Samsung Galaxy S3 review
The now venerable Galaxy S3 is still a good phone, but there are better options for most, even at its much reduced price
Review Date: 12 Mar 2014
Price when reviewed: £500
Reviewed By: Chris Finnamore
UPDATED 12th March 2014 - this review has been updated to look at how the S3 compares with more recent smartphones that are now in direct competition with it for price
Samsung Galaxy S3 Review Update
The Galaxy S3 was unquestionably Samsung's big launch for 2012, and was our recommended Android smartphone for some time. With the S5 now announced though, it’s getting a little long in the tooth, on the upside you can pick one up new for around £250 SIM-free, or a good-condition second-hand S3 from eBay for well below £200. So how well does the old handset stack up against more modern devices that cost a similar amount?
For starters we took our old Samsung Galaxy S3 and did a hardware reset to clear years of digital detritus. The handset retained its recent upgrade to Android 4.3 though, and running our benchmarks on the spring-cleaned handset gave some encouraging results. While its Geekbench 2 score was essentially unchanged at 1,752 points, improvements to the Chrome browser had brought its SunSpider browser score down to a speedy 1,061ms.
That puts it just behind the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, which costs around the same, and ahead of our budget champion the Motorola Moto G. However, you can notice stutters and pauses compared to the best of today’s handsets, such as the Nexus 5, which is super-smooth in comparison.
The 1,280x720 Super AMOLED display has held up well, still looking bright and vibrant with lots of contrast. It’s arguably better than either of the display’s on the handsets above, with the S4 Mini only having a 960x540 resolution and the Moto G’s LCD not matching the quality of the S3’s AMOLED.
The S3’s camera also holds up well, it balances exposures well, has a fast burst mode and cope fairly well in low-light. Newer flagship models have improved on this, by not by a huge amount really, as they generally use the same 1/2.3in sensors as the S3. The Moto G’s camera can’t compete – it’s the phone’s key weakpoint; while the S4 Mini is on a par for quality based on our test photos.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 is still a good phone to have in your pocket, though if you’ve been running yours for a couple of years may we suggest a software reset and maybe a new battery and rear shell to spruce it up a little.
If you’re considering it as a second-hand budget buy then it does very well against its immediate competition, and is a good choice if you want a better camera than the Moto G provides. We narrowly prefer over the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, though they are similar in many respects the S3’s screen nabs it for us.
The real competition comes in the form of the £299 (brand-new) Google Nexus 5. It’s a fantastic handset, much quicker to use, while the screen and camera are noticeable steps up. If you can afford the extra then it’s the handset to buy.
For further details on the Samsung Galaxy S3 please read on for our full review
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 EE's 4G network, putting it on par other early 4G-enabled handsets such as the iPhone 5.
There are a couple of other tweaks. 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 ships 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.
Samsung Galaxy S3 Android 4.3
It's been 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.
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 Speedtest.net 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.
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.
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.
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