Can the sequel live up to its predecessor?
Samsung has set an announcement date for the followup to the widely popular and critically acclaimed Galaxy S II smartphone. In an invitation sent out to journalists and posted on Facebook, Samsung announced that it would be unveiling "the next Galaxy" on Thursday, May 3, at 7 p.m. in London, England (that's 2 p.m. EST in New York City).
The event will also be live-streamed on the Samsung Mobile Facebook page.
Though Samsung didn't provide any details, we suspect that the device to be unveiled will be called the Galaxy S III, and we've heard rumors of what this device might offer. The tech site Boy Genius Report was tipped off about the GS3's 1.5GHz quad-core processor, a 4.8-inch HD screen with 16:9 aspect ratio, 4G LTE, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and 2-megapixel front-facing camera, Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich," and, curiously, a ceramic case. (Korean tech firm Pantech unveiled the world's first smartphone with a ceramic case earlier in April: You can check it out here).
There have also been a couple of supposed image leaks of the Galaxy S III running Android 4.0 and sporting a wide, flat home button, though the authenticity of those photos has been challenged. One of the leaks claimed a worldwide release date of May 22, which doesn't seem totally unrealistic, given the May 4 announcement date.
We'll know soon enough -- about two and a half weeks from publication, in fact -- whether or not those images, or that release date, were indeed legitimate. We'll also see if Samsung can continue its recent hot streak: The company has a surprise hit in its huge Galaxy Note "phablet," having already sold 5 million units worldwide; its Galaxy S II, meanwhile, is its most popular phone to date, has sold over 20 million units since its debut about a year ago.
Given the imminent announcement of a followup phone, you should probably hold off if you were planning on buying a Galaxy S II in the next month. The GS3 is on its way, and we'll know what it has to offer on May 4th.
Until then, take a look at the slideshow (below) to see some of the coolest features of Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich.
Ice Cream Sandwich's totally revamped interface places even more emphasis on Google's search bar and aims at making Android more user-friendly. Among the new features are a new typeface called "Roboto" with more rounded letters, as well as scrollable and re-sizable widgets. The snazzy UI also places more of an emphasis on finger gestures.
What's different about camera functions in Android 4.0? A whole lot, starting with Instagram-esque photo-editing tools and deeper integration with social networks. <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2011/10/18/a-quick-ice-cream-sandwich-feature-rundown/" target="_hplink">TechCrunch is gaga over the improvements</a>, lauding the "image stabilization, improved autofocus, and integration with other apps for sending photos or instant upload to Google+. Oh, and who could forget built-in face detection, panorama and time lapse modes, and on-the-fly photo retouching and enhancements." Like Apple's new iOS 5, Android users will also be able to access the camera right from the lock screen.
Android 4.0 users can rest easy, knowing that their devices will feature the nifty Face Unlock, which scans the user's face before unlocking the gadget.
A data management tool will help the user understand the amount of data their favorite apps use. This tool will also let the user set data limits for herself, and it will send warnings to notify the user when her data use approaches those limits.
Not only will it look sleeker on handsets, Android's native browser will now place more emphasis on tabs and offline productivity. "Users can keep up to 16 tabs open, view a live preview of each and quickly switch between them," <a href="http://www.bgr.com/2011/10/18/google-unveils-android-4-0-ice-cream-sandwich-for-smartphones-tablets/" target="_hplink">explains By Genius Report</a>. "Tabs can be closed by flicking them off of the screen much like webOS or RIM's tablet OS. Google also automatically syncs bookmarks to your Android browser from Chrome, and users can save pages for offline reading."
Gmail users, rejoice! Here's what's new with Google's celebrated email app, <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2011/10/18/a-quick-ice-cream-sandwich-feature-rundown/" target="_hplink">according to TechCrunch</a>: "Gmail now supports two-line previews, and sports a new context-sensitive action bar at the bottom of the screen. Gesture support allows you to swipe left and right between emails." <a href="http://www.bgr.com/2011/10/18/google-unveils-android-4-0-ice-cream-sandwich-for-smartphones-tablets/" target="_hplink">Boy Genius Report notes</a> that Gmail will support offline search, too.
Though it's no Siri, Google has upgraded its hands-free speech recognition feature, which lets users dictate text, send messages, open media files and more. <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/article/242139/apples_ios_5_vs_googles_android_40_ice_cream_sandwich.html" target="_hplink">Per PCWorld</a>: "ICS voice command software now has a hands free feature that lets you activate voice actions just by speaking to your phone instead of pressing a button." "play music, search the web, and dictate notes, SMS and email messages."
Google touts the security of its Android Beam wireless transfer system, which lets users share content between devices equipped with Near-Field Communication (aka NFC) technology. <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2011/10/18/google-announces-nfc-based-android-beam-for-sharing-between-phon/" target="_hplink">Engadget explains how the system will work</a>: Much like HP's ill-fated Touch-to-share functionality, it will let you simply tap two NFC-enabled devices together to share a piece of information. That will work with a range of apps and services in Android, including YouTube videos, contact information, maps, web pages" and more. While you can transfer content from apps, you can't transfer the apps themselves, but Engadget notes that Android Beam "links to apps in the Android Market.
Designed with an eye toward button-free Android handsets, version 4.0 of Google's operating system relies more on finger gestures and integrates navigation buttons and music controls into the user interface. The feature could lead to a new generation of sleeker devices with fewer hardware buttons. But will these virtual buttons get in user's way? <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2011/10/18/a-quick-ice-cream-sandwich-feature-rundown/" target="_hplink">TechCrunch says no</a>: "[T]hey smartly disappear when viewing video or in widescreen mode."
"The notification window is now slightly translucent with a glowing dot when you pull it downward," <a href="http://thisismynext.com/2011/10/18/exclusive-matias-duarte-ice-cream-sandwich-galaxy-nexus/" target="_hplink">according to This Is My Next</a>. "Notifications can be swiped away one at a time, mirroring webOS 3.0 behavior. You can access your notifications on the lock screen if you're not using a passcode, and you can jump quickly to your settings through the window shade."
Version 4.0 will work on any Android device, be it tablet or smartphone. "Ice Cream Sandwich is the OS that's supposed to put a damper on all that fragmentation talk," <a href="http://venturebeat.com/2011/10/18/ice-cream-sandwich-debut/" target="_hplink">writes VentureBeat</a>. "[T]he 2.X OS for phones and the 3.X OS for tablets will give way to the 4.X OS for all Android devices."
ICS bakes deeper social integration into many apps. Perhaps the most social is the "People" app. <a href="http://www.bgr.com/2011/10/18/google-unveils-android-4-0-ice-cream-sandwich-for-smartphones-tablets/" target="_hplink">BGR writes</a> that this new app "pulls in contact information and photos from social networks for your whole address book. Whenever a contact updates his or her info, it is also automatically updated on your phone."