How to use Smart stay

The screen on the Samsung Galaxy S III (S3) is amazing. It is clear, it is big and it is bright.  Brightness, however, comes at the expense of battery life.  Samsung, like many other manufacturers, allows you to have the phone sense the lighting conditions and compensate the brightness accordingly.  

Too often, however, the “auto-brightness” setting gets it wrong and the screen gets too dim to see. This is where the new Smart stay feature comes in.

Smart Stay is one of the groundbreaking features of the new Galaxy S3. It takes the facial recognition of Android 4.0 (which is sometimes a hit or miss affair) to the next level of sophistication.  In a nut shell, Smart stay watches you watching your screen.  If you are watching your screen, it keeps the brightness up at a high level for the best user experience. When you stop watching your screen, Smart stay knows this and the screen dims. 

Smart stay uses the front facing camera on the Galaxy S3 to periodically look out for you – the user – and make sure you are still focused on what is most important (the phone.)

Setting up Smart Stay

Smart Stay is set up through the Settings app.

  1. Pull down the Notification drawer
  2. Click on the Settings icon
  3. Scroll to Display and tap
  4. Scroll down to Smart stay and put a check in the box

settings menu  smart stay enabled

You will then see a pop up window about Smart stay with a few caveats listed as to when Smart stay won’t work:

  • When the front camera can’t detect a face
  • When using the device in the dark
  • When the front camera is being used already in an app like Skype or a Google hangout

smart stay warning

Adjusting Screen timeout

Smart stay will come on when you have reached the Screen timeout time limit. You can adjust this by following the steps above to go to the Display settings.

  1. Tap the Screen timeout tab
  2. Choose any interval from 15 seconds to 10 minutes

screen timeout in display settings  choose screen timeout interval

Using Smart stay 

Smart stay becomes active as soon as the allotted time period you have set above passes.  A small “Eyeball” icon appears which tells you that Smart stay is looking for you. If Smart stay sees you, the screen stays bright, If Smart stay does not detect any activity, the screen will turn off. Note the "eyeball icon along the top bar in the image below.

smart stay icon

It makes sense to play with a few of the screen timeout settings to see which will work best for you. You can, in theory, lower the screen time out setting to even 15 seconds, because if you are still looking at the phone, Smart stay will keep the screen bright.

While I can’t confirm this empirically, it seems like the extra battery juice needed to activate Smart stay is compensated for by less time with a bright screen. In short, I didn’t notice that Smart stay had any effect on the overall battery life of the Galaxy S3.

Where Smart stay falls short

Smart stay is definitely a step in the right direction – the technology is great and when it works, it certainly saves battery and might even be a good thing for security purposes.

Unfortunately, the technology is not perfect. Just like the Face unlock feature, lighting needs to be bright in order for this to work. When it gets dark, Smart stay can’t see you and the screen turns off – that’s a problem.

You also need to be within sight of the front facing camera, so if the phone is lying down or in a stand or somewhere away from direct line of sight, Smart stay will not work.  I would love for there to be an audio feature to this – maybe even using S voice which would allow your voice to override the camera – but at least for now, this is not an option.

Overall, Smart stay works pretty well, it is another innovation on the Galaxy S3 that advances the overall smartphone tech landscape.  Once you get over the “creepiness” factor of your phone actually watching you, it can be quite useful.