Wednesday, December 19, 2012

MetroPCS offers Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone without contract, but there are tradeoffs — TECH TIME REVIEW

I’ve written a lot about the immensely popular Samsung’s Galaxy S3, on its various versions from the four major wireless networks.
But now I’m back with a look at another GS3 -- one from MetroPCS that can be purchased without a 2-year contract commitment.
Many people like this option over a contract, because it frees them up to move on to another phone whenever they want, not just after two years.
I’ll give you a refresher on the GS3’s overall specs, and let you know how this one measures up to the other versions, and who might be interested in picking one up.
LOOKS, SCREEN
Just like the other GS3 versions, the large 4.8-inch screen is great for viewing videos or movies or playing games. But it might be too large for some folks with smaller hands. That’s up to everyone to decide, but I think most people can adapt. The phone is very slim at .34 inches, so the weight is only 4.7 ounces. The only knock on the looks is that the materials used are plastic and not as sturdy as some competitors like the iPhone 5.
The phone features Gorilla Glass that’s built to last, and the 4.8-inch touchscreen features a high-def 1280x720 resolution Super AMOLED display.
As with most smartphones, there is no physical keyboard, just an onscreen keyboard. So if you’re one of the small crowd who still demands a physical keyboard, this phone isn’t for you.
NETWORK
This is really what it’s all about here. Since this phone is essentially identical across carriers, it really comes down to the network performance.
For the most part, the MetroPCS version of the GS3 was very good at keeping me online and getting me around the web quickly, but in the area where I was using the phone (Southeast Michigan), I found myself on occasion simply looking for the network, as it was nowhere to be found. At times like this, I couldn’t even get on the Internet. They were rare, as I was usually just fine. But this kind of coverage gap was concerning at times.
In terms of uploading/downloading speeds on the MetroPCS 4G network, again it was sometimes good, but sometimes a little slow compared to the competition. I downloaded some apps in a snap, but others seemed to take longer that I was used to from the previous GS3 versions I had tested from MetroPCS’ competitors.
CALL QUALITY
The other issue that is carrier-specific is call quality. Are the calls clear? Do they drop?, etc.
Just like the data side, you’re going to be mostly OK here, but not completely in the clear. A couple people I called with the MetroPCS GS3 said they were having trouble hearing me (though I could hear them OK), and I had to switch to a different phone one of those times. Most of the time, nothing was wrong though. Just be aware that these issues might crop up from time to time. It’s part of the tradeoffs that are pretty much inevitable when you switch to a non-contract provider.
BATTERY LIFE
I got solid battery performance out of the GS3 (at least a full day, sometimes more), but there are other phones -- notable the Droid Razr Maxx HD -- that are even more effective in maintaining battery life for longer. 
PROCESSOR
The dual-core 1.5GHz processor on the GS3 did not disappoint, and offered very fast multi-tasking.
CAMERA
The camera on the GS3 is among the best on the market right now. You get an 8 megapixel rear camera that takes crisp shots. Pictures can be taken very fast due to lack of shutter lag.
Up front is a 1.9 MP front facing camera for video chat, and you get solid video specs, too: 1080p full HD video from rear; 720p HD video from the front.      
You can also do a lot of featury type shots -- like a burst shot feature that takes multiple shots in just a few seconds. There are also a lot of editing options.
MESSAGING
Messaging is a breeze on the GS3 due to its large screen. You get all varieties -— text, picture and video messaging; and threaded messaging keeps better track of conversations.     
S VOICE
These feature answers your questions, and is similar in purpose to Siri on the iPhone. It does its job reasonably well, and should get better over time as it gets tweaked.
SOUND
Compared to the compeition, The Galaxy S3’s speaker is very high quality and music and speakerphone calls sound nice and loud.
ANDROID 4.0
The operating system on the Metro PCS version of the GS3 is Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich). As with all Android operating systems, you get full Google integration of products like Gmail, YouTube, Google Calendar, Google Search, Google Maps, Play Music, Play Store (with more than 400,000 apps and widgets) and more.
PRICE
If you get a phone without a contract, like MetroPCS offers, you’re going to pay more up front. In this case, you’ll be paying $499.99 out-of-pocket, but are not under the sort of mandatory payment plan for two years that the competitors offer.
Then, as long as you decide to stick around, you have your monthly costs associated with the phone line.
Metro PCS plans run betwen $40 and $70 per month. All feature unlimited talk, text and data -- and the difference between them is how much of your data will be at 4G speeds (250MB, 2.5G, 5G, or unlimited are your options there). It’s just a matter of how important 4G speeds are to you and how often you’ll need them.
BOTTOM LINE
If you like the Samsung Galasy S3 smartphone (and there’s a lot to like; it’s arguably the best phone on the market right now), but don’t want a contract, the MetroPCS version is an option you can go with that will give you more freedom.
But it’s undeniable that there are tradeoffs. The call quality, network availability and 4G upload/download speeds were not consistently up to par with the contract GS3s that I have tested. Often they would work fine, but there were times I was disappointed too.
If you’re considering going the contract-free route to get the GS3, I would recommend testing this phone in your area to see if the MetroPCS call quality and network coverage live up to your standards before spending that money, as 500 bucks is a lot of money, even if you don’t have to commit to a contract for 2 years.

Matt Myftiu can be reached at matt.myftiu@oakpress.com or 248-745-4617. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page “OPTechTime”.
Check out his blog at realtechtime.blogspot.com.

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