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A few weeks with Samsung's Galaxy S III smartphone

How sweet is the potentially forbidden fruit?

The rise of smartphones has been a truly impressive trend to watch. Devices that started as PDA/cellphone hybrids have quickly evolved into robust portable computing platforms. They're still limited by relatively small screens and cramped physical inputs, but those restrictions seem like a small price to pay for the truly pocketable mini tablets we have today.

In the not-an-iPhone camp, Samsung's Galaxy S III is the new hotness. This ultra-slim handset has a massive screen with a 720p resolution, a speedy SoC fabbed using 28-nm process technology, and user-friendly features like a microSDXC slot and an easily replaceable battery. On top of that foundation sits Google's Android OS, which has been infused with Samsung's TouchWiz interface tweaks and support for additional gestures.

We've largely steered clear of covering smartphones here at TR. However, as devices become more compelling computers, our interest in them grows. That's part of the reason why the Galaxy S III has been at my side for the better part of a few weeks now. Also, I was shopping around for a new smartphone and couldn't resist the opportunity for an extended test drive. Playing around with a handset briefly in-store doesn't always provide an accurate sense of the thing. Read on to see what the Galaxy S III is likeā€”and whether it's become my daily driver.

A slick design
Like an increasing number of smartphones, the Galaxy S III combines a big screen with a svelte body. The enclosure is surprisingly slim considering what's stuffed inside. However, there's no getting around the footprint of the 4.8" screen. Add the bezel, and you're looking at a device measuring 5.4" x 2.8". Even at only 0.34" thick, the Galaxy S III is a handful.

That said, the S III is also a relative lightweight. The handset tips the scales at just 133 grams, or marginally less than the current iPhone. Provided your pockets are big enough, the Galaxy certainly isn't a challenge to carry around. I barely notice sitting on the thing when it's in my back pocket, perhaps because it has a much lower profile than the wallet squished under the other cheek.

The unit I've been using has a two-tone color scheme that pairs purplish back and bezel pieces with a blue rim around the edge. Don't let the faux finish fool you. Despite their brushed aluminum appearance, most of the exterior panels are plastic. The whole body is covered by a glossy coat that effectively removes any texture and makes the Galaxy feel almost slippery.

I'm all for low-friction touchscreen surfaces, but the rest of the device should have some grip. The Galaxy S III has almost escaped my grasp numerous times over the past few weeks. You'll want to add a case, if not to provide something to hold onto, then to cushion the inevitable crash onto unforgiving pavement.

In addition to lubricating the exterior, the shiny surfaces pick up plenty of fingerprints. The pseudo brush strokes mask the smudges a little, but not enough to stop the Galaxy from becoming yet another reminder of why glossy plastic is a bad choice for handheld devices.

You know, I'm not so sure clicky home buttons are a good idea, either. I've heard a couple of iPhone users complain about their home buttons flaking out over time, and the same thing happened to my Palm Pre. It's probably only a matter of time before the Galaxy S III's home button becomes unreliable.

The touch-sensitive buttons to the left and right should be much more durable. They offer haptic feedback in the form of a subtle vibration, nicely making up for the lack of tactile clicks. This input arrangement allows the S III to cover Android's basic buttons without cannibalizing precious screen real estate, unlike Google's most recent Nexus devices.

As one might expect, the Galaxy's integrated speaker is tiny and hopelessly underpowered. Our sample lacked earbuds, but I was pleasantly surprised by the output quality of the 3.5-mm audio jack. When paired with my Koss PortaPro headphones, the Galaxy produced good, clean sound with more low-end oomph than I was expecting. The rare times I actually used the S III as a phone, call quality was excellent.

Smartphones seem to have replaced point-and-shoot cameras for most folks, and the Galaxy S III works pretty well in that role. The 8MP rear camera produces decent pictures and offers a nifty HDR mode that snaps shots at two different exposures before combining the results, which can then be destroyed via your favorite Instagram filter. Naturally, 1080p video recording is supported. There's a front-facing camera for video chat, too.