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Hands on: Samsung's US-bound Galaxy S III variants

updated 05:37 pm EDT, Fri June 22, 2012

Quad-core Exynos omitted in favor of S4

Samsung held a flashy event in New York City to reintroduce its Galaxy S III handset ahead of its North American arrival. We already checked out the international model when it was unveiled early last month in London, however we took another look at the US editions to experience the carrier-specific modifications. Variants headed to Verizon, AT&T, US Cellular, Sprint and T-Mobile are powered by a different chipset, lacking a quad-core processor, and each offers slightly different connectivity options.

The international version boasts Samsung's Exynos 4 quad-core CPU clocked at 1.4GHz--the Korean company's own rival to Nvidia's Tegra 3 chip. Although the company did not highlight any hardware differences at its New York event, all US-bound models will integrate Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 chipset. Both Tegra 3 and Exynos share a common limitation: no support for LTE radios, though Tegra 3 will add the option later in the year. Samsung is essentially following the same path that HTC and other Tegra 3 partners have followed--quad-core models for most networks, and dual-core copies for LTE carriers.

Interestingly enough, T-Mobile's Galaxy S III will also carry the Snapdragon S4 despite the carrier's lack of an LTE network. When pressed for clarification, Samsung representatives did not have a clear answer. We suspect the handset maker may have wanted to keep specs equal between US editions at the very least, or T-Mobile's HSPA+ network may face the same incompatibility issues with the Exynos chipset.

Aside from the technical aspects surrounding the difference between Galaxy S III chipsets, we did not encounter any performance issues when trying out the S4-based models. Quad-core obviously does not equate to a doubling of performance compared to dual-core chips, and the Galaxy S III serves as a great example of this point. We've been impressed with the performance of Exynos-, Tegra 3-, and S4-based devices. Benchmarks may show varying levels of performance in different areas, but in real-world tests all three chipsets are extremely fast and capable.

Of the demo devices available in New York, only Verizon's was connected to LTE towers. As expected, the T-Mobile variant was connected to HSPA+ towers. Although Sprint and AT&T are in the process of LTE trials and early deployment, the companies' respective handsets that we tried were restricted to 3G connections. As such, we could not compare LTE speeds on Verizon, AT&T and Sprint using the same device and in a location that should eventually become well covered by all three.

Aside from the carrier logos located on the top of the battery cover, the phones headed to US carriers otherwise match the color schemes available overseas. AT&T and Verizon models sport white housings, while the T-Mobile and Sprint equivalents opt for a darker color scheme with a brushed finish on the rear panel.

Overall, users should expect the North American models to offer a similar experience to the international counterparts. Developers will begin pushing the limits of multi-core mobile chipsets for improved graphics and other advanced capabilities. When that time comes, a real-world difference between Exynos and S4 performance may be apparent, but for now buyers will be impressed by either.

Samsung already stalled its Canadian launch--originally scheduled for this week--due to stronger-than-expected sales in international markets. Sprint has followed suit, pushing back its expected retail availability, however pre-orders for the 16GB variant are expected to arrive on time. Verizon is taking pre-orders that are expected to ship early in July, while AT&T has also admitted that it will not be able to deliver devices as promised.

by MacNN Staff



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