The Samsung Galaxy S3 was the best Android smartphone on the market when it first came out and it’s still a great choice for people on a budget. It is a quad-core beast with a gorgeous screen and it can do all sorts of wondrous things. Sadly, not all of those things are immediately obvious, and some handy features are turned off by default. Let’s run through some Samsung Galaxy S3 tips and find out how to get the most from this delectable device.
Updated on 3-13-2014 by Simon Hill: Tidied up and added tip on taking photos while shooting video, Home button for multitasking, disabling unwanted apps, smart screen features, side bar, and multi window.
We’ll kick off with security because a lot of the handy features on the S3 are only available if you don’t engage some of the tougher security lock options. It’s an unfortunate trade-off between convenience and security. Although, you can always just set up an unlock pattern or password and only turn it on when you go out.
Go to Settings > My device > Lock screen to begin and select Screen lock. None is the handiest option as the phone will unlock when you tap any button. Swipe is equally easy but neither offers any real security.
The gimmicky options are Face Unlock and Face and Voice. To set them up you use the front facing camera to record your face and if you want the voice too then you record a phrase or command. If someone looks or sounds similar they can unlock your phone and it can be fooled by a photo as well, but more often you’ll find it doesn’t recognize you and it’s annoying to have to run through the process every time you want to unlock your device.
Pattern unlock is still the best option for a mixture of security and convenience. For real security nothing beats a PIN or password. You can make the pattern unlock a little more secure by going to Settings > Security and turning off Make pattern visible. That way if anyone is peeking over your shoulder it won’t be quite so easy for them to see your pattern.
Motions and gestures
The Samsung Galaxy S3 features all the usual gestures that you’re used to with Android such as pinch to zoom, flick to scroll, and tap and hold to drag. There are also some pretty nifty motions and gestures you might be less familiar with. Go to Settings > Motion if you want to activate them. It should be listed on the My device tab.
Options include a vibration when you pick the phone up to indicate you’ve missed a message or call, shake to update your email list, turn over face down to mute, and sweep your hand across the screen to capture a screenshot. There are quite a few other options.
Particularly handy is the ability to tap and hold the screen when it’s locked and rotate to landscape to launch the camera (only available with screen lock set to swipe). You can also call someone when you are viewing a call or a message from them, or if you’re viewing their contact details just hold the phone up to your ear.
If you go with swipe lock for unlocking the phone, you can customize the lock screen which gives you super-fast access to whatever you want. Go to Settings > My device > Lock screen and tap Swipe and then you can check out the Lock screen widgets and decide what you want enabled on the lock screen. Options include shortcuts, quick camera access, clock, weather, and a few more.
You can also set up a wake-up command and different functions using S Voice via the Set wake-up command option at the bottom of the Lock screen options menu (more on that later).
All the usual Android customizations for your home screen are present and correct. Tap and hold icons from the apps or widgets screens to drop them on a home screen. You can also long press on a space to change the wallpaper or create a folder.
One of the best options is in Settings > Display. Tap to tick the box next to Smart stay and the device will check to see if you are watching the screen before timing out. You can also set how long it takes your screen to timeout if there’s no activity. You might find this is listed on the My device tab under Input and control > Smart screen along with Smart rotation which enables the S3 to keep orientation right for your face. This means if you lie down on your side, but you’re still looking at your screen in portrait, it won’t flip to landscape view. Be warned, these smart screen settings don’t work so well in the dark because the S3 will struggle to see you.
Remember to go to Screen mode if you want to play around with color saturation. You can also change your default font style and size in the Display menu.
If you get frustrated at the two touch sensitive buttons beneath the display turning off, or maybe you’d prefer they stayed off all the time, then you can change their behavior. Just tap Menu > Settings > Display and scroll down to Touch key light duration where you can set it to Always off, Always on, or just increase the default 1.5 seconds to 6 seconds.
By default, your S3 will be noisy, emitting a tone every time you touch the screen. Go to Settings > Sound and tap Touch sounds. You can decide when you want sounds to play and how much vibration feedback you want in here as well. If you go to Device vibration you can select Create at the bottom and make your own vibration pattern.
There are a range of sounds to choose from in Default notifications and you’ll find a few ringtones in Default ringtones. The chances are good that you’ll want to use your own sounds and ringtones. It’s easy to set a general ringtone, a ringtone for a specific contact, or an alarm. Just find the track you want and long press until the menu pops up. Select Set as and choose Phone ringtone, Caller ringtone, or Alarm ringtone. If you pick Caller ringtone you’ll be taken to your list of contacts to select one.
If you want to set your own notification ringtone for the Samsung Galaxy S3 then you will need to put the track or sound you want in the right folder. Go to Apps > My Files and then navigate to wherever you put the file you want to use. Long press on it and choose Copy or Move then go to Apps > My Files > sdcard > media > audio > notifications and click Done at the top right to place it. Now when you go to Settings > Sound > Default notifications you should see it in the list.
You can actually personalize your call sound to make sure it is optimized for you. Go into the Phone dialer and then tap Menu and choose Call settings > My call sound > Personalize call sound (this might be listed under In-call sound > Personalized EQ on some S3 handsets). You’ll need headphones plugged in to do this. Your S3 will basically give you a hearing test. You tap Yes when you can hear the tone and No when you can’t, and at the end you can optimize your call sound for the ear you use the most often for calls.
If you struggle to hear your phone when it is your pocket or in a bag then you can do something about it. Go to the Phone dialer again and hit Menu and choose Call settings. Scroll down and tick the box next to Increase volume in pocket.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 has pretty impressive battery life but it’s always worth doing what you can to help prolong it. There is a Power saving option in Settings which allows you to limit the CPU performance, reduce frame rate and brightness, change background color and brightness, and turn off haptic feedback. It’s a tradeoff between having your phone perform at top level and prolonging the battery life.
You can also go to Settings > Battery and get a percentage read out of how much power is left and see a breakdown of exactly where it went. If you like to see the percentage of power left then you can also go to Settings > Display and choose Display battery percentage to have it appear at the top right all the time.
In simple terms, the more things you have turned on, the faster the battery will drain. Get into the habit of turning off anything you aren’t using. You can quickly access Mobile data, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS by dragging the notifications screen down, and you’ll also find the Power saving mode in there for quick and easy access.
If you want to automate the process then look into getting an app like Tasker. You can use it to automatically switch to Wi-Fi and turn off Mobile data when you get home, silence alerts when you are sleeping, or even limit email download to specific days and times. The right combo will enable your battery to last a lot longer.
Voice commands with S-Voice
Just double tap the Home button to bring up S-Voice. If you ask “What can I say?” you’ll get a full list of potential commands. You can call people, check the weather, schedule events in your calendar, dictate text messages, play music, and lots more. You can also set a Wake up command so you can activate S-Voice by speaking but it will drain your battery faster.
It’s fun to play around with but far from perfect. If you’re in the car or your hands are busy then you should give it a try.
Since unlimited data is a thing of the past and you don’t want hefty overage charges you should take advantage of the ability to set data limits. Go to Settings > Data usage and tick Set mobile data limit. You can change the time period to match your billing and then set a warning level by dragging the orange line and a hard limit by dragging the red line. If you check back you’ll see how much data you have used and you can also see a breakdown of which apps are eating it up.
Hold down your Home button and you’ll get the multitasking list which shows all of your currently running apps. You might encounter some lag if you have too many apps running in the background, but you can clear them away in here. It’s also a quick way to skip in and out of apps you’re using. Swipe anything that you don’t want to use off to the right or left to close it. Tap on an app to bring it up full screen.
Side bar menu and multi window
Press and hold the Back button on your Galaxy S3 and you should see a small tab appear on the left of the screen. This is a sidebar menu and you can edit what appears in it by tapping Edit at the bottom. If you want to quickly launch any app then just tap on it. You can also tap and hold on the tab and drag the sidebar over to the right hand side if you’d prefer it was there. Tap and hold on the Back button again to make the tab disappear.
You can also tap and hold on an app icon and drag it onto your screen. This lets you use Samsung’s Multi window feature to have two apps open simultaneously. Open the first app that you want open, then tap and drag on the icon for the next app that you want, and your screen will split in two with one at the top and one at the bottom. You can drag the line in the middle to dictate how much screen each app gets. Tap the Home button to back out of Multi window.
Disable unwanted pre-installed apps
There are a lot of preloaded apps on the Galaxy S3, some from Samsung and some from your carrier. You may prefer Google’s apps, or you might want to download apps from third-parties. It can be impossible to remove these preinstalled apps without rooting, but you can always disable them to ensure they aren’t eating system resources or popping up to annoy you. Go to Settings > More > Application manager and slide over the All tab. Tap on any app you don’t want to use and select Disable. You can find all the apps you disable under the Disabled tab in the Application manager and just tap on them and choose Enable if you decide you want them back.
Here are a few other handy Samsung Galaxy S3 tips you might find useful:
You can take still photos while recording a video by tapping on the screen.
If you want to try out the Swype method keyboard where you slide your finger from letter to letter without lifting it off the screen in order to type, then you can. Hit Menu > Settings > Language and input and then tap the cog icon next to Samsung keyboard and tick the box next to Continuous input.
There are times when you don’t want to be disturbed by an incoming text, but you want to keep calls on, or perhaps you just want to turn off the LED indicator. Tap Menu > Settings and choose Blocking mode and you’ll find you can disable calls, notifications, alarm and timer, or LED indicator. You can even specify specific times for your phone to do this, and you can create exceptions, so that specific contacts will always get through to you.
You can use the FM radio app to listen the radio without streaming from the Internet (this will save data and battery when you’re out and about). You have to have earphones plugged in because they act as the antenna. You can even record directly from the radio station that’s playing and listen to the files later via Menu > Recorded files in the FM Radio app.
If you’re using the stock Internet browser that came on the S3 then you can save Web pages for offline reading later. All you need to do is tap Menu when you’re on the page you want to save and choose Save for offline reading.
If you end up with multiple entries for a single contact then long press on the one with your preferred photo or name and select Join contact then tap on the entry you want to merge.
Face tag is on by default because the S3 has a social tagging feature that can identify and tag people from your contacts. If you want to get rid of it just tap Settings when you are looking at a photo and you’ll see the option to turn Face tag on and off.
You can share files easily with other capable devices by accessing S-Beam or Android Beam via Settings > More settings.
In Settings > More settings you’ll also find a Nearby devices option which allows you to share files with network connected DLNA devices such as your PlayStation 3 or your Smart TV. You can also use Samsung’s AllShare Play app to remote access your computer and share files with other devices.
As long as your carrier has opted in (no luck if you’re with AT&T or Verizon) you can get 50GB of free DropBox space. You can also set up Camera upload so your photos and videos are automatically uploaded to your DropBox account and shared with your computer.
That’s all for now but if you have any tips of your own for Samsung Galaxy S3 owners then please post a comment.
Originally published July 26, 2012. Updated several times.