Weekend Tech Scan: To the Galaxy (phone) and beyond?

The new Samsung Galaxy S III phone is getting the rock star attention usually reserved for Apple phones. Is it worth the hype?
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Samsung Galaxy S III

The new Samsung Galaxy S III phone is getting the rock star attention usually reserved for Apple phones. Is it worth the hype?

For those of you who think Apple has a franchise on introducing hot new technology, you will find either pleasure — or displeasure — with Samsung who has the nerve (or courage) to think their product introductions deserve the same star billing as the folks in Cupertino.

Case in point: the introduction of the company’s new Android-based Galaxy S III smartphone which, according to several reports, is among the most pre-ordered phones ever: one estimate places global preorders at 10 million although any such figure must be taken with a tureen of salt. All five major U.S. carriers — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular — will carry it; pre-orders are beginning this month.  A report late this week indicated that China’s three major carriers will sell it.

So what makes this phone so special in the eyes of the tech press — and made Apple so nervous that it has filed a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission to block the phone from entering the country?

And why should you or I care that it’s being released?

First, here’s look at the phone: an Android smartphone featuring the Ice Cream Sandwich operating system and operating on current 4G LTE networks (where those networks are available).

It features a 4.8-inch screen, substantially larger than the iPhone 4S’s 3.5-inch display. The screen itself features AMOLED technology: a sensationally bright, vivid screen (in my opinion) and can display high-definition video (720p) at full resolution. Other details include both a front and rear-facing camera — the front camera with face recognition, the outside camera taking 8-megapixel photos. It has S Voice (a Siri-like voice feature), a dual-core processor (in the U.S.), long-life battery (2100 mAH) and extremely slim dimensions (a third of an inch thick).  (For more details and views: Here are a more in-depth profile from Phone Scoop, a strong pro-Galaxy review, and an anti-Galaxy screed.)

The phone generally will sell in the $200 range and will require a 2-year contract.  Individual carriers will have more details.

Apple’s beef with the phone in the short run is the latest chapter in its ongoing global battle with Samsung over intellectual property and patent ownership issues. A CNET report quoted Apple’s position on the long-term squabble: “It’s no coincidence that Samsung’s latest products look a lot like the iPhone and iPad, from the shape of the hardware to the user interface and even the packaging. This kind of blatant copying is wrong, and we need to protect Apple’s intellectual property when companies steal our ideas.”

As for Samsung, the company has made no secret of their desire to emulate the “wow” factor that has made Apple such a sensation over the last decade.  From its new slate of products such as the precedent-breaking Samsung Galaxy Note, often described as a “phablet”—a cross between a smartphone and tablet—to its TV ads mocking the cult of Apple—the Korean company is prepared to battle Apple on all fronts.

With Apple’s iPhone 5 rumored to be debuting this year, possibly in October, there should be little doubt that Samsung will fight the Apple’s introduction in the courts. It was already prepared to do so last year when the company introduced the 4S.

So why should any of us care about this phone or the Apple-Samsung battles?

As always, the question is what you want or need in your phone.  If your purpose in life is to be in the forefront of technology, and have everyone know it, this may be an excellent phone for you — even when the new iPhone finally debuts.

For anyone else, it will come down to what you really need. Last year, I wrote a piece about my wife returning her new iPhone 4 because all she wanted was a phone, not a gadget-filled shiny toy. I have different needs. I want my phone to be a mini-computer. I want instant, quality access to the Internet and have documents, music, movies, podcasts and TV programs, live TV and radio broadcasts at my fingertips. So I require a phone with the fastest network speeds, Flash software for viewing current video, lots of memory both on my phone with the ability to expand it with a memory card, and a large bright screen.

These are not everyone’s requirements nor should they be. But if you think through what you actually need, that will be a better guide to the phone you eventually buy than company marketing hype and media hysteria over the latest and greatest shiny new thing.

Would I buy the Samsung Galaxy S III phone and ditch my current phone, the Samsung Galaxy Note? My answer is no. My current phone has most of the features of the Galaxy phone and not enough new goodies to warrant my upgrading.

Wouldn’t I be happy with an iPhone? For my personal use, other than buying one for reviewing purposes, the iPhone doesn’t work for me.  I find the screen to be too small, its indexing system — the ability to look up what apps and documents are on the phone — underwhelming, and streaming media live from my home computer to my phone more difficult than with Android phones.

IPhones have the edge when it comes to games and exotic apps (in the best sense of the word) but I prefer using those services on an iPad, on the larger screen at home in my leisure time.

IPhones are also superior in the camera and audio department, but I use a stand-alone camera for extensive photography; most contemporary smartphones, no matter what the operating system or manufacturers, take good enough snapshots.

This is not a referendum on any phone or operating system, or even a recommendation in the usual sense. This is, once again, a question of which technology is more personally appealing to me. Personal technology is just that: personal. The more you look into what suits you, the less the marketers and the media will define you.


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