Samsung Galaxy S III review

The Samsung Galaxy S III is the best phone for a network that's on its way out.
Photo of Samsung Galaxy S III

The Samsung Galaxy S III is MetroPCS’s best smartphone. Don’t buy it. MetroPCS’s version of the Galaxy S III brings 4G LTE speed and great tricks like Wi-Fi calling and Google Wallet with NFC. It’s good stuff. But it’s also $499, and with MetroPCS potentially switching its focus to GSM in six months, I can’t recommend plunking down half a grand on a phone for the carrier’s older CDMA network.

The big issue here is T-Mobile’s impending purchase of MetroPCS, which would take effect in mid-2013. On day one of the merger, the combined company will start selling T-Mobile-compatible phones and shift its focus to folding the MetroPCS network into T-Mobile’s.

CDMA phones like the GS3 wouldn’t stop working. LTE coverage and speeds will actually get better as they join T-Mobile’s new LTE network, and as MetroPCS’s CDMA voice network slowly gets turned down, their CDMA halves would roam on Sprint. But the company won’t be selling CDMA phones any more, opening questions about service and support from a company that’s heading gung ho toward the competing HSPA+ technology.

Considering MetroPCS’s spectacular LTE service plans (including $55 for unlimited talk, text, and data), that doesn’t mean shunning MetroPCS between now and then. It just means that if you’re buying a MetroPCS phone now, you should save your pennies and get a less expensive smartphone like the LG Motion 4G  or the Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G , socking away the remaining cash for a killer phone on a growing network in 2013.

Physical Design
All of the Galaxy S III models look the same, except for the carrier logo on the back panel. MetroPCS’s model comes in white plastic. At 5.4 by 2.8 by 0.34 inches (HWD) and 4.7 ounces, the GS3 is a large phone, although it no longer looks ridiculous in the age of the 5-inch HTC Droid DNA and 5.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Note II. That said, this is not a phone for folks with small hands. 

Solidly built, and light despite its size, the Galaxy S III is dominated by its 4.8-inch, 1,280-by-720-pixel Super AMOLED HD screen. Yes, it’s PenTile, which can sometimes look slightly pixelated, but, no, you probably won’t notice. Below the screen, there’s a physical Home button, as well as illuminated Back and Multitasking buttons that start out invisible, so you have to memorize where they are or change a setting to keep them lit up. The 8-megapixel camera is on the back panel. 

The default Automatic Brightness setting makes the screen too dim. Kill it and pump up the brightness and it’s fine, even outdoors. It’s not as bright as the LG Connect 4G’s Nova screen, but it’s fine.

Taking off the back cover reveals the removable 2100mAh battery and a microSD card slot, which supports cards up to 64GB. Talk time was excellent at 12 hours, 15 minutes on MetroPCS’s 4G network.

Network and Call Quality
The Galaxy S III performed very well on MetroPCS’s LTE network in New York City. Reception was quite strong, and call quality was unusually good for MetroPCS. As with all Galaxy S III phones, you can tune the call audio to the frequencies you best hear, a nice touch. The speakerphone isn’t quite loud enough to use outdoors, but it’s fine for the car or a boardroom. The microphone does a good job of cancelling background noise. Bluetooth headsets work fine with Samsung’s S-Voice voice dialing system.

Calls get enhanced by Joyn, the first voice-over-LTE service in America. Joyn isn’t seamless to startyou have to download an app from Google Play and run itbut after that, it always launches at startup. Joyn’s top improvement is clear Wi-Fi calling when you can’t get MetroPCS signal. That’s a big benefit. If you know other people with Joyn phones, you can also stream live video to them and get an improved SMS experience with read receipts. 

The service supports two-way video calling, but only over Wi-Fi. At that point you might as well use Skype or ooVoo and get a larger potential audience.

Here’s the thing, though: Joyn works on a bunch of MetroPCS phones, not just the Galaxy S III. It runs on both the LG Motion 4G and Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G, so you can get these features on less expensive phones than the GS3.

I got very good Internet speeds with the Galaxy S III, with an average of 7Mbps down and 3.4Mbps up. Metro’s network has actually been getting faster with time, and that’s one thing that won’t decline after the Metro/T-Mobile merger, as phones like this will be able to access both Metro’s existing LTE network and T-Mobile’s new LTE network.

The Galaxy S III also has Wi-Fi on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands, and NFC. Google Wallet comes preloaded on the phone.

Software and Performance
The MetroPCS Galaxy S III runs Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” and Samsung has said an update to 4.1 “Jelly Bean” is coming. Check out our full reviews of Android 4.0 and Android 4.1 for more information.

The 1.5GHz Qualcomm S4 chip in here isn’t the most powerful on the market any more, but it still performs very well, and it’s the fastest thing MetroPCS has to offer. For more on the phone’s apps, camera and media playback, take a look at our review of the Sprint version of the Galaxy S III; this one performs pretty much the same.

MetroPCS and Samsung have added their own apps to the usual Galaxy S III build. Other than Joyn and Google Wallet, the most interesting is Easy WiFi, provided by DeviceScape. This is a nifty client which runs in the background and auto-detects and logs into public Wi-Fi hotspots. I’m always surprised to see how well it works. Otherwise, the phone is larded down with applications and media stores from both Samsung and MetroPCS.

Conclusions
We’re not giving any more Editors’ Choice awards on MetroPCS until its line of T-Mobile compatible HSPA+ phones comes out next year. The Galaxy S III is an excellent phone, but it costs too much up front for a phone running on a network whose days are strictly numbered.

If you have deep pockets and want to go this route anyway, your phone will probably work just fine over the next two years. Still, though, if you want a Galaxy S with a MetroPCS plan and a real future, I’d hold out for six months and hope to get a new T-Metro Galaxy S IV that’s all kitted out for the new network.

Our Editors’ Choice for MetroPCS is technically the LG Connect 4G, but that award came before the T-Metro merger announcement. As I said before, right now I’d save my dollars, pick up an LG Motion or Samsung Galaxy Attain, and get another new MetroPCS phone once the effect of the merger becomes clearer.

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Specifications
Service Provider MetroPCS
Screen Details 1280-by-720 Super AMOLED display
Bands 850, 1900, 1700
Physical Keyboard No
Operating System Android OS
Network CDMA, LTE
High-Speed Data EVDO Rev A, LTE, CDMA 1X
Form Factor Candy Bar
Megapixels 8 MP
Bluetooth Yes
Camera Yes
Battery Life (As Tested) 12 hours 15 minutes
Camera Flash Yes
microSD Slot Yes
802.11x 802.11 b/g/n
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
Screen Size 4.8 inches
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 12 GB
GPS Yes

Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy S III is the best phone for a network that's on its way out.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc