Monday, June 04, 2012

All Big Four U.S. carriers jump into the Galaxy S III pool

Samsung, along with its U.S. carrier partners, is ensuring that there will not be a repeat of 2011's U.S. Galaxy S II release. Last year, U.S. customers waiting several months before the GS2 was available; this year, the wait will be less than a month.

Over the weekend, Samsung itself relayed the good news via email. The Galaxy S III, its latest flagship device, will launch on five different U.S. wireless carriers, "soon." The company didn't go into details on when "soon" was, but starting on Monday, the carriers began sending out their own press releases.

Samsung said the following U.S. carriers would be gifted with their new superphone: Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and regional carrier U.S. Cellular. The Korean giant didn't have release information or pricing available, leaving that for the carriers.

With that, once Monday rolled around, so did the announcements.

Verizon Wireless was the first of the U.S. carriers to hit our inbox with a press release regarding their Galaxy S III release. 16 GB and 32 GB models will sell for $199.99 and $249.99, with the typical two-year service agreement. The company will begin taking pre-orders on Wednesday, June 6, but did not mention an exact shipping date.

Also not giving a solid ship date was regional carrier U.S. Cellular. U.S. Cellular said the phone will be available for pre-order on June 12, but only said that the GS3 will launch sometime in July. No pricing information was given, but we'd expect that the pricing will be the same or similar to Verizon's, particularly since ...

Sprint said that the Galaxy S III would be available at retail on June 21. The highly anticipated next-gen Samsung Android flagship phone will be priced identically to Verizon's device, at $199.99 for the 16GB version, and $249.99 for the 32GB version.

T-Mobile also confirmed the GS3 will hit its retail stores on June 21. While it didn't give prices out, we see a trend.

AT&T says its pre-orders begin on June 6, just as Verizon's do. The carrier is attempting to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack, though. It's the only U.S. carrier to sell more than the white and pebble blue models; it will also sell a red version.

However, it will not sell the 32GB version. AT&T will only sell the 16GB version, at the $200 price point that everyone else seems to be using. You can, of course, add on a microSD card, if you want.

One thing of note, however: the U.S. versions of the Galaxy S III will differ from the internation versions in two important ways: they will not carry Samsung's home-grown 1.4 Ghz Exynos quad-core processor, but instead carry a 1.5Ghz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor. Moreover, the international version carries 1GB of RAM; the U.S. version will sport 2GB.

It's possible the RAM increase was done to make up for any differences in perceived speed between the two CPUs.

Wireless from AT&T
Why are the two versions different? Our guess is network support. HTC took the same approach when it released the HTC One X; the international version of that device uses an NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core (plus hidden core) CPU, but in the U.S. it uses the same Snapdragon S4 processor as in the GS3. The Tegra 3 does not support LTE, so HTC made a processor switch.

While Samsung has not made any statements about the Exynos and LTE support (or lack, thereof), it's an easy assumption to make. It seems that for now, quad-core and LTE don't mix. Either way, the devices are different.

If you would like to know how the CPU change affects the device's speed, we tested a pre-release Verizon GS3 and a released Vodafone GS3, using Quadrant. The Verizon version scored 5,005 on the test, while a VFUK version, running the Exynos processor, scored 5,281. Ouch.

In all other respects, the U.S. version duplicates the international one. It comes with a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display, supports 4G LTE and HSPA+ 42 speeds, sports a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video capture and playback, and a very large, removable 2100mAh battery.

The Galaxy S III also sports a new version of Corning's superglass, Gorilla Glass 2.0, which is stronger and thinner. Corning unveiled it this past January at CES.

The device also sports a number of Samsung-only software features, on top of its Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) underpinnings. One of those is S-Voice, a Siri rival. We've tried it, and it's no better - and no worse - than Siri. In other words, it's just as buggy.

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