In its original form, the Samsung Galaxy S3 was certainly a talking point when it emerged from our review gauntlet back in May, but now we can add 4G mobile data speeds to its already extensive repertoire of skills, as it joins only a handful of devices in being able to function on the UK’s only 4G network, reborn as the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE.
Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE - Design
On the outside, the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE hasn’t changed, or if it has, the changes will be imperceptible to the average smartphone user. Despite utilising more RAM and a different antenna design to accommodate LTE functionality, this new S3 is technically two grams lighter in the hand and comes across as surprisingly light for a device laden with a 4.8-inch display.
It maintains the same curved, back rounded corners and impressively thin profile as before, so that when you slip it into your pocket it remains unobtrusive, despite its size. Colour options are the only other obvious addition. The Titanium Grey (pictured here) version, looks particularly sophisticated, with the brushed metal effect on the Hyperglazed back panel helping to add the premium feel of this flagship, despite its predominantly plastic construction.
Beyond the minor cosmetic changes, such as the ‘LTE’ logo on the lower portion of the phone’s back, the controls, form and overall aesthetic remain identical to the GT-I9300 (the non-LTE Galaxy S3) and for that we can’t fault it. The design is already a strong base with which to build on and changing it would overcomplicate things.
Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE - Screen
The 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display was certainly something to behold when we first clapped eyes on it at the Galaxy S3’s London launch event earlier in the year, however since then, the playing field has leveled out. That’s not to say the the display found in the S3 LTE has lost its charm, but with contenders like the HTC One X+ and the recently released Apple iPhone 5 now on the scene, deciding which display wins outright is a far tougher challenge.
All the same, viewing anything on the 720p screen is a joy; colours are bright and with support for 1080p HD video playback, content looks crystal clear. What’s more, despite the known drawbacks of AMOLED technology, this most recent display copes with whites well and far greater sunlight legibility.
Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE - User interface
The Samsung Galaxy S3 was the first of Samsung’s handsets to debut the latest version of the company’s Android overlay: TouchWiz Nature UX. Since then the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 debuted what the same interface felt like on a device running Android Jelly Bean and with the S3 LTE running Jelly Bean out-the-box, some of those same tweaks and changes have appeared.
The stylings of TouchWiz have always been of a subjective nature, but Samsung are keen to differentiate their devices and utilise the hardware they’ve accumulated in the best way they think possible. With the Galaxy S3 LTE, Nature UX allows for an impressive level of customisation for a first party launcher. Users can add and remove entire homescreens, choose independant lock and homescreen wallpapers, customise shortcuts on the lockscreen and even add folders to the applications menu, all elements not available in stock Android.
What’s more Samsung have swapped out a number of native apps alongside introducing some entirely new services as part of the S3’s user experience. Beyond the music, video and learning hubs which grant Samsung mobile users to discounted, free and exclusive content, elements like S Memo and S Planner (Samsung’s alternative to Android’s native calendar app) have the ability to sync across Samsung devices, with their own added functionality.
Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE - Camera and multimedia
Still shots on the S3 LTE’s 8-Megapixel camera are as beautiful as on the standard S3, the same competence at dealing with camera shake and colour reproduction carries through as do some of the shortcomings. The S3 LTE’s camera has a lot going for it and only minor aspects such as the low light noise cause issue. It’s also worth noting that although photos are excellent, they are geared towards that 4.8-inch Super AMOLED display and can look a little different once they’re off the handset.
It’s already been mentioned that the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE shoots 1080p HD video and in our tests it coped well with movement and stability, as well as sudden changes in lighting however its accurate autofocus was a little enthusiastic, often hunting for focus a little too often during recording. The resultant video quality is good although it would be nice to have deeper bass from the stereo audio.
Speaking of 1080p HD video, the S3 LTE can play it back too, likely thanks to the hardware monster hardware under the hood. As well as decent codec support (save for a few more diverse .AVIs), elements like the Video Hub give users access to 1000s of TV shows and films which they can buy or rents and watch straight on the S3, a task made even easier by the fact that 4G data speeds allow for high quality streaming to take place anywhere.
Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE - Connections and storage
Unlike the classic Galaxy S3, the LTE version is currently only available with 16GB of onboard storage, having said that, there’s enough space for HD movies and games and with streaming services like Video Hub and EE Film, there’s also a number of ways to consume content on the device without the need for local storage. What’s more users aren’t limited to the 16GB on offer as the S3 LTE retains the support for microSD cards up to 64GB, making for a cheap solution to adding additional flash memory.
Naturally the whole reason for the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE is its 4G connectivity, which offers theoretical mobile browsing speeds up to five times that of typical 3G speeds. In our comparison alongside a Samsung Galaxy S3 on EE’s 3G network, the results were extremely impressive, the download speeds of the S3 LTE closer to six times faster than the S3 using the same carrier’s 3G network.
Of course various elements affect the speed and quality of the 4G connection, not to mention the fact that for the moment it’s confined to select cities across the UK, but from here on out, the advantages of owning any 4G phone in the UK are only going to improve. In addition our real world use of web browsing and video streaming in HD whilst out and about proved highly satisfying thanks to the stability of London’s new 4G network and the excellent playback experience the S3 LTE provides.
It’s also worth adding that Samsung have a tendency to remove the FM radio transmitter from a device in order to accommodate the LTE functionality and although the reasoning behind this is not entirely clear, the S3 LTE doesn’t feature an FM radio as is the case with the original S3.
Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE - Performance and battery
The Galaxy S3 LTE didn’t only gain an antenna to support 4G but also an extra 1GB of RAM too. This minor tweak doesn’t appear to offer any significant advantage in real-world use, but the UI and intensive apps never lag. Artificial benchmarking also yielded results you’d expect, able to complete tasks faster and score a little higher. We never felt that the original S3 actually lacked anything with only 1GB of RAM, but the S3 LTE’s 2GB are only going to offer a more consistent, speedy experience.
Whilst the S3 LTE greatest upgrade is it’s 4G connectivity, the battery in use didn’t receive the same treatment. One big concern that was put to rest when the original S3 was launched was it’s ability to last a day with that powerful 1.4GHz quad-core processor to supply. Thankfully there was no need to worry as the 2100mAh cell proved to be perfectly suited to the job.
The S3 LTE’s requirements are even more demanding still and with the mobile radio having a tendency to hunt aggressively for the fastest speeds on offer, battery life does take a hit. Regular use of the 4G functionality of the handset, which is effectively anything that uses data will empty the battery in less than a day. Having said that 4G isn’t compulsory and for more trivial uses of data like syncing emails, users might want to consider dropping down to 3G unless they absolutely need the speed.
Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE - Conclusion
The Samsung Galaxy S3 certainly hasn’t lost anything (save for an FM radio) by stepping into the world of 4G and it’s clear to see the benefits of a device able to run at such a fast pace, however a prospective customer needs to weigh up the pros and cons of an undertaking such as this at this point in the game.
If the 4G connectivity is an absolute ‘must’, then the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE is the clear choice for one of the most well rounded smartphones of the bunch and it’s likely going to stay that way until Samsung decide to release the next LTE flagship here in the UK in 2013. Sure, the Note 2 LTE has even beefier hardware on offer, but the S3 LTE is likely going to appeal to a wider audience right now.
Hardware and software are excellent and the 4G speeds on offer with the young age of the network in use are staggering when compared to ‘the norm’ of 3G, but it then is a case of cost. With EE’s current monopoly of 4G connectivity in the UK extending for another few months, potential customers need to be sure that they need those LTE speeds before they commit to buying the S3 LTE, otherwise the vanilla S3 is a step back worth considering.
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