I found myself recently in a position to switch from Sprint to another carrier. I eventually settled on Black Wireless, which uses the AT&T network. AT&T has much better coverage in my area than Sprint did. With Sprint, I lost coverage half way home from work and had to have an AirRave device in my house just to make and receive calls. None of this is an issue with AT&T and Black Wireless.
To switch from Sprint to Black Wireless, I needed an unlocked GSM phone. Having very much liked the Galaxy S3 I had with Sprint, I decided to get another GS3. I ordered a used International Galaxy S3 from Amazon.com. When it arrived, I learned some good and bad things about the device.
On the good side:
- The Galaxy S3 Alpha has a quad-core processor, versus the dual-core processor Sprint had in its Galaxy S3. It also has more RAM. This makes it faster than my Sprint GS3 ever was (not that the old phone was a clunker).
- The S3 Alpha has the same high quality screen and thin, light form factor as the GS3.
- It’s a nice titanium gray color instead of blue.
- The S3 Alpha uses a Micro SIM (not a Standard or Nano SIM) and thus is compatible with any U.S. carrier that offers a Micro SIM.
- Its radio supports the U.S. GSM bands, the 3G and 4G LTE bands.
But there were some bad things about this phone:
- It was built for NTT/Docomo in Japan. Many of its prompts are in Japanese and cannot be switched to English, as far as I can tell.
- The Android OS was set for Japanese. I had to switch it to English, which isn’t hard (we’ll discuss that soon) but it’s a pain.
- The Galaxy S3 Alpha doesn’t use the same battery as the American GS3, so my spare battery and external battery charger were worthless.
- The S3 Alpha doesn’t use the same bootloader as any other Galaxy S3, American or International. To swap out the Samsung bootloader with my own, so that I could install my own ROMs, I needed to get a special version of the bootloader that was customized for the S3 Alpha.
- The S3 Alpha doesn’t use the same ROMs as other versions of the Galaxy S3, whether American or International. More correctly, these ROMs have to be run through a script that prepares them to work on the S3 Alpha, a process that is (perhaps somewhat offensively) called “Japanizing” them.
- The back cover of the device is slightly wider than the standard American GS3, and therefore cannot use replacement covers or snap on cases designed for that phone.
- Because this is a phone intended for the Japanese market, finding cases, spare batteries, and the like will be more difficult than for a standard GS3.
I decided to keep the S3 Alpha, in part because I knew it would be a learning experience and in part because it’s a really nice phone… far nicer than my old Sprint GS3.
In this post, I want to share some things I’ve learned about the GS3 Alpha. Others have blazed the trail and documented these things elsewhere (and I’ll link to those resources where possible and appropriate so that you can refer to them if you like), but I found that much of this documentation made assumptions about what I knew or was trying to do which were not always correct. In this post, I’ll share what worked for me – in the hope that it will help you also.
Making the Galaxy S3 Alpha “Speak English”
Out of the box, the Galaxy S3 Alpha speaks Japanese. I don’t speak or read Japanese (not that I wouldn’t mind being able to). That presented a problem.
The solution is simple, though finding it was not. The Android OS is international in nature and “speaks every language” out of the box. You just have to know which menu options to choose. (Credit: This is based on the Chinavision support site’s instructions.)
First, power on the phone and skip past all the Google “welcome” screens in Japanese as best you can. Once you’re at the standard Android application launcher, locate the settings icon by picture. It will look something like one of these:
Tap that icon to open the Settings panel.
Scroll down through the settings until you see an icon with an “A” on it. It will resemble the following, though it may not match exactly (and the text will be in Japanese)":
Tap that item to bring up a language list. Scroll down that list until you find English and tap on it.
You should observe that the menus, prompts, icon labels, and nearly everything on the display is now in English. A few applications and icons may retain Japanese characters.
Finding a Replacement Battery for the S3 Alpha
Identifying a replacement battery for the Galaxy S3 Alpha is tricky inside the USA. I searched on Amazon.com and a number of other online stores. Many of these seemed to think the battery for the S3 Alpha is the same one used in the U.S. Galaxy S3. It’s not. The battery in the Sprint GS3 I had was a few millimeters taller than the one in the S3 Alpha. It was also a 3.7V battery rather than the 3.8V battery in the Alpha.
The part number on the battery supplied with my phone was EB-L1H2LLD. A number of online suppliers have “replacement parts” for that number, but their ratings didn’t match up. They were often 1400 mAh or 3.7V batteries. The one that eventually worked for me was the Anker Li-Ion battery designed for the Samsung Galaxy Premier i9260. Its specifications matched those of my original battery and the phone was happy with it. I suspect that this battery may not have NFC capabilities, but I didn’t plan to use that feature of the phone anyway so I didn’t verify that.
This battery appears to be a perfect match and perfect fit for my phone. I’ve not used it long enough yet to have an opinion on the quality and life of this battery, but at $5.99 I’m not expecting OEM quality. As long as it doesn’t catch fire or damage my phone, I’m OK with it.