Samsung Galaxy S III: First Impressions

Two weeks ago, Samsung invited a number of us media types to hands-on demonstrations of a passel of new mostly photo features of its upcoming Galaxy S III (hereafter referred to as the GS3). The new bleeding-edge smartphone, already available for pre-sale from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, will be physically available from all, as well as U.S. Cellular, later this week.

While the GS3 news has coincided with Apple's introduction of its new mobile operating system, iOS 6 last week, Samsung's enhancements bear no relationship to Apple's.

Samsung's problem is, most of GS3's features rely on everyone having either an GS3 and/or a new Samsung HDTV.

GS3 specs

In case you don't feel like clicking back to get a topline view of GS3's primary specs:

    4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED screen (as bright and crisp as advertised, but I haven't seen it in direct sunlight); 1280 x 720 pixels, 306 pixels-per-inch
    4G LTE/3G (all carriers)
    Gorilla Glass II (as tough as he first generation Gorilla Glass but 20 percent thinner)
    Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
    8 MP rear camera with LED flash, front 1.9 MP camera; 3 frame-per-second burst mode up to 20 shots, 1920 x 1080p HD video
    available with either 16 or 32 GB (someone may offer a 64 GB version) with a microSD card slot capable of handling a 64 GB card
    1.5 GHz dual-core processor, 2 GB RAM
    8.6mm thin (and it seems even thinner thanks to its curvature)
    a surprisingly light 4.7 ounces (possibly because its weight is spread out over a wider area)

Community photography

When you go to an event – a wedding, a graduation, communion, bar-mitzvah, family picnic, whatever – everyone brings a camera or their smartphone to record the hubbub. Invariably, everyone at said event asks everyone else to send them copies of their photos or footage.

Samsung says all this after-the-event sharing is silly. The GS3 solution? Share Shot, which will transmit all photos and videos taken by all GS3 users to all other GS3 users automatically.

Essentially, everyone "connects" their GS3s before the event starts using Wi-Fi direct: no Wi-Fi in the room necessary – all the GS3s would connect to each other using a direct Wi-Fi connection. One person acts as a "master" and everyone else with a GS3 can then choose to opt in to this communal camera.

Each person in the GS3 group can delete photos they don't like or opt out completely if their GS3's memory gets filled.

While Share Shot worked as advertised, it took demonstrators a bit of concerted effort to get us all connected. Whether or not a group of GS3-wielding party-goers will be as technologically patient is doubtful.

All Share

If you have a connected Samsung HDTV equipped with the company's All Share app, you can beam photos and videos to your HDTV screen wirelessly.

But All Share goes beyond viewing photos and video from your phone on a big screen.

Almost any multimedia content from your phone can be wirelessly beamed to an HDTV. For instance, in business situations, you can beam a presentation from your GS3 to a big screen office HDTV (assuming it's a newish Samsung).

For home use, GS3 includes Group Cast, multi-player game sharing – several GS3 game players can simultaneously control and play a GS3-based game on a Samsung HDTV.

All of All Share was accomplished effortlessly – but, as noted, you need a connected Samsung HDTV.

Big File Sharing

One of the big hiccups of smartphones is how to transmit large HD video files. Unlike photos, videos are too big to email or text.

Not if you and your recipient both have a GS3.

Using S Beam, the GS3 uses Near Field Communications (NFC) technology and Wi-Fi to let you simply tap two GS3s together back-to-back to transmit large files between phones.

In our demonstrations, which required only a couple of "let's try again" do-overs, a 40 MB video file – about a 30-second video – took just 7-10 seconds to be transferred from one GS3 to another.

All you need is someone else with a GS3.

NFC

Arguably the GS3's most advanced new feature is NFC, usually associated with mobile payments. The entire smartphone industry is gearing up to turn your phone into a mobile credit card – you'd just wave it over a terminal at the cash register like a credit card to pay for your stuff.

But as with S Beam, the short-term wireless abilities of NFC enables far more than financial transactions. In fact, the GS3 will let you program your phone to perform a number of NFC tricks via its TecTile technology.

You'll soon be able to buy packages of TecTile postage stamp-sized NFC stickers – a package of five will cost $14.99 – which are used in conjunction with Samsung's TecTile app to enable your phone to perform automated operations.

For instance, you can program a sticker to – when you wave your phone over it – automatically update your Facebook status, open a particular Web page, turn on Bluetooth, create a link with a Wi-Fi network, share a contact, or dozens of other functions.

I'll be honest – the useful functionality of TecTile escapes me at the moment, especially if you have stick those stickers everywhere. I think TecTile is one of those things you actually have to use to "get," so I'll reserve judgment, or you can watch the TecTile video on the Samsung site to get an idea of its potential.

Compared with iOS 6?

Many of these and the other unique GS3 enhancements are quite specialized – not exactly functions you'd need or use every day.

They also bear no relevance to how the GS3 will perform its daily functions – how the screen looks, how fast it's apps load and operate, how long the battery lasts, how it sounds – all more important considerations than whether everyone can see the photos you snap.

And, as noted, with the exception of NFC (there's as yet no indication whether Apple will include NFC capabilities in the iPhone 5) they're mostly only useful if other people have a GS3 as well.

The uniqueness and limitations of these GS3 features are an outgrowth of the splintered Android universe. Every phone maker is free to futz with the Android operating system without worrying or caring whether these functions would be compatible with other Android phones.

Apple's mobile operating system, of course, is more universal. All the features in the upcoming iOS 6 will be available to nearly all owners of iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads – that's more than 365 million devices.

But Samsung has taken a radically different approach to its new features than Apple has with iOS 6, so there's no way make an Apple-to-GS3 comparison. To judge how the GS3 performs its more pedantic duties will have to wait until I get my hands on one.