Can’t afford the Galaxy S3, what are my options


Smartphones are pushing the barriers extremely fast as the processor and GPU technology for mobiles keep improving radically, though battery technology still has not shown any great development.

While the current craze for the Galaxy S3 goes on (the HTC One X / S though similar in configuration has sadly lacked the  want in our market here), many will still find the price of the Galaxy S3 daunting, and look below.  Interestingly just below you find several very good phones, and buyers must be aware that latest may not always mean better.  So what can we buy if the Galaxy S3 is too expensive.

HTC One X

Touted as the equivalent of the Galaxy S3, the model has fallen flat on the face since the performance of the Nvidia Quad-core Tegra 3 has not not matched the Samsung unit on the S3, and in some test the Galaxy S3 leaves the One X in its dust.

The One X has one of the best LCD screens though its still not in par with the AMOLED plus screen on the Galaxy S3.  The One X has one of the best lenses an f2.0 but sadly even with that the camera performance has been second to the Galaxy S3, mainly due to the processing aspects of the image, though indoors without a flash it does excel due to the better lens.  The other area has been the much nicer design and far superior build quality of the HTC One X.

However the very poor battery life (hard to get though for one day, seems the supposed 5th core in the Tegra 3 to handle processing while on the standby has not been very effective) has sadly added to the lower popularity of the X.

The recent update to ICS also brought a new issue, and a serious one which is an issue with the WIFI signal strength on some units, and seems that this may require replacement of the unit as software fixes have not resolved the issue.

Prices of used One X model have dropped and by the likes it will drop further unless HTC sees how some of these issues can be resolved with better software specially for the battery issue and camera quality.  The WIFI issue of course seems to be related to some devices, and no formal notice has been issues on what serial no’s are effected by this.

HTC One S

The small brother to the One X, with the 960×560 resolution screen, and a dual core processor.  However its not just a dual core processor but a Snapdragon 4 (called the Krait), who’s performance is far superior to the Quad-core Tegra unit and even beats the Samsung Galaxy S3 unit in some areas.  However the processor is in short supply due to production issues, though this will be the processor and GPU to see in the next ranges.

Sadly the price of the One S remains in Galaxy S3 range, and with most thinking that its inferior to the HTC One X (which is not the case) will dent sales.

Issues with WIFI has not been noticed on these models.

 Samsung Galaxy SII (GT-I9100)

While the Galaxy S3 maybe blazing fast compared to phones prior to the quad-core range, the Galaxy SII remains still a very fast proposition.  The camera can hold its own with the Galaxy SII and any other phone, making it more than adequate for top end multimedia use.

With the ICS update, the phone performs very well in the Internet browsing department, and its main weakness will be its lower resolution, as the 2012 crop have the higher 1280×800 (or close) resolutions screen which offer greater sharpness and more viewing in the same screen space compared to the 800×480 resolution screens.

However the AMOLED screen holds its own for video and color.  Battery life also remains decent with 1 day easily being possible if you don’t push the 3G use.

Presence of a MicroSD card for upgrading storage, and use of a standard SIM will also be liked by many who tend to switch phones.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samsung_Galaxy_S_II, be careful of the flooding of Galaxy SII from Korean.  These phones have a different code SHW-M250, and though identically spec’d to the Galaxy SII the firmwares are different, and also has some features lacking compared to the global version.

Also note that I9100G also comes with a completely different hardware the TI OMAP processor and the older PowerVR graphics.  while this might be slightly slower it offers better battery life.

Sony Xperia S

Maybe the 2012 flagship from Sony, but sadly its no match in performance to the S3 or the HTC One X/S, with its main selling point being its 12MP camera and very striking design.

The performance of the phone is more in level with the Galaxy SII though it performances a bit better in Internet browsing, etc due to the faster processor, but falls short on the gaming side with the Galaxy SII MALI400MP GPU being still superior to the Adreno 220 unit on the Xperia S.  Strangely the rest of the 2012 Xperia range don’t use the Qualcomm processor but use sony’s own Thor processsor that has a MALI GPU, but an inferior version compared to what runs on the Galaxy S II (and the Note).

The camera is touted as one of the best in the Android/Smartphone market, but based on test it seems while the optics are good, the less powerful flash compared to the Galaxy S3 and the S2 makes it not the best in lower light situation regardless of the use of Exmor.  However without the flash definitely it will perform better though you are not going to get stellar pictures without a flash indoors with such tiny sensors.

Two big let downs from the Xperia S has been the use of the microSIM and the lack of an MicroSD port, which has resulted in poor acceptance of this phone in many markets.  The fact that it also launched without ICS and only recently got the ICS update (months after the 2011 range got the ICS update) also has impacted this phones market acceptance.

Samsung Galaxy Note

Yes its big for a phone with a lovely 5.3″ screen, but for some it can still be a very good balance specially if you surf a lot and also want to do some reading or watch videos. The much larger battery makes this an ideal combination and it also has the advantage over its Galaxy SII brother that it comes with the higher resolution screen that is in par with the 2012 range.

The camera unit is the same,  so it matches the Galaxy SII in its multimedia capabilities, and trounces it in the Internet, Video and reading areas.

The stylus may seem a gimick at first, but with the ICS update the stylus apps are now ultra smooth and can be very useful for jotting down notes and drawing something you can’t do with any other phone in this article including the Galaxy S3.

If you don’t mind the slightly larger bulk this is a super device, with the newer version touting a larger 5.5″ screen due in Oct 2012.  Many said this phone will fail just like the Dell Streak, but how wrong were the analysts! The phone has become very popular and sold extremely well that has also made other vendors also start making similar devices.

HTC Sensation XE

The XL might be larger but it does not have the higher resolution screen, making the XE the better of two.  The camera is good, video is decent and the hardware for a 2011 model is identical to the 2012 Xperia S so its more than good enough. The higher resolution 960×540 also puts it one above the highly popular Galaxy S II.

ICS is now available making it all ready with the new OS.

However strangely the market has been more about the Galaxy SII and the Note than this Sensation range, and I believe this is due to the death grip issue with the original sensation that led to the drop in the Sensation market.

One area that HTC remains poor is the battery, with the common complaint being the poor battery life compared to rivals with similar specs.  Pushed hard the phone will struggle to get you a days life. The Sensation XE also has a lower internal memory, but has the MicroSD to increase the storage.

The full kit for the sensation also comes with an excellent Beats earphone that other models cannot match.

Samsung Galaxy SII Sky Rocket

This is the odd one since it’s a model that has not been sold in the asian markets.  Most of these are the LTE versions, hence the hardware is identical to the Sensation XE/Xperia S since the  Samsung chipset does not support LTE, so it cannot run the Exynos / MALI combination.    This means more CPU power than the Galaxy SII but lower graphics performance for gaming.

The benefits of the Sky Rocket is that it has the LTE support in case its offered in your region, it has a larger screen but same resolution as the Galaxy SII, so the text is less sharper. The device also has no FM radio unlike the Galaxy SII.

For anyone who wants a larger screen for browsing and video, this is a better buy than the Galaxy SII and you get the same camera hence the multimedia is on par.

One more positive is that it comes with a higher capacity battery (to support the higher drain of LTE networks), but if you use it in a 3/3.5G network this means better battery life!

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Sony Arc vs Sony Arc S, the battle of the former Sony flagship phones


One my office mates purchased an Xperia Arc S recently as it was offered at a very attractive price by a Telco.  The phone was still running Gingerbread, as the ICS update has not yet rolled out to this region.

However I warned the chap not to update since he had got hooked to Angry Birds, and with the ICS update this game is not working on either the Arc or the Arc S, the problem being the touch controls not working on this game.

Usage impressions

One very apparent impression is that compared to the Sony Arc, the phone seems a lot more faster due to the faster processor which definitely makes the phone a lot more usable.  Other than this obvious but very important improvement the rest is very much the same, though the battery drain also seems to be greater than the Arc which I think is attributed to the faster processor, while the battery is the same as the Arc.

Sad that Sony Ericsson (Sony) did not boost the memory to 1GB on this version, since this would have made it a lot more future proof when running ICS.

Benchmarks

Since the phones are near identical I am just including a comparison with the Sony Arc, and the benchmark shots.  The 3D performance has a remarkable gain on ICS, so the Nenamark 2 results are not a true comparison.

Arc S (LT18i) Arc (LT15)
OS Android 2.3.4 Android 4.0.4
Quadrant 1364 1257
Antutu 2.8.2 3628 2953
Nenamark 2 15 24.1

Samsung Galaxy Note users – careful updating to ICS 4.0.3 or custom ROM, you risk bricking your phone due to the eMMC bug


Just replaced my Arc with a Samsung Note.  Could not resist the allure of trying out what you call a Phone/Tab hybrid 🙂

My phone seems to have origins from Romania based on the CSC code, and the update for the ICS was not available as yet for that CSC code.  Was about to change the CSC code when i came across several forum articles where the ICS update for the Galaxy Note has a serious bug for some firmwares that it can brick (make your device not usable).   The issue is not due to the flashing but after you flash and try to do a factory reset.

In case you have updated to the said firmware versions, avoid doing the factory reset and wait for a new version.

The firmware versions impacted seems to be ZSLPF and XXLPY.

Check out the xdadeveloper forums for the eMMC bug and the http://ykkfive.blogspot.com/2012/05/galaxy-note-official-ics-zslpf-and.html#.T889TbD9OJg.

More details on the bug, which also seems applicable to some other Samsung devices, see the forum response  http://www.sammobile.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5843

Samsung has finally accepted that there is a fault with the update, and have informed people from refraining updating their Galaxy Note (and some variants of the Galaxy SII).  See http://www.gsmarena.com/samsung_responds_to_galaxy_s_ii___note_emmc_bug_problem-news-4394.php

How to find if your phone has the faulty eMMC unit

Seems like a kind person has written a software, not guaranteed to detect all faulty units, but seems to be pretty updated on identifying the faulty eMMC units.  Check the good friends at XDA http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1693704 for the APK to test your device.

Will post an article after using the device for a while shortly 🙂

UPDATE – JULY 2012

Samsung just released the Android 4.04 update for the Galaxy Note, and it fixes a lot of bugs that were with the 4.0.3 release, and also improves the performance of the phone (it had gone down from the Gingerbread version in the ICS 4.0.3 release).  In addition some cool features have been introduced, including the pop up video playback feature that was exclusively available only for the S3 until this update rolled out! However there is no formal information if the brick bug has been fixed, but i did a factory reset on a device and did not have any problems. However the brick bug does not effect all phones, hence this is not a confirmation that the brick bug has been fixed.

Some details of the new features of the 4.0.4 update for the Galaxy Note http://www.allaboutgalaxynote.com/top-10-new-features-in-galaxy-note-after-ics-update/