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galaxy s iii featuresI just got a brand-new Galaxy S III. It’s a beautiful device, except for one big flaw: Samsung TouchWiz. This is a layer of customization and “added value” Samsung slaps on the custom Android interface… and it looks simply horrid. I mean, it manages to make a gorgeous, powerful piece of hardware feel like a cheap toy – quite an accomplishment, when you think about it.

My first instinct was to wipe the device clean and install a stock Android ROM, similar to the ICS Rom I installed on my Galaxy S II Ice Cream Sandwich On Galaxy S II: A Review Of An Awesome New Android ROM, Resurrection Remix Ice Cream Sandwich On Galaxy S II: A Review Of An Awesome New Android ROM, Resurrection Remix About two months ago, I shared my thoughts on an Android ROM I really like, MIUI. Judging by the comments, quite a few readers liked that review… so today, I am back with an even... Read More . But before doing anything rash, I decided to give Samsung’s interface the benefit of the doubt… and found some truly excellent features.

What I Ended Up Doing

Here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t scrap the Samsung ROM for something like CyanogenMod (which you can easily install How To Install CyanogenMod On Your Android Device How To Install CyanogenMod On Your Android Device A lot of people can agree that the Android operating system is pretty awesome. Not only is it great to use, but it's also free as in open source, so that it can be modified... Read More ). Instead, I decided to go with a ROM that’s based on Samsung’s own ROM, with a heavy dose of customization thrown in. It’s called crDroid, and it’s just what I was looking for. However, this post isn’t about the ROM, but more about a surprising discovery: When you eliminate the ugly looks, it turns out TouchWiz actually does add value! If you’re running a stock Android ROM on your Galaxy S III, or considering replacing Samsung’s ROM with something like Cyanogen, wait a moment: Samsung offers a few features that are well worth keeping, and here are just a few.

Motion and Gesture Controls

galaxy s iii features

Samsung’s gestures combine the touchscreen and device sensors in interesting ways that Android doesn’t include by default. For example, you can look at a contact’s name in your phonebook and just lift the phone up to your ear to make a call:

galaxy s iii features review

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That’s admittedly gimmicky, but still, it feels like the future. Other motions are more useful: You can take a screenshot by swiping your hand (not one finger) across the screen, for example. The zoom and pan gestures let you manipulate photos by moving the phone itself, rather than your hands, making the phone feel like a window into the image. The Motion settings menu lets you individually toggle each of these gestures, and learn how to make them.

Fonts, Smart Stay, and Smart Rotation

galaxy s iii features review

The Galaxy S III can look at you using the front-facing camera while you’re using the phone. That’s creepy. It’s also useful: “Smart stay” is a feature that keeps the screen on for as long as you’re looking at it (so it will never turn off while you’re reading an article!), and “Smart rotation” is a feature that turns the display only if your face is actually in the wrong direction. In other words, if you’re lying in bed on your side and holding the phone, the screen won’t rotate (ever had this happen to you?). And if you’re standing up and flipping the phone horizontally, it will rotate. Nothing to toggle manually, and it works quite well (as long as the phone can see you, that is).

Last but certainly not least in this department, Samsung lets you specify your own font for the interface. Here’s a 100% crop of a screenshot I took:

galaxy s iii features review

If you compare this to the font on your own Android phone, you’ll find that it’s subtly different: It’s HelveticaNeue, a lovely Sans Serif that sadly costs $1 to use. But honestly, I preferred shelling out a buck for it than use any of the unfortunate fonts Samsung bundled with the device:

galaxy s3 features

“Choco cooky?” What were you thinking, Samsung? Why not throw in Comic Sans MS while you’re at it?

Poor font choices aside, the ability to set your own font for the device is a great feature, and can actually improve readability and usability, and just makes the whole thing feel a bit better.

Power Saving Mode

galaxy s3 features

This is a modest one, but it’s still nice: Power Saving Mode is a bunch of preferences you can set, and then toggle all at once, to eke a bit more battery life out of your device. It’s a bit like JuiceDefender (reviewed here JuiceDefender - Squeeze More Battery Life Out of Your Android Device [1.6+] JuiceDefender - Squeeze More Battery Life Out of Your Android Device [1.6+] Smartphones keep getting faster, better and slicker. One part of the device that's having trouble keeping up is the battery. Many state-of-the-art smartphones have trouble making it through a single day on a charge, much... Read More ), but built right into the phone.

Multiple Window Control

galaxy s3 features

Depending on your use, this may either be Samsung’s greatest innovation, or just a crazy gimmick. I hadn’t made up my own mind yet, but I must say I am thoroughly impressed: The screenshot speaks for itself. Multi Window Mode lets you put two apps on the Galaxy S III’s generous screen at the same time, and it’s amazingly well integrated into the UI. Just long-press Backspace to pop open the side-panel, and then drag out an app to either the top or bottom of the screen:

galaxy s iii features

I don’t know if I’ll be using this feature routinely, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by how deeply Samsung integrated it into Android. You can also toggle it off completely if you don’t like it.

Final Thoughts

A great product is composed of both aesthetics and functionality. Sometimes the two go hand in hand, yielding beautiful products that are a joy to use (or horrible-looking, frustrating gadgets). Samsung has somehow managed to decouple them, ending up with a really ugly interface that actually works well. Thanks to the magic of Android, you can ditch the ugly and keep the good stuff. Are there any other neat Galaxy III tricks I missed? Let me know below, and I might write a follow-up!

  1. Philip Yusenda
    March 27, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Still on Galaxy W now, been researching for some ICS/JB device to upgrade to. Thanks for the article!

  2. Chris Hoffman
    January 21, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Phew, I thought this was going to be a post about how awesome TouchWiz is!

    I've had a device with TouchWiz before. Never again. Now if Google would only sell me a Nexus 4...

    • Erez Zukerman
      January 21, 2013 at 4:02 pm

      Lol, you'd never see a post from me about how awesome TouchWiz is. Ew.

      I'm really frustrated by the Nexus 4 availability issue myself. What's most frustrating is that there's no way to subscribe to the Play page to get updates when stock becomes available, so I just have to keep checking it manually. :\

      • Guy McDowell
        March 27, 2013 at 4:00 pm

        TouchWiz is just a bad name altogether. Maybe that's just my potty humour, but it sounds bad.

  3. Nevzat Akkaya
    January 21, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Does anyone know how much free RAM is left when you have Touchwiz,Facebook,Twitter,Google+,Maps and a couple of other ram-sucking-popular apps installed and active on a 1GB phone like S3?

    • Erez Zukerman
      January 21, 2013 at 8:16 am

      If you press and hold the middle button, then tap the "pie" button on the bottom right, it'll take you to the screen for managing running apps. You can then tap RAM and see.

      • Nevzat Akkaya
        January 21, 2013 at 8:22 am

        Unfortunately, I don't have a phone with a 1GB ram, so I really don't know the result ,so I'm curious. My S1 does only have 512 (or 369 as the ROM reports it) MB of RAM, it's dying slowly as I install more and more apps. I've stopped using Google+ and Facebook app long time ago, just use them via browser :(

  4. Nevzat Akkaya
    January 21, 2013 at 8:01 am

    If S3 had 2 GB of RAM, I'd definately buy it, however, 1 GB (even showed as low as 7xx MB) makes me consider a future device, likely an S4, who knows :)

    I'm still have to live my aging Galaxy S1 until my budget allows for Sx :)

    • Erez Zukerman
      January 21, 2013 at 8:17 am

      I'm definitely curious to see what the S4 is like. What's nice is that these devices tend to devalue pretty slowly, so once the S4 is out I can probably sell off my S3 for a good price and get the S4. :)

      • Nevzat Akkaya
        January 21, 2013 at 8:19 am

        count me in :)

  5. Benny Teo
    January 21, 2013 at 7:42 am

    Does CM10 have multiple windows? Anyone know of variants of CM with that feature?
    Using a Nexus S

  6. Jaxx D
    January 20, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    The multiple Window is only available in JB v4.1.2(Premium Suite) for the S3 which sadly, has not rolled out everywhere.

  7. Gideon Waxfarb
    January 20, 2013 at 5:27 am

    Sounds good in theory, but Google will be releasing Keylime Pie in a few months, and you guys will be stuck on Jellybean until the custom ROMs catch up, which will probably take several months, and still won't have all those Touchwiz features.. So I will avoid the FrankenAndroid phones and stick with the stock ROM.

    • Erez Zukerman
      January 20, 2013 at 10:22 am

      You mean, you go Nexus only? If the Nexus 4 was available I might have gotten it, but they're having some really bad availability issues with it.

  8. Anonymous
    January 19, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    The S3 seems to be the perfect device. I wonder how competitive android would be had it not been for samsung?

  9. Jeffrey Zabala
    January 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Samsung may have introduced these cool features, but it's only a matter of time until Google adds similar features to Vanilla Android. Either way, Samsung is definitely helping Android stay ahead of iOS.

  10. Aakash Kothari
    January 19, 2013 at 11:32 am

    great information for the average users

  11. Cate
    January 19, 2013 at 6:52 am

    I love my Galaxy S3, but I'll be damned if I can figure out how to get it to do multiple windows. Maybe we're one software update behind up here in Canada. 4.4.1 is what I've got.

    • Stephen Mitchell
      January 19, 2013 at 11:36 am

      I can't speak for the software version since I have a Note II which could do multi-window out of the box, but I did struggle to learn how to use it.

      If the phone will do it at all, holding down the 'Back' button for a second or two should bring up a menu on the left of the screen. Tapping one of the applications in the window will open it in full screen mode. When you have a supported app open, drag the icon for one of the other apps to either the top or bottom of the screen. Simply tapping the icon will open that app in full screen mode. It's an interesting feature, but not especially intuitive in my opinion.

      • Cate
        January 19, 2013 at 5:14 pm

        Thanks. I did some checking, and it looks like that feature (and the others described in this post) are part of 4.1.2. Poky old Telus up here in British Columbia just got around to rolling out 4.1.1 in December, I think it was. I'll look forward to these enhancements coming sometime in the next 8 or 9 months if things run true to form. I appreciate the instructions though!

        • Erez Zukerman
          January 20, 2013 at 10:21 am

          Stephen beat me to it! :) My solution to outdated firmware is to manually flash more recent builds myself, but I know not everyone likes to go this path due to potential warranty issues.

  12. Mark Alsisto
    January 19, 2013 at 3:19 am

    these will be the standard feature that every smartphone should have in the future.

  13. Sebastian Hadinata
    January 19, 2013 at 3:07 am

    Multiple Windows and Motions are a win :D

  14. Mike Case
    January 19, 2013 at 1:26 am

    And the best part is, it's not an iPhone!

  15. Andy Liu
    January 19, 2013 at 12:44 am

    The multiple windows control seems to be a stunt stole from it's notes cousins.

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