Looking just at the Touchwiz interface, it is clear the differences with previous models like the Galaxy S2 and the Galaxy Note are fairly limited. Samsung left itself unconcerned with the new style elements introduced by Google in Android 4, instead sticking to its own look and feel. Anyone who has used a Samsung Galaxy handset before, will quickly find their way around the Galaxy S3.
The biggest differences with previous models are below the interface. By more cleverly using the cameras and sensors in the handset, Samsung has attempted to make the phone more intelligent and have it work more seamlessly in day to day use.
Look at me!
One of the improvements that should simplify use of the Samsung Galaxy S3 is the ‘Smart Stay’ function. While that is active, the front camera 'looks' whether someone is looking at the phone - as long as that is the case, it keeps the screen turned on. Even when you have a mere 10 second time-out for the screen, the phone will remain on as long as you are looking at the screen. In practice that is very useful when you are reading longer mails or online texts. For watching videos this function provides no additional benefit, as the screen remains active during that activity under any circumstance.
As far as we can tell, the Smart Stay function does not look at the user continuously, but rather switches on the camera briefly about five seconds before a time-out would occur. If a face looking at the camera is recognised, the screen remains switched on. Smart Stay turns out to work pretty well. When you look at the screen it remains active, but if you look in another direction - while in viewing range of the camera - the screen does switch off. Even so, there are some limitations to the Smart Stay function: it only works well if there is sufficient ambient light, while we noticed that with strong backlight the function does not perform flawlessly either. Smart Stay is an incremental improvement enabling you to set the screen timeout to 15 or 30 seconds, without losing battery life or having to keep waking the phone from standby mode due to lack of screen interaction.
Under the header 'Motion Activation', Samsung bundles another set of eight functions which use the orientation, acceleration and proximity sensors to perform certain functions that are in part new in the Galaxy S3 and in part we already encountered before.
- Direct call
By moving the handset to your ear while typing an email or text message, or while looking at contact details, the person you were writing or looking at will be called. This works well in practice and does offer a small speed benefit, even though in every SMS app a menu button has been available for years to immediately call the person you are chatting with.
- Smart alert
When you have a missed call or text message, the phone vibrates the moment you pick it up. This is a useful function for those of us who do not have our handset within reach at all times and sometimes only discover after a while they have missed a message or conversation.
- Tap to top
By tapping the top of the handset twice, you automatically scroll to the top of web pages, your mail listing and contact lists.
- Tilt to zoom
By pressing with two thumbs on the screen and tilting the handset forwards or backwards, you can zoom in and out. This by way of an (in our opinion less user-friendly) alternative to pinch zoom.
- Pan to move icon
When you hold an icon or gadget on one of the home screens, you can move this off-screen by moving the phone left or right.
- Shake to update
By shaking the phone, it tries again to establish a Bluetooth connection.
- Turn over to mute
If you turn the handset facedown while being called, the call is rejected.
As mentioned, only some of these functions are new. Each on its own does not offer a tremendous improvement in useability, but in particular direct call, smart alert, tap to top and turn to mute are pleasant additions in daily life that do increase ease of use.