Samsung Galaxy S II (GT-I9100) Review Samsung rocked the Android world last year with the original Galaxy S, which quickly became one of the biggest selling phones of 2010. But now the Korean giant has come out with a successor under the originally named moniker, the Galaxy S II. Samsung's 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, a 4.3" Super AMOLED Plus screen, a 8MP camera with 1080p video recording and 1GB of RAM are just some of the amazing features packed into the sequel to Samsung's most successful Android handset to date. Arguably the most anticipated phone of 2011 but it it is truly worthy of that title? Is this handset a worthy successor to last years model? And can it compete with other dual-core smartphones such as the HTC Sensation? Well, you'd better read on to find out! The 10 second review: Device: Samsung Galaxy S II Price: £528.00 including VAT for 16GB version - £708 including VAT for 32GB version. Also available from carriers on contact with subsidised prices. Summary: An incredibly fast Android 2.3 phone with features such as the camera, speed and screen that mixes with a great Android skin to make the best smartphone that I have ever used. Best of: Speed, screen, camera, browser, thinness, Gingerbread Worst of: battery life needs to be better, screen might be too big for some people Buy it now from Clove Technology What is in the box? Samsung Galaxy S II handset Battery UK 3-Pin Micro-USB Charger USB to Micro USB sync/charge cable Earphones Replacement ear buds Quick start guide Warranty card Samsung Galaxy S2 specification: 2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 3G Network: HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 Dimensions: 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5 mm Weight: 116 g Display: Super AMOLED Plus capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours 480 x 800 pixels, 4.3 inches, Gorilla Glass display Multi-touch input method Accelerometer sensor for UI auto-rotate Proximity sensor Gyroscope sensor 3.5mm jack Internal Memory: 8GB/16GB/32GB RAM: 1GB microSD, up to 32GB WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hotspot Bluetooth v3.0+HS USB v2.0 microUSB (MHL), USB On-the-go Camera: 8 MP, 3264x2448 pixels, autofocus, LED flash Video Recording: 1080p@30fps Secondary Camera: 2 MP OS: Android OS, v2.3 (Gingerbread) CPU: Dual-core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor, Mali-400MP GPU, Orion chipset Stereo FM radio with RDS GPS with A-GPS support Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic TV-out (via MHL A/V link) Digital compass Adobe Flash 10.1 support Battery: Standard battery, Li-Ion 1650 mAh General: Only the headphone jack is on the top of the Galaxy S II Just the microUSB slot and the microphone are on the bottom The left hand side houses the volume rocker The power button is located on the right of the handset On the back of the handset is the 8 MP camera, LED Flash and the Samsung logo The front is dominated by the 4.3" Super AMOLED Plus screen, the front- facing camera, the earpiece, sensors, and the 3 required buttons for Android: Menu, Home and Back. Highlights: Speed Screen Thinness & Weight Web Browsing Camera 2.3 Gingerbread Lowlights: Screen might be too big for some people Battery life should be better Review: The Samsung Galaxy S II is the second dual-core smartphone that I have had the privilege to offer my opinion on. Immediately after turning the device on, I was sold on which of the two was better. Put bluntly: the Galaxy S II is better in every single way imaginable. Normally we start our reviews with hardware, and I'm somewhat of a stickler for tradition. Saying that the hardware on the Galaxy S II is "good" is probably the understatement of the year/decade/century/millennium. Every part is mind blowing great. Chances are that the screen is the place where you will be spending most of your time so that is what I will cover first. Last year, Samsung blew us away when it debuted it's Super AMOLED screen technology on the original Galaxy S, but they have gone over and above expectations with the Super AMOLED Plus screen technology seen on the Galaxy S II. Just like on the technology's predecessor, all the colours in the spectrum are fantastically vivid while colours such as green, blue and red really jump out at you. And because it is AMOLED, it means that the blacks are really black. When the screen is showing black it is almost impossible to tell when the screen stops and the bezel starts. It is really that impressive. It is really hard to describe how good the screen actually is. If you get the chance, I HIGHLY recommend that you go to a shop and see it for yourself, it is really worth it. The Galaxy S II screen is made out of Gorilla Glass and for those who don't know, Gorilla Glass is a screen technology that makes the screen almost indestructible sans taking a hammer to it. Don't do that by the way! Scratches, nicks and cracks are a thing of the past; It is great for the device and for your nerves if you are prone to dropping handsets. Beneath the screen are the compulsory keys for Android; Menu, Home and Back. The Menu and Back buttons are touch sensitive while the Home button is of the hardware variety. On the right hand side of the handset there is the unlock/power button which is an unusual placement for this particular button. As far as I am aware this trend began with the original Galaxy S whereas nearly every other Android phone that I can think of, the power button is located on top of the device, on either the left or the right hand sight. The original Galaxy S is 4". While large, it is not as large as it's successor where the placement of the power button makes sense as smaller handed users may not be able to reach all the way up to the top of the device and it is much easier for our smaller extremity friends to reach the power button if it is placed on the side. Zooming out from the screen, lets take a look at the device as a whole and what a device it is. The Galaxy S II is an absolutely beautiful device. Everything about the facade is pretty. There is no escaping it and you cannot deny it. It really is that good looking. Is it wrong to love a phone? One of the things that makes the Galaxy S II such a pretty device is it's thinness. 8.49mm is the measurement at the thinnest point which if you use that number, it makes the Galaxy S II the thinnest smartphone in the world. But as you go towards the bottom of the device and around the camera, the Galaxy S II balloons out and it no longer holds this title. Matt has moaned about this issue several times in podcasts and videos, and he is totally right. Samsung cannot go around claiming that their latest smartphone is the thinnest in the world if the handset is is thicker in places that the Optimus Black, which is the rightful owner of the title as it measures 9.2mm at all points along the handset. - bad Samsung. Despite the false claims, the Galaxy S II feels great in the hand mainly because of the thinness. Those with smaller hands will be able to stretch across the handset and be able to take full advantage of the fantastic screen that I was talking about earlier. Samsung has been criticised in the past because they used plastic in the construction of their handsets and other products, creating a low-quality feel. The Galaxy S II does not break with tradition but I feel that it was a good move by Samsung to make the back of the handset plastic. At 4.3", the Galaxy S II is one of the largest handsets available on the market and if it was made out of metal, it would be very heavy, perhaps too heavy for some people, whereas the Galaxy S II's weight feels just right for its size. Not too light to make it feel cheap and not too heavy to make your hand tired; It is the Goldilocks of weight. When first announced, the Galaxy S II had a 1 GHz chipset inside of it but in a wise move by Samsung, they have overclocked the CPU to 1.2 GHz. It might seem slight on paper, but the increase really shows when using the device. If you could only describe the Samsung Galaxy S II with one word, it would be "fast". It is so fast, you cannot describe how fast everything is done. It really sets the speed bar for smartphones in 2011 - perhaps even into the beginning of 2012! Every app opens up as soon as you press the icon, everything is so responsive and smooth that it is an absolute joy to use. The benchmarks are blown out of the water when the Galaxy S II has a go at them. The scores put down by the handset are the highest I have ever seen; That includes stock and rooted phones. The handset scored 3700 in quadrant and if you have used this benchmarking app before, you will know that a score of 3328 is definitely impressive! There isn't much to fault with the Galaxy S II's hardware but one minor flaw that I have noticed is that the headphone jack really likes to hold on to your headphones. You can hold your phone upside down and pull on it and the headphones still don't unplug. I'm not sure whether it is just our review unit or if it is a universal issue but it is something that I noticed. TouchWiz 4.0 is the version of Samsung's custom Android skin placed over Android 2.3 Gingerbread that is seen on the the Galaxy S II. Straight off the bat I instantly knew that this update to the skin was much better than the version seen on the original Galaxy S, TouchWiz 3.0. There are no annoying colourful squares behind the app icons, there are much better widgets and it is much smoother but I'm not sure if this is down to the hardware. You unlock the device by touching any part of image on the lockscreen and dragging it to the edge of the screen. Different to most other Android skins, the home screen is the panel furthest to the left (similar to iOS I might add). Alike iOS again, there are 4 buttons at the bottom of the screen which stay in place as you navigate through the 7 home screens and when you open up the app drawer. While we're on the subject, the app drawer is the location where all your installed apps lie. You can either view the apps in a horizontal sliding grid or in a vertical scrolling list. Different from nearly every other app drawer that I can think of, the one that Samsung has included enables users to make folders inside the app draw itself. They're not the usual folders which can only reside on the home screens. That is not the only weird thing linked with both app views. Sometimes when you are in the list view and you go to place an app from the app drawer to the home screen, it changes the app to a different one. For example when I installed BeyondPod from the app market and tried to drag it to the home screen it changed it into the app icon to the clock app. Weird! The only remedy is not inconvenient, but it is annoying. You have to change into the grid view and do it from there. Like I said, not a huge problem but still very annoying. Before we continue with the rest of the review, we must remember that the Galaxy S II is first and foremost a phone. The phone app seems to be just a slightly altered version of the standard Android one except this one has a predictive number feature and is slightly more colourful than it's vanilla counterpart. When you access the notification bar, you are greeted by not just the notifications as seen on vanilla Android, but 5 system toggles: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Sound and auto-rotation. But there is one flaw with the notification bar - Samsung has coloured the text to blend in to the background. Weirdly however, it only seems to be for certain types of notification. Email notifications are white and you can read them easily whereas nearly everything else displays text in black or grey. I have no idea what persuaded Samsung to make this aesthetic choice. The widgets included in TouchWiz 4.0 are varied, useful and good looking, with verything you need for a quick delivery of information. There are the standard clock, weather and calendar but there are some cool news, social networking and bookmark widgets included as well. One of my initial grippes with TouchWiz 4.0 was about the 4 buttons at the bottom of the screen. When I reviewed the LG Optimus 2x I was frustrated that I couldn't change the Phone, Contacts and messaging apps to how I wanted to use the device. So when I first booted up the device, the frustration returned as I tried to no avail to change them. But then Google comes to the rescue and here is how you do it - if you were wondering. 1) Go into the app drawer, 2) change into Grid view 3) Press the menu button and go into the edit view 4) Drag and drop the apps that you want where you want. This is nice of Samsung to allow users to change these icons compared to other manufactures, although it's quite awkward to do. Samsung has included a leap feature that enables users to see all of the homescreens at a glance. HTC started this trend but I have never seen the need for it myself. It is not that hard to swipe across a few pages and get to what you want. However it is there if you are someone who wants such a feature. But the TouchWiz skin placed over Android 2.3 is one of the better ones. It is a much needed improvement from the previous version. There are some things that I don't think are needed such as the hubs (read on to find out about those) but TouchWiz is a very easy, attractive and practical Android skin; Perhaps one of the best. Text Entry Methods There are more ways of entering text into the Galaxy S II than most Android handsets. The first is the portrait QWERTY Samsung keyboard that will most likely be the way that most people, me included will enter text. Typing on this keyboard is okay but something just seems wrong. I cannot put my finger on it (no pun intended) but when typing fast I always seem to hit the wrong key. I am sure that this is because I am used to typing on the standard Gingerbread keyboard and with continued use, I could get used to Samsung's own keyboard. However one of the worst things about the standard keyboard, which could make you change to an alternative keyboard, is that there is no text prediction! None whatsoever. You could argue that it is not necessary to have the feature but it is most welcome when you make 'stuipd speling mistkes'. The landscape version is much better for this keyboard as in this orientation the keys seem to be placed in the right place and I can literally fly over this keyboard. But everything is the same as it's portrait counterpart. I have always said that voice input is probably the coolest text entry method on Android phones and I have not changed my opinion. Voice entry seems to be very good on the Galaxy S II. Although I'm not sure why the increase in reliability and accuracy; Could be down to the microphone or my voice magically got more understandable. It understood what I said around 98% of the time and was very fast to process it. Unlike most other Android handsets, the Galaxy S II also comes pre- installed with the Swype keyboard. For those unfamiliar with it, this keyboard is supposed to be one of the fastest text entry methods around because you enter words by swiping your finger around the screen, passing quickly over the letters in the word you are trying to spell. For some people this makes complete sense but my brain just gets confused by it as after you finish spelling the word, you have to lift your finger off the screen and press the space bar to continue with the sentence. However in my mind, it's like patting your head while rubbing your stomach, though that could just be me. If you are a fan of this keyboard, you don't have to download it from the Android market, which will save around 30 seconds of your life. Internet Samsung has made one of the most important features on any smartphone work extremely well. Web pages load really fast (probably down to the dual-core processor) but the browser is the same as those on most other Android handsets and it is easy to use. It supports multi touch, text re flow, pinch-to-zoom and Samsung has included a zooming motion method by tilting the phone towards and away from your body to zoom either in or out respectively. This looks to me like a textbook gimmick, designed to show off the phone but it does not really have a real world use. Motion also works in the gallery as well as in the browser. Text, images and graphics all look great on the Galaxy S II's Super AMOLED screen but that is the norm with this device. At 480 x 800, text is easily readable from all zoom levels but when you zoom in, it looks even better. As you would expect, the browser on the Galaxy S II takes advantage of the built-in accelerometer which means you can view the web page that you have loaded in any orientation that you want. The latest version of Flash 10.3 is supported in the browser (just like every other phone running Android 2.2 or above) and it works as well as it can on a phone/touch screen but I still think that Flash doesn't have a place on phones. Pre-Installed Apps Samsung has pre-loaded certain apps and hubs onto the Galaxy S II such as Allshare, BBC iPlayer and the Samsung hubs (Games, reader, social and music) Allshare is an app that allows you to share content wirelessly to your TV. From what I can tell you can send movies that you have filmed on your phone, pictures and audio as well. Unfortunately, I do not have a DLNA TV so I haven't been able to test the app to assess how well it performs. BBC iPlayer is another app that's pre-installed on the Galaxy S II but you can also download it for no charge from the Android Market. You may be already familiar with the app but if you're not it's basically an app that allows you to watch BBC content on your phone. Over Wi-Fi, video quality is excellent, especially as you are watching it through the amazing screen on the Galaxy S II. As you might expect, watching video over 3G is a different story. Depending on your signal strength and your coverage, quality can range from crystal clear to unrecognisable blobs of colour. Hubs Samsung has included 4 different hubs for 4 different functions; Games, reader, social and music. Games, as you might imagine, is a hub dedicated to mobile gaming. There are some free games available such as Touch Hockey and We Rule but these are freely available from the Android Market and I don't really see the point in going into an app to launch a game that is only housed in the hub. It is much easier and faster to download the free app from the Android Market and launch it from the App Drawer, rather than waiting for the hub to load (takes between 5 & 10 seconds) initiating it from the hub. Readers is Samsung's way for users to consume daily news, books and magazines but I haven't found this particularly useful or seen any attraction to use this over apps such as Google Reader and Amazon Kindle. The Social hub is Samsung's attempt to consolidate all of your social feeds. There are the usual suspects; Facebook and Twitter, but there are some also some unexpected ones as well such as Myspace, LinkedIn and MSN Messenger. For some people, having all of their social networks in one place, means easy access but I prefer to have them segmented into different apps. What ever floats your boat... The Music Hub is the only pre-installed way to buy music on your Galaxy S II. Availiability seems decent but the prices seem a little expensive as all the songs are priced at 99p. Whereas on Amazon MP3 you can get the same songs for around 0.89p or 0.79p and there is no DRM if you get your music from Amazon; but you might be paying the extra few pennies for the convenience. Kies Kies, for the unfamiliar is the PC software that is basically Samsung's version of iTunes. You use this software to sync, backup and update your phone. Syncing and backing up worked perfectly but the latter didn't. Whilst reviewing this handset, Samsung came out with a software update so I plugged in the device to my computer (because OTA update do not work) but the update kept timing out and not updating. I'm not sure if it is my computer or an overloaded server but I tried everything and it would not work. :-( In an overview of Kies itself, I really do not see why Samsung insists of tethering the phone to the computer. Independence from another device is one of the things I like best about Android compared with iOS and as for backing up your data, most of it is synced with Google's servers if you use their services (I expect that you do/will if you use an Android handset). Therefore to me, it doesn't make any sense at all to force users to connect the device every time there is an update, especially when most of the time the updating process does not work as advertised. Media Samsung really has hit the mark when it comes to music. Android has been traditionally quite bad when it comes to music compared with iOS, but Samsung has made some welcome modifications to the music player. The Samsung Galaxy S II comes with the YouTube app that is exactly the same as any other Android device. You can browse through videos in a number of different categories such as most popular, discussed and most featured. You can also navigate to specific YouTube channels or videos by using the search bar. In terms of video quality, you can either choose between HQ (which is the default when viewing videos on Wi-Fi) and standard quality (which is the default when viewing videos on 3G) but they do playback smoothly most of the time on both of the internet connection types. You can either view the videos in portrait or landscape. In portrait, the video is at the top and the video information such as the description; comments and related videos are at the bottom of the screen. But landscape is focused on just watching the video. In this orientation, the video fills the entire screen with no disturbances or distractions. You can go between these modes by either turning the handset in the desired orientation or by double tapping the video itself. Another welcome addition to the Galaxy S II is the FM radio. It is a fairly simple one but has all the features that you would need for a radio and you can bookmark your favourite radio stations. But like every mobile device with a FM radio in it, you have to plug in headphones to listen as the wire is used as the aerial. Google Services One of the best things about Android in my opinion, is it's integration with Google services . Everything from email to calendar through to contacts is all natively built into the Samsung Galaxy S II and work great. Like most Android handsets, the Galaxy S II comes with two email clients. The first is Samsung's own that works with services such as Microsoft Exchange or any other IMAP or POP email service as long as you have all the required details like the port number and the incoming and outgoing server addresses. So if for some reason you are still using Yahoo! mail or Hotmail, you are covered. This client is actually quite good which is a change from other handsets but I still prefer the other client installed on the Galaxy S II; the Gmail client from Google. This has always been my favourite and it works really well. I would personally recommend Gmail but the Samsung client comes really close, so if you get the privilege to own this handset, try both out and make your own decision. The calendar on the Galaxy S II is also a very good experience. You can either view appointments in an agenda, day, week or month view. This can sync with your Gmail account for ease of use and just in case the worst happens, all of your appointments are stored in the cloud so you will not lose them. There are in total 4 calendar widgets available: two agenda (big and small), today and month. Contact syncing is one of the all time great things to have come out of Google. Those who have read my other reviews, will know that I have lost/broken/smashed many phones and I have lost all of my contacts way too many times. So with Google to the rescue, it doesn't matter if you drop this off a cliff, you will still have your contacts saved with Google. Camera & Video Recording Just like everything else on the Galaxy S II, the camera app has gone under the knife and changed from the vanilla Android camera UI to Samsung's own. There are many options for taking pictures, more than I can talk about but I will cover the basics. As you would expect a white balance slider, flash options and image size options. But this is really a feature packed camera and camera UI so there are focus settings, scene modes, ISO settings, colour effects, stabilisation and more. It really is filled to the brim with everything you need to take a great photo and the results are great. The camera on the Galaxy S II is of the 8MP variety and the results are fantastic. It works well in every environment and condition. I tried it on fast moving objects, low lighting conditions and close up. All subjects were captured beautifully by the lens in the Galaxy S II. Pictures: The Galaxy S II records video in full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) and the results are good but I am still on the fence about whether it could replace a handheld video recorder. The colours are off and there is quite a lot of camera shake which is to be expected when filming video with phones. However the image is quite detailed and frame rate is smooth so take it as you will. While the video recording is nowhere near perfect, it does the job - just.. Battery 1650 mAh would be enough to get you through a day on most handsets but not on the Galaxy S II. With normal use (phone calls, listening to podcasts and music, browsing the web, text messaging etc) I struggled to get past 6 hours. This is without a doubt the most disappointing things about the Galaxy S II and could be a major deterrent for normal users. You have all this power and capability but you can only use it for 6 hours a day. That really is disappointing. I carry a HyperMac Micro battery in my pocket where ever I go so bad battery life isn't really an issue for me but I am far from normal. Samsung really should have put a larger capacity battery inside this hungry handset, or alternatively optimised the OS to use less battery. I have heard reports that taking control of the display brightness will fix these battery life issues. I tried it but it. It didn't work for me. I still get poor battery life with the Galaxy S II. Voice Control Controlling your phone (or any device for that matter) by speaking to it has never really appealed to me. Most of the time when I use the technology it doesn't understand my voice, twisting my voice to some barely understandable string of words. The rest of the time I forget that there even is a voice control option available to me and enter the text, driving directions or mobile phone number without thinking about using my voice. It seems that Samsung disagrees with me as they have included numerous voice control options. The first is Voice Commands which is an app that, you guessed it, lets you speak to your phone to launch apps and do different actions on the device. You press the big blue "Tap and Speak" Button and speak a whole load of commands such as text messaging, dialing, launching apps, sending email and even writing memos. The second is Voice Talk. From what I can tell, it does nearly all of the things that the previous app did, sans that fact that you can say "Hey Galaxy" to initiate the voice control. You can also quickly get into this app by double tapping the home button as well as accessing it through the app drawer. The third and final option is voice search. This one is pretty self- explanatory (you search Google with your voice if you haven't figured it out yet) but it works as well as the others do. Signal & Call Quality I have previously moaned and complained about my house being in a dark spot when it comes to mobile reception but the Galaxy S II is rather good at picking up the cell towers. I have never had a dropped call in my time reviewing the Galaxy S II whether iI'm n London or at home. Wi-Fi signal seems to follow a similar trend, keeping connected to my router in every part of my house. As for call quality, I am pleased to report that voice quality seems as good as any other device that I have used. If you are in a good signal area, you will not drop the call and will maintain good call quality. Conclusion The Android space was dominated by the Galaxy S last year and I expect that this year the entire mobile space will be dominated by it's successor. The hardware on the Galaxy S II won't be beaten for quite some time (perhaps until this time next year) only to be matched by the HTC Sensation and maybe by the as yet unannounced new iPhone. TouchWiz 4.0 really has matured and become much more useful and better to use than last year's version and with Google's recent announcement that Android handsets will be updated for 18 months after release, you will stay current if you purchase this handset. Especially, when Google releases Ice Cream Sandwich and Samsung updates the Galaxy S II to this tasty treat. It is truly the best smartphone that I have ever used. The hardware and software comes together in harmony and produces a fast, easy and productive handset that is an absolute joy to use. If you have any doubts whatsoever about buying this handset, forget them. You will not be disappointed. We don't have a rating system here but if we did, it would get a 10/10 with no questions asked. It really is that good!
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