Review: Samsung Galaxy S III (T-Mobile) – The Best Phone I’ve Ever Owned (Pt. 2 – The Software)
Software and Menus
I never thought I would hear myself utter these words, but I actually don’t mind TouchWiz 5.0 all that much. Typically, I am an AOSP purist at heart, so in the past, I’ve always flashed away from any OEM skins and opted for a stock vanilla Android experience whenever possible.
For the first time in my Android career, I’m going to go as far as to say I actually like Samsung’s overlay — something I’ve never even fathomed before. Samsung is calling this version, “TouchWiz Nature UX”, but I’m not sure how the UI and Nature tie in with one another, other than the default wallpaper being the seed head of a Dandelion. Regardless, there’s a ton of crazy new features, so they can call it whatever they want. I’m okay with it.
If TouchWiz Nature UX has to fall short, this is where it does so, and it’s still not even all that bad. The homescreen app has 7 customizable screens, but you cannot add or remove any of the screens, you can only edit them. They come pre-configured with a ton of widgets and app shortcuts I am sure many of you will quickly re-configure because most of them are for apps you’ll rarely use.
At the top of your default home screen, you get a weather widget, powered by Accuweather, and in the middle of each screen is a slider which can be used for quick navigation — there’s no fancy animation here, just a quick sliding effect. There’s also a Google Search widget on the main screen, which I would generally remove, but since the S3 does not have a dedicated search button, I leave this here for quick searches.
With most new Android devices, there aren’t typically a whole lot of changes to the menus and settings, unless there is a major jump in operating systems or OEM skin versions, which is exactly the case with TouchWiz Nature UX. There are a ton of new settings for the Galaxy S III, and they aren’t all in obvious places, so I suggest you get familiar with them quick, fast and in a hurry.
For the sake of writing an informative review and pointing out every detail I can for new Galaxy S III owners, I will go through each of the menus and settings for you and point out the ones you really need to care about. Starting from the top (I hope you packed a lunch):
This one is obvious and nothing has changed from previous WiFi settings. This is where you go to set up your WiFi access point settings. Inside of the “Advanced Settings” option for this menu, you can choose whether or not you want to keep your WiFi on when the device is asleep, or you can choose to do so only when the phone is plugged in.
Another familiar setting. Here, you can scan for available Bluetooth-compatible devices, make your device visible to Bluetooth-compatible devices and pair it with them. I have a Jawbone Aliph BT headset, which was very easy to pair with my S3, and the connection quality is great. I can hear incoming calls just fine and those on the other end of the line never complain about not being able to hear me or understand me clearly enough.
This is a really cool feature that was introduced in Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). The “Data Usage” tab allows you to keep track of how much data you consume. You can set alarms to alert you when you are nearing your monthly limit, and you can even see exactly how much data each app on your phone is responsible for using. Those of you on non-unlimited data plans will love this feature, as it can essentially save you from ever getting any overage fees, or in my case, throttled after reaching your limit.
There are a few useful settings buried in this section, so make sure to take note of where they are all located. Here, you’ll find standard Android settings, like Airplane Mode, Kies via WiFi, VPN, WiFi Calling and tethering and mobile hotspot settings. This is also where you can turn on Near Field Communication, or NFC, to allow data exchanges when your device touches the back of another NFC-capable device.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking for Google Wallet support, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re not going to find it here, since T-Mobile blocks the app on their network.
There are four very important settings at the bottom of this menu that are new features, two of which were released exclusively with the Galaxy S III. These settings are:
- Android Beam — Not exclusive to the SIII, but still a relatively new feature, Android Beam is an NFC-based technology with which you can quickly share web pages, videos, apps and pictures by simply tapping the two phones together within the reach of NFC range. You can also share other important data like files with other enabled devices.This feature also works to share Google Maps information, video being watched on YouTube, contact information and applications you are using.
- S Beam — This technology works in a similar way as the Android Beam, introduced on the Galaxy Nexus introduced in 2011. Samsung has developed it further and allows your phones to bond instantly. Using NFC and WiFi Direct the function is now faster and better than ever before. The whole process is achieved using just one press on you phone. Samsung claims it is the fastest and easiest way to share content with friends — I have to agree with them here.
- WiFi Direct — This is a certification mark for devices supporting a game-changing new technology enabling WiFi devices to connect directly, making it simple and convenient to do things like print, share, synch and display. Products bearing the WiFi Direct certification mark can connect to one another without joining a traditional home, office or hotspot network.
In this menu, you can control all of the sounds your Galaxy S III will make. If you’d like to preview the notification sounds and ringtones, check out this post we did, back when they first leaked onto the Internet. Here’s a quick list of everything else you’ll find in here:
- Silent mode
- Vibration intensity
- Device ringtone
- Device vibration
- Default notifications
- Sound and Vibrate
- Touch sounds
- Screen lock sound
- Haptic feedback
- Auto haptic feedback
Moving right along, we’re now inside of the Display settings for the Galaxy S III. Here, you can set your screen brightness level to either your desired brightness, or to automatic brightness, which uses light sensors to determine how bright your screen will light up. I typically keep mine on auto and it does the trick just fine for me.
You can also change your screen timeout in this menu. I keep mine set to 30 seconds, as that is plenty enough to conserve battery when I sit my phone down and forget to turn off the screen.
Smart Stay is another one of the awesome features hidden in the Galaxy S III settings menus. With this option turned on, your device will scan your face to determine if you are actually looking at the screen. If your face and eyes are properly detected, the device automatically disables the screen timeout and resets the clock. Smart Stay will scan for your face again as your screen reaches the end of its default timeout period.
Here’s the rest of the settings you’ll find here:
- Auto-rotate screen
- Touch key light duration — Adjust the delay before the capacitive buttons’ Touch key lights automatically turn off
- Font Style — There are four font styles to choose from: default, Choco Cooky, Helvetica S and Rosemary
- Font Size – There are four font sizes to choose from: tiny, small, normal, large or huge
- Auto adjust screen tone – Save power by adjusting screen tone according to analysis of images
- Display battery percentage – Shows battery percentage on indicator
- Gyroscope calibration – Calibrate motion correctly using gyroscope
Here is a section I’m sure many of you are anxious to check out. As I mentioned before, the Galaxy S III was designed for humans and inspired by nature — this is one of the few spots on the phone that make this obvious. One thing I like is that there’s not a ton of them hogging up your storage space. There’s 5 nice-looking static wallpapers to choose from. Check the gallery below for the 4 you haven’t already seen in the previous screenshots.
There are also a handful of beautiful live wallpapers included, for those of you who don’t mind running them at the expense of a little extra battery power (they look nice, but sure do like to cause drainage). A while back, we did a YouTube video detailing the live wallpapers that leaked prior to the device’s launch, so I’ll just leave you with that clip. There’s a couple that didn’t get covered then. Check the screens below the video for a quick peek at them.
This is where you’ll go to change the settings for your LED indicator light. Check out the settings below:
- Charging — LED lights up when device is connected to a charger
- Low battery — LED lights up when battery level is low (I’d leave this off, as those lights will cause you even more drain to your already low battery… duh).
- Missed event — LED lights up when you have missed calls, messages, or application events
Of all of the settings menus on your new Galaxy S III, this is the one section I suggest you pay the most attention to because it packs some of the coolest features you will find on your phone. The S3 boasts revolutionary motion-detecting sensors. There are a ton of things you can accomplish, simply by performing a specific motion on, or with your phone. Let’s take a closer look at each of them below, shall we?
- Direct call — This motion feature lets you call any contact whose log details, contact details, or message details are currently on-screen, by simply bringing the device by your face. For instance, say you’re in the messaging app and you’re in mid-text message, but you decide you’d rather call the recipient, and not waste time thumbing out your message. Just raise the phone up and boom — the call automatically places itself and the line starts ringing.
- Smart alert – With Smart alerts enabled, all you have to do is pick up your device to be notified about missed calls and messages. If you have any pending notifications or missed calls, your screen will light up and you get an alert upon picking up your phone.
- Tap to top — Tap to top makes scrolling to the top of your contact list, email list, or emails a simple process. Simply double tap on the top of your device and you automatically jump to the top of the screen.
- Tilt to Zoom — This motion feature is awesome for zooming in and out of pictures or web pages. Just touch any two points on your screen and tilt either forward to zoom in, or backwards to zoom out. Very convenient.
- Pan to move icon — If you do not intend on using a third-party homescreen launcher application, this feature is kinda interesting. If you want to move an icon on your homescreen, all you have to do is tap and hold the icon and tilt your phone in the direction of the page you’d like to move the icon to. The screen automatically scrolls and you can easily reposition the icon wherever you’d like. This only works on TouchWiz home, as far as I know. Third-party launchers will require the functionality to be baked in by the developer.
- Pan to browse images — This one plays off of the “tilt to zoom” motion. If you’re zoomed in on an image, you can move the device up or down to “browse” the image.
- Shake to update — You can scan for Bluetooth device, Kies air devices and other devices by shaking your device. Another nifty feature, provided you can remember it’s there. There’s almost too much to keep up with on the Galaxy S III, as you can see so far by this review.
- Turn over to mute — Incoming calls, message alerts and alarms can easily be muted by turning your device over when they are playing. This also works when you’re playing music on the default Music Player app (sorry, it doesn’t jive with Google Play Music).
- Palm swipe to capture – By far, my favorite of all of the motion capabilities in the Galaxy S III’s bag of tricks. This lets you take screenshots by swiping the side of your hand from right to left, or vice versa on the screen, and you can do this anywhere on your phone. It does get tricky at times if you’re on a page that can swipe from side to side, so you may also want to know that holding the Power and Home buttons simultaneously also accomplish the same thing.
- Palm touch to mute – Similar to the “turn over to mute” motion, you can also mute incoming sounds by covering the device’s screen with your phone, almost like you’re smothering out the sound. Again, this works on the stock Music Player, but not on Google Play Music or other third-party apps.
Even with the Galaxy S III’s 2100 mAh battery, power consumption is always in the back of my mind. Luckily, there is a ton of battery-saving settings in this menu that help to keep my phone juiced up at all times. Below is a quick rundown of each setting and what it will accomplish for you:
- CPU power saving — Limit the maximum perfomance of the CPU
- Screen power saving — Use low power level for screen
- Background color — Change background color to save power in email and internet
- Turn off haptic feedback — Turning off haptic feedback can extend battery life
The Galaxy S III comes in two sizes: 16GB and 32GB. This menu helps by showing you how much free storage space you have available, as well as breaking down what types of files are using space and how much space they are responsible for. The same applies for your microSD card — all of that information can be found here, too.
This is the menu you want to go to to check your battery usage stats. Here, you will find all of the apps that have used your battery and how much battery drain they are responsible. Additionally, you can click on each app and see more detailed information about its power consumption.
The application manager menu gives you three different lists: your downloaded apps, the apps currently running on your phone and all installed apps; the last list shows both downloaded apps and system apps. From here, you can uninstall an application, force it to close, remove default selection settings (i.e. if you didn’t want a specific app to launch by default, you would clear the defaults here). You can also see a running total of your device memory at the bottom of the screen.
Accounts and Sync
Here, you will set up your various accounts, like Samsung, Google, Facebook and so on. You can also configure the applications that you would like to sync data automatically. When not using your phone, I suggest turning of syncing to save battery life.
The location menu is used for determining if and how you want your phone to determine your current location. You can choose to:
- Use wireless networks — Location determined by Wifi and/or mobile networks
- Use GPS satellites — Locate to street-level (requires more battery plus view of sky)
- Location and Google Search — Allows Google to use your location data for improved search results and other services
Next to the Motions settings menu, this is probably the second most important menu area on your phone. There are a lot of treasures hidden here that will help you keep your phone secure and free from prying eyes, or as open as can be, if that’s the way you choose to rock your devices — we’ll leave that choice up to you. Because there are a few important areas here, let’s take a look at them one by one.
There are 8 different options available to choose from for unlocking your device when it wakes up from turning on the screen. The 8 options are:
- Swipe (no security) — This is the default setting. To unlock your device, simply swipe anywhere on the lock screen. This displays the ripple effect and unlocks your phone with no protection from the outside world.
- Motion (no security) — This one is pretty cool. From your lock screen you simply press on the screen and tilt your device forward to unlock. If the screen does not unlock, try tilting the device more. When learn about tilt or motion lock are set, motion activation will be automatically enabled in Settings.
- Face unlock (low security) — Face unlock was first introduced with Ice Cream Sandwich. The technology takes a picture of your face and uses it as your “password”. When unlocking your screen, the phone’s front-facing camera will turn on and scan for your face. Face unlock is less secure than a pattern, PIN, or password because someone who looks similar to you could unlock your phone. (Oh, and just in case you’re worried about where the data used to identify your face is stored, don’t be; it’s all kept private, right on your phone.)
- Face unlock and voice (low security) — Just the same as regular Face Unlock, but this method also requires your voice.
- Pattern (medium security) — This method allows you to protect your phone from unauthorized use by creating a personal screen unlock pattern. Use your finger to connect the dots in order on the screen. You must connect at least four dots.
- PIN (medium to high security) — Set a Personal Identification Number, with at least 4 digits.
- Password (high security) — Set a password with at least 4 characters.
- None – No screen lock at all. Just hit the power button and go directly to your home screen, as you would if you were on a tablet.
The lock screen itself is completely customizable. There are a ton of different options, which can be accessed via the phone’s security settings. Here’s a quick look at what’s under this menu and what you can be done here:
- Shortcuts – This setting allows you to add, edit and delete shortcuts on your lock screen. There are 4 slots that can be set to any app of your choosing for quick and easy access.
- Information Ticker – You can easily add news or stock information to your lock screen via the Information Ticker. Choose your default news category or stocks in the settings, set the auto-refresh timer (3 hours should do) and boom — handy updates without even having to unlock your screen.
- Quick Camera Access – One of the first things I found as a disappointment on the Galaxy S III was the lack of a physical camera button on the device. Coming from an HTC Amaze 4G, I was fond of the device’s physical camera and video camera buttons and used them often, so I was sad to lose them with the purchase of my new phone. With Quick Camera Access, all you have to do is hold your phone straight, tap the screen and hold it, then rotate your device and the camera app will automatically open. Still not as handy as physical buttons, but a pretty nifty feature, indeed.
- Clock – This one speaks for itself. Checking the time is as easy as turning on you device. Enough said.
- Dual Clock – This feature is pretty handy. It allows you to have two clocks on your lock screen when you’re roaming. Say you fly from New York to Cali, you’ll have your home time, as well as your destination time, so you always know where you’re at in the day.
- Weather – Here’s another one that needs no explanation. Local forecasts, without having to dig for them. Win.
- Ripple Effect – TouchWiz 5.0 has a unique slide-anywhere-to-unlock feature. The ripple effect adds a nice ambiance and “watery” feel to unlocking your phone. I guess this could be another instance of Mother Nature poking her head in on the new Samsung overlay. Either way, I’m sure Apple will soon sue for patent infringement of some sort, but it sure looks pretty.
- Help Text – This feature makes your lock screen “fool-proof”. Okay, not really, but what it does do is place a convenient reminder on your screen that you need to swipe to unlock. Just in case you forget.
- Wake Up in Lock Screen – If this setting is enabled, you can use your S-Voice wake up command on your lock screen to unlock your phone. Not really something I’d use often, but it’s cool to be able to say I can do it if I want to.
- Set Wake Up Command – This is where you’ll go to set your own custom command for waking the device. Self-explanatory.
This menu lets you set your owner information and have select whether or not you want it do display on your lock screen. Nothing more, nothing less.
OK, for now, I’ll stop with the security settings screenshots, but I will quickly run over the rest of them, as there are still a few more important ones left.
- Encrypt device — Require a password to decrypt your device every time you turn it on
- Encrypt SD card — Require a password to decrypt your SD card each time it is inserted
SIM Card Lock
- Set up SIM card Lock
- Make passwords visable
- Device administrators — View or disable device administrators
- Unknown sources — Allow installation of non-Google Play Store apps
- Trusted credentials — Display trusted CA cerificates
- Install from device storage — Install certificates from storage
- Clear credentials — Remove all certificates
Language and Input
By default, the Galaxy S III supports 6 different languages:
In this menu, you can select your default keyboard. I’m quite fond of Samsung’s stock keyboard. It is very fast and responsive, and it allows both “peck” typing and swipe-to-text (like Swype). It features word prediction, as well as corrective typing, for all you speed texters out there. Check out a quick screenshot of the default input app:
Voice CMD for Apps
This is another really awesome set of features you can brag to your friends about. With this setting turned on, you can use voice commands to controls specific apps. like:
- Incoming calls – You can answer or reject calls by saying “Answer” and “Reject”
- Alarm — You can stop or snooze alarms by saying “Stop” and “Snooze”
- Camera — You can take photos by saying “Capture”, “Shoot”, “Smile” or “Cheese”
- Music – You can control the music player by saying “Next”, “Previous”, “Play”, “Pause”, “Volume up” and “Volume down”
- Voice recognizer – Choose from either Google or Samsung powered by Vlingo
- Voice Search settings – Set your default language, apply SafeSearch settings to filter explicit images when using your voice to search Google, block offensive voice results, improve speech recognition activity, and manage your collected data.
- Text-to-speech output — Choose your default TTS engine, either Google Text-to-speech Engine, or Samsung TTS in this menu. You can also change the speed at which the text is spoken, play a short demonstration of speech synthesis, or turn driving mode on or off, which will read all incoming calls and notifications out loud for you
- Pointer speed — Change how fast or slow your on-screen pointer moves when moving your finger on the device’s screen
Backup and Reset
Backup and restore
- Back up my data — Back up app data, WiFi passwords, and other settings to Google servers
- Backup account – This option is used for backing up your email account
- Automatic restore — When reinstalling an application, backed up settings and data will be restored
- Factory data reset – Reset all settings and all data on device
- Collect diagnostics — Collect diagnostics data
- Dock sound — Choose whether or not to play sounds when inserting or removing the device from a dock
- Audio output mode — Choose whether or not audio will play over the external speakers when device is docked
- Desk home screen display –Choose whether or not the desk home screen will display when device is docked
Date and time
- Automatic date and time — Use network-provided time
- Automatic time zone — Use network-provided time zone
- Set time
- Set date
- Use 24-hour format
- Select date format
- Auto-rotate screen
- Speak passwords
- Call answering/ending — Manage call answering/ending settings
- Screen timeout
- Install Web scripts
- Negative colors – Reverses the colors of the screen
- Font size — Tiny-Huge
- Mono Audio — Provides mono audio for listening with one earphone
- Turn off all sounds — Turn off all sounds, including receiver voice
- Tap and hold delay
- USB debugging — Choose whether or not debugging mode launches when USB is connected
- Development device ID
- Desktop backup password
- Strict mode — Make screen flash when apps perform long operations on main thread
- Show pointer location
- Show touches
- Show screen updates
- Show CPU usage
- Force GPU rendering
- Window animation scale
- Transition animation scale
- Do not keep activities
- Limit background processes
- Show all ANRs
- Software Update — This is where you go to check for OTA software updates
- Status — Shows status of network, battery and other information
- Legal information — View open source licences, Google legal and Licence settings
- Model number — SGH-T999
- Android version – 4.0.4 at the time of this review
- Baseband version – T999UVLEM at the time of this review
- Kernel version –3.0.8-611599-user se.infra@SEP-103 #1 SMP PREEMPT Tue May 22 22:58:12 KST 2012
- Build number — IMM76D.T999UVALEM at the time of this review
That being said, there’s obviously a ton of settings for you to dig around in. As you can see, some of these features are exclusive to the Galaxy S III, so that’s why I chose to detail each and every one of them. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to something even more interesting, shall we?