It has been one heck of a summer for Samsung, with both good press (Olympic sponsorship) and bad press (ongoing litigation with Apple) fueling sales of its biggest device to date, the Galaxy S3. Since it went on sale just a few short months ago, the GS3 has been flying off the shelves, with nearly 10 million sold to date.
Late to the party is Verizon, the last of the big carriers to release its Galaxy S3 into the wild. So how does it stack up to the rest of Big Red's cache, and more importantly, how does Verizon's flavor compete with the rest of Samsung's flagship line?
There's a reason the GS3 is the hottest device of the summer: it's fast, it's powerful, and it's beautiful. The 2GB of RAM couple with that screaming S4 processor to create one of the smoothest Android experiences to date. The display is a knock-out.
Two words: locked bootloader. The other gripes about the the GS3 apply here too, like the scratch-prone coating and the love-it or hate-it TouchWiz.
The Galaxy S3 is the best phone on Verizon Wireless right now. That said, this is the worst Galaxy S3 on the market today. You'll be hard pressed to find a better total package when it comes to Android smartphones-- this is simply the best Android device to date. That said, Verizon's decision to lock the bootloader does take some of the wind out of the Galaxy S3's sails.
Inside this review
Yet another Galaxy S3 mini-review?
The Galaxy S3, in its quest towards world domination, has spawned countless reviews, blog posts, op-eds, and opinionated tweets. What more can be said about the most popular phone in the world? Not much, but if we at Android Central are anything it's fair. And while you can read 10,000 articles about the Galaxy S3, none will resonate until you read about the specific model you're considering buying.
We're not here to waste your time, or to beat a dead horse. We are here, however, to give Verizon customers (current and potential) a quick look at what is simply the best phone their hard earned money can buy. You can check out our definitive TouchWiz guide if you'd like to delve deeper; if not, sit back and relax, we promise this won't take long.
An 8.6 mm body? Check. 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display? Check. 8 MP camera? Check. If you've seen one, you've seen them all-- the Galaxy S3 is unchanged across all major carriers. It has grown into a love it or hate it type device, and if you've somehow managed to survive under a rock all summer and haven't seen one for yourself, run to your local Verizon retailer. You'll need to hold one in your hand to be truly won over.
I'm absolutely smitten with the home button, along the sheer lightness and thinness of the device. I could take or leave the scratch-prone backplate and the glossy, fingerprint magnet finish. Overall, though, Samsung has created as close to a perfect device as they ever have. This is the best Galaxy smartphone to date.
The Galaxy S3's display is simply the best you'll find on Verizon-- a title that the AT&T variant has a hard time claiming, what with its HTC One X rival and all. The GS3's color vibrancy blows the Galaxy Nexus out of the water, and its size and viewing angles run circles around the HTC Rezound. Nothing else even comes close. If you need the best display money can buy, and you don't have access to the One X or EVO 4G LTE, you've found it.
Sixteen- and 32-GB flavors of storage? Check. Qualcomm S4 processor at 1.5 GHz? Yep. Two full GB of super-fast RAM? You bet. You guessed it-- this feels just like every other GS3 on the market. And that's not a good thing-- it's a great thing. The GS3 is simply the most powerful smartphone in the world, and it's top-notch specs add up to one of the most fluid Android experiences to date. The Galaxy S3 flies in nearly every sense of the word, and performs remarkably under any circumstance.
Verizon's variant of the GS3 comes fully equipped with an LTE radio, which means you'll have no problem hopping onto Big Red's unmatched 4G LTE network. It's still as fast as ever, and it's growing everyday. AT&T's LTE network might be just a smidge faster, but I'd gladly sacrifice two or three megabites for the stability and reliability that I've grown to expect from Verizon. These specs on Verizon's network add up to mind-numbing speeds. This is the new smartphone standard.
With an LTE radio comes the battery drain that we've all come to dread, but I'm thrilled to say that the GS3 is the first LTE smartphone (save for the RAZR MAXX) that bucks the trend. Battery life is stellar, and I never once found myself running to the nearest outlet. This is the first Android smartphone since my Droid Incredible that doesn't make me feel like I have to carry around a charger all day. While non LTE customers won't be blown away here, those upgrading from Verizon's first wave of LTE devices will be thrilled.
Samsung hasn't managed to squeeze Jelly Bean onto the GS3 just yet, so we're still dealing with Android 4.0.4 and Samsung's own "TouchWiz Nature UX" user interface. You can check out our full TouchWiz walkthrough if you're still not familiar-- unlike my colleague Phil, I quite enjoy what Samsung has done here, and I think this may be the most refined and polished Android experience ever. Fair warning: opinions will vary considerably.
We got greedy with Verizon's lack of customization on the Galaxy Nexus, but now it's time to come back to reality. Big Red has put a few of its own touches on the GS3, albeit not nearly as many as we've seen on some other devices. Preinstalled apps include Verizon's App Hub, Guided Tours, Mobile Hotspot, My Verizon, VZW Navigator and a VPN Client. All told, there isn't anything here that I'm itching to remove, but I'd be remiss not to mention them.
There's one more Verizon touch worth mentioning, and its perhaps the most annoying decision Verizon has ever made. Assumedly, in an effort to urge users to switch over to wi-fi and thus stop hogging precious data, Verizon's GS3 includes a notification when your wi-fi is turned off, urging you to turn it on. Swipe away all you'd like-- this isn't going anywhere. Until you turn wi-fi on, the notification will sit in your drawer, taunting you, laughing at you. There is no way to remove it and trust me, it is quite annoying. You'll likely learn to overlook it (or at least cope with it), but it certainly needs to be pointed out.
Again, nothing surprising here. The Galaxy S3 has the same 8-megapixel rear shooter that we've been enjoying for a number of weeks now.
Whether you're Team HTC, Team Apple, or even Team Nikon, you have to admit that Samsung is doing something very right with their camera technology. The company has, perhaps most of all manufacturers, pushed smartphone cameras past a novelty and into a real-world tool. The GS3 marks the next step in Samsung's quest to permanently put the point-and-shoot to rest.
There are of course certain conditions where performance could be better, but 99 out of the 100 shots you'll ever take will turn out well. We'll let the sample photos and video do the talking.
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After nothing but praise, this is where I have to take Verizon's GS3 down a few pegs. One of the things that makes Samsung's devices so approachable, in my opinion, is the combination of both accessibility and customization. For those first time smartphone buyers, or the folks who buy a phone simply to make calls and send emails, Samsung's TouchWiz creates an easy-to-use, friendly and approachable interface. In a few weeks, your grandma would know her away around a Galaxy S3. But for those slightly more skilled, as well as the easily bored, Samsung's devices are generally quite easy to hack, opening the doors to a million and one ROMs, kernals, skins, themes, and customizations.
Verizon has ruined the fun for that latter group.
Big Red's decision to lock the Galaxy S3's bootloader has been the topic of endless discussion, and rightfully so. Verizon says that device stability and customer satisfaction is the reason behind the move; critics say that Verizon's ice-cold grip defeats the purpose of Android's openness. Both sides of the discussion have valid points but one thing is exceedingly clear: Verizon's decision to lock the GS3's bootloader makes this version the most unique out of all U.S. carriers'.
While a locked bootloader isn't necessarily a nail in the coffin for developers' hopes and attempts, it is certainly a crater in the road. For those who are hell-bent on flashing custom ROMs, Verizon's GS3 is a device to avoid at all costs. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint each have the same exact device without this huge detriment.
But there's a bright side: Samsung has said that it will sell a Verizon-compatible GS3 with an unlocked bootloader. We're still waiting to see the device hit the market, but for those who are loyal to Verizon and absolutely must get into the guts of their smartphone, this is your best option.
There are only so many good things you can say about Samsung's flagship device before you begin to sound like a broken record. It truly lives up to its reputation as the most popular Android phone on the market today. It's combination of superb hardware and blazing-fast internals create a perfect storm: this is simply the most advanced Android device to date.
That said, Verizon's take the GS3 has one flaw that is nearly impossible to overlook. The locked bootloader easily knocks the GS3 down a few pegs, especially when it sits on a shelf next to the Galaxy Nexus. This is no fault of the Galaxy S3-- on any other carrier, I'd say the device is as close to flawless as I've ever seen. But here, under the Big Red banner, the GS3 has a black eye.
If your hands are itching to hack, and you simply cannot wait any longer for Samsung's developer model, the Galaxy Nexus is a worthy alternative. The screen isn't quite as nice as the GS3's, but with Jelly Bean onboard, the Nexus performs as admirably as its higher-spec'd cousin.
If bootloaders aren't an issue, and you can sit tight a few weeks/months for Jelly Bean to arrive, you absolutely cannot go wrong with the Galaxy S3. Even with its locked bootloader, it's the best phone on Verizon right now, even if it is the worst Galaxy S3 on the market.
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