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Galaxy S III a sleek and powerful smartphone

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Samsung Galaxy S III is taking on Apple's iPhone in the premium smartphone market.
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney) [Order this photo]
Although I get good feedback on this column in the community, I'm under no illusions about my status in the world of tech columnists. So it was a delight and a surprise when the PR firm for Verizon Wireless contacted me with the opportunity to try out one of the top smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S III, for two weeks.

The GS III has positioned itself as an iPhone competitor. Its TV ads feature somewhat geeky people in line waiting to buy the latest iPhone, while cool people walk by demonstrating the GS III's capabilities.

I have to say, the GS III is a lovely piece of technology, and I'm going to be very sad to put it back in the box and ship it back to Verizon. Whether or not it beats the iPhone 5 may depend on your own personal preferences, but it definitely beats my current smartphone.

Until the past year or so, the mark of excellence for mobile phones was that they were getting smaller and smaller. But with the era of smartphones, mobile apps and mobile web browsing, it became an advantage to have a slightly-bigger screen. The GS III has a 4.8-inch Super Amoled HD screen that pops with color and contrast, and it's protected by Gorilla Glass 2.0.

The phone runs Android 4.0, nicknamed "Ice Cream Sandwich." It's a great operating system (although I still have to say I'm sold on Windows Phone, even though it's a distant third in the mobile OS wars). I downloaded apps from the Google Play store with no problem, and everything worked without a hitch. Naturally, all of the apps I downloaded were serious and productive in nature, and none of them involved birds with anger management problems.

Yeah, you go right ahead and think that.

The phone has an 8-megapixel camera with an LED flash, and I got decent shots from it. The camera has quick response in single-shot mode, without the delays you find in some mobile phone cameras, and it also has a "burst" mode which will automatically take eight versions of a given shot and let you easily sift through them to pick the best one. That's a smart way to compensate for some of the problems inherent in mobile device optics. The phone won't replace your high-end digital camera, but it's fine for snapshots, especially since you'd always have it with you and easily accessible.

This photo was taken in Lynchburg with the Galaxy S III's 8-megapixel camera.
(T-G photo by John I. Carney) [Order this photo]
The Kies software, once you set it up, provides an elegant way to manage your phone and transfer files to and from your phone from other devices on your home or office wi-fi network. My web designer brother who lives in North Carolina has a GS III, it turns out, and he specifically noted how handy he finds the Kies app.

ViewDini is an app which serves as a hub for video content from a variety of services, some of which you may already be subscribed to, some of which you may need to pay for. It's attractive and well-organized. Video looks crisp and clear on the Amoled screen.

The S Voice app is Samsung's answer to Siri, and while it may not be quite as stylish, it works very well. You can say "Play Angry Birds" (that is, um, if you happen to have Angry Birds installed). You can say "Make an appointment with Fred for 2:45 p.m." and it will bring up the two people named "Fred" in your address book to ask you with which one you want to meet.

There are a lot more little features, and I have a feeling I'd keep discovering them if I had the time.

I didn't have anyone else with a GS III handy, so I couldn't try out one of the features touted on the TV ads; you can easily pass playlists to another GS III user simply by tapping your two phones together.

I could not charge the phone from my Mac here at work; I kept getting a warning message on my Mac that the USB port was drawing too much power and would be deactivated. I had no problem charging it from my PC at home, and of course there's a power adapter that pugs into a wall socket and can be used anywhere. But sometimes it's more convenient to charge from USB.

My personal cell phone is also a Samsung, although a Windows Phone 7.5 model and with a different carrier. My personal phone makes a little noise like a person whistling whenever I receive a text message, and the GSIII, once I had everything set up, made that same noise for a variety of notifications, including any new e-mail message, Facebook notification or when it was my turn to play Words With Friends. I was afraid of annoying my newsroom co-workers, so I finally turned that particular notification level off, which was easy to do.

All in all, this is a great phone, in a sleek and attractive package. It's available from Verizon and other major carriers.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.

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John I. Carney
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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.