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The Samsung Galaxy S2 Review : Awesomeness Inside

on June 1, 2011 – 10:15 am27 Comments

The Samsung Galaxy S II – successor of the popular Galaxy S and brand new flagship device from Samsung. Whenever I bought a new device, Samsung has been one of the contenders, but ultimately some things never quite appealed to me, so I ended up either getting HTC or Nokia.

Samsung sure raised some eyebrows when they announced the SGS II, sporting some impressive features like a Dual Core ARMv7 1,2GHz processor, a super AMOLED plus display, Android 2.3 aka Gingerbread and lots and lots more. Yes I was impressed too, and with the HTC Sensation being a good device, but not completely what i wanted, I thought it was time to have a closer look at the Samsung Galaxy S II. There is a lot of demand for trial devices at Vodafone Austria (one could say now it is cause Samsung sent out a ridiculously low amount of devices), so my test period has shortened to just a week, so don’t expect an in-depth review, but rather some day-to-day impressions from the week i have spent with it. Will i miss it? Will I even BUY my first ever Samsung device? Read on..

Hardware:

After the build quality disaster that is the Sony Ericsson Arc, my biggest fear was that the SGS II would be the same: super-thin and cheap build, resulting in a very unpleasant feel in hand. But, my first contact with the phone was actually a pleasant one. I took the phone out of the (very small) box and the phone actually felt quite good. Sure we still talk plastic here, but the build quality is really nice. Nothing like you could break it with some brute force. And WOW, that thing is ultra thin! 8,49mm thin that is. I felt that Samsung has hit the nail on the head with the extreme thin, yet 4,3″ big device. The feel in hand is perfect.

The front of the phone is dominated by one big piece of glass, spanning over almost the whole device, and the most breathtaking screen I have ever seen on any device. Samsung promised a lot with it’s new screen tech and boy, have they delivered. This 4,3″ super AMOLED plus brings black levels and eye-crushing colors unlike anything I have ever seen. Yes you can nitpick now, and say that its 800×480 pixels resolution is less than the HTC Sensation, but that’s pretty much the tech audience of today: “Sure the SGS II has this resolution, but device XYZ has a better one, so it’s not that good”. Pah, sure, grow up. You know what? I don’t care, the Galaxy S II screen is perfect as it is, and i don’t need the extra few pixels. Speaking of the display, this was one of the major factors why i actually skipped the HTC sensation. It is absolutely brilliant for all day to day tasks, even in sunny conditions, as I have tested last weekend. Pictures, Videos, even browsing around is nothing but fun on this gorgeous piece of touchscreen. I absolutely love it.

Underneath the screen is a physical Home button, with a capacitive menu- and back-button on either sides of the home one. On top of the screen you find the phone speaker, front facing 2MP camera and light-sensors. The whole front is kept in black, which makes the device a lot more stylish in my opinion, and in different lightning somewhere even difficult to tell where the screen ends and the device begins. lovely. Furthermore, Samsung has worked on the coating of the front, as the SGS II is not as much as fingerprint magnet, than any other device I had so far. The sides of the SGS II feature the power-/screen lock button on the right, the volume keys on the left side, a 3,5mm audio jack on top, and the microUSB charging- and data cable connector on the bottom. All very clean, the phone never feels too overloaded. I would have appreciated a physical camera button on the SGS II, but Sammy probably went with the masses here and skipped it, relying solely on a touch cam shutter button.

Turning the screen around, reveals a very welcome surprise, as opposed to Nexus and Galaxy S – the battery cover this time has a nice texture, making the device a LOT more grippier to handle. The battery cover itself is a touch of nothing on this device and is actually quite scary when pulled off, but placed on the device it sits super tight, so I don’t have issues with that. The speaker sits on the slightly raised lower part of the SGS II, being very slightly curved. It’s loud enough for your calls and notifications, although will eventually get a lot more quiet when laying on softer undergrounds. Speaker Quality was good, although slightly creaky when on full volume.

The camera on the SGS II has been cranked up to 8 megapixels, with a single LED flash. The camera shutter is operated via touch and can be either used with the big cam interface shutter button, or via touch to focus. There’s a gazillion of settings and scene modes, spanning from party pics to autumn colors and even a setting for visibility on the outside, cranking up the display brightness to a maximum, and going back to normal after closing the cam application. Nice! Videos are recorded in 1080p at 30fps, a very rare combination for mobile phones, but will eventually appear more often on those powerful high-end smartphones. The autofocus while shooting videos was actually quite usable, something that i always missed on my preferred camera phone, the Nokia N8. Interested in how the camera actually performs? Well, it surely isn’t a Nokia N8, and it never claims to be, but I gotta say, the camera was better than expected. Pictures turned out to be crisp in normal light conditions, while expectedly not reaching the good low light capabilities of the SE Arc or even Nokia’s EDoF camera units. I will be posting a post later on this week, with sample camera shots and some short video clips, showing you the video quality, in 1080p of course. Don’t want to wait? Head over to my Flickr set and check out the Samsung Galaxy S II Camera shots!

Hiding underneath the camera, is the 1650mAh battery, which is mighty impressive for such a thin phone. It easily got me through a full day of medium to “more” usage, and even lasted 2 days when I was working in the office, where the phone is in standby a lot. As i said already in my Arc review part 1, I believe Gingerbread has a positive effect on Android phones. The battery is always one of the biggest factors on any Android smartphone, and with a device that powerful, it is clear that everyone has to step up their game and not rely on disasters like my former HTC Desire HD. Samsung is on a good way there, and if that is not enough for you, I heard that the great people over at Mugen Power Batteries are already working on replacement battery solutions for the SGS II!

The Samsung Galaxy S II is powered by a Dual-Core 1,2GHZ ARMv7 processor, bundled with 1GB RAM, 16GB internal storage and even a microSD card slot. In my week with the SGS II I never had any, ANY lag, crash, restart or similar like that. It felt unbelievably snappy at whatever I did, most notably when playing around with the camera. Shot after shot, is has never lagged on me, not even when processing those fancy 1080p videos.

Software:

Powered by Android 2.3.3, and with such a powerful hardware, the Android experience on the Samsung Galaxy S II was a very very pleasant one, as mentioned above. What gets people on the fence eventually, is Samsungs Android skin called Touchwiz, premiering in Version 4.0 on the SGS II. Touchwiz has always been a hot topic, with a lot of people prefering HTC’s Sense UI, due to the more cartoonish Touchwiz looks. Well, I think Touchwiz is still nowhere near the great usability of Sense (which i love to bits), but it sure has grown up. The widgets feel cleaner and more polished than before, but widgets are only half the price. I usually only use widgets from the apps I use, so i was more eager to see how the on board apps will be.

And yes, Samsung has put some thoughts into the user experience. Things i found quite nice were:

  • Predictive dialing: yes, a very small feature, but important to me nonetheless. Type a name instead of the number for quicker dialing. Should be essential on every device.
  • Swype included: Swype is still one of the quickest text input options for me, so having this included was certainly nice to have on the SGS, and now on SGS II too!
  • More multitouch and accelerometer features/gestures: pinch to zoom is nice and all, but zooming via holding a pic with two fingers and tilting the device, or moving widgets from one page to another with tilting the device is fun to. even if it’s just to show off.
  • Split view in messaging: not many people knew this when i posted the pic, but try holding your screen in landscape position and enter the messaging app!
  • Hubs: Samsung included 4 hubs to the SGS II, for socializing, music, reading and games. It’s obvious what all those are for, and if you don’t wanna waste time searching for apps in the market, you’ll feel right at home here. With a flood of Twitter apps f.e., its obvious that Samsung wanted to offer a complete package here and save time searching for apps
  • Allshare: Filesharing via DLNA. lovely! worked nicely with all sorts of pictures, videos etc!
  • Kies Air: Kies (Sammy’s version of HTC Sync or Ovi/Nokia/PC/Elop suite) can not only be connected via Bluetooth or cable, but also via WLAN. lovely part 2!
  • Photo- and Video Editor: lovely to see Samsung not ending their thoughts after shooting a pic. both editors are actually quite usable, with the video editor especially standing out. Tons of features and nice effects to slap on your photos and videos.
  • Task Manager: oh yees, a built in Task Manager, giving access to yo RAM-/storage data, downloads, and of couse all running tasks with the option to kill them.
  • Chat app: The chat app provides access to Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger, and worked very well in a short test! (so much stuff to try, so little time!)

Sure, Touchwiz might not be everyone’s favourite, but then again, most “powerusers” rely on Custom ROMs anyways, and your average Joe will probably feel right at home with what Samsung has to offer. Samsung does not radically change the look and feel of Android, so the usability is still given. I know I wouldn’t keep Touchwiz forever on the Samsung Galaxy S II, and thanks to Samsung not being as jacked up as HTC with their bootloader politics, I know I don’t have to keep Touchwiz on!

All in all, the Samsung Galaxy S II was nothing short of impressive and yes, it is in fact the best device I have ever had to chance to get my hands on. The whole combination of materials and build quality felt very premium and thankfully, the grippy new texture of the battery cover helped a lot supporting that feeling. The super AMOLED plus display is the best display I have ever seen on any device or brand, making it an absolute joy to use the SGS II, inside or outside. The 8MP camera performed surprisingly well, although an extensive camera usage will surely not keep the otherwise great 1650mAh battery of the device alive for a whole day.

The Android experience on the Galaxy S II was an okay one. Touchwiz has never been and will never be my favourite sort of Android UI, but it has grown up and felt more usable than on the Galaxy S. It’s easy to see that Samsung has spent some time on thinking, rather than playing around and it feels good. Of course that is all just my personal opinion, and I believe most users will be perfectly fine with what Samsung has done on the SGS II. The Samsung extras definitely add to the experience, with some very nice features, you probably don’t get everywhere, like the very good video/photo editor, or DLNA sharing.

It is an insane piece, this Samsung Galaxy S II. And I can’t help but admit that i have a crush on this device, a rather huge one. I know I can’t live without the ridiculously thin body and that gorgeous super AMOLED plus screen anymore. I’m sorry bank account, but next month you’ll bleed. Bring it on, amazon..

Pros

  • Awesome display
  • Ultra slim design
  • 1080p Video recording
  • Really fast

Cons

  • No camera key
  • Touchwiz UI
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Michael Hell, certified geek, mobile jedi, amateur photographer, music addict. Down to earth and always up for new challenges. Also blogging on www.michaelxhell.com, which is my private blog for things like Photography and personal things :) Feel free to add me on http://twitter.com/michaelxhell or http://www.facebook.com/michaelxhell

  • Varun

    greatly done Michael. Now I am also in love with this superphone. I am also planning to buy a dual core phone but I thought Sensation was better than galaxy S II because of its higher resolution. But you review changed my mind.
    And also Michael, I always wanted to ask a gadget expert that why didn’t Nokia bumped up the processors and display resolution of Symbian phones. I know Symbian works fairly good on a ARM11 680 Mhz CPU but geeks love figures. Dont you think more powerful phones with a better looking UI and browser would have fought Android. Why did they dump a highly versatile OS in favor of amature OS which doesn’t even support external memory and file sharing over bluetooth. Why did Nokia choose to start all over again rather than improving Symbian?

    • Michael Hell

      thank you very much for your comment, glad you like it. i heard that comment about the higher res of Sensation a lot lately. Yes, sure, it has more pixels, but does that make the Sensation groundbreakingly better? thats for everyone to decide, but i prefer AMOLED technology for greater contrasts and color levels. i don’t mind having a few less pixels. oh and the thin hardware ;)

      as for your question about Nokia, wow, that would be material for an hour long rant/discussion/post. I guess Nokia just put inside what they thought would be “enough” for symbian^3 to run. What they didn’t realize though, times have changed a lot. i actually adressed this in my Nokia E7 review here: http://www.fonearena.com/blog/32459/hits-and-misses-the-nokia-e7.html! read the point “Stop giving us stuff that is “good enough”:” in the misses section to see what i mean.

      in general, i dont think the move to WP is a bad one, its just the problem right now, that its again taking time to get there. if you look at their current situation: stuck at Symbian (with anna soon, but still quite underwhelming), no decent hardware, no high end devices, all still 6 months or so ago. i would absolutely love to see Nokia Hardware running WP7, a killer combination, its just that it takes too much time to get there again.

  • Fifa

    I m not a fan of nokia as a smartphone..as a low budget phone they r good bt as a smartphone they have been failed..no nokia nokia varun..u always look a nokia fan :P

  • Superstar

    All things said, you have missed a MAJOR point to disclose to your readers. The SGS II Model which is being shipped to India DOES NOT HAVE NFC CHIP INCLUDED in it! The same model in KOREA HAS THE NFC CHIP included. So let us all ask Samsung, WHY THIS STEP-MOTHERLY TREATMENT for your Indian clients? Don’t they deserve the NFC chip in this phone like you have provided in your own country, Korea??

    According to sources, the first shipment of SGS II coming to India DOES NOT have the NFC chip. It is likely that the NFC Chip included model will come in the next lot which will be shipped out after a month or two. So the big question to ask is….Isn’t it prudent for the Indian buyer to WAIT FOR THE NEXT LOT OF SGS II rather than buy from the current lot and be a loser?

    Right now the price is also on the higher side at Rs,32830/-. If we wait for a month or so, the price will also come down to around 27,000 or so and the NFC chip will also be included. So it makes more sense to WAIT for a month for the next lot.

    • Rushi

      I have already purchased my SGSII and im from mumbai, I personally think NFC technology doesnt make sense for india as of now. For starters they arent being step-motherly they are being economical and smart. NFC technology uses the NFC bar codes or various other ways that have not been implemented in india and wont be for the next few years. In fact the phone supporting 4g in india is also a waste. We just have our companies launching 3g here since the past few months some of which are still fixing network issues so india is a long way from being able to benefit from such technologies. Korea has already started implementing all future products with NFC barcodes and all shopping malls and markets with NFC reader for payment option which as of now is just a myth in india. What would you want the technology for then? They are a huge company with resourceful workers im pretty sure they know what they are upto

  • Prashant

    Nice review. “Awesomness Inside”… in a couple of years we’ll have Intel Inside our phones too. Phones are going on a diet it seems. Who needs NFC. Just build a credit card on the back of a super slip phone. Do you think this as a possibility in near future?

    • http://www.fonearena.com Michael Hell

      lol good thinking. i definitely look forward to NFC, but its always a thing of two sides. every phone can have NFC, but it needs support first

  • Superstar

    Why have you not published my comment on this phone? Was it too inconvenient for you to publish it? Were you paid by Samsung to write this one sided review? Why is there no mention of the fact that this phone does NOT HAVE THE NFC HARDWARE IN IT!!!!!

    • Anirudh

      You idiot. The phone is awesome . Why does Samsung have to pay them for a review for that. Yes the phone does not have NFC but thats not a deal breaker. I have NFC on my Nexus S but i have never used that feature.

      • AgainstAnirudh

        Dei Anirudh badu…Superstar solradha kelu…..

    • Michael Hell

      wow guys, calm down here, no fights in my reviews.

      first of, Mr. Superstar, no, i’m not paid by Samsung, i’m not Eldar Murtazin. as for your question: I did not include NFC as a review point, simply because i think it’s too early. here in austria where i live, NFC is simply not any popular yet. there are VERY few services that support it yet, and i have never used it so far. Once it will become actually usable, NFC will be a point of my reviews.

      oh and this review might be one sided, but it makes clear that you havent read any other of my reviews, so you would see that i always point out negatives too. its just that this phone is THAT good.

  • rohit munde

    good mobile.

  • abby.

    Kies Air: Kies (Sammy’s version of HTC Sync or Ovi/Nokia/PC/Elop suite)
    funny line….

    • http://www.fonearena.com Michael Hell

      thanks :)

      • Grim

        Are you really Michael Hell or just an idiot who is trying to look more stupid.

        • http://www.fonearena.com Michael Hell

          I am Michael Hell. Question is, who in the blue hell are you to post such a comment?

  • Uday

    Nice short review, Michael. How do you find the GPS in this phone? Is it any improvement on the disaster that Galaxy S was? Also, what is your take on offline maps like HTC’s location or Nokia’s OVI maps? It appears SGSII just has Google maps. You need maps when you are on vacation, and data roaming is not cheap!

  • sandy

    hey michael..
    good review. lyk it.. keep up the good work..

    i have noticed a tendency in ppl to point one con/feature out of a awsum phone ( u knw to whom i am heading for).. and saying they r not gonna buy it or wait for another version.. such ppl wil keep on waiting.. n wait for an ideal device. which possibly doesnt exist or wud be too damn expensive :D.

  • lanre front

    “first of, Mr. Superstar, no, i’m not paid
    by Samsung, i’m not Eldar Murtazin.”

    Hey Michael, wonder if you shed some light on what the above statement means (even if only a little)

    You know, personally, concerning Murtazin’s insanely obsessive dedication to attacking anything Nokia, after a lot hard thinking I concluded the guy is either being paid by Google or Nokia’s closest competitor, Samsung.

  • swapnil

    does the SGS II HAV the nokia introducf tech. USB ON THE GO ???? As it is nt mentioned anywer in d review !!
    2ndly NFC is a hardware part or the software part ???

  • Siva Prasad

    Hi Mike,
    Awesomeness review is really ‘Awesome’.i think i read the review for the 3rd time and actually fell in love with it.would like to see your 2nd part of review on Multimedia like music,GPS,internet browser etc.
    your humor is really funny..be it Kiera Knightley in Arc or Eldar here:))

  • neilr216

    Thank you for this excellent review!

  • ss

    S2 has apprupt heating obseravtion- dont buy it.

  • Nukul Suri

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for wonderful review.. I am planing to buy a new cell something in the range of Samsung Galaxy S2.. is it a all time best option or should i go with anything else…??

  • saJI

    I personally think that LG Optimus 2X is quite better handset as a smsrt phone than Samsung Galaxy S2. Because it’s has better processor like nVedia Tegra2, by that everyone can get better grafics.

  • saJI

    I personally think that LG Optimus 2X is quite better handset as a smsrt phone than Samsung Galaxy S2. Because it’s has better processor like nVedia Tegra2, by that everyone can get better grafics.

  • Shareef Shabana

    Bahut acha hy but mobile stock ny milraha hy