It’s a general truism that a new “best Android phone ever” comes out every couple of months. Today, it’s the Galaxy S III.
The thing about the Galaxy S phones, versus every other iterative flagship Android phone that is shithot for approximately two months (like the Droid Razr), is that they set standards. They’re generational leaps, practically defining what a good Android phone is going to be like for at least the next six months or so. While an incrementally better Android phone is always going to come out the second you’ve finished wiping the first smudges off the one you just bought, a Galaxy S phone will at least be on the level for about a yearish. (The 20-million-selling Galaxy S II phones were only just completely outclassed in the last couple of months).
Samsung is the biggest phonemaker in the world. More than that, though, unlike Apple or HTC for example, it actually develops and manufactures most of the major technology that goes inside phones — things like the screen, flash memory, processor, camera — both for itself and for other phonemakers (including Apple). Which is part of why it’s in a better position than even Google-owned Motorola to make generation-defining phones. (Google’s picked Samsung to make its previous two Nexus devices, and it’s rumored that Samsung is going to make the next one as well.) It’s also partly a matter of scale — as the biggest manufacturer of Android phones, it gets to define what Android is like for a whole lot of people.
So, the Galaxy S III, by the jargon and numbers: a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED screen with 720p resolution (bigger than the previous two Android flagships, the 4.7-inch HTC One X and 4.65-inch Galaxy Nexus (oh, Jesus); quad-core Exynos 4 processor (that’s four cores inside of a trip also branded with the number four); 8-megapixel rear camera and 1.9-megapixel front camera, with 990ms startup time; up to 64GB of storage; it’s 0.34 inches thick (0.03 inches thinner than the iPhone 4S), 5.38 inches tall and 2.78 inches wide (it’s huge); 2100mAh battery (also huge); oh and it’s running 4.0 versions of both Android and Samsung’s TouchWiz. Did you get all of that?
No? Well, how about S Beam (sends files from your Samsung Galaxy S III to somebody else’s Samsung Galaxy S III, like a 1GB file in under 3 minutes); AllShare Play (also for sharing files); AllShare Cast (streams video)Group Cast (shares your screen with other Galaxy S III on the same network); Face Slide Show (facial recognition that sends you directly to a person’s social network profile); and Pop Up Play (lets you watch a video while you’re doing other stuff)? Then there are “natural interaction” features like “Smart Stay,” which stares into your eyes when you’re looking at the screen to keep the screen bright, “Direct Call,” which starts dialing a person you were about to text if you put the phone next to your head while in the text messaging app, and S Voice, which is like Siri, but maybe dumber? I still have not discovered what “HYPERGLAZE” is, though I saw it on one of the presentation slides.
All of this is what defines a generational leap in smartphones — a phone that Samsung says is “designed for humans.” You can see why, in this mess of numbers and shotgun branding — under which actually useful features are hidden! — Samsung keeps repeating things like the Galaxy S III “mimic[s] the warmth & beauty of nature” and that it’s “inspired by water, wind, leaves, and pebbles” with an “organic” user experience. If Samsung keeps saying these things they’ll be true eventually, right?
It’s fine that the Galaxy S III is not “organic” or even “designed for humans.” Really. What’s sad is that, for whatever generational leaps it makes in pure technology, technology for the sake of technological advancement, this new standard-bearer doesn’t make any kind of generational leap in vision. It’s got higher numbers in all the right places. It’s faster than before. It’s got a bigger screen. It’s iterative, charging down the same straight road all of those other Android phones have been on, in no particular direction, just at a higher velocity. This is even though Samsung is clearly trying to make it into something more profound than that. But it’s just doing more of what it’s always done. At best Samsung has gotten better at being itself. So maybe it’s more like spinning in a circle faster, faster, faster. Perhaps a better way to put it: Is there anything in the Galaxy S III that other phonemakers are going to steal?
The Galaxy S III is very much going to be the best Android phone that you can buy when it comes out in the next month or so. It’ll be on top for a little longer than most of the other flagship Android phones that come out every couple of months. And when the next great Android phone does come out, it’s going to be defined by this one — it’ll be just a little bit better. Which is exactly why I wish this phone was actually meaningful, and not just another “best.”