T-Mobile has already begun selling the S III, offering a 16-gigabyte version — that I tested — for $280 with a two-year contract, after a $50 mail-in rebate. Sprint's S III is due to arrive in stores Sunday, with a 16-gig version selling for $200 with a contract. AT&T has begun shipping preorders but hasn't set a date for in-store sales, and Verizon's is expected in stores by mid-July. With a contract, each will sell for $200.
So what can S III users expect? In short, an innovative and powerful smartphone well-designed as a computer-on-the-go, which is exactly how much of its target market is likely to use it.
In the five years since Apple essentially created a new market, the smartphone has become far more than a phone with computer skills. For the more than three in 10 people who own the devices, a smartphone is now their primary on-ramp to the Internet, according to a Pew Research Center study published Tuesday. And the fraction is even larger among groups such as young adults.
Apple's success is partly due to its seamless integration of hardware and software. With the iPhone as well as Mac computers, the operating system is built and continually upgraded by the same company that makes the devices — or at least designs them, while outsourcing their manufacture to China.
With Android, Google designed an open-source operating system offered to any manufacturer, and each then marries the software with its hardware. Though Apple has, by many measures, managed to repeatedly renew its lead — and may do so again this fall with the expected release of the iPhone 5 — Samsung and other Android makers have given admirable chase.
If you haven't looked at an Android lately, the S III is a good place to start. Running Google's Android 4.0 platform, nicknamed "Ice Cream Sandwich" by Google's snack-happy developers, it's the new flagship of the smartphone fleet at T-Mobile, the last national carrier without an iPhone. Here are some of its more impressive features: Performance. With 2 gigabytes of random-access memory and a 1.5 gigahertz dual-core processor, Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4, the Galaxy S III delivers your data swiftly, with no evidence of lag — a noticeable upgrade even from the Nexus S, an earlier Android 4.0 phone from Samsung, according to a colleague who owns one.
Worth noting is that T-Mobile's S III claims swift speeds — with average downloads topping 10 megabits per second — even though it runs on the carrier's HSPA+42 network, a step below the vaunted LTE networks that other U.S. carriers are already rolling out. T-Mobile says its LTE service is coming next year. Video. With a crisp, 4.8-inch diagonal screen, HD video is prominent in the S III's pitch. Though its pixel density, even with its 1,280-by-720 display, lags behind the smaller-screened iPhone's 960-by-640-pixel "Retina display," the S III delivers bright, well-saturated colors. It's far from tablet-size, but to many the extra screen area will hold great appeal.
The S III also features a picture-in-picture option called "Pop Up Play." You can continue watching videos while e-mailing, texting, or otherwise multitasking. " Intuitive interaction." The S III includes "S Voice," an interactive voice controller that takes simple commands — not just placing phone calls, but playing a song, sending a text, or even taking a photo with the S III's 8-megapixel camera. Network errors prevented me from putting it through all its paces, but Samsung says it performs popular Siri-like functions as well, such as answering trivia questions, initiating navigation, or setting alarms. For now all I can say is: S Voice, alert me when you've fixed the problem.
Other intelligent features save power or effort. With its user-facing camera, the S III can tell when you're not looking at it, and dim the display. Want to call someone when texting has produced one of those classic miscommunications that not even an "LOL" can cure? Just lift the phone to your ear and it dials automatically — before the person can respond with an angry emoticon. Bottom line. The Android platform sometimes seems reminiscent of Windows programs that are chock-full of features but suffer from their overcomplexity — unless you happen to value highly specialized features or gewgaws, such as the S III's ability to share photos in real time with fellow S III owners at, say, a concert or sports event.
The key is whether it gets the basics right, and on that the S III acquits itself well. Androids may lack the elegance of Apple's unified ecosystem, but Apple has sacrificed some of that itself by opening its platform to outside app developers. On the S III, handling apps and widgets is a snap. So is managing e-mail, contacts, calendars, and other essential smartphone functions.
Apple's patent claims may be totally righteous — the court case will tell. Meanwhile, Samsung is giving it a run for its money.
Contact Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776 or firstname.lastname@example.org.