The Galaxy S III has a 4.8-inch 720p display.

The Galaxy S III has a stunning 4.8-inch display. Photo: Bloomberg

We got some hands-on time with the Samsung Galaxy S III at the international launch event in London last week. Here are our first impressions.

Features

Samsung barely mentioned the Galaxy S III's tech specs during the launch presentation. This paradigm shift wouldn't have been easy for a company that's used to competing on a hardware level, but given that everyday users don't really care about feeds and speeds (a trend exemplified by the success of the iPhone), it's a step in the right direction.

Among the S III's laundry list of new features, a few gems stand out that simplify the way we use smartphones day-to-day.

Looking at the screen is the one thing you do most on a smartphone, and Smart Stay makes this effortless by keeping the Galaxy S III awake for the entire time you're looking at it. No more tapping on the screen when it dims while you're in the middle of doing something, or worse, having to unlock it and enter your password every time it goes to sleep.

The next most common task, for many people, is phone calls, and the Galaxy S III makes this a little easier with the Direct Dial feature. If you're looking at a text message, call log or contact, it'll automatically dial the number on the screen as soon as you lift the Galaxy S III to your ear.

Samsung has made the camera a lot faster all-round, with startup clocked at 990 milliseconds, zero shutter lag, and a shot-to-shot speed of 3.3 seconds.

But the clever part happens after you've taken photos. Assuming all your contacts have profile pics, the Galaxy S III can use these to tag all of your photos automatically using facial recognition. From there, you get the option of sharing photos with tagged friends using email or MMS with a single tap, and if your contacts are organised by groups (such as family, friends and co-workers), it will automatically create photo albums for each group and file tagged photos into them accordingly.

The Galaxy S III has lots of extras that will appeal to power users as well.

There's S Voice, which lets you interact with the Galaxy S III using natural language. It's similar to Siri on the iPhone 4S, only you can do more with it, like launch apps, control music playback and operate the camera. It can also be initialised hands-free from the lockscreen by saying "Hi Galaxy".

S Beam is Samsung's take on the Android Beam feature in Ice Cream Sandwich, and it uses both NFC and Wi-Fi Direct to send files to other Galaxy S III devices at up to 300Mbps.

AllShare Cast lets you mirror the Galaxy S III's display on an external monitor using an optional dongle, and AllShare Play lets you send and receive content from other Samsung devices (like HDTVs, laptops, tablets and Blu-ray players) using Wi-Fi Direct.

Samsung has also bested Apple and HTC's cloud offerings by offering 50GB of Dropbox storage with each Galaxy S III, valid for three years after purchase.

Hardware

Raw specs may have taken a backseat in the Galaxy S III's marketing, but that hasn't stopped Samsung from making it the most powerful phone on the planet - for the next few months, anyway.

It ticks all the right boxes: a 4.8" HD Super AMOLED 720p display, 1.4GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos processor, options for 16GB, 32GB and 64GB of internal storage, and built-in NFC (near-field communication, a technology that is enabling mobile phone payments).

While most 'super-phones' sacrifice replaceable batteries and memory card expansion for the sake of ultra-slim physiques, the Galaxy S III manages to offer both while keeping to a skinny 8.3mm.

The flipside is that there's really nothing awe-inspiring about the Galaxy S III's design. It doesn't blow you away when you pick it up for the first time - an achievement that Apple has been able to pull off time and time again with the iPhone.

Yes, it's slim, and it's not much wider than the Galaxy S II despite having a screen that's half an inch larger. But it lacks the premium feel and perception of quality that competitors like the iPhone 4S and HTC One X possess.

It's the same problem that Samsung has had since the original Galaxy S, and we had hoped that the S III would be different. If not for the extra-large screen, which gives it away as a high-end smartphone, we'd easily mistake the the S III for a mid-range handset.

Besides the rounder corners and glossy backplate, not much has changed from its predecessor. It's available in blue or white (the white looks classier), and has the same button and port arrangement as the S II, namely a physical home button on the front, two capacitive buttons on either side for the menu and home functions, volume buttons on the left, power/sleep button on the right, a headphone jack on the top and a micro-USB port on the bottom.

The one small addition to the S III is an LED in the top left corner that flashes when you've got new notifications.

Performance

The Galaxy S III feels just as snappy as we expect a quad-core phone to be. Scrolling is fluid, as is moving between the homescreens. The touchscreen is responsive, and the phone jumps to life as soon as you press the unlock button. It doesn't lag when you leave the lockscreen, either.

Our first impression was that it was noticeably faster than the HTC One X, and this was backed by the benchmark results from Quadrant, which measures CPU, memory, I/O and graphics performance. The Galaxy S III achieved the best results we've seen yet from an Android device, with a score of 5432. This beats other quad-core devices we've tested by a comfortable margin, namely the HTC One X (3657) and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime (3724) - higher numbers are better.

Conclusion

The Galaxy S III is everything we expected it to be, and just that little bit extra. Considering the red carpet that Samsung rolled out for this device (months of secrecy followed by a huge international launch event), however, we expected more. Granted, the Galaxy S III doesn't leave much room for improvement, save for the hardware design, but we thought we were going to be blown away, and we were left feeling merely satisfied.

But that doesn't means it's a poor device. On the contrary, the Galaxy S III is arguably the best smartphone on the market right now - or it will be, once it goes on sale. A date hasn't been confirmed for its Aussie release yet, but it will be available in Europe at the end of this month.

Our guess is that it will land down under in June or July, giving it lots of time to tally up sales before the iPhone 5's expected launch in October.

Jenneth Orantia travelled to the Galaxy S III launch in London as a guest of Samsung.