Flashback: Samsung Galaxy S III had both brains and brawn

Peter, 01 December 2019

The Samsung Galaxy S III was a rousing success, but the years since its launch in 2012 and now have caused memories of its innovative design to fade.

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Samsung Galaxy S III official shots

The Galaxy S III (the last in the series to use Roman numerals) was unveiled in London in early May 2012. Samsung raked in 9 million pre-orders from 100 carriers worldwide before the phone was released a month later. It sold 20 million units in the first 100 days of availability, then reached 30 million sold in November. By the time the S III was relegated to the history books, it reportedly sold 70 million.

During the early days of sales, Samsung couldn’t deliver Galaxy S III units to stores and carriers fast enough, which caused a shortage. This led to people re-selling their S III phones on eBay at a 20% premium over a new unit. “This is the first time anything other than an Apple product has sparked such a selling frenzy,” said an eBay spokesperson back then.

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The S III looks more like a Nexus phone than an S II successor

The design was inspired by nature and featured a smooth, rounded exterior. The plastic exterior had a subtle texture to it, like wood grain. However, the surface was glossy and smooth due to a coating Samsung called Hyperglaze. We think this design wouldn’t be out of place today with all the “texture under glass” phones.

The nature theme carried over to the TouchWiz UI, built on top of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. By default, water ripples moved across the homescreen each time you touched it. But things extended beyond mere metaphors.

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TouchWiz on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

Samsung wanted to enable natural interactions with the phone, bringing the S Voice digital assistant. This was years before the Google Assistant, the AI to beat back then was Siri – check out our head-to-head battle of the finest virtual assistants of 2012:

The Galaxy S III had another clever trick – Smart Stay. Pixel 4 owners might recognize it as the “Screen Attention” feature on their phone. Both use the front-facing camera to keep the display on while you are looking at it.

Samsung would push further in 2013 with Air Gestures on the Galaxy S4 – a motion detector was used to allow you to move between images and change songs by waving your hand over the phone. But that’s a story for another day.

Air Gestures turns the S4 into a mini-Kinect

The reason the Galaxy S III could do face tracking in real time and be always listening for the “Hi Galaxy” wake word was the Exynos 4412 Quad chipset. It featured twice as many CPU cores as the chip in the Galaxy S II, plus it clocked its Mali-400 MP4 GPU much higher, delivering 60% more performance. There was also dedicated hardware for wake word detection.

The Samsung Galaxy S III was the first phone to feature an HD Super AMOLED display – a giant for the time 4.8” panel. It went back to a PenTile arrangement (the S II screen had the full RGB stripe), but the increased resolution still made the display sharper.

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The Samsung Galaxy S III display vs the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S II screens

With a large screen and powerful chipset, Samsung decided to enable a pop-up video player. It allowed you to use other apps while still watching your video. It was a step towards the split-screen multitasking, which would be introduced first on the Galaxy Note 3. Actually, this was later added to the S III as part of the update Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

The 8MP camera with 1080p video recording did not increase the resolution of stills of videos, but it did improve the image quality of both. Samsung also enabled zero shutter lag shooting, the phone could capture 20 photos in about 6 seconds.

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The Galaxy S III was a hit for Samsung, improving on just about ever feature of the S II (including the number of units sold). It was the first Galaxy to top iPhone sales, beating the 4S on its home turf. It even stood strong against the iPhone 5, which launched months after the S III (the latest Apple phone only overtook it in sales in February 2013).


Reader comments

My first android phone i bought in September 2012

  • Syn
  • 03 Dec 2019
  • rJV

U think Samsung started doing glass back and non removable batteries cos of reviewers?. They started doing it bcos of profit. Glass Phones are more fragile and leads to more breakage thus more money to Samsung in replacements. Same with non removable...

Seeing a picture of the S III next to the S II and Galaxy Nexus makes me yearn for those sizes. And back in 2012, those phones probably felt big to me coming from an iPhone 4 and Nexus One. It took me over a year to get comfortable using the HTC One ...

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