Samsung Galaxy S3 review

The venerable Galaxy S3 is still a great phone, but there are better options out there now, even if you can find one for cheap

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Page 1 of 4Samsung Galaxy S3 review


Android 4.0, 4.8in 720x1,280 display

The Samsung Galaxy S3 was the undisputed must-have Android handset back in 2012. With a big 4.8in HD display and plenty of processing power it did everything you could want from a smartphone. It also has a replaceable battery and a micro SD card slot, so it's among the most practical handsets too.

Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE Edition

The Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE is an updated version of the original S3, with a new wireless chip to support 4G networks here in the UK which puts it on par other early 4G-enabled handsets such as the iPhone 5. There are a couple of other tweaks too: the phone now has 2GB rather than 1GB RAM, and is available in a smart Titanium finish as well as the standard Galaxy S3 white. It also shipped with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean out of the box, but Samsung has recently released an over-the-air (OTA) upgrade to the newer 4.3 version.

Unfortunately for anyone looking to pick one up on the cheap, or still rocking the original 1GB 3G model today on a long contract, you won't be able to get the current Android 4.4 KitKat, or the upcoming Android L release - Samsung has officially ended support for the phone. The company is also struggling to get KitKat up and running on the LTE handset, and we've had no word on whether an update will ever arrive officially. In the meantime, adventurous owners can head over to the Galaxy S3 LTE forum on XDA-Developers and attempt to flash a custom ROM if they can't wait for an official release.

Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE

Samsung Galaxy S3 Android 4.3

It's was a long time coming, but Samsung and most UK mobile networks have now finalised the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean update for the Galaxy S3. That means that new or prospective owners will be able to upgrade to one of the latest versions of Android and benefit from a range of new features and tweaks. We've gone over the main additions here.

The Galaxy Gear smartwatch is now fully supported on the Galaxy S3. It joins the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 as one of the few smartphones able to pair with the watch, which unfortunately still costs a prohibitive £250 and has a very limited set of features. The newer Gear 2 and Gear Fit will play nicely too, and are both cheaper and have more features to boot, although buying one now means you'll have to make your next smartphone a Galaxy too to get the most from it.

More useful is the ability to move apps from internal memory to the SD card, freeing up space for those few remaining Google Play downloads that will only run from the phone itself. Music controls have been added to the lock screen and the phone can now pair with more Bluetooth Smart devices such as heart rate monitors or pedometers, which should be great news for athletes and gym fanatics.

The Samsung Camera gains a new "Sound and Shot" mode, which replicates the feature that originally appeared on the Galaxy S4. It lets you capture up to seven seconds of audio to accompany any photo, giving a little ambience to a waterscape or letting you say hello when snapping a selfie.

Samsung has confusingly renamed a few of its multimedia apps; the AllShare Play DLNA client is now Samsung Link, AllShare Cast is the much more straightforward Screen Mirroring and the Samsung Media and Samsung Music apps have been consolidated into Samsung Hub - although with Google Play Music and Google Play Movies there may be no need to ever venture inside.

Finally, the "Starter mode" home screen has been renamed "Easy mode" - if you're at all familiar with Android it's unlikely you were using Starter mode to begin with, but it's worth remembering if you ever need to lend your phone to someone that hasn't used an Android handset before.

Although we found our Vodafone Galaxy S3 actually felt a little snappier on Android 4.3 than it did on 4.2, possibly because the new TRIM support cleaned up the internal memory after more than a year of apps and photos, we've received a few complaints of poor battery life and sluggish performance, so your mileage may vary.

updated to Android 4.3 but experiencing issues? Let us know on Twitter @expertreviewsuk.

4G on the Galaxy S3

We've covered the strengths and weaknesses of 4G in our full EE 4G UK review, but suffice to say that the Galaxy S3 LTE has no problem making the most of the network's speeds. When we first tested 4G, which was a couple of weeks before the network officially launched in the UK, we saw 44.91Mbit/s downloads and 20.94Mbit/s uploads - astonishing speeds that match or even exceed the fastest home broadband connections.

We had to take those speeds with a pinch of salt at the time, as very few other people were using the network at the time so there were little constraints on bandwidth. However, even nearly a month after the launch of the network, we're still seeing astonishing speeds. In our Central London office, the Android app measured 26Mbit/s downloads and 16Mbit/s uploads. This is twice as fast for downloads as our home ADSL connection, and around 16 times as quick when uploading. The Galaxy S3 LTE showed around the same speeds as Huawei's 4G Ascend P1 in our office, which is what we expected.

Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE Speed Test

4G is astonishingly quick in Central London - faster than most home broadband connections

Web browsing is certainly snappy and pages load just as quickly as when connected to an ADSL line over Wi-Fi. However, your 4G connection is unlikely to replace a broadband connection over Wi-Fi just yet. For a start, as we've already mentioned, EE's 4G data limits are fairly stingy; you'll be fine for normal out-and-about use such as checking emails, using maps and browsing web pages, but you'll quickly eat though your data allowance.

The other problem is app support. We found that BBC iPlayer would automatically set the quality of its TV stream to a low level when connected to the 4G network, even when we changed the streaming quality setting to High in the app's settings. The quality was far better when we were connected to a wireless network, showing iPlayer automatically sets the stream to a lower-quality level when you're on a 3G network rather than Wi-Fi.

Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE Wi-Fi iPlayer

Over Wi-Fi video is sharp and clear

Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE 4G iPlayer

The stream is much lower-quality over the mobile network, even though 4G is quicker than our office Wi-Fi connection

The new handset has an identical chipset to the non-4G Galaxy S3, with its quad-core 1.4GHz processor, but has 2GB instead of 1GB RAM. We struggled to see what difference this made to the handset's performance compared to a previous-model Galaxy S3 which we had upgraded to Android 4.1, and the handsets managed an identical 1,771ms in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark. Occasionally the 2GB handset would open and close apps slightly faster, but the extra RAM seems to make little practical difference in everyday use.

We did find, however, that the new version had slightly worse battery life than the old - we're not sure whether this is due to the new operating system or the chipset, but in our continuous video playback test we saw 9h 19m from the Galaxy S3 LTE, compared to 9h 57m from the Galaxy S3.

If you're picking up a handset second hand, you'll probably find the battery won't even last this long if the phone has had some serious long term use. It would be wise to pick up a replacement battery - it shouldn't cost more than £20 online and it should have a longer lifespan than the one that originally came with the phone.

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