New Galaxy S III phone is bigger and smarter

Scott Ard

By Scott Ard, Front Page Editorial Director, Yahoo!

At a press event in London on Thursday that it described as an "unpacking," Samsung indeed rolled out an impressive array of hardware and software enhancements that the company hopes will help it retain its ranking as the top cellphone-maker in the world.

The biggest feature (literally) most consumers will notice is a stunning 4.8-inch Super AMOLED screen. That's about a half-inch larger than Samsung's Galaxy S II, and significantly bigger than the 3.5-inch high-resolution display on the Apple iPhone 4S. Despite the large screen, the S III actually is a bit thinner than the iPhone 4S (8.6mm vs. 9.33mm) and is slightly lighter as well (133 grams vs. 140 grams).

Besides the screen, consumers are likely to be most interested in the Galaxy S III's operating system and whether it is closing in on Apple's iOS, which has been widely considered the market leader since the iPhone was introduced in 2007.  The Galaxy S III will run the so-called Ice Cream Sandwich version of Google's Android OS (version 4.0). But it's the features that Samsung has built on top of the OS to address some common cell phone complaints that could help chip away at Apple's mindshare lead. For example:

  • "Smart stay" is intended to solve a problem every phone user has encountered: the screen dimming when you want it to stay on, such as when sharing an email with a friend.  Just as you hand them the phone and say, "Check this out," the screen dims as part of its power-saving routine. Making matters worse, getting back to that email also requires entering a password to unlock the screen.  With "smart stay," the new Galaxy phone uses the front-facing camera to detect if someone is looking at the screen. If it sees a face, the screen won't dim.

  • Samsung also touted "S Voice," which it described as being a cut above the current state of the art in voice recognition and response technology.

  • During a demonstration, Samsung showed how someone driving a car could operate the phone without taking their eyes off the road. Saying "Hi Galaxy" puts the phone into a mode to recognize voice commands. From there, the user can ask, "How's the weather?" or say, "Take a picture." (Of course, you'll need to look at the screen to see the forecast or take a picture.)

  • Anyone who has caught themselves in a lengthy texting conversation and thought, "This is ridiculous, I'm just going to call you," will appreciate what Samsung calls "direct call." While texting, if you raise the phone to your ear, it will automatically dial the person you are texting with.

  • "Smart alerts" are intended to help cut down on unnoticed calls from important people in your contact list. If you leave your phone on your desk and miss a call from your boss or wife, when you return and pick up the phone to put it into your pocket, it will vibrate and display the missed calls.

  • "S Beam" lets you tap phones with another Galaxy S III owner to easily transfer files or documents.

  • "Pop up play" lets the user watch a video while surfing the Web or answering email. The video simply becomes a small box that overlays on any other apps that are running, like picture-in-picture on a TV.

As for the 8-megapixel camera, Samsung made several enhancements:

  •  Zero lag from the time you tap the screen to the capture of the image.

  •  The ability to take a photo and be ready to take another in less than 1 second

  •  A burst mode that captures 3.3 photos per second

  •  The ability to capture still photos while recording HD video (very handy if you've ever tried to capture a child blowing out birthday candles and can't decide between a still photo and a video).

There are also some nifty software tricks that extend how those photos can be used. If you take a burst of photos, the phone will recommend the one it thinks is the best quality so you can discard the others. And if that picture is a group photo that includes people in your address book, the phone can recognize their faces and offer to send them a copy of the image.

For hard-core phone geeks, here are some other Galaxy S III specs: The screen is 1,280 by 720 pixels, it has HSPA+ connectivity, the removable battery is 2,100mAh, and it's packed with a quad-core Exynos processor.

The phone will come in blue or white and in three memory sizes (16GB, 32GB and 64GB), with the ability to add memory via a microSD card.

The company did not announce pricing, but its top-end phones typically run $200 to $250, with the signing of a two-year contract. The 32GB and 64GB versions would likely cost more. The Galaxy S III goes on sale in Europe at the end of May and in the U.S. in June. However, an LTE version is not expected in the U.S. until later in the summer.

Samsung also did not announce carriers, but it typically makes its phones available to the big four carriers in the U.S.