My regular readers know that I rarely post technology reviews.  But given all the hype surrounding the new (to the US) Samsung Galaxy SIII, and that I’m just getting my first experience as a proud owner of this smart phone, I thought I’d share some initial thoughts.

From Blackberry 8800 to Android 4

I’ve wanted to upgrade from my Blackberry to a true smart phone for some time.  The Blackberry has worked well for the 2.5 years or so that I’ve had it, but over the AT&T 3G network, its abilities beyond email and calendar were limited to say the least!  Getting to the web took the patience of Job!  Seeing what you got once you got there took the eyesight of a spy satellite!

I’m a big Mac user (3 Mac desktops, a MacBook Pro and iPod) so I was very tempted by the iPhone, but I’d also been considering Android devices, and became quite interested in the Samsung Galaxy SIII when it was announced.  Congratulations to Samsung’s publicists – it must have been one of the most hyped product introductions of the decade!  But, in all fairness, congratulations to Samsung’s engineers for creating such a remarkable package – it was the technology that, I believe, mostly drove the hype.

Initial Experience

I bought my phone yesterday at a local AT&T store.  My contract had expired, so I paid the $199 plus tax, and an obscene amount for a flip cover (more on that in a moment).  The buying experience was fine – the local store is big, bright and airy – certainly nothing like an Apple store, but the AT&T folks are trying and do a decent job.  The longest part of the process was transferring my contacts.  Turns out the various sync problems I’ve had over the last couple of years, involving Entourage (the MicroSoft version of Outlook for Macs), Google mail, Spanning Sync and so on had somehow created literally thousands of duplicate contacts!  The whole contacts thing has been a pain for some time – if you want to use a more powerful Mac email client than the vanilla Mac product, you end up with a sync nightmare, having to go between Entourage, the Mac Address Book and Google Contacts.  I still have to resolve my duplicates – a story for another time (and place?)

I reluctantly opted for the Samsung flip case.  It’s an obscene price for a piece of plastic ($50!!!) but I wanted to avoid scratches and scuffs (my Blackberry 8800 looks like new, and I know from prior experience that my care and attention will pay back when I trade it in on Gazelle or wherever.)  I really liked the design of the case – it literally replaces the back that come with the phone with an identical unit, but one that has thin flip cover (with a soft inner lining) over the screen.  So, without adding significant bulk or weight, it seems like it will add the necessary protection.  No belt clip, but I think the phone size probably precludes that as a viable means of transport!

Once I got home and opened the box, my first reaction was delight.  (I had, of course, played with a demo phone at the store, so this was not a huge surprise!)  It is a beautifully made device – feels good – light but sturdy.  I don’t understand all the criticism about the “plasticy feel” – that’s how they keep it light, but it feels solid enough.)   Getting into the basics of using the phone was pretty simple – mostly intuitive, with some help from the fold-out “Quick Start” guide that came with the phone, and some tutorials at att.com.  Then the troubles started!

Android – Meet Mac!

Setting up my 4 email accounts (2 IMAP and 2 POP accounts) was pretty straight forward, in spite of finger troubles learning to use the on-screen keyboard.  Next, I wanted to connect to my iMac and get my iTunes library onto the phone.  NOT SO FAST, TONTO!  This proved to be a horrible experience!  The Mac would not recognize that it had a device attached.  I scoured the forums and ‘sources of wisdom’ and found the problem was extremely common, but the solutions were all over the place, and none seemed to apply.  Many relied on using Settings to select Wireless and network, then Developer options, and then select USB debugging.  None of this worked the way the forums suggested.  Eventually I found the Developer options elsewhere on the Settings menu, then discovered that you had to set up the USM PC connection as a Camera (PTP) rather than as a Media Device (MTP).  All this took a long time to figure out, including installing Android File Transfer (which refused to recognize an Android device until I set it as a camera!)  By the time I got connected, I was getting pretty frustrated and wondering if I’d erred in not going for the iPhone!

Android – my iTunes

The next frustration was getting to my music.  I did not expect this to be as simple as it would be on an iPhone, and I knew I’d have to deal with the AAC/MP4 conversion issues, but much of my library is already MP3, so I’d be fine with that for now.  No so fast!  The forums, Galaxy help and other ‘informed’ sources pointed me to Samsung’s Kies and to Google’s Google Play.  I found that neither of these were particularly well documented and did not immediately work.  Now I was starting to consider eating the AT&T’s restocking fee $35!) and returning my SIII and getting the iPhone!

An hour or so of futzing with settings and I don’t know what else (hey, this is not meant to be a technical advice column!) I was able to access my song library (the MP3 songs, at least) on the new phone.

Second Day Experience

So today, the second day with the SIII was my first full day with the device.  I’m adjusting to the keyboard, customized home screen, ring tones, etc. and added some apps.  It’s all still a little intimidating (and I’m moderately tech literate!) but I’m glad to say I’m over my “shall I return it to the store” feelings, and starting to feel like the SIII and me were made for each other!

Bottom Line

If you are a technophobe, or don’t have access to a “significant other” with the chops to help you, you might think twice about getting an Android device.  If your up to it, and are looking for a largish screen size smart phone (though not heavy or unweildy), I think Samsung have the high ground right now with the Galaxy SIII!

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