Samsung Galaxy S III initial benchmarks and hands-on impressions (Video)

We just got our hands on the marble white version of the Samsung Galaxy S III. As you know, all models, regardless of carrier or network speed, look identical to one another; the difference is on the inside. Samsung has managed to convince its carrier partners that a unified look across the industry is best for business, and the result will likely be faster updates and a more identifiable product.

But the business of being the King of Android is not within its complications, as we’ve already learned. The North American version of the device will eschew a quad-core Exynos processor for a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 SoC, doubling the amount of RAM for good measure. This to ensure that it will be LTE-compatible.

In all, the Galaxy S III is a staggering improvement over its predecessor. While we’ll save the full review for closer to the June 20th release, let’s take a brief look at the hugely anticipated device from Samsung.

You notice immediately upon turning on the screen and swiping through the seven homescreens that, despite its obvious TouchWIZ-based lineage, the Galaxy S III is a different beast. It’s smooth in a way no other Android handset has been able to achieve; remember the Galaxy S II LTE was notably faster than the HTC Raider/Amaze despite utilizing the same processor. We find the same thing here: Nature UX is demonstrably smoother than Sense 4.0, and while HTC may have the advantage in aesthetics, the more I use the Galaxy S III the better it looks. It also feels smaller than its 4.8-inch display/137mm height would suggest.

The rounded edges and HyperGlaze polycarbonate backing really do improve the device’s usability; it’s no just longer about what the phone can do but how it feels in your hand while doing it. All that marketing jargon about being “designed for humans” and being “inspired by nature” is not just hype: it feels exactly like the perfect rounded stone, the one that ends up skipping multiple times down the river. It may not look futuristic in the way many Galaxy S II fans were hoping — and don’t get me wrong, some people are going to prefer the old i9100 design — but Samsung has done no one a disservice by creating a large device that in no way appears so.

The 1280 x 720 HD Super AMOLED display is definitely better than the Galaxy Nexus’ despite the PenTile matrix. Colours appear more accurate, and whites more luminous. The auto-brightness setting still suffers from awkward transitions — the screen will notably dim and immediate brighten again with no change in external lighting — but you need not worry about being able to see the screen in direct sunlight.

It’s also sharp as a tack, and I was barely able to perceive the PenTile array. It’s true the screen lacks sheer smoothness of the One X, but deep blacks and fantastic viewing angles more than make up for it. When the device is released, I’d suggest going to a retail store to compare the two devices side-by-side.

In terms of objective performance, the Galaxy S III and One X seem pretty comparable, but as I said earlier there is a perceptible improvement to Android’s smoothness on Samsung’s handset. Looking at early benchmarks it’s clear that the SGS3 is heavily optimized for performance.

It is, however, notable that the Adreno 225 GPU inside the Snapdragon S4 SoC trails that of the Mali-400 powering the international Galaxy S III’s Mali-400. While CPU-based performance is off the charts, and certainly single-threaded performance is vastly improved over the Cortex-A9 of the quad-core Exynos 4212, there is a clear tradeoff in terms of gaming performance. We’ll do more comparisons in time, but it appears that Samsung made the right choice in bringing LTE to Canada instead of quad-core.

What we can’t tell off the bat is how much of an improvement to performance the extra gigabyte of RAM will be. Samsung assures us that the extra memory will not affect battery life; whether it will improve app performance, load times and overall multitasking is something I’ll be looking at closely.

Android 4.0.4 with TouchWIZ Nature UX incorporates numerous software tweaks and gestures that make working with Android a little bit easier. My favourite so far is being able to swipe your palm over the screen to take a screenshot.

S Voice, and a number of S-named features, come off at first as a bit gimmicky, but some are more useful than others. Smart Stay, the ability to continuously read a screen without worrying about the backlight dimming, is actually quite handy; so too is watching a video clip picture-in-picture style using the detachable video app.

I’m also thrilled that Samsung kept the physical home button on the Galaxy S III, though its short-and-wide design makes it a bit more difficult to consistently activate. On the flip side, the lack of a dedicated camera shutter button is disappointing, but the interface has received a nice overhaul and shutter performance has been dramatically improved. A subjective look at some photos from the 8MP sensor is encouraging, and we’ll be doing a comprehensive camera comparison between the iPhone 4S, HTC One X, Sony Xperia S and Galaxy S III.

Based on information gleaned from extended usage of the HTC One X, the 2100mAh battery inside the Galaxy S III should last a long, long time, likely more than the quad-core Exynos version. The Snapdragon S4 SoC is a very efficient chip and based on early tests of the international version, Samsung has done a great job optimizing Android 4.0.4 for extended usage.

So that’s it for now. We’ll be working on a full review in the coming days, and will also test the AWS version announced for WIND and Mobilicity. So far we love the rounded design, the hidden LED notification light, the size and weight combination, the performance and the screen.

Is it the best Android phone on the market? It could be, but the HTC One X (and the One S, in fact) make for some pretty fierce competition. What we’ve seen so far points us to believe that Samsung is not resting on its laurels, and intends to waste no time selling millions of handsets this year.

Mainly, it is the culmination of three long years of honing smartphone design into a fine art. To that end, Samsung should feel very proud of itself.