Seth Heringer: Samsung Galaxy S III Disappoints and Here’s Why

Seth Heringer says Samsung has made a major mistake focusing on the software rather than the hardware of the Samsung Galaxy S III. Here’s why.

The May 3 Samsung Galaxy S III announcement centered on a new design language. Execs talked about smartphones “for humans” and emphasized “the sounds of nature” in its interface.

Samsung is making a huge error.

Notice the language used in one of the terrible videos I saw at the event.

As our lives become increasingly complex, people are no longer enthused about new technology for technology’s sake. They desire products that genuinely think and care about them. Products created with humanity at heart. People don’t want complexity from their technology or technology they must struggle to learn. They want effortless, intuitive experiences. Today, the quest is for something different, and that’s why it was created. It sees what you see. It listens to what you say. It shares what you love. It knows what you want. It is “designed for humans.”

This script shows that Samsung has shifted focus — and probably hired a marketing agency that does not understand what a smartphone should do. It has shifted from focusing on hardware to software — and from the look, feel and performance of a smartphone to its software.

The design language, then, is not industrial design but software design.

This is weak. The “human” and “nature” aspects do not come from specially designed hardware — but from nature ringtones and water rippling in backgrounds. The human experience does not come in a new ergonomical design that creatively and innovatively improves the user experience. Rather, it is about issuing voice commands to turn on your camera and finding yet another way to include a touch-to-share feature.

The phone “listens,” “sees” and “knows” based on the software Samsung has added to Android, Samsung execs on stage in London said.

In short, Samsung forgot it was a hardware company and failed to offer significant hardware improvements other than its new processor.

Let’s look at the places where Samsung could have improved the hardware and failed:

1. Camera: It uses the same 8mp camera sensor as did the Galaxy S2. Old optics, old sensor … new software? Call me unimpressed.

2. Screen: The same PenTile matrix that is found on the Galaxy Nexus is also used on the Galaxy S III. Sure it’s a nice screen, but not as nice as HTC’s One X. This is last generation technology.

3. Design: It’s an amalgamation of the Galaxy Nexus and previous Galaxy S line phones. It has a plasticy and cheap look and feel. Hyperglaze, their new manufacturing process technology, is uninspiring.

4. TouchWiz and hardware buttons: In an Ice Cream Sandwich world there should not be hardware buttons or manufacturer’s skins on phones. This is simple: make the screen larger or the phone smaller.

5. Battery: The battery is a minor upgrade from the Galaxy Nexus’s 1750 mAh battery to 2100 mAh, but this is still nowhere near the Droid RAZR Maxx’s 3300 mAh behemoth. Also, it’s not clear that the battery life will improve over the Galaxy Nexus because of the Galaxy SIII’s larger screen and new processor. Consumers are pushing back against the necessity to charge their phones every 12 hours, and Samsung again failed to innovate significantly to meet those demands.

Notice a trend here? In every major hardware spec that wasn’t announced previously Samsung failed to offer any noteworthy improvement over the previous generation phones. Read that again: not a single noteworthy hardware improvement (other than CPU).

So what did Samsung actually improve?

Processor: Whoever leads Samsung’s chip manufacturing deserves an award because the Exynos quad-core 4412 is the only impressive thing on this phone. It appears to be winning the benchmark race and is looking to lead the processor pack. But, this processor was announced over a week ago and thus comes as no surprise. Also, the LTE versions may not even get it and instead have the Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor. The Snapdragon isn’t a bad processor, but it certainly isn’t going to make up for all the Galaxy S III lacks. We will have to wait to see what exactly will happen in the US with the processor.

Software: S Voice is an unnecessary attempt to answer Apple’s Siri. Stock Android already offers much of this functionality and the new features it offers seem tired. I am predicting I will never see anybody turn on their camera by speaking to their phone. This feature may have PR value, but I don’t see it offering much in added functionality.

I was intrigued by the ability to share photos by clicking on faces that the software recognized. That is useful. Nice work, Samsung. A whole press conference for one feature worth noting.

We don’t buy Samsung phones because it donates to the WWF or because it sponsors the Olympics. We buy products based on the best possible combo of design and hardware, useablity and bang for the buck.

Samsung should return to focusing on those things and lose all these peripheral distractions that will make it lose its edge.

Samsung shouldn’t try to compete with Apple on everything. Let Google do its job and create Android — it’s doing a good job. Matias Duarte, the lead Android designer at Google, is better than anyone Samsung has at the ready. So let him do his job.

And while Samsung lets Google do its job, it should focus on its own project: To astonish us once again with the great design and great hardware we’ve come to expect from that company. Samsung should be leading — not in software, that’s silly. In hardware. Where it belongs.

This is Seth Heringer for


  • Even though I haven’t fondled this phone yet, I got a feeling I won’t be grabbing it up now. :( I was looking forward to it.

    Thnx for the insight, Seth.

    -RAP, II

  • I wish people would stop talking about phone cameras like they’re the greatest thing ever and being disappointed when manufacturers use “Old optics, old sensor …” Just about any decent 5 megapixel camera from 2002 will take better pictures than any phone camera available today. Why? Bigger sensor, bigger lens, more light hitting bigger sensor elements, means less noise, less software noise reduction, sharper pictures.

    Phone cameras are shit, whether it’s the one on a Galaxy S III, an iPhone, or a Motorola pebl.

    Want to take pictures with a small camera? Get a Canon S95. forget the crap in your phone. They’re not worth talking about, and the sooner reviewers realize that, the sooner we’ll be able to stop dealing with them.

    • I disagree with you Paul. Sure smartphone cameras are NOT the likes of the 7D or 5D Mark, but smartphone cameras are not as awful as some may think. With DSLR, the photographer can snap a totally crappy shot. It’s not the cameras fault all the time. Same goes for smartphone cameras. Great shots can be captured if the “photographer” makes an effort.

      -RAP, II