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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When it comes to applications, the Galaxy S III has the same issues with the Google Play app store and generally modest sophistication of Android applications as any Android device does. Likewise, its browser is the serviceable stock Android browser.

Samsung has augmented the "Ice Cream Sandwich" experience with several capabilities (some found in other recent Samsung Android devices), including its "Siri light" S Voice feature. Apple's Siri service on the iPhone 4S responds to questions and can take actions based on your voice commands; the stock Android OS has long offered simpler voice command support (though "Jelly Bean" aims to outdo Siri), as well as dictation capabilities for text entry. Samsung's S Voice falls somewhere between the stock Android and Apple Siri capabilities, letting you issue commands for certain applications, such as dictating a tweet, taking a photo, or answering a call.

Samsung has also added the Smart Stay feature. If enabled, the Galaxy S III uses the front camera to monitor whether you're looking at the screen (it searches for eyes) so that it doesn't shut off or dim the display while you're reading. That's a smart idea, as most mobile OSes rely on detecting button presses and touch actions to know you're still engaged -- which doesn't reliably detect someone watching a movie or reading a book.

Other UI enhancements include what Samsung calls smart motions. Some of these are copied from iOS, such as tapping the top of a screen to jump to it or lifting the phone to your ear to answer a call. Others are unique, such as scrolling through a list by tilting the screen or holding your hand on the screen to mute the sounds. You enable the specific motion "gestures" through the Settings app, so you can avoid unwanted motion-based behaviors. The Android 4.1 update adds a half dozen such contextual capabilities, such as the ability to directly call a number dispalyed on screen (similar to Apple's long-used data detectors technology) and to double-tap to jump to the top of a list.

Then there's the ability to set the LED indicator to show any or all of the following statuses: battery charging, low battery, and missed event (such as a call or notification) -- an enhancement over the stock Android indicator's focus on alerts.

Sharing is one of the big focus areas for Android, with the use of NFC, Wi-Fi Direct, and Bluetooth to pass data among Android devices. The Galaxy S III has all three short-range radio technologies, along with Samsung's S Beam app to let you exchange photos and files with other devices that support Wi-Fi Direct. For such sharing to work, the devices need to be running the same applications, and those applications need to support direct sharing. You can also use NFC for such exchanges, but only with other Galaxy S III smartphones, by tapping their backs together and then pulling them apart.

A less successful Samsung addition is the AllShare utility, which lets you wirelessly share your screen or an app's contents to a DLNA-equipped TV or home entertainment device. The Digital Living Room Networking Association standard is inconsistently implemented across manufacturers -- iffy at best. The AllShare app to manage this sharing is a Samsung-centric affair, so its utility in the typical living room is small.

You can see the attention to usability in the Galaxy S III's capabilities. Samsung's refinements of the stock Android 4 capabilities are nearly all useful and well implemented, showcasing Samsung's goal to be more than a mere manufacturer of me-too devices.

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