If you're shopping for a smartphone and aren't an iPhone fan, you'd do well to take a close look at the Samsung Galaxy S III.
I've been playing around with the Galaxy S III since it came out in late June, and I've been impressed. The device has become my go-to smartphone in recent months because it's fast, sleek, relatively easy to use and has a nice complement of features.
One criticism I've had of Android devices in the past is that, for all their talk about having powerful dual or even quad-core processors, they've just felt sluggish. Not so the Galaxy S III. Apps load and quit quickly and you can swiftly move from one homepage or app page to another.
Several of the Galaxy S III variants have a radio that allows them to connect to the wireless carriers' new high-speed LTE networks. The result is blazingly fast Web page and app downloads.
Sitting at my desk at work with the AT&T version of the Galaxy S III, I clocked download speeds of as fast as 54 megabits per second and upload speeds of as fast as 10 megabits per second. That kind of bandwidth blows away even my fast landline connection at home.
One of the first things you'll notice about the Galaxy S III is its jumbo-sized screen. The device is one of a group of recently released Android smartphones with screens approaching 5 inches in diagonal.
I generally haven't been a big fan of super-sizing screens. Larger screen phones have tended to feel bulky. Their larger
But I haven't been bothered by the S III's jumbo-sized display. Partly that's because the device is very thin -- thinner than the Apple's (AAPL) iPhone 4S, but not the new iPhone 5 -- with rounded edges, making it easy to hold in one hand.
And the battery life has been adequate, if not spectacular. Samsung says it should get 8 or 9 hours of talk time, implying that it should last at least a full day of moderate use on a charge. That's generally been my experience with it.
The S III runs Android 4.0, code-named Ice Cream Sandwich. That's not the latest version of Android, but it's new enough to incorporate many improvements Google (GOOG) has made in the software that have made it more accessible and easier to use.
Samsung has added its own tweaks to the software. With Android 4.0, Google moved away from requiring devices to have a dedicated button to access menus within programs. I think that was a mistake, because figuring out how to get to those menus is much more confusing without that button. Unlike other Android device makers, Samsung has sensibly decided to keep the menu button.
Samsung has also added a great set of quick setting options to the notification bar on the Galaxy S III. Users can use those settings buttons to easily toggle its Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or GPS antennas on or off, turn on airplane mode or switch off its ringer so that the phone only vibrates when someone calls.
Those aren't the only innovations that make the phone stand out. One cool feature is called S Beam. It allows users to quickly transfer pictures or videos from one phone to another by simply tapping them together. The feature works pretty well and can be a quicker and easier way of sharing such files than attaching them to an email or sending them via the text-messaging system.
Unfortunately, S Beam is limited to just Galaxy S III phones for now. But the upcoming Galaxy Note 2 will also have the feature, and Samsung representatives indicated that it will become a common feature of the company's future Galaxy devices.
The Galaxy S III also includes some fun and useful features in its camera app. The camera will shoot up to 6 frames per second -- and 20 total shots -- in burst mode. It has a best shot mode that will take 8 shots in a row and help you choose the best one, which can be useful for quick-moving subjects.
And that camera app has a fun feature that allows users to link their phone with up to four other Galaxy S III devices to share photos. If you are at a party, you and your friends could each share copies of the photos that everyone took there.
Another thing to like about the Galaxy S III is that you can buy it on any of the four major U.S. carriers, so you can comparison shop and find the plan and price that's best for you.
The phone isn't perfect. I found the camera app buggy at times, taking pictures even when I hadn't meant for it to. Some Android apps that were designed for smaller screens are hard to use on the Galaxy S III's jumbo-sized one because their icons and text are tiny. And compared with the new iPhone's aluminum body, the Galaxy S III's plastic case feels cheap.
Still, I found a lot to like about the Galaxy S III.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285 or email@example.com. Follow him at www.mercurynews.com/troy-wolverton or Twitter.com/troywolv.
(Out of 10)
What: Samsung Galaxy S III
Likes: Fast; sleek; easy to use; compelling features, including S Beam for transferring photos, other files to other devices
Dislikes: Plastic case feels cheap; some Android apps hard to use on jumbo screen; camera app buggy
Specs: Dual-core 1.5 GHz processor; 2-megapixel front and 8-megapixel rear cameras; 4.8-inch high-definition OLED display
Price: $200 to $330, depending on carrier and amount of storage.