Trending: ‘Our biggest competitor is paper’: Mapping startup Unearth lands $7M from Vulcan and Madrona

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


Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.