Galaxy S III review: Hands down, the best Android smartphone

Thanks to real attention to usability and meaningful features, Samsung's flagship takes its place as the Android front-runner

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The layout of the buttons and screen elements follows the pattern of other Samsung devices, and it's both unobtrusive and functional. Like the Nexus, the Galaxy S III may be too large to carry in a shirt pocket, from which it sticks out and is apt to fall as you bend over. It also pushes the envelope for comfortable thumb-typing in landscape mode, especially if your hands are on the smaller end of the spectrum.

As Samsung's flagship Android smartphone, the Galaxy S III has all the bells and whistles you'd expect: 4G LTE support (for AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon; T-Mobile as yet doesn't offer this faster cellular technology), near-field communications (NFC) and Wi-Fi Direct for device-to-device exchange, low-power Bluetooth 4.0 radio, that huge AMOLED screen with Gorilla Glass 2 covering, 8-megapixel rear camera with LED flash, 1.9-megapixel front camera, MicroSD slot for removable storage, and dual-core 1.5GHz ARM processor for LTE versions or 1.4GHz quad-core ARM processor for HSPA+ versions (such as T-Mobile's).

The MicroUSB port also supports Samsung's proprietary MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) cables, which connect to an HDMI device such as a TV to mirror the smartphone's screen or relay video. That eliminates the need for a separate MiniHDMI port. The Galaxy S III's screen isn't prone to the "blowout" effect of the Galaxy Nexus when the brightness is dialed up.

The Galaxy S III's battery life seems to be better than that of the Galaxy Nexus, which is just OK. It helps that the S III comes with a power-savings mode you can enable to reduce the device's performance to stretch its battery life -- quite useful when on the road. But it still doesn't last a full "from out of bed to back in bed" day, even when mostly idle. As with most modern phones, plan to recharge it daily, and if you spend a lot of time talking, sharing files, or navigating with GPS, keep it plugged in when you can.

This level of hardware should give you a couple years of use without feeling inadequate as new models arrive.

User interface and applications
Android 4 "Ice Cream" Sandwich is a big step up in usability for Android smartphones, with cleaner presentation and more consistency. Few Android devices yet support it, so only 10 percent of Android devices actually run it today. But that percentage should climb quickly thanks to the Galaxy S III. Of course, Google revealed Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" shortly before the Galaxy S III's debut, but that update became available to many S III units this fall.

Widgets are one of Android's best features, one that sets it apart nicely from iOS. The ability that Samsung has added to quickly manage settings such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in the notifications tray is also a step above iOS. The Android 4.1 update adds a nice feature to the Wi-Fi widget: You can now tap and hold it to get a list of available access points, not simply turn Wi-Fi on or off as before.

The combination of Android 4's crisp and adjustable fonts and the Galaxy S III's large screen means even middle-aged users like me can comfortably see what's on screen -- which can be difficult on the iPhone 4's 3.5-inch screen.

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