SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Samsung Electronics Co., the world's largest maker of mobile phones, said its third-generation Galaxy S smartphone went on sale Tuesday in 28 European and Middle Eastern countries, hoping to cement its lead over Apple's iPhone.

The Galaxy S III smartphones hit the shelves in countries including France and Britain. By the end of July, nearly 300 mobile operators around the world will be selling the device.

Buyers of the new smartphone in five European countries will also be the first to get their hands on Samsung's music streaming service.

In Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Britain, the Galaxy S III will be shipped with access to the Music Hub — an iTune's like service allowing users to listen to music as well as buy and store it. Samsung said the service has a 19-million song catalog.

Samsung said the initial response to the new smartphone was positive. At Vodafone Group, pre-sale orders for the Galaxy S III outstripped those of any previous Android-based smartphones, according to Samsung.

The Galaxy series of smartphones is widely acknowledged in the industry as a success for Samsung, turning it from a smartphone also-ran into a viable competitor with the iPhone from Apple Inc.

While Apple has kept the screen size of the iPhone the same in every upgrade since 2007, Samsung increased the screen size of its highest-end smartphone in its two major updates. The latest Galaxy phone screen is nearly twice as big as the iPhone screen.

The 4.8-inch S III also features more computing power that supports voice commands and an eye-movement tracking feature to keep the screen from dimming.

The music service, which is available in free and paid versions, can recommend new tunes based on a user's listening preferences.

The paid service allows uploading and storage of music files on servers that can be accessed from more than one Internet-connected device at a cost of €9.99 per month, Samsung said.

Unlike Apple, which uses its in-house operating system and iTunes music service, Samsung has relied on Google's Android operating system for its flagship smartphones.

Samsung's music service is a result of its acquisition of mSpot Inc., a Palo Alto, California-based provider of music and movie streaming services on the Web and mobile devices.

The Korean firm has been making efforts to increase homemade mobile content, such as its own messaging application, hoping that these features will boost consumer loyalty.

Samsung overtook Apple in smartphone sales for the first time in the first three months of this year, according to research firm Strategy Analytics. The Suwon, South Korea-based company sold 44.5 million smartphones in the January-March quarter, compared with Apple's 35.1 million iPhone sales.

Market watchers expect that Apple may use its annual conference for developers next month to announce the yearly upgrade to the iPhone, which then can go on sale as early as July.

Aside from being big rivals in the smartphone market, Samsung and Apple have also a close business relationship. Samsung supplies mobile chips and display panels for iPhones and iPad tablet computers, counting Apple among its biggest clients.

Check out the slideshow to see the coolest new features of the Galaxy S III.
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  • 4.8-Inch Super AMOLED Display

    The screen is huge, up from 4.3 inches on the Galaxy S II. A 4.8 inch screen makes it one of the largest displays on a flagship phone there is. Compare with HTC's One X (4.7 inches), the Motorola's Droid Razr Maxx (4.3 inches), and Apple's iPhone 4S (3.5 inches). The resolution is 1280x720.

  • S Voice

    Samsung introduces 'S Voice' on the Galaxy S III. To wake the phone up and activate the voice sensor, you simply say "Hi Galaxy!" and the phone wakes up; no need to push a button. Other voice commands, in addition to the stock ones in the Google Voice Actions catalogue: Using your voice, you can launch the camera and take a photo, turn the volume up and down, snooze the alarm (say "Snooze" as your alarm is going off -- dangerous!), and send texts and emails.

  • Motion Detection

    If you're writing a text to someone, and then you raise the phone to your ear, the GS3 launches the telephone app and automatically calls the person you were texting.

  • S Beam

    The Galaxy S III comes with an NFC chip that allows you to "bump" information like photos or video to other Galaxy S III owners by touching phones together, using a combination of the NFC technology and Wi-Fi Direct. With All-Share Cast, you can beam your screen to any DLNA-compatible television; All-Share Cast also allows you to share your screen onto anyone else's smartphone for document collaboration.

  • Pop Up Play

    "Pop up play" will allow you to play a video anywhere on the screen while also performing other tasks, like checking your email or responding to texts. You can make the video window as large or small as you want. Here, you can see a YouTube video playing toward the bottom of the screen while a demonstrator prepares to search Google.

  • Burst Shot

    The Galaxy S III's 8 megapixel camera comes with burst photography: Holding down the shutter will take twenty photos in a row; you can then choose the best photo and the phone will automatically erase the other 19. A similar function exists on the HTC One line of phones. An alternate function: The Burst camera can take 8 photos in a row and then automatically choose the best one, if you're too indecisive to choose on your own.

  • Buddy Photo Share

    The photography software comes with smart facial recognition: When you take a picture of a friend, it can recognize their face and will prompt you to send that photo to that person's phone or email address.

  • Smart Stay

    Essentially an eye recognition technology, the GS3 can sense when you are and are not looking it: When you are looking at your screen, the display will stay illuminated; when you stop looking at your phone, the display goes dark to save power. The feature can be toggled on and off, if you prefer to just let your screen time out.

  • This Commercial

    Here's the first commercial for the Galaxy S III. At least, we think it's advertising the Galaxy S III. It might also be advertising a soap opera or Zach Braff film of some kind.