Samsung Galaxy S3, the South Korean tech giant's flagship smartphone, hit stores Tuesday in 28 European and Middle East countries, including Germany and Britain. The company claimed that the device would be offered by as many as 296 carriers in 145 countries by July.

According to Reuters, Samsung went for such a massive launch of Galaxy S3 in a bid to widen the gap with arch rival Apple months ahead of its new iPhone, which is expected in the third quarter of this year.

Leading global carriers like Britain's Vodafone and Singapore's SingTel have started promoting Galaxy S3 aggressively that has fueled speculation that the smartphone could outdo the Galaxy S2's 20 million sales worldwide, the report added.

In the two years that we've been offering pre-orders, it's the most pre-ordered Android device we've had in our line-up, a spokesman for Vodafone UK told Reuters. It's on track to meet, if not exceed, the level of pre-orders we expected by the time it actually launches.

Running on Google's Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system, Galaxy S3 comes with a massive 4.8-inch screen, which is much bigger than the 3.5-inch display on the iPhone 4S. The device boasts the voice recognition technology called S Voice, which will certainly be compared with Apple's Siri. Apart from that, it also features image recognition software that can tag and share photographs.

Meanwhile, Samsung has launched a new music service, the Music Hub, on Galaxy S3 to boost its appeal in competition with Apple iPhone. The service will allow users to listen to music stored online.

Bloomberg has reported that the new Samsung Music Hub has a cloud-based catalog of 19 million songs for purchase. Unlike Sony's Music Unlimited service that requires an Internet connection for streaming songs, Samsung's Music Hub lets users store songs on individual devices for listening offline as is the case with Apple's iTunes.

After uploading music to the cloud, users can access it from a PC and up to five mobile devices as well as stream songs for 9.99 pounds or euros ($15.6) a month, Reuters reported.

Samsung recently toppled Apple as the world's largest smartphone manufacturer. It sold 44.5 million smartphones in January-March that helped it gain 30.6 percent market share. On the other hand, Apple sold 35.1 million iPhones during the same period, taking 24.1 percent market share.

The Galaxy S3 is a real challenger to the upcoming iPhone, Reuters quoted Francisco Jeronimo, an IDC analyst based in London, as saying. This is likely to be one of the most sold smartphones this year, though the real test will come when the next iPhone is launched.

Take a look at the features and specs of the Samsung Galaxy S3:

Display: Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors, 720 x 1280 pixels, 4.8 inches (306 ppi pixel density), multitouch, Corning Gorilla Glass 2, TouchWiz UI v4.0.

Form Factor: 136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm dimensions, weighing 133 grams.

OS: Android OS, v4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

Processor: Exynos 4212 Quad chipset, Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9 CPU, Mali-400MP GPU.

Camera: 8 megapixel with 3264x2448 pixels, autofocus, LED flash, HD video and image recording, geo-tagging, touch focus, face and smile detection and image stabilization.

In addition, there's also a 1.9-megapixel secondary camera, 720p@30fps.

Memory: MicroSD, up to 64 GB, 16/32 GB storage, 1 GB RAM.

Network: 2G Network (GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900), 3G Network (HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100), 4G Network LTE (regional).

Data Speed: HSDPA, 21 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps; Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth v4.0 with A2DP, EDR.