Samsung Galaxy S II Review

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In 2010, Samsung came to the market in a big way with the Galaxy S series of devices. All products that wore this badge featured similar specs: a 4.0″ Super AMOLED display powered by a 1GHz Hummingbird CPU with 512MB of RAM. We saw the Galaxy S as the Verizon Fascinate, Samsung Captivate, and many others. In 2011, Samsung is unleashing its next-generation Galaxy S Android smartphone, to be known as the Galaxy S 2, which is powered by a rocket-fast 1.2GHz Exynos CPU coupled with 1GB of RAM. They’ve also bumped the screen size to a full 4.3 inches, all while reducing the thickness of the phone dramatically: at about 8.4mm, the Galaxy S 2 is the thinnest smartphone on the planet right now. Read our full review of the hot new Samsung Galaxy S 2 below.

BOX CONTENTS



The Samsung Galaxy S 2 ships with high-quality earbud headphones, a charging cable, and wall plug. Since the device comes with 16GB of on-board microSD storage, there is no microSD card included.

HARDWARE



The Galaxy S 2 looks good not only on paper, but it looks good in general. In terms of specs, you’ll find a 4.3″ WVGA (800×480) Super AMOLED Plus display. Unfortunately, we don’t get the qHD (960×540) screen now shipping on other high-end Android smartphones. Powering the device is an impressive 1.2GHz Samsung Exynos dual-core CPU, supported by 1GB of RAM and around 15GB of on-board storage. The Galaxy S 2 supports Wi-Fi (b, g, n), Bluetooth 3.0, FM radio, and can do quadband GSM and UMTS (850/900/1900/2100) along with support for HSPA+ up to 21Mbps. In terms of sensors, the handset has the following: light, proximity, gyroscope, plus it has an accelerometer. There’s also an NFC chip inside. For imaging, there is a 2MP front-facing camera which cannot take video (but can obviously be used with video chat apps), and a rear 8MP camera with flash that can record 1080p video. You can output 1080p video to a television or projector with the HDTV Adapter, which is not yet on sale. Powering the device is a 1650mAh battery.

inhand1


The Galaxy S 2 is a beautiful phone, it really is. The facade is characterized by a large piece of Gorilla Glass for the 4.3″ WVGA Super AMOLED Plus display. From this front view you can see the 2MP camera and the proximity and light sensors. There’s a single button on the front of the device, which takes you back to the homescreen with a single tap, and with a double tap, it will launch the voice command app. Though you can’t see them when not illuminated, there are back and menu buttons to the right and left (respectively) of the home button. It’s nice to have a dedicated home hardware button on Android phone. You can also use this button to take the phone out of standby.

amoled


The screen is gorgeous. In our tests, the Super AMOLED Plus doesn’t seem to be dramatically better than the Super AMOLED, but Samsung already had a good thing going with Super AMOLED. Color saturation is well-balanced, outdoor screen visibility is great, and contrast is incredible.

thin


The Galaxy S 2 is the thinnest smartphone we’ve ever tested, period.

top


On top is the 3.5mm headphone jack next to a secondary microphone which is used for noise cancellation. Noise cancellation only works when not on the speakerphone. In our tests, the noise cancellation did indeed work well, though when active (meaning, when there is a lot of background noise detected), the caller on the end reported vocal quality becoming a bit metallic.

bottom


And on the bottom we have microUSB for syncing and charging.

side2


On the right side we have the power/standby button.

side1


And on the left side, we have the volume rocker.

back


On the back of the device we can see the 8MP camera sensor with an LED flash. The back battery cover is a thin piece of plastic, and it has a nice texture on it to provide a secure in-hand feel. Also back here you can see the single speaker, which is plenty loud and provides a great speakerphone experience.

backopen


Behind the battery cover is the 1650mAh battery, microSD slot (which you must remove the battery to access), and SIM card slot.

web


Web browsing on the Galaxy S 2 is a fantastic experience. In fact, the Galaxy S 2 smokes all other devices in speed tests on the web.

SOFTWARE



All new to the Galaxy S 2 is TouchWiz 4.0. TouchWiz is a custom Android interface that is similar to HTC Sense and Motorola Blur, in that it impacts almost every aspect of the operating system. If you don’t like TouchWiz, you can install a third-party launcher like LauncherPro or ADW Launcher, but certain parts of the operating system will always have the TouchWiz look and feel (like email, the browser, the notification tray, etc) unless you install a custom ROM.

For the homescreen, you get a choice of up to seven panels, or you can have as few as one. Adding and subtracting homescreens can be done with the zoomed-out view, accessible by a pinch gesture on the homescreen. Samsung has added a variety of its own high-quality widgets, many of which are resizable. Widgets include weather, analog and digital clocks, calendar, note pad, task manager, and much more. Samsung has also spruced up the interface for adding widgets. Instead of a vertically-scrolling list of widgets, you get a horizontally-scrolling list on the bottom of the screen. This is a nice touch, but it makes it a bit slower to find a given widget, since you can only see four at once. There’s also a handy gesture that uses the gyroscope to help you position widgets more precisely. This gesture is demonstrated in the video above.

The application tray is part of the TouchWiz 4.0 interface as well. You can add or remove pages, which scroll horizontally. You can also move icons from one page to another, which makes it easy to set one page for your games, one for your multimedia, and so on. You can even add folders to the pages, which is a nice touch, and a great way to keep your application tray as minimal as possible.

Beyond the homescreen and application tray, you’ll also find TouchWiz 4.0 in the notification shade, in the settings, and in all of the stock applications. In the case of the notification shade, Samsung has added quick access to WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, sound, and screen rotation switches. In the settings, it’s colorized the entries and added additional options to control certain motion gestures. Then, in the stock applications, we see various aspects of TouchWiz show up in the dialer (which, thankfully, has smart-dial), email (which sadly lacks the ability to multi-select messages), calendar, contacts, browser, and FM radio.



Then, there are a handful of interesting built-in apps that make the Galaxy S 2 a more well-rounded device. Here’s a survey of the in-built apps of note:

1. Reader hub: allows you to access newspapers, magazines (through Zinio), and books (through Kobo).

2. Music hub: powered by 7Digital, this music store has a vast selection of music that you can purchase.

3. Games hub: a simple games suggestion engine that links you to trials of games, many of which require huge 200mb+ downloads.

4. Voice command: powered by Vlingo, the voice command app lets you perform a wide variety of device functions with your voice. You can even post an update to Twitter or Facebook without opening either app.

5. Kies Air: allows you to remotely manage your phone through a web browser. You must be on a local wireless network for this to work. From Kies Air you can manage your bookmarks, ringtones, photos, videos and more. It’s super easy to use and set up.

6. Photo editor/Video maker: these apps allow you to edit photos, plus make short movies with music and effects, respectively.

CAMERA



Photos taken with the 8MP of the Galaxy S 2 looked fantastic. Colors were accurate, contrast was great, and the pictures were sharp. The only trouble we detected was some over-exposure during our outdoor test shot in the bottom right picture above.



The Galaxy S 2 is among the small number of smartphones that can record video in full 1080p. Above are two samples, one taken indoors, and one outdoors. As you can see, the sharpness of both videos is quite high, and the color saturation is very good. What’s not so good is the framerate. Turning the video quality to 720p improved the framerate.

PERFORMANCE

While the Galaxy S 2 is one of the best-performing smartphones we’ve ever tested, we did run into some trouble. For example, pressing the home button often resulted in a 1-2 second display before the homescreen appeared. Then, once on the homescreen, some widgets had trouble redrawing. This was easily fixed with a third party launcher, confirming our suspicion that TouchWiz 4.0 on the homescreen is a bit resource intensive.

The copious amount of RAM on the Galaxy S 2, a full 1GB (only about 833MB is accessible) means that many programs can stay in memory at once. While the phone has a great task manager, we seldom found ourselves having to worry about memory management, since at any given time, at least a third of the RAM was available.

Beyond that, web browsing was ridiculously fast, installing applications was particularly speedy, and opening most apps provided near-instant access.

Quadrant: 3152

Smartbench 2011: Productivity 3679, 2343 Games

LinPack Pro: 47.85 MFLOP, 1.75 Seconds

CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED

We tested the Galaxy S 2 over AT&T’s network. Call quality was outstanding, and we experienced no dropped calls. Data speeds were also quite impressive, especially while over HSPA+ (which we found in Washington D.C.). Our fastest speeds clocked in at 5-6Mbps down, and about 1.5Mbps up. On average, over HSDPA, we clocked about 2Mbps down and 1Mbps up.

BATTERY LIFE

Two processors means a lot of battery drain. The Galaxy S 2 has an impressive 1650mAh battery, but we wish it were bigger. With heavy use, you’ll barely get through a day. With moderate use, expect to charge by the next morning on the second day. This puts the Galaxy S 2 a bit below average in terms of battery life.

But what’s unique about the Galaxy S 2, and all Galaxy S devices, is that the backlight can be turned down very low without impacting screen readability as much as you’d expect on an LCD. We found that by turning off automatic screen brightness and setting the slider to about 1/8, we were able to increase battery life by 30-40%. Not bad. Turning off automatic screen brightness also means that the screen becomes less visible outdoors, but it’s still readable.

PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY

The Samsung Galaxy S 2 can be purchased for £440 (that’s around $720) over at Clove.

PROS

+ Extremely thin and light

+ Gorgeous Super AMOLED Plus screen

+ Blazing fast performance with dual-core Exynos

+ Super-fast web browsing

+ Records full 1080p video

+ Fantastic photo quality

+ Has 16GB of built-in storage

+ Loud, clear speakerphone

+ Top-notch call quality

+ Supports HSPA+ on AT&T

+ TouchWiz 4.0 has a lot of goodies

CONS

– Battery life is below average (can be rectified by overriding automatic brightness)

– Screen resolution is only WVGA

– Annoying “charge complete” sound can’t be turned off

– TouchWiz 4.0 feels slower than stock Android

– Email app doesn’t allow for multi-select

REVIEW CONCLUSION

Seldom do we rate a phone a full 5/5, but the Galaxy S II is one of the most advanced, well-rounded, and powerful smartphones we’ve ever tested. Samsung truly delivered on its second-generation Galaxy S. We can’t get over how thin the Galaxy S II is, and it’s a true joy to be able to browse the web with such smoothness and speed.

There certainly is room for improvement here. Samsung ought to work on making TouchWiz as lean as possible, and it’d be nice to turn it off entirely and revert back to stock Android for maximum speed. We also wonder whose idea it was to have the device make a beep when the battery is fully charged…if you like waking up at 3AM, this won’t be a problem for you, but for those of us that like to sleep soundly, it’s a big annoyance.

We rate the Samsung Galaxy S II a 5/5.

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.