Name: Samsung Galaxy S III

Carrier: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile & Verizon

Price: $200 (w/two-year contract), $280 (w/two-year contact via T-Mobile)

The Back Story: In the two years since its release, the Galaxy S series has sold over 50 million units, transforming Samsung into the largest mobile manufacturer in the world. Though the company continues to push the Galaxy Note, many view the phone-tablet hybrid as a preface for what would be Samsung's official “Next Big Thing,” the Galaxy S III. Shattering UK pre-order records and on pace to sell 10 million units by the end of July, this multi-carrier smartphone is on track to become the biggest Android release ever.

It certainly fits the part. The Galaxy S III is packed with so many new features, Samsung had to provide reviewers with a 48-page user guide. Some are more novel than necessary. We tested a majority of the new hallmarks: including the new wireless features, remarkable camera software, and monstrous processing power. So is it safe to crown the Galaxy S III this year's best (so far)? A strong case can be made.

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Incredible sharing features: Spicing up its latest version of TouchWiz, Samsung got creative and introduced some sick file-sharing options. The biggest is S Beam: an exclusive feature that utilizes NFC and Wi-Fi Direct to transfer everything from large files (documents, videos) to contact info. How’s this accomplished? By tapping two Galaxy S III phones against each other from the rear. Flawless execution. 

Mobile photogs now have two additional options to share images: Buddy Photo Share and ShareShot. The former sends new photos via email or text to those tagged in the picture, where as ShareShot is a shooting mode that uses Wi-Fi Direct to instantly send portraits to people within a 100-yard radius. Like the previous Galaxy models, AllShare is still intact and provides access to multimedia files from any Samsung platform (tablet, TV, etc.). Group Cast lets suits share presentations and PDF files on the go.

• Strong CPU and 4G performance: It’s unfortunate the 1.4GHz quad-core processor is MIA in the U.S. release, but the Galaxy S III’s 1.5GHz dual-core is still a speedy and dynamic workhorse. You would swear the phone was running on a stronger CPU by how swift the navigation and commands are carried out; Qualcomm’s chip is just that powerful. The 2GB of RAM also comes in handy. Apps, games, media playback, web pages, and notifications are all executed instantly. Since we rocked with the AT&T model, we put Ma Bell’s LTE network to work and clocked solid 4G rates on our Speedtest.net readings. Download speeds hit between 14 to 19Mbps and uploads estimated at 2.1Mbps. We’re looking forward to testing the phone on Verizon’s LTE network.

Impressive camera: Walking away from the One X’s phenomenal shooter is extremely difficult, but Samsung’s 8MP camera took us by surprise. Images looked sharp and vibrant as the LED flash exposed richer colors. Shutter speeds were nearly identical to its competitor. The Galaxy S III has  better video recording due to the clearer and louder audio it's able to pick up. There are also a couple of awesome shooting modes (Burst, HDR, etc.), but the Panorama feature is insane: It syncs photos together much quicker than Microsoft’s Photosynth app and provides instant navigation for novice users.

• Call quality and features: The Galaxy S III is one of AT&T’s premier calling phones. With a few listening settings such as the in-call equalizer at its disposal, all calls were screened loud and clear. Samsung continues to push its touch gesture functionality and puts it to good use here. The phone supports “swipe call shortcuts,” so you can call or text someone by swiping left or right on a contact. The coolest call features, however, are the ones used to either ignore or mute calls. To mute a current call, all you need to do simply put your phone face down on a surface. 

• Samsung TecTiles: Scream gimmick all you like, these reprogrammable NFC tags serve as great task shortcuts, allowing users to send texts, check-in on Facebook or Foursquare, launch apps, connect to wi-fi, and more. The tags are simple to program and activate once tapping your NFC-enabled phone on a TecTile.

 

• Expandable memory and good battery life: With 12GB of on-board storage, an SD Card slot that takes 16/32/64GB cards, and access to several file-sharing programs, the Galaxy S III is practically a portable hard drive. Expect to get some good power out of the phone, too, with the 2100mAh battery holding a charge for up to 8 - 12 hours on moderate use.


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• S Voice: Ribbed as a Siri knockoff, Samsung’s voice recognition system lacks the intuitiveness of Apple’s virtual assistant. Commands and questions rely heavy on vowel pronunciation. Try engaging in conversation or ask stupid questions for kicks and it’ll deliver an “I’m not sure what…" response a majority of the time. S Voice is just as effective as some of the other Android alternatives available on Google Play, if that's saying anything.

Physical home button: Google was adamant about all ICS phones having a button-free front, but Samsung went against the grain and retained the home button anyway. One problem: the button profile is incredibly slim and forces users to apply a lot of pressure when trying to reach the home screen.

Plastic build: Our vision of "the next big thing" doesn't consist of an all-plastic finish. Yet Samsung continues to build its flagship Android series around it. The feel of the handset is cool, but the use of exotic materials like ceramic or oxidized aluminum would have made the phone feel like something worth $200. 

Final Say: The Galaxy S III is undoubtedly the most powerful, feature-filled Android phone ever built. Even without the coveted quad-core CPU under the hood, Qualcomm’s dual-core and 2GB of RAM suffice. Samsung is carving a niche with its NFC-ready features, which gives the series a slight edge over its competitors when it comes to instant productivity. The phone excels on nearly every level. Is it the best one out? In terms of power and advanced capabilities: Yes. If you seek the best UI and camera experience, it’s the One X. Either way, the Galaxy S III propels the series to new technological heights and is clearly the hottest ticket on every major mobile carrier at the moment.