First Impressions of the Samsung Galaxy S III

We had a chance to sit down this morning with the brand new Samsung Galaxy S III, and it is really, really nice. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos or video, but you’ll have to take our word for it. The device takes some design cues from the Galaxy Nexus, in that it has a contoured, slightly concave arc from top to bottom, but it’s a huge departure from the Galaxy S II.

It’s big — 4.8-inches diagonally — but a light 133g, which is guaranteed by the still-plastic build that Samsung has made infamous, for better or worse. The screen is gorgeous, but has been confirmed to be Pentile, so it will not have a full RGB palette. The corners of the Galaxy S3 are more rounded than its predecessors, and it is unbelievably thin at 8.6mm, more so than the Galaxy Nexus.

Its 8MP camera can do 3.3fps burst photography, a nice touch that is aided by the quick Exynos 4 Quad processor. TouchWIZ looks largely the same as it did on Gingerbread, but there have been some awesome functionality improvements to the overall operating system. Samsung has taken Android 4.0.4 and made it special. The SGS III supports eye tracking using the 1.9MP front-facing camera, so it knows not to dim the screen when you are reading a page of text; it will also automatically lock the orientation of the device when you lie down.

The “natural interaction” paradigm continues with the lock screen. Swipe your finger across it when the phone is face up and it will do nothing; bring it up to your face as you hold down on the screen and it unlocks. It’s a brilliant and elegant way to communicate. Add to that the ability to use a video “picture-in-picture” while you multitasking across other apps. It uses something called S Voice to quickly dial your contacts by voice alone. You can ask the phone what the weather is outside, what your schedule is for the day. But you can also launch applications like the camera or browser, taking steps beyond Apple’s Siri on the iPhone 4S. This is the killer feature of the Galaxy S III.

S Beam integrates native NFC-based Android Beam from Ice Cream Sandwich and utilizes the long-underused WiFi Direct feature from previous Samsung devices. It allows for instant contact, music, and even video, sharing between Galaxy S3 users. The integration Social Tagging feature looks at the faces of your friends in various photos and matches them with social media profiles, such as on Facebook.

The device comes with a 2100mAh battery, which should be enough for even the hardest-working power users. It’s 133g, which makes it around the same weight as the HTC One X despite being slightly larger.

In terms of hardware, however, Samsung is downplaying the specs of the Galaxy S III because, on paper, they are an evolutionary improvement over its predecessor. Instead, we’ve reached a unification in the road of hardware and software; Android 4.0 with excellent Samsung hardware. The speeds are here, the feeds are here, and now the differentiation from other Android smartphones is here too.

Galaxy S III should hit Canada in the “summer” which is likely mid to late June. The international variant is coming at the end of May, and we’re sure there will be plenty of folks jumping at the chance to import the device. With Samsung fleshing out both its software features and accessory line, the Galaxy S III is more than a product: it’s the start of an entirely new ecosystem.