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Review: Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S III

  • Samsung Galaxy S III White Down.png

     (Samsung)

  • Samsung Galaxy S III White Half.png

     (Samsung)

  • Samsung Galaxy S III White side by side.png

     (Samsung)

  • Samsung Galaxy S III White Side.png

     (Samsung)

The next big Samsung smartphone is here -- and it’s a giant.

The newest version of the wildly popular line -- called the Galaxy S III -- is a gorgeous, complex, amazing device. And it goes on sale as early as Thursday with some major service provider at $199, a price bound to fire up sales.

Samsung, which has sold more than millions of Galaxies to date, is sure to buil on that runaway success with this model: The T-Mobile version of the Galaxy S III features an immense slab of superstrong Gorilla Glass that seems almost too big to fit comfortably in your pocket -- particularly compared to the iPhone 4S and its 3.5-inch screen. Try it and you’ll soon realize the power of an amazing screen, coupled to cutting-edge components; surfing the Internet with an iPhone will never be the same.

Availability

Unlike the Apple iPhone, which was sold only through AT&T for years, Samsung says the Galaxy S III will be sold by all five major U.S. carriers -- but not all of them have announced pricing and availability just yet.

Verizon Wireless: $199.99 16GB, $249.99 32GB

AT&T: $199.99 16GB, AT&T stores will also feature a 16GB MicroSD card for $39 for a total of 32GB for $238.99

Sprint: $199.99 16GB, $249.99 32GB

T-Mobile: $229.99 16GB, $279.99 32GB

U.S. Cellular: not announced

 

The Samsung S III is both bigger and smaller, in ways that only improve on the earlier model: The T-Mobile Galaxy S II had a 4.5-inch screen and was 9.4 mm thin (versions for other carriers were slightly thinner). The new model has a larger 4.8-inch screen, yet it’s thinner and lighter than the earlier model.

How is that possible? Samsung has stressed design with the Galaxy S III, boiling the phone down to its simplest elements: A single home key sits at the base, beneath the sleek sheet of glass, while two buttons for Back and Menu light up at either side only when pressed. They then perform a magic trick, vanishing behind the cool "Pebble Blue" bezel -- that’s purple to you and me.

The Galaxy packs every feature you’d expect, and many you’ve never heard of. It has the fastest 4G cellular networks; T-Mobile's uses something called HSPA+42 that’s a surprisingly strong surfing experience (if you can get it). The Galaxy S III has a 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera and a second, 8-megapixel camera that can instantly capture 20 sequential pictures and select the best one. It’s powered by a 1.5-GHz dual core CPU, and there’s a new wireless technology called NFC to let your smartphone act as a wallet.

But wait, there’s more!

In fact, the Galaxy S III has so much that it’s a little overwhelming, and all too easy to overlook some features. For example, the “Smart Stay” feature watches you while you study that “Words With Friends” gameboard, preventing the screen from timing out. But only if you turn it on, somewhere in the menus.

And you can wake the screen with your voice -- though who knows why you would. But you’ll first have to drill somewhere into the menus to set up the voice command feature. We were fine without it.

Similarly, the software packed into this gadget is both astounding and confounding. Samsung stressed collaboration and sharing, building in some wonderful tools you’ll probably never use: One feature makes it easy to share photos among a group of friends, either at a baseball game or a house party. Another lets you exchange videos with another Galaxy S III user -- after ganging the two phones together -- with just a single swipe of your finger.

The Galaxy S III runs the latest Ice Cream Sandwich version of the Android operating system, which feels smooth, fluid, and elegant. Menus are legible, transitions between screens work exactly as you’d expect, and swipe gestures are smoothly executed.

The device also has a level of polish rarely seen in consumer products -- products from outside of Apple headquarters, anyway. Clearly, Apple’s design-first mantra has rubbed off here.

To its credit, Samsung has also taken some steps to address the user’s “what next?” feeling: One of the seven or eight screens worth of stuff you’ll encounter when you first turn the Galaxy S III on has “S Suggest,” which offers you links to other apps you can use.

How to make the most of this phone? Go get Foursquare. Or SoundHound. Or Audalyzer. Or EverNote.

Power and versatility rarely go hand in hand with ease of use. If a car also transformed into an airplane, snowplow and speedboat, you can bet the controls would be complex. And if you’re the kind of user who only wants to surf the web and read email, buy yourself a car. But if you want an ultrapowerful Transformer, get yourself the top of the line. And the Galaxy S III is Optimus Prime.

Just don’t ask us how to turn it off … we haven’t found that button yet.

Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.