Samsung Galaxy S III literally catches on fire, sales are just as hot

Samsung’s much anticipated Galaxy S III smartphone (click here for details) hit U.S. stores this week — or was expected to do so on five carriers.

But due to inventory issues, the S III is experiencing some stock shortages. If that sounds like the iPhone, well, that’s because the demand is high like it often is for that Apple product.

Sprint wanted to sell the phone in stores Thursday but delayed at least 24 hours for 16 gig versions and 32 gig versions probably would not ship until next week. AT&T told the Verge that customers should expect a four day delay for pre-orders.

Verizon has a ship date of July 9 and T-Mobile says it has the phone but prices it at $279.99 and $329.99 above the stock prices of $199 and $249. That’s after a $50 mail in rebate.

Ouch.

Meanwhile, several reports of the phone catching fire have come out, including one where a man wrote that his new phone caught on fire while docked in his car.

“I was driving along … when suddenly a white flame, sparks and a bang came out of the phone,” the Samsung owner wrote, using the handle dillo2k10. An included link to a Facebook page says he’s a university student named Dylan Kershaw. He added that the phone burned from the inside out and “burned through the plastic and melted my case to my phone. The phone kept working but without any signal.”

Samsung issued a statement saying it was investigating the issue.

“Once the investigation is complete, we will be able to provide further details on the situation,” according to a post on Samsung Electronics’ official blog.  “We are committed to providing our customers with the safest products possible and are looking at this seriously.”

The Galaxy wouldn’t be the first phone with isolated issues, and they will likely be resolved quickly. The question is, is it a good phone?

After a brief encounter with the phone in person today, we’d say yes. It’s a major rival to iPhone 4S.

The U.S. version carries a dual-core processor instead of the more powerful four-core (quad core) international version, but I didn’t notice any performance slowdowns, though I’ve never tried the four-core version. This thing is fast. It handles anything you throw at it. It’s smooth.

The screen, at 4.8 inches, has a thin bezel but still is pretty big. You need two hands on it to do a lot of tasks, and for us, it’s probably too big to be our go-to phone. But the SIII has some neat new features. It knows when you’re looking at it and won’t dim while you’re doing so. The screen, while not as sharp for text as iPhone, is nice and colors are bright if a little over saturated.

Some of the sharing options — allowing multiple SIII users to share files when in proximity — are more complicated than they have to be, and in one case, Samsung adds a sharing option that only works between Galaxy devices when Google, which makes the Android operating system the phone uses, already has a sharing function that works with more Android models. And Samsung’s S Voice is not anywhere close to being a Siri competitor.

One feature we did like (that a store rep showed off) was the ability to take several takes of the same photo and have the phone choose the best one.

After about half an hour of playing with the phone, I’d easily call this the best Android phone on the planet. And if Android’s your thing, go get this one.

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