Samsung’s third generation flagship is arguably one of the best and most powerful smartphones available today on Sprint’s network. The 4G LTE-equipped Galaxy S III is not only a device that looks good on paper with sheer specs, but one that is able to deliver a great user experience to consumers thanks to added software that Samsung has bundled alongside Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. And as Sprint is slowly starting to build out its 4G LTE network–LTE service is available in limited areas at this time–the Galaxy S III, like the earlier released HTC EVO 4G LTE, is a phone that is searching for a cozy home.
We’ve covered various aspects of the Galaxy S III with its dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor in an earlier detailed review covering the AT&T Mobility and T-Mobile USA variants so in this review, we’re going to look at the Sprint-specific aspects of the device, including network, call quality, mobile broadband speeds, bundled apps, and Google Wallet.
For a detailed review of the Galaxy S III, please visit our earlier post where we have covered many of the smartphone’s features in depth.
Like the Galaxy S III variants that we had covered in the past for Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, and T-Mobile USA, the Sprint version of the Galaxy S III shares the same visual aesthetics. Available in either Marble White or Pebble Blue colors in either 16 GB or 32 GB varieties, the Galaxy S III retains the large 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display giving users a 720p HD screen, a physical hardware home button that’s been imported into the U.S. edition for the first time, along with two capacitive touchscreen buttons, one flanking either side of the physical home button.
The design of the phone is slim, and despite the large display, there is really not much difference between the 4.8-inch display and the size of a 4.3-inch phone. Comparing the Sprint Galaxy S III to devices with a 4.3-inch display like the Verizon Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx, the physical dimensions are roughly the same–you’ll get a bigger display in roughly the same package at the end of the day.
A key difference between the Sprint version compared to other carriers’ versions that we had reviewed in the past lies underneath the battery door. Unlike the AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon model, Sprint does not yet give its customers the ability to swap SIM cards so there is not a SIM card tray once the battery cover is removed; there is a SIM card and the SIM card is embedded inside the phone.
For the average user, this doesn’t matter, but for users who are hoping to have multiple 4G LTE phones from Sprint and hoping to be able to swap phones easily by just inserting and removing SIM cards, this won’t be an option. A Sprint spokeswoman did confirm that the carrier will be enabling user-replaceable SIM cards in future phones, but did not give a timeline for when that would happen.
We had covered various aspects of the Nature UX (TouchWiz UI) alongside Samsung’s enhancements for easy sharing and camera software in the past, so please refer to our detailed Galaxy S III review for thoughts on those aspects. On the Sprint version of the smartphone, you’ll still have access to the same great software.
On the Galaxy S III, Sprint shows its restraint, compared to rival carriers like T-Mobile, in adding carrier bloatware. Users will see a Sprint hotspot app, which is appreciated for either WiFi or USB tethering, along with SprintZone, which is a WAP web portal for account information, and Sprint’s Voicemail app where you can get a limited time trial of Sprint’s visual voicemail implementation.
A key piece of software that is included on Sprint’s newer NFC-enabled smartphones that is not to be found on Sprint’s rivals is Google Wallet. The mobile digital wallet app is pre-installed on the Galaxy S III and allows users to either set up the app with a Google prepaid debit card and link it to a credit card, or attach a credit card directly to the Google Wallet app. Your account credentials will be securely stored in the cloud; in the event you lose your phone, you can log in from a PC to remove the phone from being an authorized device for payment. The service allows users to replace their wallet (eventually) and pay for goods and services at brick and mortar retail stores by tapping their NFC phones on an NFC card reader, similar to swiping a credit card.
At this time, Google Wallet is accepted only at a limited number of retail establishments. I’ve used Google Wallet with my Sprint phone and it is definitely a novelty for retail associates and customers standing behind me in line, but for the service to be more useful, it will have to expand to more locations.
Along with Sprint’s pre-bundled apps, you’ll also find Game Hub, Media Hub, and Music Hub. These are portals and storefronts for additional content for your phone. Samsung also pre-installed Flipboard as a convenient way to access news and information in a visual manner.
Network: Call Quality and Data Speeds
Though the Galaxy S III–along with the HTC EVO 4G LTE, LG Viper 4G LTE, and the Galaxy Nexus–are all 4G LTE-enabled devices, service is still limited. In early reports of Sprint’s 4G LTE service where the LTE service is available, we’ve been seeing great numbers, like 13 Mbps download speeds and close to 7 Mbps upload, both of which are very competitive against larger rival Verizon Wireless, which operates a similar CDMA/EVDO/LTE network infrastructure.
However, as 4G LTE on Sprint is still not yet available in the San Francisco Bay Areas, I’ve tested the phone on 3G CDMA/EVDO Rev. A speeds. Needless to say, as per our earlier Sprint iPhone 4S speed tests, 3G speeds were disappointing when examined with services like Speedtest.net. The Galaxy S III never topped 1 Mbps on that testing service and upload speeds hovered under 500 Kbps. However, numbers alone don’t tell the entire story. Loading webpages was fine minus a short wait. I found that simple web pages load fine on Sprint’s 3G speeds despite the Speedtest numbers. However, when it came to complicated webpages, Flash-enabled content, and videos, Sprint’s 3G network will begin to struggle as there are long buffering and waiting times. That said, an HD or HQ (high quality) YouTube video was able to buffer for a good minute or so and play through the entire length on Sprint’s 3G network without stuttering in the middle.
Hopefully, Sprint will roll out its 4G LTE network soon to more places in the U.S.
In terms of call quality, the Galaxy S III on Sprint’s network performed fine as a phone. Call quality was noticeably warmer on 3G CDMA than on T-Mobile’s network and I experienced fewer dropped calls on Sprint than I had on AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s service.
Speed tests and call quality will vary on location and network load, so I suggest you go to a Sprint store to test the Galaxy S III losing a few of your favorite websites and making a few calls before you judge the network or buy the phone.
Not tapping into a 4G LTE network and turning off the 4G LTE radio in the phone’s settings gave this phone great battery life. Though the other variants of the Galaxy S III already got stellar battery life, but I was able to squeeze in an extra 2-3 hours on the Sprint version with 4G disabled. Essentially, with light to moderate use, the phone can squeeze in close to 20 hours of usage before requiring a recharge.
Is Sprint’s Galaxy S III the Right Phone for Me?
There’s been a lot of talk about Sprint’s network. Pundits are quick to criticize the Now Network for not having a widely deployed 4G LTE network and supporters are fast to point out that Sprint remains the only carrier right now to offer unthrottled, unlimited mobile broadband data. If you’re a loyal Sprint customer considering an upgrade, the Sprint Galaxy S III provides excellent value and is a device that will offer a lot of bang. On the other hand, if you’re currently on a carrier with 4G LTE or 4G HSPA+ service in your area, the value proposition is a bit harder to make. At the end of the day, if you can live with 3G speeds for now and are in need of unlimited data, you cannot beat Sprint’s value. That said, 4G LTE may not arrive in your major city until 2013 and that’s quite a bit of a wait. In the meantime, if you’re debating Sprint’s value proposition, go to a Sprint store and test out the phone by loading a few webpages. If the web speeds are sufficient, then don’t let the speedtest numbers fool you.