpaper scrolls off screen and you’re left with a black background. - Lack of app shortcut stacking into folders on-the-fly.

This bears explaining.

When Google released Android 4.0, the ability to pull icons from the drawer and drop them on the home screen got revamped. Now, not only were you able to drag and drop icons to your home screen, but if you dropped icons on top of one another, they will form a ‘stack’ or a folder. You could thus easily group your Google apps into one stack, your social apps into another, and your games into yet another, cutting down the amount of home screen clutter, while retaining the accessibility of shortcuts.

This feature is absent from TouchWiz. Samsung actually removed it and replaced it with the ability to create *folders. *To do this, you have to specifically create folders on your desktop before populating them. This wouldn’t be so bad if the icons didn’t look like sin and didn’t require you to name them or you’d be stuck with “Untitled Folder”.

Compare folders in TouchWiz (left) with vanilla ICS (right)
Alongside this we have the waste of space that’s brought on by the enforced 4×4 grid.

I honestly don’t understand Samsung’s UI choices here. In the days of Android 1.x and 2.x, this was a necessary evil as the stock Google UI wasn’t terribly well-developed and handset manufacturers usually out-did Google. See HTC’s SenseUI for a great example of good UI design in the Android 2.x days. These days, with Google really picking up the slack and putting some hardcore development hours into their user interfaces, there’s really no need to re-design anything, other than maybe tweak the colours and theme of the default UI a little. Certainly not to the point where you’re actually going backwards in terms of functionality.

In my next post I’ll detail how to get around all these limitations in the space of 20 minutes and make your Galaxy S3 really shine and unleash its true potential, because, despite all my grumblings, this phone is great!



Itinerant photographer, firespinner, poly feminist, he/him.