If you were always waiting for the next big thing, you’d never get a new phone. Still, there are times that you need to be very careful about diving into a new contract. When you do buy, you don’t want to make the wrong decision and end up with a mediocre phone for two years. That’s why we tackle this problem each month.
This time there are Snapdragons as far as the eye can see, Verizon slims down, and T-Mobile confounds.
We’ve come a long way since AT&T seemed uninterested in releasing Android devices. It eventually dropped the bomb that was the Moto Backflip and other devices no one wanted. These days, AT&T has one of the better selections of Android devices. The two best phones on Ma Bell are the Motorola Atrix HD, and the Samsung Galaxy S3. Which one should you buy?
There is a lot shared between these two devices on the inside. Like most LTE devices being sold right now, both these phones have a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip clocked at 1.5GHz per core. This comes with a great LTE radio for killer 4G data in areas with LTE coverage. The Samsung Galaxy S III does have the upper hand when it comes to RAM, which is set at 2GB. The Atrix HD is stuck with the more standard 1GB of RAM.
As for storage, the Atrix HD comes with just 8GB of internal storage. That’s pretty small, but there is a microSD card slot that can add 32GB more. The GS3 comes in both 16 and 32GB flavors with a microSD card slot. So a win for the Samsung device there.
The screens are actually fairly different. Both run at 1280x720 (720p), but are using fundamentally different technologies. The Atrix HD has a 4.5-inch IPS ColorBoost LCD. This display has tight pixels and good crispness. The colors are a little blown out to my eye, but then, so are the colors on Samsung’s Super AMOLED HD panel. The GS3’s 4.8-inch screen is a little more blocky due to the PenTile sub pixels, but it’s not bad. AMOLED is also more prone to burn in over time than LCD. I think the Atrix HD has the leg up here.
The cameras have very similar specs, but in practice the Samsung device performs better. It’s shocking how well the Galaxy S III can take pictures in low light. When you’ve got light, the color reproduction is excellent as well. The Atrix HD is no slouch when it comes to taking pics, but it can’t match Samsung’s sensor. The Atrix’s pics are a little more washed out, and sharpness isn’t as good.
When we get to the software, things get hairy. Samsung has done a lot to clean up TouchWiz, but I still feel like it gets in the way of Android 4.0 on the Galaxy S3. The keyboard is more awkward than stock Android, the notification shade is cluttered, and some useful home screen functions are just missing. I don’t understand why Samsung does this, and the longer I use TouchWiz, the more I find myself annoyed by it. This is the opposite of how I feel about stock Android.
The software on the Atrix HD is actually a breath of fresh air when it comes to OEM skins. Motorola showed a remarkable amount of restraint in the way it skinned Android 4.0. Most of Android is still intact -- the home screen is recognizable, the system apps aren’t painted in clashing colors, and there are on-screen buttons. I firmly believe Android works better with on-screen buttons and a proper action bar.
I wouldn’t say that TouchWiz is bad software, but it’s not as good as Motorola’s skin, and neither is as good as stock. If you’re buying a phone on AT&T, check out the Atrix HD first. If you really want a nicer camera, the Galaxy S III is almost even with the Atrix HD. It’s just that software that gives me pause. The Atrix is $100 on contract, and the Galaxy S III starts at $200 for the 16GB model.
One last thing; I know many people like the idea of getting an unlocked Galaxy Nexus from Google Play. This is smart, but not at this time. A new Nexus is surely incoming this fall, so don’t buy last year’s device right now. Hold off if that’s what you want.
Subscribers to Verizon are in a weird place right now. The Nexus is getting old, the Razr Maxx HD is announced but lacks a release date, and the Samsung Galaxy S III has a locked bootloader. I’ll say upfront that you still should wait on getting a new device on Big Red (I know, I said that last month). Good stuff is coming, but you can still do alright for yourself if you buy now. It’s down to the Galaxy S III and the new Motorola Droid Razr M.
I am again forced to tell you that both these devices are running the omnipresent Qualcomm dual-core Snapdragon S4 SoC clocked at 1.5GHz per core. They are both plenty fast and have great LTE data speeds. RAM in the Samsung device is 2GB, but the Razr M is only rocking 1GB. In either case, you should be fine. Still, it's a checkbox for Samsung.
The Samsung Galaxy S III comes with either 16 or 32GB of storage, but you will pay a premium for the larger one. The Droid Razr M is only packing 8GB of space, but there is a microSD card slot at least. The Samsung device is clearly on top here if you want a lot of space and don’t want to deal with cards. Though, it has a microSD card slot as well.
The screens are where things start to diverge, and it becomes apparent that the Razr M is a more mid-range offering in 2012. This phone has a 4.3-inch AMOLED screen at qHD resolution (960x540). It’s a fine display from a distance, but the PenTile fringing is clearly evident. In the AT&T match-up above, the Atrix HD was able to match the GS3 largely on the strength of the screen. Not so here. The Galaxy S III Super AMOLED HD screen is the clear winner in colors, clarity, and crispness.
The camera comparison is also looking good for the Samsung phone. It has a wonderful 8MP sensor that rocks in low-light and is top of class in regular light. The software interface is fast, and focusing is almost instantaneous. The 8MP camera on the Razr M is fine, it’s just nothing to write home about. The Razr M does have a solid 2000mAh battery that should keep you going all day, but it’s non-removable.
As for software, this is the one place the Razr M manages a clear win. Both are running Android 4.0, but Jelly Bean updates are expected in the coming months. I will admit I’m not a fan of TouchWiz, but I really doubt many people are -- there are just people that tolerate it. The colors chosen for stock apps are bad, and useful stock features are obscured or missing. The Motorola skin is lighter; closer to stock and has on-screen buttons. It even has some genuinely good value adds like Smart Actions.
The GS3 is $200 for the 16GB version, and the Razr M is just $100. Despite the software being better on the Razr M, the GS3 is better at everything else. Get the Galaxy S III if you need a phone now. Otherwise, wait it out.
I tend to get down on T-Mobile every month, and I have more reason than usual to do so this month. Where are the phones, T-Mobile? The carrier has a dozen low-end devices that come cheap with a new 2-year contract, but you don’t want those. Frankly, no one wants those. There are rumors of T-Mobile getting some new devices soon, but the pickings are mighty slim. The only devices worth getting are still the Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One S. The outcome of this matchup is pretty obvious at this point.
Yet again both these devices are running on Snapdragon S4 chips clocked at 1.5GHz per core. The Samsung device is also running double the RAM of HTC’s device at 2GB (do you see a theme developing here?). However, no LTE on T-Mobile. The One S has 16GB of storage to match the low-end GS3, but there is no SD card slot as there is on the S3. Win for Samsung.
The screens are the real differentiator on T-Mobile. The One S starts to feel very mid-range when you see it has a very mediocre 4.3-inch AMOLED panel at qHD resolution. Even when compared to similarly specced PenTile screens, I think the One S panel is fairly bad. The Samsung Galaxy S III has a solid 4.8-inch Super AMOLED HD screen at 720p. The PenTile is not very noticeable, and the colors are good, if maybe a little too bright. This is a big plus for the GS3.
The Galaxy S III on T-Mobile has that same great 8MP camera. It is one of the best cameras in all of the smartphone world. The One S does actually have a good 8MP sensor, though. It’s close to the same quality, but colors are a little washed out. The only place the One S scores some hardware points is with the design, which I really like. It feels good in the hand and is a solid little phone. The GS3 is plasticy, and feels cheap.
The software situation is interesting. The One S is running Android 4.0 with HTC Sense 4 on top, whereas the Galaxy S III is Android 4.0 with TouchWiz. I’m not crazy about either of these interfaces when you compare it to stock Android, or Motorola’s skin even. Given the choice, I’d have to say TouchWiz is a bit better. It’s more consistent, and does not rely so heavily on gradients, which look kind of bad in Sense. TouchWiz also adds a few more useful features like Smart Stay and S Voice.
It’s obvious that your best bet is the Samsung Galaxy S III. I can’t recommend the One S for any reason, really. The 16GB GS3 is $230 on contract (but is on sale for $99 at this moment). The One S is usually $100, but is free for a very limited time. Again, if you want an unlocked Nexus, wait it out. Don’t get the Galaxy Nexus when a new one is probably right around the corner.
Rounding out this list, both these phones are running a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4. Ues, Every single phone on this list has the same ARM chip. No wonder TI is likely getting out of the smartphone market. Qualcomm is running the table right now. Both these phones have LTE, but coverage is sparse right now. The GS3 is packing 2GB of RAM, but the Evo is scraping by with 1GB. You won’t have any problem with performance on either phone.
The HTC device has 16GB of storage, but has a microSD card slot, unlike its AT&T cousin the One X. The Galaxy S III comes in both 16 and 32GB versions with a microSD slot. It’s a draw on this one.
The screen battle is a little more notable between these devices. The Evo has a 4.7-inch 720p gapless Super LCD2 display. It looks marvelous in every way. The 4.8-inch 720p Super AMOLED HD panel on the GS3 is good, but the Evo’s screen is better. The colors on HTC's screen are accurate, the pixels are invisibly small, and it doesn't burn in. A win for HTC.
I would place the cameras, both of which are 8MP, on about the same level. Low light is a little better on the Samsung device, by all accounts. Other than that, it’s a tie.
We come again to software and I’m reminded how much I like stock Android. TouchWiz on the GS3 and Sense on the Evo are both fine, but nothing more. I feel like TouchWiz is a little more put-together than Sense, and Samsung has more incentive to keep it updated. The Galaxy S III is the flagship device for the next 6-8 months at least. HTC is already scrambling to move on to the next thing. Both are Android 4.0, but the Evo is a "dot release" behind.
I've come around to the Galaxy S III in terms of design after using one, but there is something to be said for the HTC Evo 4G LTE’s design. It has a unique two-tone back that is half matte and half glossy. It looks good in person, and there is a kickstand. Kickstands are awesome.
The Galaxy S III is going to cost $200 for the 16GB phone on contract, and the Evo will be the same. Considering the whole package, it’s the Galaxy S III by a hair.
That's it for this month. If your'e waiting on something to come out, let us know what it is. Maybe a Galaxy Note II? A new Nexus?