Samsung Galaxy S II in-depth review -

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Look and feel

A devilishly handsome phone with sharp edges, a correlated back and a gorgeously vibrant 4.3-inch display

Ease of use

The tweaks to Samsung's TouchWiz UI all make for an easier user experience, while Android users will be familiar enough with the overall running of the handset

Features

A dual-core processor, eight-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi, A-GPS and a host of 'hubs' to download various media content

Performance

A phenomenally fast handset that excels in all departments. A true smartphone in every sense of the word

Battery life

Even with excessive use of all the features we were able to get at least a day out of the Samsung Galaxy S II. Average use will generally require you to charge it every other day

 Samsung Galaxy S II Review -
5

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,6/20/2011 11:14:40 AM

10

out of 10

Performance

8

out of 5

Look and feel

10

out of 5

Ease of use

10

out of 5

Features

8

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

The dual-core processor keeps everything ticking over at a frighteningly fast rate

Cons:

The lack of a physical dedicated camera key means you may miss that spontaneous shot

Unlike bottles of wine, mobile phones sadly don't get better with age. As technology progresses, handsets that were deemed groundbreaking become dated and even tiresome. While we wouldn't necessarily tarnish the original Samsung Galaxy S with this brush, we were excited to hear of a sequel to last year's Mobile Choice Multimedia Phone of the Year when it was unveiled at Mobile World Congress in February. After three months of eager anticipation we've got out mitts on the handset that Samsung has billed their best-ever smartphone.

Look and feel

In terms of style we compared the original Galaxy S to a near carbon copy of the iPhone 3GS which while no bad thing didn't really shout revolutionary. Ok so a touch-screen candybar phone by its very nature will look 'samey' especially when you go for traditional colouring such as black and silver, but we're pleased to say the Galaxy S II is much more its own phone when it comes to design. It's far bigger for starters with a large 4.3-inch touch-screen that Samsung has christened Super AMOLED Plus. In terms of the number of pixels and colours used, there's actually no difference to its older brother. However, due in part to the high contrast ratio and the dual-core processor (more of which later), it succeeds the original Galaxy S in terms of vibrancy and a sharpness of definition between colours. We won't go as far to say it's in the same class as the iPhone 4's Retina Display, which remains the pinnacle in terms of visual displays, but it's certainly up there.

 

To accommodate the screen, the Galaxy S II has substantial length, yet at just 8.49mm thick it is one of the slimmest smartphones currently on the market. The edges are far sharper than the original and coupled with the correlated back makes for a handsome looking device. A word of warning about said back cover though - when removing it to take out the battery (an unfortunate necessity if you wish to hot swap memory cards) it feels remarkably flimsy and isn't the easiest to clip back in, so take care. Also on the back you'll notice a subtle chin at the bottom f the phone but it's not to the phones detriment in terms of aesthetics.

TouchWiz 4.0

The touch-screen is incredibly responsive providing a fluid user interface. Samsung has kitted the Galaxy S II with the latest Android OS; Gingerbread 2.3. However, it's very much a Samsung phone as it's skinned with the manufacturer's own TouchWiz 4.0. Not always a favourite with consumers we're pleased to say this updated version of TouchWiz sits well. Icons have more of a 3D feel about them and there are Live Panels that sit on any of the seven home screens including a real-time weather widget much like that found in HTC's Android range. The graphics aren't as good as the Taiwanese phones - well they're not animated for starters - but you can add up to 10 different cities making it a welcome addition.

 

Various widgets and shortcuts can be added to any of the home screens via a drag and drop process from the main menu or by simply holding a finger or thumb on the screen for a moment which in turn brings up a menu option. As you drag the icon around the screen you'll notice Samsung dictates where you drop it by implementing a virtual grid or panel system but this has no serious repercussions on how the phone plays out. Somewhat bizarrely two of the four 'set' icons that remain fixed at the bottom of each home screen do the same thing. Both the 'Phone' and 'Contacts' which sit next to each other will enable you to access your logs, contacts, favourites and groups. Surely the space utilised by one of these could be used for something else such as the camera. Pinch and pull on any of the home screens to get an overview of all of them as thumbnails, which is quicker than scrolling through them individually.

 

In terms of messaging, the options are Samsung's more traditional QWERTY keyboard or the innovative SWYPE method. Both made for a rapid typing process, though as we've seen in previous Samsung phones, the full stop key is in close proximity to the space bar so a degree of awareness is needed. For those of you unfamiliar with SWYPE, it works by you sliding your finger from character to character lifting your digit up each time you've completed a word. It sounds gimmicky but it's actually very slick. Another nice touch is that when texting, by holding the phone horizontally, the screen will auto-rotate displaying your list of messages on the left hand-side and then both the last correspondence you had with a selected contact as well as your own text entry box on the right hand-side.

Gesture control

Something else that is new with the Galaxy S II is the introduction of gesture control. Utilising the phone's accelerometers hold two fingers (or thumbs) on the screen when browsing and by bringing the handset towards you you'll zoom in, while tilting it away from you will make you zoom out. In similar fashion when dragging and dropping widgets, you can select which home screen and panel you want it to rest on by moving the phone from side to side. Incidentally browsing was phenomenally quick, even when we had multiple webpage's open. Of course this is in part to both the Wi-Fi and HSDPA connectivity speeds, but ultimately it comes down to the dual-core 1.2GHz processor. Streaming videos from YouTube was instant, with barely if any buffering needed, while our gaming experience on the Galaxy S II was fluid with exceptionally crisp graphics. With HSUPA speeds of up to 5.76 Mbps uploading content to the likes of YouTube, Facebook and Flickr was also lightening fast.

Hubs

Gaming titles can be downloaded from the 'Games Hub'. Though choice is currently on the sparse side, we expect its library to grow and the games that are already available are of a decent standard with an option of trying before buying. Three other hubs exist; Reader, Music and Social. Our favourite was the Reader Hub which when opened is presented as a virtual bookcase with gateways to a huge selection of books, magazines and newspapers from around the world. You can subscribe to your favourites which in turn will automatically download them when the next edition becomes available, while you can download your first seven issues for free. A large amount of zooming is needed, especially for newspapers, with text occasionally taking a moment to adjust, but it's a great way of passing the time on those boring commutes.

 

The Music Hub is Samsung's attempt at rivaling iTunes and while in our opinion it doesn't match Apple's offering in terms of content or usability, tracks are reasonably priced. You can search for specific titles or artists, or peruse via the genre and recommended sections. You can also create your own albums and playlists with any music you purchase. Though not new (and still not in the same class as HTC's FriendStream) Social Hub is a great way of integrating all your social network feeds, emails, texts messages and Instant Messaging info into one continuous feed. How often this is updated is entirely up to you, but beware of those pesky data charges.

Eight-megapixel camera

With a few exceptions, most notably the recently launched Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, the camera experience on Android handsets have always taken a backseat in comparison to the phone's other features. Though there's no dedicated camera key (a particular bugbear of this reviewer) meaning you'll have to go through the menu unless you add a shortcut to your home screen, the shutter speed (i.e. the time it takes from pressing the snapper key to the shot being captured) is impressively quick. It's also kitted out with eight-megapixels, auto-focus and both smile and face detection. The inclusion of the LED flash is particularly welcome as the omission from the original Galaxy made nighttime shots redundant. The phone is so long that when we held the phone horizontally we often had to move our finger as it was covering the lens and though our pics didn't look quite as colourful when we uploaded them to Facebook as they did on the phone's screen, video fared much better. Overall the camera experience deserves praise and though we'd place it behind the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc it's ahead of the rest of the chasing Android pack in terms of snapping credentials.

 

Another feature that warrants plaudits was the sat nav experience. The A-GPS fix was one of the fastest we've encountered and even when we tried to fool it by hiding in doors it pinpointed our exact location. As well as the standard Google Maps - useful for quickly gaining your bearings - there's also Google Maps Navigation. Though our review sample was only kitted with a beta version, we were able to enjoy full and clear voice instructions for both walking and driving, with the option of layering a satellite or traffic view over a 3D map.

Conclusion

We can't talk up the Samsung Galaxy S II enough. If we had to sum it up in just one word we'd go for "brilliant". Though we've highlighted the odd shortcoming, there's really nothing here that would prevent us from wanting to use the Samsung Galaxy S II as our own phone. After seemingly losing their way a little, Samsung has been showing great promise of late. With the Samsung Galaxy S II that promise has been fulfilled.

Danny Brogan