Sunday, 6 May 2012

Samsung Galaxy S3, secrets revealed: Battery life, exFAT, Apt-X (bonus scandal: the iPad2 buyers lottery)

If you read our 'reactions to the S III' piece you will have seen us reference the Voodoo Report-generated hardware analysis from Supercurio, in particular the use of the excellent Wolfson DAC (digital to analog converter; the phones sound card if you will, which all but assures class-leading audio quality in the Android phone realm). Well, we've been poring over that report, and also reading a few other things around the net that point to some extremely interesting and unheralded aspects of the S III.

Read on after the break as we join a few important dots...

[UPDATE] Don't forget to check out our follow up piece with even more fresh features of the Galaxy S III!

Battery life

The first thing I stumbled across was a piece at Anandtech on the revision of the iPad2 internals. In its title they mention increased battery life on account of the changeover to a new, 32nm, SoC. Given that much remains unknown about the Exynos inside the S III apart from it's stellar benchmarks, I thought I'd take a look and see what they had to say.

In the piece they reveal that Apple has adopted none other than Samsung's 32nm high-k + metal gate (HK-MG) LP transistors, the same ones used in the new Exynos. Naturally, being Anandtech, they launch into a great deal of detail about the specifics of Samsung's implementation. I don't want to get into those specifics here, since many of you won't care, and those who do care to know should take the time to read Anandtech's excellent piece.

There is more to the S III's battery life than it's
fairly capacious 2100mA battery...
There are a few key points I do want to highlight here however. Firstly, their bottom line on the HK-MG tech: "The combination of these two innovations results in less wasted current and more efficient current delivery, which in turn can give us a more power efficient chip." That's all well and good in theory of course, but what actually happened when they put the iPad2 revision up against the earlier one in a series of battery tests? Well, it got close to or better than two hours extra operating time across the board whether that use be watching HD high profile video, playing Infinity Blade 2, or browsing the web. Impressive, and perhaps the knowledge behind J K Shin's apparently blithe assurance at the S3 announcement event that "You don't need to worry about battery consumption."

exFAT support

One tiny aspect of the S III announcement that caught my eye was the specific mention that the S III supports micro SD cards up to a 64GB capacity. Now obviously this is not news to me, I've been using 64GB cards in my Android devices since a few days after they were released. The noteworthy thing here is that it's the first time an OEM has actually said their device supports more than 32GB cards. The reason? The S III has a proprietary Samsung exFAT kernel driver, as revealed by Supercurio's analysis. It might not be immediately apparent, but that's very good news.

Finally, unadulaterated support for SDXC
You see while the 64GB micro SDXC cards work in basically every Android device, they generally only work when formatted to Fat32 rather than the SDXC standards native exFAT formatting system (several devices on ICS work with them formatted NTFS now also, but as a general rule Fat32 is the only option). The problem here is that when you use of these cards Fat32 formatted you impose a 4GB file size limit on them, which can be hassle for transferring HD video to your device, and even worse you curtail the stellar read and write speeds available in the SDXC standard. I for one can't wait to format my 64GB card to exFAT for unrestricted use in my S III.


OK, this isn't really a secret per se, but it is something Samsung didn't tout and that there isn't a lot of consumer awareness of. To be perfectly honest I hadn't even heard of it myself till about a month ago - in that time it's gone from that position to being a must-have specification.

Apt-X is a codec developed by CSR that allows lossless bluetooth audio up to around 370kbps for stereo sound. Lossless, as in it sounds the same over bluetooth as it does over a wired connection. If you've ever used bluetooth for listening to music you'll know what a big deal that is (if you're wondering whether it lives up the CSR's claims, my experience with Apt-X on my One X and Samsung's HS3000 Apt-X capable bluetooth headset seem to confirm it).

While it's certainly my preference to listen to ~1000kbps FLAC encoded files, which will be lossy via Apt-X compared to a wired connection, I really love using bluetooth for listening to music while I exercise. Being able to losslessly listen to 320kbps mp3s in that scenario is just golden, and why I've come to appreciate Apt-X so much.

The Samsung HS3000

The iPad2 buyers lottery

This is another wee tidbit from the Anandtech piece that I thought I'd share here, because I was a little bit suprised by it. Did you know when you stump up your cash for an iPad2 there is no way to know whether you're getting the awesome new revision, or the now-crummy older version without opening the box? Did you also know that there are three different screen suppliers, and that their screens are not all created equal? Some have better brightness, blacks and greyscale colour accuracy than others. Now I can understand why you'd want to use multiple suppliers, you can probably secure a better per-unit price from each vendor, and your vulnerability to supply dependencies is much reduced. That said, where do consumers fit in all of this? 

Do you feel like playing the iPad2 lottery and trying to get one with both the new revised internals, and the good screen? I know I sure don't. If you do want an iPad2, well, best of luck out there. My advice? Don't buy an iPad2 unless the seller lets you crack open the box and power it up to inspect the screen...

Do you feel lucky, punk?