At first blush, we were a little disappointed that Samsung didn't intend to push the design envelope with its new flagship. That's not to say we were repulsed: it just looks a lot like an amalgam of all the Galaxy phones we've seen in the last year. It flies closer to the Galaxy Nexus than the Galaxy S II, with a shape and contour all too similar to Google's first Android 4.0 handset. In the hand, the 4.8-inch screen is counter-balanced by the thin bezel, resulting in a shape that is still comfortable to hold. It feels very light, a mere 133g (4.7 ounces -- just a smidgen heavier than the HTC One X), and measures 8.6mm (0.34 inches) deep across its central waistline. (That's right, there's no more chin.)
A glossy plastic coats both the front face and flat battery cover, with a particularly attractive finish on the Pebble Blue option, making it our early favorite over the Marble White. A slightly different (but still glossy) plastic follows around the edge of the device. Thankfully, the absence of a metallic chassis does nothing to hurt the feeling of quality or solidity in the build.
The phone retains the physical home button, though it's now slimmer and generally less visually obvious. It's flanked by a pair of capacitive buttons that light up and disappear, and as expected there's the camera module, flash and loudspeaker at the back.
The 8-megapixel camera looks to be very similar to what we've seen on both the Galaxy S II and Galaxy Note -- which means it's a pretty capable shooter, although we're withholding judgment until we can test it out it in a mix of scenarios. Instead of shaking up the camera hardware, Samsung's pushed forward with the software interface -- something we've gone into more detail here. In brief, the new camera app supports dual still and video capture, adds face tagging for existing contacts and boasts improved face identification and tracking.
The screen is a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display. The bad news? The lack of a "Plus" in that name means it's PenTile, which means that pixelation is still visible despite the 306 ppi density, due to the sharing of sub-pixels. The good news is that the resolution is still really good, and should suffice for all but the most eagle-eyed -- although if you're still not sure you can check out our own microscopic comparisons right here. It's also nice to see that the panel is cocooned in Gorilla Glass 2, besting its relative's fortified face, and it also offered great viewing angles.
The Galaxy S III's beating heart is Samsung's new 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos processor, aided by a fresh GPU that is supposedly 65 percent faster than the companion Mali 400 graphics chip on the Galaxy S II. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to give GTA III a blast, nor run our typical benchmark apps, but in any case the model we played with was not final hardware. That said, we were able to grab a quick SunSpider browser performance score of just under 1,500ms, putting the phone below HTC's polycarb-clad wonder -- but lower is better, by the way. Whizzing around the native apps and web browser was as pleasant as we expected, pinch-to-zoom pinged into action, while multimedia playback was effortless, irrespective of the software additions that Samsung has thrown into the mix (more on those in a second).
The phone houses a removable 2,100mAh battery, with a wireless charging option already in the works. Next to the battery and space for a micro-SIM, you'll find an increasingly rare microSD slot, whose absence was one of the main criticisms leveled at the Google Nexus, not to mention the HTC One X. This expandability sits alongside 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, depending on which variant you buy. Other connection options here include Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi Direct, DLNA, an MHL-compatible micro-USB port and headphone socket, with NFC connected to the battery unit.
Samsung's pitch to us focused heavily on the software. Pure Android enthusiasts may wince at the sight of TouchWiz (overlaid on top of Android 4.0.4) and from the brief time we played with the device, Ice Cream Sandwich looks a lot like how it arrived on our updated Galaxy S II -- it's not close to a stock Android experience. Instead of messing with its UI, Samsung has concentrated on specific apps -- and plenty of new gesture functionality.
Five icons populate the base of the screen, including the app drawer, while the homescreen itself has a more typical four-icon-wide berth. "Inspired by nature, designed for humans" is the winsome philosophy behind the Galaxy S III. In terms of the nature thing, this basically means that the phone comes loaded with some splashy water graphics and sound effects as well as plenty of seasonal wallpapers (including some new smart wallpapers like a background news feed).
The built-in keyboard is perfectly functional; at this screen size there's simply a greater likelihood of hitting the letter you're after. The menus and icons are all drawn in Samsung's TouchWiz style, though there are some new additions, including lock screen app shortcuts. In fact, the lock screen is where Samsung's new "intelligent" smartphone starts showing its gesture antics -- part of its "designed for humans" mantra.