Galaxy S II

Wow. Even if you've used a dual-core smartphone before, it's difficult not to be blown away by the sheer speed of the Samsung Galaxy S II. Whatever we threw at it during our couple of weeks of testing, it just kept on going, stubbornly refusing to show even the slightest sign of slowdown. The combination of Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread and Samsung's dual-core Exynos processor makes the Galaxy S II one of the fastest Android phones we've tested. And the thin and light chassis means you don't have to sacrifice portability to get this level of performance. Couple that with a large SuperAMOLED+ display, and you've got yourself a seriously advanced smartphone.

We tested the Vodafone UK-branded version of the Galaxy S II, which the network is offering for free on contracts of £30 or more per month. Join us after the break to find out what impressed us so much about Samsung's latest and greatest, and also where there's some room for improvement in this flagship product.


YouTube link for mobile viewing

Hardware

Physically, the Samsung Galaxy S II is a sleek, understated black slab. Like all Samsung smartphones, it's constructed of plastic, though thankfully it doesn't feel quite as plasticky (and, dare we say, cheap) as the original Galaxy S, or even the Nexus S. This is partly due to the textured back panel, which also makes the phone nice and easy to hold. The design reminds us of a cross between the Xperia Arc and iPhone 4, although the build quality definitely felt superior to the former, and unlike the latter, you needn't fear shattering anything if you drop it onto a hardwood floor (yes, we tried; no, it wasn't intentional).

It's also incredibly thin and light, almost unnaturally so for a device with a 4.3-inch display. It's 8.49mm thick, and weighs in at 116 grams. That's 2 grams lighter than the original HTC Wildfire, a phone with a 3.2-inch screen. So we're impressed, and rightly so -- Samsung has packed a heck of a lot of smartphone into an extremely portable package.

Galaxy S II Galaxy S II

Being a Samsung phone, you get the latest in AMOLED display technology on the Galaxy S II. The phone's 4.3-inch screen is a SuperAMOLED+ panel running at 480x800 (WVGA) resolution, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Colors are bright and vivid, viewing angles are excellent, as you'd expect, and daylight visibility is pretty good too. In very bright sunlight, a modern Super LCD display will serve you better, but AMOLED has still come a long way since we first saw it in phones like the Nexus One.

Under the screen there are two capacitive buttons -- back and menu -- alongside a larger, central home button of the old-fashioned, clicky variety. Honestly, we would've preferred either all capacitive or all physical buttons, but this is a minor complaint.

Hidden away in the top left corner of the phone is its 2-megapixel front-facing camera, which also records video at 640x480 resolution. The rear camera is a more substantial 8-megapixel sensor with LED flash which is almost flush with the back panel. Other buttons and ports can be found in the usual places -- the volume rocker and power button live on the left and right sides respectively, the headphone jack can be found up top, while the micro-USB port lies at the bottom of the device. The Galaxy S II can be connected to a HDTV using a MHD (micro-USB to HDMI) connector, but unfortunately the phone doesn't ship with one.

Galaxy S II Galaxy S II

Moving onto the internals, the Galaxy S II boasts Samsung's new dual-core Exynos chip, which runs at 1.2GHz, and as we said in our flattering introduction, this thing is fast. The Galaxy S II is probably the first dual-core phone that actually feels an order of magnitude faster than earlier, single-core devices. We'll go into detail about precisely how fast in the "software" section, but suffice it to say we encountered no lag or slowdown at all during two weeks of using the Galaxy S II as our main smartphone. None whatsoever. Everything we did on the phone was buttery-smooth. We couldn't slow it down, and trust us, we tried.

The Galaxy S II's stupidly fast CPU is backed up by a generous 1GB of RAM, of which around 833MB is available for apps to use. In terms of physical storage, you've got 16GB built-in, which is split into 2GB for apps and 11.5GB for USB storage, with some reserved for the OS. On top of that there's a microSD card port, which allows you to add up to 32GB more. So it's fair to say you probably won't be short of space on the Galaxy S II.

Galaxy S II Galaxy S II

Software

The Galaxy S II includes version 4.0 of Samsung's TouchWiz UI, which runs on top of Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread. With Froyo now approaching its first birthday, we're glad manufacturers like Samsung are opting to ship their flagship devices with the latest version of Android for phones. Y'hear that, Motorola?

TouchWiz is still something of a bright, multi-colored hotch-potch, and this is accentuated by the vividness of the Galaxy S II's SuperAMOLED+ display. Icons and widgets alike are big, bold and bright, in contrast to the muted tones of vanilla Android. If primary colors aren't your thing, then the right combination of widgets and wallpaper will give your homescreens a less busy appearance. The included "Microbes" and "Nexus" live wallpapers from the Nexus S do a good job of calming things down a little.

Performance-wise, the whole UI glides along effortlessly. Even with the aforementioned Nexus S live wallpapers doing their thing in the background, and with seven home screens packed with widgets, there was no slowdown at all. And you get this level of silky-smooth performance across the whole user experience, making the phone a great showcase for Samsung's new Exynos chip.

Home screens

We do have a couple of gripes to report with the Galaxy S II's launcher though, and this starts with the app drawer. Apps can be freely arranged on pages, however there's no way to auto-arrange based on install date or app name. The Galaxy S II comes pre-loaded with a fair few apps, and once you've added some of your own, you may struggle to find them in a grid that's not arranged in any particular order.

Next up, we noticed a strange delay when using the home button on our review unit. Many users have been reporting similar issues on their Galaxy S II's, so it doesn't seem to be an isolated problem. We suspect it's more likely to be a software bug than a hardware issue, but it still unnecessarily degrades the user experience on what is otherwise an extremely responsive phone.

Many areas of the Galaxy S II's social and multimedia functionality are based around "hub" apps. There's a Music Hub, a Readers Hub and a Games Hub, where all three can be purchased via separate online stores. The Social Hub brings together text messaging, email and IM messages into one single app, however we found social networking integration was a little basic compared to what's offered in HTC Sense 3.0.

Samsung has also provided photo and video-editing apps on the Galaxy S II, allowing users to touch up content without hooking the phone up to a PC and messing around with programs like Photoshop and Adobe Premiere. Of course, they're not intended to replace your desktop image and video manipulation apps, but regardless, the ability to crop images and videos and apply various effects right there on the phone remains a great addition.

Kies Air

Another notable app is Kies Air, which works just like the Kies desktop app, but over a wireless network through your browser. This is a great new feature which we'd like to see other manufacturers steal take note of. It eliminates the need to dig out your micro-USB cable if you want to transfer a quick photo to your computer. You can use it to manage bookmarks and multimedia content too, and even view call logs and text messages.

The Galaxy S II's browser deserves a mention, too. We're not sure what kind of sorcery (or maybe hardware acceleration) Samsung has channelled to get it up to speed, but it renders pages faster than any device we've seen so far. Scrolling and zooming too, were both flawlessly smooth. And Flash video played without any lag, at near-PC speeds. So we can safely say that the Galaxy S II offers the best browsing experience on any Android smartphone. Check out our hands-on video above to see just how fast it is.

Swype is included as standard, which is great, as we're big fans of the trace-based keyboard. Swype isn't everyone's cup of tea, though, so you'll find a standard Samsung keyboard included too.

DLNA streaming functionality is becoming more and more common on Android devices, and this is present on the Galaxy S II in the form of the "AllShare" app, which lets you stream music, video or photo content to any DLNA-compliant device.

App drawer Books Notification area

The notification dropdown has been tricked out with a quick settings panel, allowing you to control Wifi, Bluetooth and other features without switching apps. If you're listening to music, you'll also notice that music player controls pop up in the notification area too.

The Galaxy S II includes voice command technology based on Vlingo, which we found worked pretty well most of the time, although more complex requests seemed to get a little lost in translation. It's a great concept though, and one we hope will improve with time.

Being a Vodafone-branded device, our review unit came pre-loaded with "Vodafone 360" apps, including Vodafone Music and the 360 Shop for apps and games. We're in favor of giving users more choice in how they get content onto their phones, but one thing we don't like is intrusive carrier-mandated software. Fortunately the 360 apps don't fall into this category. If you don't want to use them, they're easily ignored, and many can even be uninstalled entirely from the Applications menu.

Galaxy S II on Vodafone UK

We're in something of a black spot for Vodafone coverage here, but taking a quick stroll further towards civilization, we found our Vodafone-branded Galaxy S II gave us pretty impressive 3G data speeds. We got up to 5 megabits per second downstream and up to 2.5 megabits per second upstream -- definitely towards the top end of real-world HSPA speeds. This evened out to around 2.5 down and 1.5 up in more crowded urban areas.

As far as call quality goes, it was smooth sailing on the Galaxy S II on Vodafone. Even in areas where data coverage was patchy, call quality was always clear, and we experienced nothing in the way of dropped calls or other cellular weirdness.

Galaxy S II Galaxy S II

Battery Life

The Galaxy S II comes equipped with an ample 1650 mAh battery, and we found that with normal usage patterns we got around a day out of the phone without too many problems. With heavy, heavy use involving lots of 3G data, music playback, video streaming, browsing and photography, we managed to run down the battery in around 13 hours.

The biggest battery hog seems to be the (admittedly very pretty) SuperAMOLED+ display. When used outdoors, with automatic brightness enabled, these panels demand more juice than their Super LCD counterparts. As ever, the trade-off for having a great-looking AMOLED-based screen is slightly reduced battery life.

That's not to say the phone's battery life is poor -- under normal circumstances you won't need to worry about it dying on you before the end of the working day. On the whole, we consider Galaxy S II's battery performance to be typical for an Android smartphone, though we have been spoiled of late by more efficient devices like the Desire S and Sensation from HTC.

Galaxy S II Galaxy S II

Camera

The Galaxy S II's rear camera takes stills at up to 8 megapixels and video at up to 1080p resolution, with 30 frames per second. Generally, we found that the phone produced excellent still photos and videos, and coped particularly well with transitioning between bright and dark areas compared to most other smartphone cameras.

The Samsung camera app offers a host of options for fiddling with the usual things like ISO settings, white balance and metering, along with more unique features like blink detection and a macro focus mode.

Video camera performance in daylight was excellent, resulting in high-quality, smooth footage at 1920x1080 resolution with 30 frames per second. In lower light, the frame rate dropped down to around 24 fps when recording at 1080p, though switching down to 720p, it remained stable at 30 fps. We found that the Galaxy S II's low light recordings weren't quite as smooth as the footage taken with Xperia Arc's Exmor R sensor. However, the Galaxy's camera retained more fine detail, whereas the Arc produced video that had a softer, filtered look.

Test photo Test photoTest photo Test photo Test photo Test photo

As well as the main 8-megapixel sensor, there's also a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, which takes surprisingly good pictures, as you'll see in the final sample video below. If you're using it for video calling, you'll get great looking VGA video footage from the front-facing camera on the Galaxy S II.


YouTube link for mobile viewing


YouTube link for mobile viewing


YouTube link for mobile viewing

Hackability

The Galaxy S II ships with an open bootloader, and has already spawned an active development and hacking community. Samsung has given a very public thumbs-up to the Android development community, even sending out a complimentary Galaxy S II to a leading CyanogenMod developer. It's always great to see manufacturers actively opening up their devices, as opposed to locking them down with ever more complex security measures.

So if you buy a Galaxy S II, you can do so knowing you'll have the option of running custom ROMs in the future, if you fancy a change from TouchWiz. Of course, doing so will probably void your warranty, meaning you could be on your own if anything goes wrong.

Wrap-up

The Samsung Galaxy S II is a supremely impressive device, and almost certainly the fastest Android smartphone money can buy right now. With prices hovering between £400 and £500 in the UK, it isn't cheap, but Samsung justifies the cost by delivering a phone that excels in just about every area. Aside from the ridiculously high performance, you get an outstanding camera, a bright, vivid display, tons of storage space and an easy rooting path. And you get all this in a device that's still slim enough to be easily pocketable.

If you're a power user and have the cash to blow on an Android smartphone of this caliber, we can't really think of many reasons not to recommend the Galaxy S II. TouchWiz might be one, if you're among the crowd that just plain doesn't like Samsung's custom UI. The plastic chassis won't be to everyone's taste, but that's the price you pay for having such a light 4.3-inch device. Battery life may be a concern for some, but in exchange you get what's probably the best-looking display on any smartphone. There are always compromises to be made, even on a phone as good as this. But in our opinion, the choices Samsung has made with its new flagship phone are almost universally the right ones.

The Vodafone-branded Samsung Galaxy S II we tested is available for free from Vodafone UK on 24-month contracts of £30 or more per month.

Galaxy S II Galaxy S II Galaxy S II Galaxy S II Galaxy S II

 
There are 43 comments

tompro53 says:

This is a cool phone but I will be getting the EVO 3D, only if I knew when this phone would come out I might change my mind.

dante501 says:

It is still amazing on how much cheaper phones are with contract in Europe. This phone for free in the USA? Yeah right.

nerdydesi says:

If we could get a version with a physical keyboard ALA the Sprint Epic 4G, it would be my perfect phone! Though a 4.3" slider would probably be too large, reduce it to 4.0". : )

IceDree says:

Great review Alex , much appreciated

Im sure that The Galaxy S II is great device , but I can't help to notice that its screaming iPhoneish , it look ALLOT like an iPhone & the physical button & TouchWiz isn't exactly helping

Im sure others will disagree with me , but my 2 cents

one more thing :

"Another notable app is Kies Air, which works just like the Kies desktop app, but over a wireless network through your browser. This is a great new feature which we'd like to see other manufacturers steal take note of"

Motorola phones comes with "Moto Phone Portal" which do what you said , My OG MileStone have it
Its simple start the app & write the provided url\link in your desktop browser & you are good to go (its works with Wi-Fi\3G\USB cable , whatever you want)

Again , thanks for a great review

LeanNSupreme says:

Can't wait for the Canadian release in like 2 weeks!

makaveli28 says:

I really hope your right but with no signs of leakage or announcements yet, I can't see this phone releasing in 2 weeks. I think end of July or beginning of August might be closer.

"stubbornly refusing to show even the slightest sign of slowdown"

Okay.

"we encountered no lag or slowdown at all... None whatsoever. Everything we did on the phone was buttery-smooth. We couldn't slow it down, and trust us, we tried."

I understand.

"there was no slowdown at all."

You have made this point perfectly clear...

"Next up, we noticed a strange delay when using the home button on our review unit. Many users have been reporting similar issues on their Galaxy S II's, so it doesn't seem to be an isolated problem."

Excuse me?

Thats a software thing.

The phone waits a bit when you press the home button to see if you want to activate voice commands or actually want to go back to homescreen.

I usually use back button as much as possible. Thats how Ihave learned to use Android and so I dont notice that 'small' delay when pressing home button.

Great review. Its simply the best phone I have ever used.

Thanks for the explanation.

themuffinman says:

LMAO

I agree IceDree. I'm astounded that few reviews bother to make the clear comparison. If you want an iPhone you will buy an iPhone. Quite why Samsung chose to make their premier handset an iClone is beyond me.

mufc1991 says:

Because they want money. Retard.

oh ok then says:

I never want to hear another review from a non-Brit again. Your voice lands such a level of class over the usual grunts and slurred words of us Yanks.

lmao! +1 ... Now lemme go find my American flag parachute pants.

oh ok then says:

Hey no hard feelings :)

I loved your many videos drooling over the HTC Merge.

Supraman21 says:

The best phone ever

leonozug says:

For all you guys complaining it looks to much like an iphone, get over it. It's an iphone done RIGHT. It's running Android. What the hell is wrong with that? Plus it's running it better than any other Android phone out there. This is definitely my next phone, if it ever comes to Verizon. But knowing them, it won't be unlocked like it is in England.

RBrown9180 says:

This phone is coming out. Its been confirmed on sprint Verizon and att. Sprint also has the epic 2 coming out. 4" slider.

Vegasden says:

From what I've read, Sprint may be releasing this sometime late July. While I have grown very fond of my Evo, the new 3D doesn't attract me add much as this phone does. Hopefully, if the leaks are correct, I'll grab this one from Sprint... but only if it is 4G compatible. I've yet to see in any leaks that Sprint will have it WiMAX compatible... we can only hope.

robsw says:

I got mine yesterday and, as someone who owned an iPhone or two in the past and dumped them within weeks, I have to say that it bears no resemblance in person. Sure the iconography in TouchWiz is similar, but since I immediately downloaded LauncherPro, I haven't seen it since the first hour.

This phone is everything the reviews say it is. It's sleek, fast and beautiful. Simply terrific. The only thing I miss about my Nexus One is, to some degree, the heft and solidity, and definitely my CM7. I can't wait for it to drop for this!

ryankirby1 says:

C'mon Sprint announce this puppy so I can stop worrying that it'll have a slide out keyboard/no wi-max/or no exynos... Make it is just like this one but with 4g and you've got an ellegent beast!!

kaze06 says:

I've been convinced this is the phone I need and I'm more than sure I will buy it the day it is released.

The question now is....when, Verizon? When?

balthuszar says:

call it the sgsII, the Galaxy S 2, or cool phone 2011, call it whatever you want, whining about the name of the phone is worse than whining about the form factor of the phone(these are the no.1 and no.2 complaints about being a member of the android comnnunity)

dacp283 says:

Hmmmm Bionic but be equally amazing or I'm finally taking a leap from moto.

rainai says:

I'm actually reading this from my super fast Samsung Galaxy S II. :D

hybrid86 says:

How has this not come out on Verizon yet?! Not even a release date!

Peter McCain says:

well, if they keep taking their sweet time to release it in america; when they finally decide to release it, Apple will stop them, this phone is an iphone clone, hardware and software. It's a shame, they have the nicest screen, the best camera app, a slim design.. and then they just copy apple for everything else

Ronindan says:

It is more like North American carriers want to place thier stamp on the device. The like loading thier bloat ware etc. Plus the original Galaxy S phones had the same release schedule. It was first released in Europe and Asia. And then it was released in North America after.

AusFest says:

They sent one to CM, count me in. Ill be in line on launch day!

ghrubi says:

How's the performance of the GPS? The first gen sucked so bad, it's legendary.

http://engt.co/jJTMSP They fixed it according to Engadget.

WickedStyx says:

GPS works great for me and haven't heard any complaints from others.

I'll get this on Verizon regardless of 3G/LTE. Looks like a great device, thanks AC for the review!

rovex says:

Can we please get over this 'its an iPhone clone' thing? I have one right here and it looks nothing like an iPhone. From the front it looks very slightly like one, but not really and from any other angle it isnt even remotely like an iPhone. In fact it looks more like an up to date Samsung F700... which was out before the iPhone.

Does touchwiz look like iOS? Only superficially if you fill the homescreen with icons instead of widgets and anyway, im not using it, im using ADW Launcher EX.

Fast doesnt even cover it. The CPU is much faster than anything else and the Mali400 is faster than the Tegra GPU, by a lot. In benchmark after benchmark it destroys the Tegra. Nenamark 2 scores are at least 50% higher and GLBenchmark scores are double!

WickedStyx says:

Well said. It destroys the Tegra in real world performance by a lot too, not just benchmarks.

h0ruza#AC says:

Shame the NFC is missing from the European version hopefully it will be included in the US version to add another feather to this phenomenal phone.

rocket321 says:

A couple things:
Kies Air works on Galexy S devices (I use it on my Epic) so its not new per se.

You should be able to organize apps by name by doing this:
App Launcher
Menu > Edit
Menu > Sort A-Z
Menu > Save

NarekRocks says:

You can't edit sorting, I checked on my phone, there is only save, cancel, empty new folder and empty new page.

dancing-bass says:

I'm gonna be switching to Android soon. I just have to decide which phone. My carrier has the (pretty sweet) HTC Inc2. BUT they also just announced they will be releasing the Galaxy2 (soon).

For an average joe who is used to dumbphones but has played with blackberries... which would be "best"? I tend to prefer a bit of a smaller form factor but this G2 looks pretty dang amazing (if a little on the large size)

I am a very proud owner of an EVO 3D in my mind the best android device producted by the best manufacturer on the planet....

fifif330 says:

Hi guys,I found a good resource on overclocking to 1.6Ghz.check this out!:D
http://our-world89.blogspot.com/2011/08/unleash-power-of-samsung-galaxy-...

-Nakz says:

When will this be coming to the US? And will it be able to sideload apps?

keith2k1 says:

I was going to go with the HTC Vivid but after seeing this, I'm going with the Samsung.