Galaxy S3: first impressions of Samsung's flagship handset

Samsung executive shows off the Galaxy S3 JK Shin, president and head of Samsung's mobile division, shows off the new Samsung Galaxy S3 at a launch event in London

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If there is one company challenging Apple in the smartphone world, it is Samsung.

The consumer electronics giant is now officially the world's largest maker of phones. By some reckoning it is also the biggest maker of smartphones (although that is debateable).

For the company's bottom line that hardly matters. After all, most of Apple's products could quite as well carry the label "Samsung inside", with the South Korean firm providing most of the key hardware components in Apple's mobile devices.

Many of Samsung's and Apples rivals have faltered in recent years - not just Nokia, but also Sony and HTC.

They failed to innovate fast enough and lost the buzz that no mobile phone maker can do without.

Samsung is different. Its designers and engineers have not relaxed while the firm was riding on a high. With the new Galaxy S3 they have clearly managed to move to the front of the smartphone field, ahead of mighty Apple itself.

The S3 with its 4.8 inch screen is a big phone, but very slim as well. Tiny hands won't be able to grasp it comfortably. But it feels surprisingly light, weighing in at a mere 133 grams.

The Samsung marketing team speaks of an "organic design," which is pushing it a bit, but the phone is very comfortable to the touch.

Samsung Galaxy S3 The bright 4.8 inch screen will appeal to users who value larger displays

Most impressive is probably the 8 megapixel camera, which boasts "zero shutter lag" and a burst speed of 3.3 pictures per second, for up to 20 pictures.

Staying awake

Samsung's new quad core processor - much faster and more energy efficient - plays high-definition video without lag or shuddering, even when I played the video in a minimised window in the foreground and used other applications in the background.

Never mind Apple's "retina display", the S3's Super HD Amoled screen is stunning.

It's too early to judge battery life, but on paper the S3 should not suffer the fate of the many smartphones that die during the second half of the day.

There are also nice software touches. The screen does not go to sleep as long as one looks at it.

The phone is "social"; it recognises the faces of your friends in a picture you've just taken, and offers to send it to them at the touch of a button. Samsung's phone-to-phone sharing of videos and pictures is less likely to take off, as it requires that your friends' phones sport the same software.

Overall, the Galaxy S3 is an impressive phone, likely to capture an even larger marketshare than its S2 predecessor managed to carve out.

Rory Cellan-Jones and CCS Insight's Ben Wood assess the new Galaxy

However, Samsung's lead may not last for long. In the mind of many consumers, Apple is still THE trendsetter of the smartphone world, and if the rumours are true and the launch of the iPhone 5 is imminent, then Samsung can enjoy just a few months' worth of technological advantage.

Still, Samsung has learned from Apple, with the Galaxy S3 on sale just a few weeks after the big unveiling.

And if Apple fails to refresh its iPhone line-up soon, Samsung should be able to have its smartphone cake and eat it.

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