So you were lucky enough to get a brand spanking new Galaxy S3 for Christmas, huh? Good for you, and welcome to the Android ecosystem if you’re new to it.
Though as impressed as you might be with your new toy, the truth is there’s plenty of room for improvement. Out of the box you’re actually using Samsung’s interface (something they call ‘Touchwiz’) which sits on top of stock Android, and unfortunately it’s less usable that way. Luckily we can do something about that, and all you need to do is hit the Play Store and download the following apps. On top of that many of the S3′s best features are disabled by default, but the videos at the end of this post will enlighten you.
Download Apex Launcher
Apex will replace the aforementioned Touchwiz launcher with a vastly improved interface. You can do all the same things, but there are a lot less steps involved. To cite just one example, if you wanted to create a folder and put app shortcuts in it, in Touchwiz this is a painful process that involves going into ‘edit’ mode, creating folders, going back into ‘edit’ mode and dragging shortcuts. In Apex, you simply drag one icon onto another (and more if you want), just like the stock Android Jelly Bean experience. Additionally, Samsung removed the ability to change the dock icons, which means you’re left with stuff you may not even use. Apex not only lets you change them, but also add several docks. These are just a couple of ways that Apex is much easier to use than Touchwiz.
Download Apex Launcher (Price: Free).
Though the Android keyboard has improved significantly over the years, it’s still a long way short of being anywhere near as useful as Swiftkey. It’s simply the best keyboard replacement hands down. It’s easy to configure thanks to the step-by-step guide, and you can even customise the look of the keyboard. You can compose entire sentences with a few keystrokes thanks to it’s clever learning algorithm that adapts to the way type and speak. It’s not free but it’s worth every cent.
The best desktop browser is also available on Android. If you’re already part of the Google ecosystem and you use Chrome, then signing into Chrome on Android will automatically sync all your bookmarks and history. Chrome is faster and more reliable than the browser that comes with Android.
Download Chrome for Android (Price: Free).
Enable NFC and Sbeam
I know many people with this handset who did not even know about these features. NFC (Near Field Communication) while not in widespread use here in Australia yet, is definitely starting to take off and we will be seeing more of it soon. As an example, you might come across a poster with an NFC tag that when you touch your phone against it, you will get something - like a free song or book for example. The best part is you don’t need some clumsy app or anything else to make it work – just touch and you’re done. In case you’re wondering, NFC is not some proprietary Samsung invention, and is a technology that works for any NFC enabled device. NFC is also the technology used for Google Wallet, which is coming to Australia soon.
SBeam however is a proprietary Samsung invention. It simply works by touching phones and sharing. Let’s say you just took a photo or shot a video on your S3. If someone nearby also has an S3 and you’d like to give them a copy, just open the photo or video and touch phones. Your friend will be prompted to accept the file and in a few seconds the transfer is complete. This just doesn’t work for photos and videos. It can be almost anything you have on your screen at that time, such as a Youtbube video, web page, music, playlist or even an app. There is a video at the end of this post that demonstrates it best.
Set up a Google account
While it might seem obvious, not everyone knows just how much better this will make their online life. If you already have a Gmail account, then you already have a Google account. With a Google account you have access to many cloud based services, such as Gmail, Documents, Drive and more. The best part is that when set up properly (some things require no intervention- like Gmail, where as something like automatically backing up your photos and videos requires the Google+ app), everything you do on your shiny new Galaxy S3 within the Google ecosystem is stored in the cloud. So if you lost your phone, or it was destroyed, never fear for everything is backed up online. Even if you simply upgraded to a new phone, all you do is login to the new phone with your Google account and your Gmail, maps, docs, files, contacts, bookmarks, photos, videos and everything will be synced.
Just to demonstrate how this works in the real world, I once dropped my Galaxy S2 in water and I had to use an older Android phone (Xperia Pro) while I waited for it to dry out. On the old phone I just logged into my Google account and everything synced to it as expected. Essentially you never have to worry about loosing data, because technically it’s not really stored on your phone. When my Galaxy S2 eventually dried out and was in working order again, everything was in sync including the new photos I had taken with the old Xperia Pro I was temporarily using. That is – total convenience.
In an effort to make Galaxy S3 owners more aware of the power they have in their hands, Samsung have created a handful of videos which show what you can do and how to do it.