Galaxy S III

As you may have heard, Samsung’s just taken the wraps off the new Galaxy S III (S3), a 4.8-inch quad-core beast powered by Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and a brand new version of TouchWiz. Samsung’s UX has been given a minor facelift on the Galaxy S3, bringing in visual and audio elements from the device’s new “inspired by nature” design choices. And there are a few exciting new features to boot, incorporating NFC, face recognition and Wifi Direct.

Join us after the break for our full walkthrough of the Samsung Galaxy S3's software, along with more videos!

The new design language is most evident in the new TouchWiz lockscreen, which ripples like a pool of water when activated. Audio cues, too, take on a more naturalistic approach, with droplet sounds punctuating UI interactions like menu selections and button presses.

Also, the TouchWiz launcher has been re-vamped, but the changes are largely cosmetic -- different icons, different chrome, but functionally very similar to the way TouchWiz’d ICS operates on the Galaxy S II. You’ve got seven home screens by default, customizable with the usual plethora of bright, vivid widgets (yep, TouchWiz is colorful as always). There’s a neat 3D transition effect when jumping from panel to panel, and thanks to the bleeding edge hardware inside the phone, all this visual finery flows off the screen at a buttery-smooth frame rate.

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With a quad-core Eyxnos chip spinning up to 1.4GHz, it should come as no surprise that the Galaxy S III is an extremely fast phone. Just like the Galaxy S II before it, Samsung’s new baby simply refused to show any signs of lag or slowdown during our hands-on session. The phone handled jumping between apps and scrolling around pages with effortless fluidity. If we had to call it, we’d say it’s more responsive than any competing high-end Android phone.

As we mentioned in our hands-on feature, the Galaxy S III has the standard physical-plus-capacitive button setup seen on other international Samsung phones. This means you get the (technically deprecated) physical menu button, an inclusion we’re not thrilled about, but equally one that doesn’t bother us all that much. On the software side, this works just like it always has done, bringing up additional options in most system apps, and allowing an easier path into the home screen customization options.

Task-switching is activated by long-pressing the home button, and the multitasking menu looks the same as in stock ICS -- there’s a list of apps to choose from, and you can also swipe individual applications away. Down at the bottom Sammy’s added two new buttons -- one for a full-blown task manager, and another to kill all active apps (you monster).

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Samsung has traditionally populated the notification bar with its own selection of power controls, and that’s true of the Galaxy S III, too. Toggles for things like Wifi, Bluetooth and auto-rotation are present, and the list can now be scrolled along to the right to reveal even more options.

Much has been made of the innovative camera and image recognition tech included in the Galaxy S III, and this is applied in a whole bunch of different areas of the software. The big one that’s been highlighted in Samsung’s ads is “Smart Stay”, a feature which polls the front-facing camera every few seconds to determine if you’re looking at the screen or not. If you are, the phone stays awake, if not, the screen is dimmed and eventually turned off. Samsung highlighted “Smart Stay” as a way to avoid having to press the screen every few seconds to avoid screen dimming. We’re sure this will raise concerns over the battery cost of this feature, but we have to expect Samsung will have taken this into consideration when designing, the phone (and that gigantic 2100mAh battery will help, too.)

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Face recognition is also employed in Samsung’s built-in gallery and social networking apps. When taking pictures, the Galaxy S III will automatically tag people from your contacts list, based on their profile picture, allowing these pre-tagged images to be directly uploaded to Google+ and Facebook. And locally, tagged pics can be automatically categorized based on who’s in them. Obviously how well this feature works will depend on the quality of images used for each contact, but it’s an interesting and potentially useful addition nonetheless.

Speaking of multimedia, the Galaxy S III includes picture-in-picture capabilities for watching video in the top corner of the screen while performing other tasks in the background, which is a neat little inclusion.

The Galaxy S III includes NFC support, and Samsung’s built on Android Beam with its own “S Beam” software, which allows files to be sent from phone-to-phone over a Wifi Direct connection. We gave this a shot during our hands-on time with the phone, and it worked exactly as advertised. Just find the content you want to share in one of the built-in apps, then hold it back to back with another Galaxy S III and tap the screen. An instant later, you can separate the devices, and a newly-established Wifi Direct connection does the heavy lifting -- at up to 300Mbps, though that’s dependent on any local interference.

“S Voice” is another leading feature, which works like the iPhone’s Siri assistant. It’s activated by saying “Hi Galaxy”, or any other activation phrase of your choosing at the lock screen, or loading up the app directly. From there, S Voice lets you perform a variety of tasks, including checking the weather, making notes, calling contacts and setting the alarm. As you’ll see in our hands-on video, we gave this a quick shot, and were pretty impressed with the results it gave us. Like any voice-based tech, though, your mileage may vary.

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Dropbox and the new Flipboard for Android are among the stand-out bundled apps. Galaxy S III owners will get 50GB of Dropbox storage for 2 years, double what HTC offers on its One series. And Flipboard for Android is a Galaxy S III exclusive for a limited time -- we’ll take a closer look at that app in a separate post.

So unsurprisingly it’s a fully-featured software experience on the latest Samsung flagship, with more than a few outstanding new bells and whistles to tempt over buyers in the weeks ahead. For more on the Galaxy S III, check out our continuing live coverage from London.