Here come the 4G phones. What started out as a slow trickle has now become a steady stream, and Samsung's Galaxy S3 4G is set to be one of this year's biggest sellers with long-term evolution (LTE) speeds. But is it worth your hard-earned money?
- Screen: 4.7-inch
- Processor: quad-core 1.4GHz
- RAM: 2GB
- Platform: Android Jelly Bean
- Storage: 16GB
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC
There are several differences between the new 4G version and the original Galaxy S3, but none of these changes are on the surface (with the exception of a few new colours). To save you from reading the same review over again, we'll instead refer you to the original Samsung Galaxy S3 review if you want to know our thoughts on this handset's aesthetics.
Those picking up a 4G Galaxy S3 in the first weeks after it comes out will have the advantage of getting the Jelly Bean version of Android first. This adds a number of useful new features and tweaks, though after Samsung adds its own layer to the top of it, it does end up looking very much the same as the software on the original GS3. Two of our favourite new elements are the expanded notifications in the pull-down window and Google Now. For a detailed look at both of these features, check out our review of the Jelly Bean update.
There are a few fairly significant changes under the hood, though. There is now 2GB of RAM, double the memory of the original, and LTE is built in to the quad-core Exynos processor. Now, we're never going to knock having more power in a phone, but it is hard to gauge just how great an effect this extra RAM has on the performance across the system. The GS3 4G benchmarks pretty much the same as the original GS3, with a slightly lower Geekbench score, a slightly higher Vellamo score and a virtually identical Basemark 3D benchmark result.
Battery life is the big difference, and the 4G model comes off worse for wear. We can't say with absolute certainty that 4G networking is the culprit, but we did collect some pretty damning evidence.
These two graphs show a battery cycle on 4G and 3G, with the thicker vertical lines indicating 12 hours. Usage was similar on both days; if anything, it was heavier on the day when 3G was used.
(Credit: CNET Australia)
The real problem here is that there is no option to just turn off 4G. In the settings, under Wireless and Networks, you can switch 4G off, but only by selecting either just WCDMA (3G) or GSM (2G) — not a combination of 2G and 3G. In a densely populated area with strong 3G coverage, this isn't necessarily a problem. In Sydney, we found that we could drop back to just WCDMA and continue using the phone as we normally would. But if you live in an area where your phone regularly switches between 2G and 3G, this could be a major deal breaker.
Is it worth it? This is one of the speed tests we ran on the GS3.
(Screenshot by CBSi)
When we switched the phone into Airplane mode and ran our usual video-playback tests, the GS3 4G rated at the same level as the 3G version of the phone — about seven and a half hours. This suggests to us that 4G is the battery sap, and it should be something that you strongly consider before signing up for a 4G version of this phone. For some people, the phone's 12-hour battery life will be sufficient, but for many it is not enough to see them through a standard working day.
When you boil it right down, it's a pretty straight trade-off between 4G speeds and battery life, and that will ultimately be your decision to make. For us, this is a bad swap. There's no point in having blazing-fast data speeds if you have no battery life to power the phone, and 12 hours of moderate use is not enough by our standards. — especially when you have a perfectly good non-4G version of the phone to choose.