Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S III Android phone has so many new features that I feel like I learn something new about the device every time I pick it up. I’ve spent about a week using one of the phones, a test unit on loan from AT&T, and I’m still in the process of figuring out its various tricks and unique settings for interacting with the device.

Basically, it’s geek heaven, at least for now. My bigger question, long term, is whether these features will rise above the level of gimmick to actually change the way people use their phones. But gearheads will have a ton of fun for at least a week, and probably much longer.

Here are my five favorite features so far …

Direct Call: You’re texting with a friend and decide it will be easier to call them. You don’t push any buttons, you just lift the phone to your ear and it dials them automatically, using its sensors to know what you’re doing. A small thing but one that opens your eyes to how devices could become more seamless parts of our lives. This feature works consistently in my experience.

Smart Stay: If you pause and take your time while reading a particular web page or e-book, the phone doesn’t dim or turn of its display as it normally would after a period of idle time. Instead the phone’s front-facing camera recognizes your eyes looking at the screen and knows to keep it lit. You know it’s working when a little eyeball appears in the menu bar. (In my test device I had to activate the feature in the settings; it wasn’t on by default.) Again, a small touch that shows how a phone can be smarter.

Burst Mode: The 8MP rear-facing camera is extremely responsive and features a burst mode for automatically capturing up to 20 frames in rapid succession by holding down the shutter button. Great for taking pictures of sporting events and wiggly kids. An alternative “Best Photo” mode does the same thing with up to eight frames and then shows what the algorithm deems to be the best shot, discarding the rest.

Video/Stills: A camera button above the video record button lets you take full-resolution still pictures while recording a video — no need to choose between one or the other. Also works smoothly in my experience.

NFC: Of course, this is far from unique to the Samsung Galaxy S III, but the inclusion of Near Field Communication technology is still new enough to be a novelty. Setting the phone down on the Lexus ad in the April issue of Wired and having it automatically call up a companion experience inside the phone’s browser is another example of how emerging technologies will change the way we use our devices, eventually. Where’s my mobile wallet?

That’s just a sampling of the phone’s features, but those are the ones that have risen to the top for me so far, focusing on the ones most practical ones, likely to get heavier use.

On the down side, I initially had a little bit of trouble at times seeing text on the phone’s 4.8-inch Super AMOLED screen in bright sunlight (yes, we’ve had some of that around here lately). Switching to automatic brightness in the settings helped somewhat, but my iPhone 4S screen is still easier for me to read in bright light.

Also, the time I’ve spent with S Voice, Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri personal assistant, left me a little underwhelmed, but I’m not a huge user of voice commands to begin with.

Samsung’s Galaxy S III is available in AT&T stores starting today and Verizon stores next week. Its eventual release across AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint means that you’ll be seeing a lot of these phones in the coming weeks and months. The 16 GB version sells for $199 with contract.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • Guest

    That’s pretty amazing: a phone that actually recognizes when you’re looking at it! I’d love for this same “Smart Stay” feature to be applied to other notifications. If you’re looking directly at your phone, you don’t need that obnoxious text or ring tone to play.

    Thank you, Samsung, for innovating in a time when the erstwhile leaders do not.

  • Jefferson

    Todd, what do you think about the physical size of the phone? In person, it appears huge, though hard to truly tell when it is tethered to a security device.

    • Todd Bishop

      Agreed — that has taken some getting used to, but I’m OK with it. It fits in my front jeans pocket fairly comfortably. The fact that it’s thin helps.

  • Matthew Bos

    I got this phone for T-mobile on Tuesday and I love it so far. The screen is NOT too big, as a matter of fact, it’s just about perfect, much easier to read web pages and text in emails, etc. It feels good in the hand with my Cruzerlite case. The smart stay is the best feature so far, I HATE, HATE having to manually manage the on/off state of my screen after unlocking my phone initially. Camera is great too.

  • D

    Todd, are there any notable drawbacks about the phone? Some reports say it heats up and the microphone is poor quality.

  • Samir Shah

    Burst mode is cool and is required by everybody.

  • remyngtin

    wow , can’t wait

  • Blaxican619

    Hey Todd, why is it when i try to connect my Galaxy S III to my wifi service at home i get a “Authication Error Occured” message??? I dont have unlimited data with my phone plan and i reach my limit of 2gb within a week! Appreciate the help!

  • Naiken Rohit Perumal

    Awesome phone 3 wks old an I’m still learning all the cool features.

  • anthony

    How do I take pics while recording? I go to record and it only records

    • jim

      Turn the video recorder on. Go to settings and turn anti shake to off. Exit out of settings and start recording. When you start recording a camera button will be above the record button. Finally start pressing the camera button to take stills.If antishake is on then the still feature won’t work. Just remember to turn it off from the video recorder settings.

  • Kay N.

    I tried to register my SIII phone on the popup form on this page. However, there was no submit button on the bottom of the form and it wouldn’t scroll down. Please check into this. Thanks!!

  • kenyee

    S-Beam for transferring photos/videos to another user is also pretty cool…initial communication is via NFC, then it fires up WiFi Direct to do high speed data transfer…

Job Listings on GeekWork