Debuting with the Galaxy S last summer, the Galaxy series of Android based Smartphones has done wonders for Samsung- making them one of the top Android-based devices manufacturer. When I reviewed the Galaxy S, my verdict was “Rough around the edges but has the potential to become the best Android Smartphone.” Last week, almost a year after we received the original, the Galaxy S II landed in our offices. Lets find out if the rough edges have been smoothened.
Packaged in the now-familiar black box used by Samsung for their higher-end devices, the Galaxy S II comes with you usual assortment of a charger and a headset. I received the 16GB however a 32GB version is also planned. Expect the device to be available before the end of June. I don’t have an official price from Samsung just yet but if I was to guess, I would say that it would be just shy of AED 3,000.
The Galaxy S II is an incredibly thin phone which should not come as a surprise as the original was pretty thin at 9.9mm for it’s time. Samsung managed to shave over a millimeter on the S II which is now freakishly thin at 8.5mm making it even thinner than the iPhone 4 that stands at 9.3mm. Like the original Galaxy S, there is a bump in thickness towards the bottom of the phone to accommodate a USB connector and the loud speaker. The overall size on the Galaxy S II has also increased a bit- the original measured 122.4 x 64.2mm whereas the new one has dimensions of 125.3 x 66.1. Don’t let the size scare you though- the Galaxy S II weighs just 116g making it one of the lightest Super-phones.
One of my biggest complains with the original Galaxy S was the not so impressive build quality and thankfully, Samsung has fixed that up really well. The Galaxy S II feels a lot more solid in your hand with no creaking parts. The back cover has a textured mesh finish which looks and feels pretty awesome. My only complain, which could be a non-issue, is that I can see a tad bit of space between the frame of the device and the full glass front- possibly enough for dust to accumulate over time.
The new Super AMOLED Plus 4.3” screen is the center of attention on the Galaxy S II and is possibly the finest I’ve seen on a Smartphone. The black levels are incredible and colors look like they will pop out of the screen- watching videos on the Galaxy S II is better than any other Smartphone. What is even more impressive about the display is that it is still extremely readable in the bright UAE sun- an area where most other Smartphones show their weaknesses. I do wish that Samsung had increased the solution on the screen though- 800x480 seems a bit low on a 4.3” screen.
Below the screen, the Galaxy S II has three buttons like the original. The square click button on the center takes you home while the two backlit touch buttons on either side of the home button are for back and menu. Other than that, you have a volume rocker on the left, a power button on the right and a 3.5mm audio connector on top. On the back, you have an 8MP camera and thankfully Samsung has added an LED flash this time around. The front has another camera at 2MP which should be good enough for any video-calls.
Like the original Galaxy S, a dedicated search key is missing on the Galaxy S II- a trend we are starting to see on some other phones as well such as the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc.That doesn’t bother me much as you generally have something onscreen to help you search. What I do miss is a notification LED that is present on many other Android based handsets but is lacking on the Galaxy S II- like the original.
Coming to the specs, Samsung certainly had a reputation to live up to because the original Galaxy S was the best Android based handset when it was launched as far as specs were concerned. And they deliver with the Exynos 4210 SoC which features a dual-core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor and the Mali-400MP GPU along with 1GB of RAM. Storage comes in capacities of 16GB and 32GB while a microSD slot is also present if you want to further increase the capacity on your Galaxy S II. On the radio side, you have 802.11 a/b/g/n support as well as Bluetooth 3.0 with high speed profile that makes transfers over Bluetooth much faster if the paired device also features Bluetooth 3.0. For data access, HSPA+ is supported to get the best out of your operator while the built-in FM tuner will keep you entertained for hours.
Smartphone (OS Version)
Samsung Galaxy S II (Android 2.3.3)
Google Nexus One (Android 2.2)
HTC Desire S (Android 2.3.3)
Apple iPhone 4 (iOS 4.2)
The Galaxy S II comes preloaded with the latest version of Android which is 2.3.3 at the time of writing this review. Google has made a lot of optimizations to Android and coupled that with the insanely fast hardware on the Galaxy SII, everything just flies. Scrolling through lists of contacts or messages is butter smooth while opening apps is almost instant. For applications, you already have a wealth of them available in Google Market however, Samsung also has their own mini-market called “Samsung Apps” loaded on the device.
Speaking of applications, Samsung bundles a few of their own apps with the Galaxy S II- most notable amongst which are hubs. You have a Social hub, a Music hub, a Reader’s hub and finally a Game hub. Basically hubs are aggregates, so the social hub gives you a feed of your Facebook and Twitter accounts while the Reader’s Hub integrates with Zinio for magazines, kobo for books and newspapers from around the world. The Music hub doesn’t work in the region so I couldn’t test that out but the Game hub has a list of Samsung recommended games for download- free and paid. Other than these hubs, you also have a photo and video editors, a Mini Diary which works with your GPS to take pictures and store your travels and AllShare, a DLNA based media server that we will take a deeper look at in our upcoming Samsung SmartTV review.
Samsung adds their custom UI on top of Android called TouchWiz which is updated to v4.0 on the Galaxy S II. Although the new version operates very much like the older versions, Samsung has added little touches here and there that make TouchWiz a better experience. For example, all the icons are new and look much better while widgets now have transparent backgrounds. The following video take you through the new TouchWiz interface along with a quick look at the hardware.
As you can see, the UI is extremely responsive and works well. Sadly, Arabic wasn't supported on my review device but I'm pretty sure that it will by the time it hits retail. TouchWiz doesn’t really impress me much and I prefer stock Android over almost any custom UI. That being said, I know people that like TouchWiz and if not, considering this is Android, you can always switch to another launcher from Android market.
Coming to the camera, the Galaxy S II has a pretty good 8MP camera on the back with an LED flash which the original Galaxy S sadly lacked. Videos shot from the device are pretty impressive as well and support 1080p at 30fps. The following shot is of the butterflies in Dubai mall and as you can see, it looks pretty impressive.
Under less-stellar light conditions, the image quality is not as sharp still pretty impressive. The picture below, again from Dubai Mall shows the divers in lower light.
Wrapping things up, Samsung equips the Galaxy S II with a fairly large capacity 1650mAh battery- a wise move considering the big size of the screen and the dual core CPU. I usually use the device for about a week and post real world results for battery which is not scientific, but gives you a general idea on what you can expect if you are a power user. The Galaxy S II always lasted me more than a day on a single charge which is pretty impressive. In fact, I could pretty much get away with a day and a half without having to worry about the battery. Most Android phones I’ve used of late give up by the end of the day.
Overall, Samsung delivers on the Galaxy S II which is no small feet considering the popularity of the original. It is an incredibly fast phone with a gorgeous screen, excellent features and a good build quality. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that it is the best Android-based Smartphone that you can buy today.