As 2012 nears its final days, it’s exciting to look back over the past 12 months from an Android fan perspective and then try to pick out the representative Android smartphone of the year that is about to end.
Although 2012 was the year of the first quad-core smartphone as well as the year of the first 1080p smartphone, the best way to characterize the Android ecosystem during the past 12 months is its impressive global smartphone OS market share during the third quarter, one that rests at 75%. Android was on three out of each four smartphones sold during the time period!
Much has happened in the Android ecosystem over these very profitable past 12 months, and plenty of contenders arise for the title, but let us first take the time to properly describe what the belt means.
If you’ll pardon the raw generalization, the perfect title owner would have a great display, blazing fast internal specs as well as extended connectivity options. An Android smartphone that “works” for everyone, a smartphone that everyone can master.
One additional factor that might get overlooked is our champion’s popularity (the number of actual units it sold) as the bigger the market share of a smartphone is, the more love the respective smartphone receives from the modding and tweaking community. Following the same principle, apps should be tested and optimized on the most popular device(s) first.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of Android smartphones to choose from, but despite the fact that hardware specifications and price ratios are very important when choosing one Android smartphone over the other (a fact that we do often in our comprehensive Vs section), today we are not looking for the “best” smartphone of 2012. Instead, we are are trying to pick out the Android smartphone that made the largest splash in these troubled waters.
Samsung Galaxy S3
Following the guidelines outlined above, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is, without a doubt, the most important Android smartphone of 2012.
The Record Breaker
Probably the most important detail about Samsung Galaxy S3 in the context of this article is that it is the best selling Android smartphone to ever reach the market, as in November, global Samsung Galaxy S3 sales had passed the 30 million unit mark.
In the context of the battle that Android is undertaking against the Apple and the iPhone line of smartphones, it should also be mentioned that during Q3, the Galaxy S3 has sold more units the iPhone 4S globally, a first for any Android smartphone, ever! How’s that for a splash?
Ok, so the Samsung Galaxy S3 is obviously a bestseller, but why is that? For one, the fact that it was available in almost any market you can think of surely helped. North America and Japan got an LTE version, while other continents got their 3G version, meaning all of Samsung’s powerful retail partnerships were used to their maximum extent.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 was the first device in the Galaxy S series that has reached the United States on all four carriers without any major changes, contrary to the trend that other manufacturers usually follow in releasing customized version for each carrier.
It’s not that other manufacturers wouldn’t benefit from the unified global marketing campaign, it’s just that carriers usually require modifications such as the T-Mobile Hercules, the AT&T Skyrocket or the Sprint Galaxy S2. Samsung is likely the only Android manufacturer to impose its own rules in negotiations with carriers.
Impartiality aside, it is inexplicably pleasant to see the tides of power turn, even for a little bit in the favor of anybody else save for the carriers.
How fast is it ?
To put it both kindly and realistic at the same time, the LTE-enabled versions of the Samsung Galaxy S3 are not as snappy as the international version. It’s not that the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 SoC cannot handle the basic tasks with satisfying responsiveness, it’s just that the Exynos 4 Quad SoC manufactured by Samsung seems to be a platform that works wonders on Android devices.
The US version uses a dual-core 1.5GHz Krait processor paired with an Adreno 225 GPU and 2GB of RAM, while the international version makes due with just 1GB of RAM, but is snappier (both in benchmarks and real life situations) in most cases than its LTE-equipped brother, thanks to its 1.4GHz quad-core A9 CPU and Mali 400MP GPU.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 is also the bearer of two technical specifications that might not seem to be of ultimate importance, although plenty argue that the recent trend that has eliminated both of them from a myriad of flagship Android smartphones of 2012 is nothing if not unfortunate. Yes, we are talking about a removable battery and an microSD card compatibility.
The 2050mAh will last you through the day with moderate use of your smartphone, but hardcore Android gamers might want to keep an extra battery at hand, or suffer the abysmal chore of shooting zombies with the power plug on for a few hours each day.
Even by the most recent standards, the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone rests at the top end of the performance and user experience chart.
How bad is this PenTile stuff?
While the Samsung Galaxy S3 is still considered to be blazing fast (despite the fact that it was originally launched back in May internationally and July in the U.S.), there is one area where Samsung’s flagship is not doing so well by the most modern standards: the display.
The overall picture quality offered by the 4.8-inch Super AMOLED 720p display on the Samsung Galaxy S3 is above average by any standard, but where the S3 loses to some of its competitors is the much criticized usage of a PenTile subpixel arrangement. Plenty consider that its effect is well visible at a “regular” distance, and that the image is not as crisp as on other top Android dogs.
But is it Smart?
The Samsung Galaxy S3 first came out with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on board (at the time it was the most recent version of Android), but most of its versions have since been updated to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
The Android 4.2 update will probably take a while longer before it is unofficially released in the form of a custom mod, and a lot more than that before the update arrives in its official form. However, Samsung seems to be honestly committed to release substantial updates in a decent time frame (judging by the industry average). Add the great work they’ve done on the software side this year, and the reasons why the South Korean company is the biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world become increasingly obvious.
Granted, when it comes to Android smartphone manufacturers, there are few of them who have managed to impress customers with their personalized user interfaces and software tweaks. However, although the TouchWiz UI on the Samsung Galaxy S3 is hardly preferable to vanilla Android from a design standpoint, Samsung is the first manufacturer that has brought software tweaks that actually improve the general experience with the device.
First you have the set of Smart Functions with which the device has been launched and that add small but useful features such as Smart Stay (a tweak that keeps the display on as long as you are looking at it), S Share (a system for transferring files between modern Samsung Galaxy smartphones that use an NFC chip), as well as some interesting gestures.
Since the Samsung Galaxy S3 Premium Suite has only been recently announced, it could not count in the context, but the extra software tweaks (plenty of them actually useful) that the smartphone is about to receive only adds to its reputation.
Meet The Runner Ups
HTC One X
The HTC One X marked a new beginning for the Taiwanese manufacturer, and although this flagship was not commercially successful enough to stop the company stock decline, the One X has received quite the positive feedback from the Android community.
Released back in March internationally and in June in the U.S., the HTC One X deserves its spot in the runner up list thanks to its amazing 4.7-inch 720p Super LCD 2 display. Another quality of this smartphone is its slick unibody design.
Despite the above mentioned strong suits, the international version of the One X, one that uses the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 platform is not as powerful as other flagships, while the US, LTE-compatible version (one the used the same SoC as the US version of the Samsung Galaxy S3, namely the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 SoC) was launched exclusively with AT&T, thus severely limiting its impact.
It’s really hard to say how much of a factor the unremovable battery and the lack of a microSD card reader played in the low sales rates, but it’s one of the things that the blogosphere and its readers have complained about with the HTC One X.
Samsung Galaxy Note 2
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is a lot like how you’d imagine a bigger brother to the Samsung Galaxy S3.
You’ve got a 5.55-inch 720p Super AMOLED display and an overclocked Samsung Exynos 4 Quad under the hood, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean out of the box, as well as a unique range of software functions that are meant to make use of the one accessory that Samsung’s Note line of devices is built around: the S Pen.
However, despite the fact that the Note 2 features and even faster processor, a better display as well as a digitizer, the Galaxy Note 2 is not a device that everyone can use, due to its enormous footprint. The Note 2 is probably “the best” smartphone of 2012 for a lot of people, but it is not our Android smartphone of the year because it’s not really a smartphone per se, but more of a phablet, an extraordinary hybrid device, but really too big to be the representative smartphone of 2012.
LG Google Nexus 4
Although the fourth smartphone in Google’s line of reference Android smartphone is, without doubt, the best Nexus smartphone ever, it’s hard to name the LG Google Nexus 4 as the most important Android smartphone of 2012, as it was launched towards the end of the year.
We’ve talked about how the cheap but very powerful Google Nexus 4 is completely taking by storm the Android smartphone market in a previous article, but in the context of this one, it needs to be said that the Nexus 4 is plagued by a couple of drawbacks on the hardware side, but not nearly as much as it has been plagued by availability issues.
The Nexus 4 has a number of hardware strong suits such as its Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro platform (1.5 GHz quad-core Krait processor and Adreno 320 GPU), its 4.7-inch 720p display, as well as its design, but a large segment of the Android fan base has complained about the lack of an SD card slot on a device that comes with either just 8GB of internal storage or a meager 16GB.
In addition, our readers from North America will also be saddened to learn that the Google Nexus 4 does not feature LTE support. Note that the lack of LTE support is not much of a problem in other markets as LTE matters only in the U.S. and a few Asian countries for the time being.
But the worst thing about the LG Google Nexus 4 is the fact that only a limited number of customers have managed to get their hands on the Nexus 4 in more than a month’s time since it release. Given the huge hype over the phone at the time of its announcement, plenty of potential customers around the globe are now equally disappointed as they were excited back when they have first learned of the Nexus 4 magic.
So there you have it folks: we have managed to compile a list of reasons why we believe the Samsung Galaxy S3 is the Android Smartphone of the Year 2012, as well as a list of worthy opponents.
However, subjectivity is at its best when comparing smartphones, so what do you guys make of this topic? What do you think is the most representative smartphone of 2012? Drop us a comment in the section below and share a thought!