Samsung Galaxy S3 First Look at a VERY Smart Phone


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Bona fide events built around around product launches are few and far between these days, but there was no doubt that the local launch of the Samsung Galaxy S3 in Sydney yesterday was aimed to make as much of an impact as possible, delivering on the promise of a new mobile device that could set new standards in mobile functionality.

After receiving our Samsung Galaxy S3 and spending a few hours with it in the studio today, there was no doubt that the bar has been raised and it will be hard to leap frog this device any time soon. We’ve put together a few segments so you can see what our impressions are, particularly if you’re looking at upgrading your smartphone any time soon.

The phone is light, powerful and rates extremely high on the usability factor. The hardware is light but also robust with no give or flex in the tooling. The Samsung Galaxy S3 is powered by a quad core 1.4GHz processor, and it shows. All app opening/closing/switching, browser performance and camera use all ran without a hitch.

The 1280 x 720op 4.8″ screen is lovely to behold. The Super HD AMOLED display provides wonderful contrast levels, where black levels really do feel like black, and colours appear quite vivid and deep. Watching content locally or streamed on the Samsung Galaxy S3 was issue free.

The Touchwiz UI has had a raft of tweaks for the Samsung Galaxy S3, and all focused on user experience. The phone can be set to respond to motions to mute the phone, make phone calls from a message window, and brightness can be maintained if your eyes are placed on the screen. You can take a video playing in the video player and have it hover over the rest of the screen while you do any other activity on the phone.

The S Voice is also a decent competitor against Siri. In our test, the Samsung Galaxy S3 was able to hold its own and go the extra mile (pardon the pun) when it came to street directions to a destination – in Australia this service is still blocked by Apple.

Google does a pretty good job at integrating social media accounts in their smartphone OS, and the Samsung Galaxy S3 continues that trend, with local photos having the ability to be tagged with social profiles.

The built-in 8MP camera on the Samsung Galaxy S3 continues to demonstrate why so many people eschew a dedicated compact camera these days – smartphones are able to compete in casual shooting environments with ease. This camera has a few cool features, like burst mode, best photo which chooses the optimised pic from a burst 8 shots, 1080p video recording, 720p from camera recording, and snapshot function while recording video. These are features you find on decent dedicated camera setups, so it’s no wonder there is a shift in user behaviour.

Aside from the hardware prowess, operating system refinements and overall performance, the Samsung Galaxy S3 continues to include some content offers as well. The Music Hub, which has been around for some time now, is available for a free trial, as is a subscription to  Quickflix for movies and TV shows. Navigon GPS software is also preloaded.

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is a remarkable phone. Considering the advancements made since the GS2, and the side-by-side comparison with the rather dimunitive-looking iPhone 4S, this phone ticks most of the boxes a smartphone user would want – with the exception of 4G connectivity and the still-fragmented Android ecosystem.

Samsung Galaxy S3

Should the new Samsung Galaxy S3 be crowned the new king of smartphones?

However, Samsung are betting on screen size and a controlled, specialised interface along with content and social/usability propositions to make their pitch – and it looks like millions of interested punters around the world are buying it. To be honest, so are we.

This page will be filled with a few videos over the weekend focusing on some different areas of the Samsung Galaxy S3. We hope you enjoy them, and let us know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below.

Until next time!

Google Lab Adds Gesture Control in Android Web Browser

We have been spending a fair bit of time discussing the Android Web Browser experience on the Android 4 tablet platform, courtesy of the Transformer Prime. We even had a chance to check out the Chrome for Android Beta browser.

The fundamental issue here is that even though the stock Android web browser and the Chrome browser are great examples of browser environments and functionality, they don’t address the issue of how touch screen interfaces differ incredibly from standard desktop environments.

The stock Android web browser on Ice Cream Sandwich tablets gives a little insight into what they are developing over at the Google labs. It’s a great example of innovative gesture design.

(note:  one of our readers @Diesel, has kindly pointed out that this Labs feature is actually also available on Honeycomb Tablets, which is terrific news for owners of Android 3.2 tablets.)

If you own a tablet that happens to have been upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich, then simply select the stock browser, press the menu button on the upper right hand corner, and go to settings. The last option you’ll then see on the left hand side is the Labs button. Select Labs then tick the Quick Controls box.

When you return to the browser, you’ll be able to see the entire page with no top or bottom area compromise. Sliding your thumb in from either the left of or the right presents a semi circle with icons denoting certain functions. These provide instant access to common commands, such as bookmarks, deleting current tab, adding  a new tab, back, forward, and refresh.

Menu options on Android Web Browser

Using the left hand thumb, hovering over each icon will display the relevant options.

The tab select button is an interesting space to flick through currently open tabs vertically, easily navigating to your open page of choice. Even though this is a hidden little gem in the software, it also gives an indication of what functions may appear on progressive releases, and perhaps eventually on Chrome for Android web browser.

Tab Control on Android Web Browser

The right hand thumb has the same options in mirror image. Here the Tabs are selected vertically.

After using this “Easter Egg” feature on the ICS Android web browser, it becomes pretty clear that there has been a fair bit of thought into making it useful for both left and right-handed people. The browser has also been made more efficient by placing commands in the natural areas where hands would be holding the tablet.

For Chrome to really take the lead in mobile browsing, adding an option to control the online navigation could position Chrome for Android into the ultimate mobile internet browser.

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Here’s the Ritchie’s Room video showing some of the cool features of the experimental Lab Android web browser.

 

 

Would you shift your mobile browser to Chrome if it included gesture functionality similar to what we’ve shown, or is it still too clunky to be a real feature? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Chrome for Android Comes Without Flash Support

Whether it’s on a smartphone or a tablet, the quality of the online browsing experience is critical to the success of any mobile device. Chrome for Android aims to become the optimum browser for Android devices. However, as we pointed out in our previous article, Chrome for Android comes without Flash support in its Beta state, and none is planned.

This development (or lack thereof in this case) was also commented on by  Adobe. They mentioned continued development of the PC-based Flash product, and their contribution to HTML5. That in effect is a surrender to the market shift away from their long-standing plug-in.

Is it such a big deal that this browser is throwing the towel in so early? After all, even the stock browser supports Flash, and we made a tongue-in-cheek video pointing this out when comparing it to the iPad. Today we could very well re-shoot that video, only this time with two Android tablets: one running the stock browser and the other running Chrome for Android that doesn’t support Flash.

Chrome for Android Comes Without Flash Support

No, this is not an iPad screenshot, it's a Transformer Prime showing the world that Chrome for Android comes without Flash support.

When we step away from the issue and look at it a little more objectively, Flash is still very much reliant on localised drivers and plug-ins to provide an online experience. In this day and age that combination does seem to be a little old-fashioned. With all things moving to online storage, cloud services and less dependence on the specs of notebooks (take Ultrabooks) and tablets (which are stripped down compared to any PC of note), HTML5 seems to be the best solution.

Chrome for Android comes without Flash support, but will enable HTML5 authors and developers to create rich, interactive environments that will be transferable to any device, regardless of their plug in. After all, why should we need to download an app for Adobe Flash Player  just to see a website in its entirety on an Android device?

The very nature of the functionality of Chrome for Android is to connect seamlessly with your desktop experience. With no plug-ins and instant access to open tabs, the shift is very much in the favor of HTML5, the fact that Chrome for Android comes without Flash support seems to be a short term issue.

Apple did indeed bring this topic to a head. It’s encouraging to see the entire mobile platform converging on a single standard for the benefit of all mobile browser users, regardless of which ecosystem they have invested in.

Chrome on Android Using the Asus Transformer Prime

Earlier this week Google released the beta version of Chrome on Android, fulfilling a commitment to provide a seamless link between the desktop and mobile browsing experience.

Here’s our video showing you some great cross-device activities that, up until now, haven’t been possible, and it’s exciting to see them in action.

At this stage only 12 countries, including Australia, have been given access to the beta version of Chrome on Android, and it is limited to mobile and tablet devices with the Android 4 and above OS. In Australia, that really only gives the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the Asus Transformer Prime the opportunity to show off this new browser. We are lucky enough to have a Prime tablet at our disposal, so we can show this off in tablet mode to you.

 

Chrome on Android menu system

The menu for the Chrome beta for Android browser, which includes "Other devices", a hint at the cross-device power of this internet browser.

The intention is for Google to move its stock browser over to Chrome on Android once beta testing has been completed, and if the initial experience is any indication, it’s a good move.

First up, the browser asks for your gmail account details to sign you in, as a large portion of the features involves utilising synching with your desktop browser. If you currently don’t use Chrome and do own a Nexus or Transformer Prime, I’d suggest you move over immediately to at least see what this has to offer.

Once you’ve signed in, make sure you’re also signed in over on your Chrome Desktop browser, because this is where the fun really begins.

Once you use the Chrome on Android beta browser a few times, one thing becomes very obvious – that Google is looking to provide a completely seamless browsing experience regardless of what device you are on. Whatever bookmarks you currently have on your desktop are immediately pushed to your tablet, and any changes you make are also moved across.

Chrome on Android Desktop and Local bookmarks

You can see the bookmarks above for both local and synched content within the Chrome beta browser.

But that’s not all. The synching also brings across your browsing history, so any websites you visit regularly will come up in priority to other search results. It’s uncanny, opening this browser for the first time and it knows what you are entering in the Omnibox.

What’s an Omnibox, I hear you ask? It’s the box in Chrome where you enter the URL, but can also be used for search terms. No more looking for a Google search box, just type right in the omnibox and you’ll get taken to the website of your choice or be presented with a list of options based on your search term. Those that use Chrome on desktop will be used to this feature, but it’s the sudden “awareness” of your new device using Chrome on Android that makes it a little spooky.

 

Chrome for Android Browsing Spooky Geen Android

Does it get any spookier than this Chrome eyed little Green Android?

Synching is one thing, but how about transferring all your open tabs on your desktop to your tablet? When you open a new tab, there are three rectangular buttons at the middle bottom: Most Visited, Bookmarks and Other Devices.

Most visited appears to be a more localised history. Bookmarks are split into Desktop, Other and Mobile bookmarks. Opening the Desktop bookmarks folder presents all the bookmarks from your desktop.

“Other devices” presents the currently open tabs from other Chrome browsers that you are currently signed into. However, instead of just duplicating all the tabs, it shows the pages in a list form so you can choose which ones you want to open. This is a great feature if you are on your desktop searching for movie times or restaurants and want to continue that exploration while you are at large.

Chrome on Android open tabs from desktop

Here you can see open tabs from the Toshiba PC, and a webpage that has been pushed to the tablet.

Another feature is the Chrome to Mobile feature, which ensures the page you were on is sent to your device even if you shut your current sessions down or have to power off your PC. Just install the free Chrome to Mobile app onto your desktop browser, and a small phone icon will now appear on the right hand side of the Omnibox. Press the icon, and a dialogue box will ask you to confirm which device to push to.

The next time you open your Chrome browser on your tablet, the page will be there waiting for you under the “Other Devices” area. This is a much quicker way of sending links, going browser to browser instead of going from the browser, to sending an email, receiving the email and pressing a link that opens in a browser – everything happens within Chrome.

Chrome is known for its “Incognito” option, and it is replicated here, and the overlapping squares and “Spy vs Spy” icon on the left hand side makes sure you don’t forget which browser you are in.

Chrome on Android incognito browsing

Incognito mode opens another window with all incognito tabs gathered, with easy switching between both modes.

The last thing I will mention here is voice search, another icon on the right hand side of the omnibox that, once pressed, will display a microphone for you to verbalise your search request. It seemed to be intelligent enough to pick up the basic phrases we threw at it, but given it is a beta version I’m sure it’s a feature they are working on to be polished by the time the final version is released.

Chrome for Android Browsing Voice Search Windows

Search by speaking is now available. Voice search is a highly competitive domain and Google need to deliver a polished product.

The initial impression of the beta version of Chrome on Android is very positive, and given this is the foundation for their stock browser once users provide feedback and bugs are ironed out, the idea of always-connected, always-on takes another step forward. Web browsing is a huge part of what we do on devices, and to have an uninterrupted experience between the difference physical screens we use is a very compelling reason to move to Chrome, both from a tablet and a desktop perspective.

Have you tried out Chrome beta on an Android mobile or tablet, and what are your thoughts? Are there any other scenarios that you’d like us to test? Let us know in the comments area below.

Transformer Prime Wi-Fi Speedtest vs iPad 2

If there’s one thing we love here at Ritchie’s Room, it’s generating and joining in a discussion. The Transformer Prime from Asus has been a lightning rod for hundreds of comments and quite rigorous discussion around various issues.

Initially it was the hype around the Prime as it was the first Android tablet to incorporate the Tegra 3 processor. Then, as demand started to rise and stock was nowhere to be seen, floods of complaints started to flow on both our site and other forums. Finally the Prime made it into the hands of users, only to have one major feature, GPS, stricken from the specifications sheet due to poor performance.

The fast upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich seemed to temper the passions that were flaring in the initial stages, and from some of the accounts we have received, it appears to have addressed most of the issues.

One particular issue that still reared its ugly head was Wi-fi performance on the Asus tablet. Some users complained of low Wi-Fi signal strength and others of generally poor download speeds which affected browser experience.

A few days ago we decided to shoot a very basic piece for YouTube simply showing the signal strength in bars on the Prime and iPad 2, as a comparison. The signal strength was quite high on the Prime, and a tad lower on the iPad 2.

However, we received lot of comments about using a download monitor program to see what the real world differences were in Wi-Fi performance. We ended up with the Speedtest.net app and installed that on both the Prime and the iPad 2, and ran the test in the exactly the same location just seconds apart from each other. We then took both around the house, wondering in and out of rooms for a few minutes. We had some very interesting results.

Would the Speedtest App resolve the Wifi performance issue for the Transformer Prime once and for all?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First, the speedtest in the Studio room. In the same location, seconds after one another, there was very little separating the Apple and Asus models – a few milliseconds difference for Pings, virtually the same download speed, and the Prime came out on top in upload speed by o.1Mbps or so.

After we filmed that, we walked around, getting further and further away from our filming location. In each area where we ran the tests, the results were wildly different even if the units were both side by side and didn’t move when we ran a second batch just to see a repeat of the test in that area.

To give you an idea, we moved the two tablets to a room that was three double brick walls removed from our studio, and both the Prime and iPad recorded download speeds of anything from 6Mbps all the way to 18Mbps, which is what we were getting when we were metres away from the router.

In the end we decided to leave the results of the further-distance speedtests out of the video segment because they were so wildly varying and could have been a consequence of a number of factors. In the controlled environment, the iPad 2 and Prime were neck and neck, and we repeated that test a few times with very little discrepancy to give ourselves a decent level of confidence.

However, the distance tests were fraught with fluctuations of the Wi-Fi signal that could have been affected by the environment, the wireless network or the wireless hardware built-in to the Prime and iPad 2.

All we can say is that based on the tests that we ran today, the results showed no real difference in the Wi-Fi performance between the best selling tablet in the market and the most advanced tablet in the market.

Here’s the Speedtest.net video we produced today (if you can’t see the video yet, we’re still uploading):

 

And here’s the original basic wireless signal test video that we released a few days ago:

 

Now that you’ve seen these tests, here’s a question for you: Does any of it help you make up your mind about the wireless performance of the Prime? Or is the Wi-fi performance of a tablet too hard to judge given all the other factors that might come into play?

Please feel free to comment below and we’d love to hear your opinion on this topic.

Tablet Update: New Models Expected Before Xmas

With all the interest in the latest iPhone and Ultrabooks dominating the gadget news landscape in the last few weeks, one area that has been rather quiet is the tablet category. The release of the first generation of Android tablets has achieved limited success in the market, and while they may have offered additional features to compete with the dominating iPad 2, it hasn’t yet been enough to compel a large proportion of tablet users across to the Google platform.

By comparison, the combined efforts of Samsung, HTC and Motorola have made Android a force to be reckoned with in the Smartphone market. The introduction of Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, as it is known, may be the catalyst for a shift to the Android platform in large touch screen devices, as 4.0 is designed to be a cross-device platform. This means that Android users can finally experience similar compatibility to both their Smartphone and tablets the way Apple users do now with their iPhone and iPad.

Software and operating systems aside, Android manufacturers have found it a challenge to meet the visual appeal of the iPad 2. One of the defining characteristics of many Android tablets has been the inclusion of multiple ports – HDMI, USB and SD Card Slot – which has hampered the ability of these devices to offer models with similar dimensions, limiting the style propositions that can be achieved.

That may be about to change, with the major tablet manufacturers taking the same design aesthetics that they have with Ultrabooks in terms of slimness and weight while retaining some of the key attributes that they believe offer a credible alternative to Apple’s incumbent.

This will be the first holiday season with Android tablets in existence and with the New Year only a few weeks away, we can expect a few key launches that should reinvigorate the greater tablet market. Here are a few products we will be keeping an eye on and plan to get some hands on time with to share with our readers.

Model: Xoom 2 by Motorola

Google's favourite son, but will it perform as well as its like-minded competitors?

Why it’s important: Google’s acquisition of Motorola may not have affected the current output of Motorola Mobility, but eyes will be firmly fixed on the sophomore release of what was the very first Honeycomb tablet earlier this year. Slimmer, lighter and available in two sizes – 10.1 and 8.9 inches – Motorola intend to take the fight to Apple with more powerful processors, tough Gorilla Glass by Corning and a new pre-loaded app called MotoCast, which enables easy streaming of content from connected PCs and Macs.

Will Motorola’s new owners show parental favouritism by deploying Ice Cream Sandwich before all others on the Xoom 2? We are certainly keen to see the first iteration of Android 4.0 on a tablet, and we’re betting that the Xoom 2 will be one of the first to have it.

Model: Galaxy Tab 7.7 by Samsung

Galaxy Tab, it's been a while... will we finally get to see a new Samsung Android Tablet in the Australian market?

Why it’s important: Samsung’s 10.1 never had the opportunity to display its potential in many countries around the world, and Apple’s public legal action has actually fuelled the fire for interest in Samsung’s tablets, with many customers going so far as buying them from smaller online retailers willing to import them in.

Samsung have a slew of information already available on a public microsite, and the Galaxy Tab 7.7 sounds like a real contender. Featuring a Super AMOLED screen, 1280 x 800 resolution, weighing only 335 grams and measuring an impressively thin 7.9mm, this model may actually see the light of day – and we hear before the end of this calendar year.

Model: Eee Pad Transformer Prime by Asus

Slimmer, lighter, faster, and still the coolest tablet name in the market... the Asus Transformer Prime.

Why it’s important: The original Transformer with detachable keyboard succeeded in melding the touchscreen functionality of a tablet with the day-to-day needs of a netbook or notebook user. The innovative features included a separate battery in the keyboard compartment and Android-specific shortcut keys.

The highly anticipated Transformer Prime will be the first major tablet release to include the Tegra 3 quad core processor, slimming its screen component down to sub-iPad 2 levels of thinness. Improved battery life, Ultrabook-style design, brighter IPS Plus screen, and improved weight means this model will be on a bunch of Xmas wish-lists. We can’t wait to see this in the flesh either.

Expect a lot more detail on each of the above models in the coming weeks, which should reinvigorate an important category of the IT industry.

Are you biting your fingernails waiting for any particular tablet to come to the market?