Samsung Galaxy S III for Verizon Wireless review

Your girlfriend might be three times a lady, but the Samsung Galaxy S III is four times a smartphone -- at least when it comes to the US. Indeed, the manufacturer's latest flagship device has managed to hit the cellular equivalent of a grand slam stateside, as each of the four national carriers are adding it to their respective smartphone lineups. For the first time since the original Galaxy S series made its debut two years ago, customers won't have to bother switching carriers just for the privilege of using one of the best devices on the planet.

But there was a rather significant asterisk associated with the original Galaxy S's reign on American soil: even though all four major networks offered it, none of the carrier-branded iterations used the same name or design as the original model that inspired them. Fast-forward two years to 2012, and it's a completely different ballgame -- the Galaxy S III on each mobile operator bears the same name and design. Hold an AT&T-branded model next to its T-Mobile counterpart, for instance, and you'll have a rather difficult time telling the two apart. Same with Sprint and Verizon; aside from the logos on the back and a couple other tiny differences, you're seeing the same exact phone across the board.

Not only has Verizon been waiting in the dugout for its time to step up to the plate, but an untold number of customers undoubtedly have been, too. Given its brand recognition and top-of-the-line features, the Galaxy S III has a shot at becoming the all-star in Big Red's lineup. So how does Samsung's new darling hold up on the country's biggest network? Join us after the seventh inning stretch to find out.

Samsung Galaxy S III (Verizon) overview

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Samsung Galaxy S III for Verizon Wireless

Pros

  • Reasonable price
  • Smooth performance
  • Brilliant Super AMOLED HD display
  • Call quality and network speeds

Cons

  • GSM roaming isn't available yet
  • Doesn't offer 50GB Dropbox storage space
Summary

If you're a Verizon customer interested in the best bang for your buck, look no further than the Galaxy S III.

Hardware

What is there that hasn't already been said about this esteemed collection of devices? In the US, a Galaxy S III is a Galaxy S III is a Galaxy S III. Aside from the tiniest of carrier-dependent software tweaks (more on that later), you're going to be hard-pressed to hunt down any variation in Verizon's model compared with the other three we've tested. We're still waiting on regional networks like US Cellular and C Spire to push their respective versions of Samsung's flagship device, but we have a hard time believing those models will be any different than what we've already seen. We've stressed in the past that even though this uniformity in design makes for relatively abbreviated reviews, we're immensely content with what Samsung's been able to accomplish. Essentially, the company was able to use brand cachet as a bargaining chip with the carriers so that its choice smartphone arrived in the US virtually unchanged, and closer to the global launch and at a reasonable subsidized price. (The phone does have extra RAM and a different chip, but we'll delve into that more later.) Only one other OEM has wielded this much power in negotiating with operators: Apple. Inside, the Verizon-branded GS III sports LTE band 13 (700MHz) to support the carrier's 4G service, as well as CDMA / EVDO and radios for international GSM roaming. The global antennas are currently disabled, but Verizon has promised that a software update is coming sometime this summer to enable that functionality. The device, also known as the SCH-i535, comes with a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 (MSM8960) with a full 2GB RAM to back up all that horsepower. You also get the brilliant Super AMOLED HD display, which registers a resolution of 720p and offers a pixel density of 306ppi.

DNP Samsung Galaxy S III Verizon review

Much like its brethren, this particular iteration of the Galaxy S III offers a 2,100mAh battery that can be swapped out for a spare. But it doesn't stop there: the battery cover can also be switched out. And this alludes to another triumph not only for Samsung, but for the customer as well -- given that millions of these devices will be sold and all offer the same design and nearly all of the same components, we're likely to see a massive pile of universal accessories.

Given that millions of these devices will be sold, we're likely to see a massive pile of universal accessories.

In addition to the generously sized power pack hanging out underneath the hood, you'll find a microSD / microSDXC port (sadly, no actual card comes included, so you'll need to grab one of your own should the occasion arise) next to the device's micro-SIM slot. You're going to see one key difference here that doesn't apply to the other Galaxy S III models we've reviewed thus far: a second set of shiny contacts for Verizon's brand of inductive charging. The ability to use wireless charging has been around on every model of the GS III we've reviewed so far, but those contacts are located to the left of the battery. In other words, Verizon's model gives you two options for wireless charging, a unique feature offering apart from the rest of the crowd. Aside from this, everything else remains the same as its GSM counterparts (Sprint's GSIII is different in that it utilizes an embedded SIM card).

Software

DNP Samsung Galaxy S III Verizon review

The Galaxy S III is blessed with Android 4.0.4 and comes with none other than Sammy's trademark TouchWiz UI. Put simply, if you've been an avid user of Samsung devices in the past, you'll feel right at home with the layout here -- naturally you'll find a few adjustments to accommodate Ice Cream Sandwich along with the suite of special features the GS III boasts: S Voice, Smart Stay, S-Beam and others. Your experience with these will remain the same across the board, so don't let this be a deciding factor between which Galaxy S III to choose.

For the sake of differentiation and leaving at least a little branding on the device, Verizon opted to pre-install a few apps onto the Galaxy S III. Most of these programs can at least be disabled, so you won't need to look at them or be tempted by their wiles. Below, you'll find a table listing off the unique software each carrier brings to their respective version of the phone.

Verizon T-Mobile Sprint AT&T
Color Access T-Mobile SprintZone AT&T Navigator
My Verizon Mobile T-Mobile Name ID Google Wallet Device Help
Apps T-Mobile TV Sprint Voicemail AT&T Messages
VZ Navigator Visual Voicemail Sprint Hotspot YP Mobile
VCAST Tones myAT&T
VPN Client

As you can see, Samsung has achieved another minor victory over US carriers: the Galaxy S III's carrier-branded bloatware is kept to a minimum, and almost all of it can be hidden or disabled. Granted, there are still plenty of Samsung apps on the device, but that's going to be the case no matter which model you choose to buy. Unfortunately, though, Verizon's decided not to offer the 50GB Dropbox storage allowance handed out by T-Mobile and Sprint.

Another important distinction, specifically for those interested in expanding the capabilities of their GS III (or simply escape TouchWiz) by flashing it with a non-stock ROM: in line with its wider policy, Verizon has seen fit to close the bootloader on its variant, which is going make this extremely difficult -- even though some level of customization has already proved possible.

Performance and battery life

DNP Samsung Galaxy S III Verizon review

Verizon's Galaxy S III takes advantage of a dual-core Snapdragon S4 (Krait) processor clocked in at 1.5GHz, uses an Adreno 225 GPU and is supplemented by 2GB of RAM. Since we've seen this very same setup in the iterations used by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, we came into this review knowing roughly what to expect: lower benchmarks than the international GS III's quad-core Exynos processor, but still quite fast and definitely respectable for all but the most nitpicky of power users. It's speedy, and offers virtually no lag. How did this particular device hold up in the oh-so-mighty benchmark scores of its US siblings, and how does it do against the competition? We have two tables below for you to feast upon.

Verizon device comparison Samsung Galaxy S III (SCH-i535)

HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE

Motorola RAZR Maxx

Quadrant 4,937 4,247 2,949
Vellamo 2,398 2,045 1,288
AnTuTu 6,857 6,001 6,073
SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms) 1,740 1,871 1,841

GLBenchmark Egypt Offscreen (fps)

54 56 29
CF-Bench 9,375 7,778 6,146
Battery life 9:15 7:15 11:25
SunSpider: lower scores are better
US Galaxy S III comparison Verizon (SCH-i535) T-Mobile (SGH-T999) AT&T (SGH-I747) Sprint (SPH-L710)
Quadrant 4,937 4,853 5,084 5,130
Vellamo 2,398 2,360 2,153 2,117
AnTuTu 6,857 6,765 6,713 6,536
SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms) 1,740 1,764 1,926 1,882

GLBenchmark Egypt Offscreen (fps)

54 54 54 54
CF-Bench 9,375 8,759 9,439 9,567
Battery life 9:15 8:58 9:05 9:20
SunSpider: lower scores are better

Given the horsepower behind the GS III, we can't say we're shocked that it beat the pants off its Verizon competitors in all but two benchmarks: the ones focused on graphics processing and battery life. Regarding the latter, the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx, with its 3,300mAh power pack, is the undisputed champion not only within the network but the entire market. Keep in mind, though, that Samsung's 2,100mAh battery is no weakling either, and its performance in the video rundown test seems to suggest most heavy users will easily last a full day with nary a struggle. As an aside, our unscientific, regular-use tests (consisting of taking pictures, regularly updating and checking social media, emailing, texting and even making the occasional call) showed that all but the heaviest of gamers and / or talkers will easily make it until the end of the day before needing to charge up.

In terms of graphics, the scores reflect GLBenchmark's 720p Offscreen test -- which puts high-res and low-res devices on an equal playing field -- and the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE barely squeezed past our protagonist. This isn't an area we'd be terribly concerned with, as the Galaxy S III has always been reliable and satisfying when gaming or undertaking any other graphics-heavy tasks.

Comparing the I535 to the trio of other US variants isn't going to make your decision any easier, since the benchmarks we ran are in parity with each other. It's better in a couple areas and worse in a couple others, but none of the scores are set to any sort of extreme -- in other words, the Verizon GS III doesn't stand out of the crowd for better or worse.

Using GPS (which in the GS III is paired up with GLONASS support) was a solid experience, as the phone was able to track down our position within 40 meters in less than five seconds. It took an extra 15 ticks or so to hone in on our exact spot, but this is something we typically see in smartphones and didn't come as any significant concern to us.

As expected, we were quite happy with the call quality on the Galaxy S III. We didn't encounter any dropped calls, and voices came in perfectly clear. The external speakers were incredibly loud, and we were able to listen to conference calls -- and music -- on the speakerphone from every room on the same floor in our house. You may not be able to hear the finer details of your tunes, but plugging in a standard set of headphones solved that problem for us (and very much so, we might add).

Update: We've had the opportunity to run a full round of speed tests on Verizon's LTE network in Salt Lake City, and full signal strength yielded max results of 25Mbps down / 15Mbps up; running the same tests in Chicago gave us 35Mbps down / 20Mbps up.

Camera

DNP Samsung Galaxy S III Verizon review

Eight megapixels of rear-facing goodness are coming your way on the Galaxy S III camera, and it's as great an experience as we'd expect from Samsung. And despite the wide availability of Verizon handsets that offer this particular resolution, Sammy's flagship still comes out on top. Granted, the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE comes pretty close in its overall performance here, but it lacks the ImageSense capabilities found in the HTC One series that we've come to admire.

We also appreciate the breadth and scope of the settings found in the Galaxy S III camera UI: Samsung spares no expense in its offerings here, with full access to white balance, ISO, exposure adjustment, shooting modes and scene modes, effects, macro focus and panorama. You can use the viewfinder to change your point of focus, and hold down the shutter button if you want to lock your exposure prior to taking the shot. This particular camera will, without a doubt, give you the best array of customization options found on any phone on the market today.

Samsung Galaxy S III (Verizon) camera samples

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Ultimately, we don't see any telltale signs that your experience with this specific model will differ from what you'd have on the I9300 or any other US iteration. Please check out our review of the global Galaxy S III to get an in-depth assessment of the camera's performance, and our companion reviews of the US GS III devices all contain additional details and complete photo galleries from each individual model.

Video on the Galaxy S III is capable of capturing 1080p, and movies taken in 720p or higher were smooth and full of color. When taking footage in the middle of the day the sensor rarely needed to autofocus (the exception being when quickly panning to a different vantage point), but low-light situations didn't seem to fare as well -- when capturing video indoors, for instance, the camera needed to refocus on more occasions, but it didn't get in the way of an enjoyable experience.

Pricing and comparison

DNP Samsung Galaxy S III Verizon review

Verizon's adaptation of the Galaxy S III will be offered in 16GB and 32GB flavors, and you'll be able to grab them for $200 and $250, respectively. That's with a two-year contract, of course -- going the non-subsidized route will cost you $600 or $650. The on-contract price tag is on par with AT&T and Sprint's offerings and lower than T-Mobile's (which is going for $230 and $280 after a mail-in rebate), which means we once again depend largely on network performance as a key differentiator.

The Galaxy S III easily stands above its competition on Verizon's lineup.

What if you're already a loyal Big Reddite? In that case you'll be judging this against the rest of the carrier's smartphone lineup, and the GS III easily stands above its competition. Verizon's high-end Android offerings include the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx ($300), Droid 4 ($200), HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE ($150) and Samsung's own Galaxy Nexus LTE ($150). Of course, making the ultimate decision of which device to choose is becoming increasingly difficult as more and more tantalizing options enter the market -- believe us, we empathize. In an attempt to help you compare, we've compiled a handy comparison table. Unfortunately, we don't have enough room to add stats for all of the aforementioned devices, so we've whittled down the choices to three (although feel free to read our in-depth reviews of each handset linked above).

Galaxy S III Droid Incredible 4G LTE Droid RAZR Maxx
Pricing $200 / $250 $150 after rebate $300
Dimensions 5.39 x 2.80 x 0.34 inches (137 x 71 x 8.6mm) 4.8 x 2.4 x 0.46 inches (122 x 61 x 11.7mm) 5.15 x 2.71 x 0.35 inches (130.7 x 68.9 x 8.99 mm)
Weight 4.70 oz. (133g) 4.66 oz. (132g) 5.11 oz. (145 g)
Screen size 4.8 inches 4.0 inches 4.3 inches
Screen resolution 1,280 x 720 pixels (306ppi) 960 x 540 pixels (275ppi) 960 x 540 pixels (256ppi)
Screen type Super AMOLED HD Super LCD Super AMOLED
Battery 2,100mAh 1,700mAh 3,300mAh
Internal storage 16GB / 32GB 8GB (5.21GB available) 16GB
External storage MicroSD / MicroSDXC, MicroSD, none included MicroSD, none included
Rear camera 8MP, AF, LED flash, f/2.6 8MP, AF, LED flash 8MP, AF, LED, f/2.4
Front-facing cam 2MP VGA 1.3MP
Video capture 1080p 1080p 1080p
NFC Yes Yes No
Radios CDMA 800 / 1900MHz; LTE 700MHz; GSM / UMTS roaming (currently disabled) CDMA 800 / 1900MHz; LTE 700MHz; GSM / UMTS roaming (currently disabled) CDMA 800 / 1900MHz; LTE 700MHz; GSM quad-band; UMTS 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 (global roaming enabled)
Bluetooth v4.0 v4.0 v4.0
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 TI OMAP 4430
CPU 1.5GHz dual-core 1.2GHz dual-core 1.2GHz dual-core
GPU Adreno 225 Adreno 225 PowerVR SGX540
RAM 2GB 1GB 1GB
MHL Yes (special adapter required) Yes Yes
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz: 802.11b/g/n; 5.0GHz 802.11a/n 802.11 b/g/n
Operating system Android 4.0.4, TouchWiz UI Android 4.0.3, Sense 4 UI Android 4.0.4, Motorola UI

Wrap-up

DNP Samsung Galaxy S III Verizon review

And there you have it. Our series of reviews of the esteemed Galaxy S III may be coming to a close, but its saga is just beginning. When it comes to US offerings, the circle of life is now complete for the Galaxy S III. The device -- this leader of the Galaxy brand, most likely until next summer -- is now fully represented on each of the four national carriers. This is an accomplishment that no other high-end phone has been able to pull off in a long time (unless you count unlocked iPhones working on T-Mobile). Fortunately, the model of choice is actually one of our favorites regardless of the network, offering amazing performance, new and unique software features, a beautiful display and plenty of other things that give your user experience a turbo boost. And on Verizon, it's rivaled by few, if any, competitors. Unless you crave a smaller screen or need your phone's battery to last an extraordinarily long time, it's difficult for us to steer Verizon customers toward anything else.

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Samsung Galaxy S III for Verizon Wireless review