T-Mobile's Galaxy S II

T-Mobile has had a long relationship with Android and Google, but was the last carrier in the universe to bring out the Galaxy S II.   Long rumored as the Hercules, many a smartphone fan wanted and waited to see just what T-Mobile could do with Samsung's newest "game-changing" phone, and now we know.  Make it bigger.  Make it with more Gees.  Make it their own.

How does this new and improved different version of the hardware compare to the phone many around the globe already know and love?  There was a lot of worrying about things once people found out that Samsung had to change a few things to provide something that worked on T-Mobile's new 42 Mbps network.  Already impressed with the performance of the Galaxy S II based on reviews and time spent with the international version, these were valid concerns -- it was a lot to live up to.  Keep reading to see what I think.


The Good

The Super AMOLED screen is beautiful, and at 4.52-inches gives you plenty of real estate.  The phone is thin, light, and performs like a beast -- like a Galaxy S II is supposed to.  Network speeds are great in the right area, and the battery life is excellent.

The Bad

It's big.  4.52-inches may be too much for some people to deal with, no matter how thin it is.  The absence of Wifi calling is disappointing.  Because the hardware is different, Samsung and T-mobile may take a while to push out updates.  Front facing camera is not integrated into Google Talk.

Conclusion

The best screen technology combined with incredible battery life makes this one really stand out.  If you live, work, and play in a T-Mobile "4G" area, you'll be impressed by the network speed.  The Galaxy S II is a future-proof phone that should appeal to many.

Inside this review

More info

 

A Walkthrough and hands-on

Have a look at a short walkthrough of the Galaxy S II.

Youtube link for mobile viewing

 

The Hardware

SGSII   SGSII

The first thing you'll notice about the Galaxy S II is the size.  It's big, but it's thin and light.  The two compliment each other, and it's not difficult to hold and operate.  This is going to be more apparent if you're coming from another big phone that wasn't so thin and light.  The shell itself is about the same size as the EVO 4G -- the original "big" phone, and the phone itself is just about as thick as a AAA battery.  You'll have the same issues with one-handed operation (meaning sometimes your thumb just won't comfortably reach where you need it to reach), but in practice it isn't as difficult to adjust to as I feared. 

The Ace of Spades

AAA battery Beside the EVO

The design follows much the same path as the rest of the Galaxy S II line.  It's a thin (notice that word keeps cropping up here) black slab, with a gorilla glass front and a textured plastic back, but T-Mobile's version has a metal band around the entire edge.  This really goes a long way to make this version fell less plasticky and Samsung-ish that the rest of the Galaxy S II line.  The volume and power button are made of metal as well, and fit right in with the rest of the phone's "style" -- it looks and feels very nice. 

SGSII   SGSII

SGSII SGSII

Your volume switch is on the left side, power on the right -- as we're all used to by now from Samsung.  On the top of the phone is the headphone jack (a standard 3.5mm) and a secondary noise cancelling microphone, and if you work your way to the bottom you'll find the primary mic and a microUSB port.  There are no surprises here, everything is as we're used to, and everything works well.  Even I am getting used to the placement of the power button on the side of the devices, and I hate it when things change.

SGSII SGSII

SGSII SGSII

The back of the phone is a one-piece battery cover, with no fancy antennae or trickery built into it.  You'll find the 8MP camera (and it's quite a nice one, keep reading) back there, and if you open the cover you'll see exactly what you would expect to see -- the battery, the microSD card slot, and the SIM card slot.  You can get to both without removing the battery, but to be safe always shut the phone down when inserting or removing the SIM card.  Interesting note is once again we see the battery is labeled as an NFC device.  We've asked Samsung for the full details, but since they haven't responded we have to make an assumption here -- the NFC tech is built into the battery, and data is sent and received through one (or more) of the battery contact points. 

Operation and usage

When I review a phone I shut my trusty Nexus S off and switch over to the phone I'm working with full time (thank you Google Voice).  I collect my mail and my messages, read my Twitters and Google+, play my games and surf the web just like I normally would with my very own phone.  I think this is the best way to determine how well (or not so well) the phone would work for me.

The Galaxy S II did everything I wanted it to do, and had room for more.  NFC works exactly as intended, though it's a bit more sensitive to placement than the Nexus S is -- probably because of the lack of an antenna on the battery cover.  Calls were clear enough, nobody complained that I sounded different or they couldn't hear me and things sounded fine on my end -- normally, via the speaker, or with Bluetooth. 

GPS   Wifi

The GPS functioned flawlessly, connected fast and tracked me just fine.  Navigation went off without a hitch, using both Google's built in feature or Telenav.  Wifi signal was fine, working anywhere in my house or yard that I would expect it to.  I don't think there will be any radio or antenna issues with either Wifi or GPS on this one.

Battery life  Network speeds

Battery life was stellar.  The Galaxy S II out of the box sees the same battery life, doing the same things, as I do with a pretty customized Nexus S.  It packs a beefy 1850mAh battery, and Samsung has been doing things long enough to squeeze as much juice out of it as they can.  The HSPA+42 radio also works well.  42Mbps network areas are few and far between, but I live close to a 21Mbps network area, so I could compare.  And to double check my findings, I asked a pro we all know and love -- Mickey Papillion.  T-Mobile stopped listing their network speed with numbers (yeah, that's crazy, but what can we do?), and I live in an area with "Fast Mobile Web" -- this could mean 14.4Mbps or 7.7Mbps.  I don't know because T-Mobile stopped telling us numbers before they rolled out the network here.  I'm assuming nothing here.  In the picture above, you see the network speeds from my house in the green box.  They are respectable, but not spectacular.  I'm happy with them.  In the red box you see speeds from the 21Mbps area.  These look like they are packing another G, and have great ping times.  According to Mickey, they should.  The 42Mbps modem should perform better in any HSPA+ area than radios with slower speeds.  The ping times are better on the faster network, but also better from the faster modem.  Confused yet?  Put it this way -- if you live in a "Very Fast Mobile Web" area, you will love the network speeds you get with the Galaxy S II.  If you live in a "Fast Mobile Web" area, they will be better than what you're using now, but not as spectacular.  If you live in an EDGE area, it's time to move.

Specifications

Specs

The nerd version:

SGSII

  • 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon APQ8060 CPU with Adreno 220 GPU
  • 1GB RAM (784 available at boot)
  • 2GB application storage
  • Android 2.3.5
  • 2MP front facing camera
  • 8MP rear camera with 1080p recording
  • TouchWiz 4
  • 4.52-inch WVGA Super AMOLED Plus display
  • Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity sensor
  • microSD card slot (expandable to 32GB)
  • 42Mbps HSPA+ 4G speeds (42Mbps download, 5.76Mbps upload)
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wifi, A-GPS, Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP and EDR
  • 1850mAh battery
  • NFC

The hardware is also listed as GSM 850/900/1800/1900 and HSDPA 1700/2100 compatible.  T-Mobile does not advertise this phone as usable on any network other than their own.

The Software

There's not much to say here that hasn't been said alread.  The software is the same exact TouchWiz 4 we've seen on three other Galaxy S II phones.  Exactly.  This isn't a bad thing any more, as Samsung has given TouchWiz an internal makeover that makes it quite awesome.  It's still a bit colorful, but extra functionality comes with and everyone likes that.

SGSII

You've got up to seven homescreens to customize with a full gamut of included TouchWiz widgets and shortcuts, as well as thousands more available in the Market.  Everything I normally download and use worked without a hitch, including games that often give other phones a bit of trouble.

SGSII SGSII

SGSII SGSII

The app drawer is chock full of crap, as you'd expect from any T-Mobile Android phone.  It's the price you pay to save $300.  Some of it is good (Telenav, Allshare, Kies air), some of it is bad (My Account, Social Hub, IM), and some of it is ridiculous (411 & More, Bonus apps, T-Mobile Mall).  These are all baked into the system, don't take up precious app space, and don't seem to have an adverse effect on battery life.  Ignore them, drop them in a "craplications" folder in your app drawer, or root and make them disappear.  The one thing that's missing?  Wifi calling.  A lot of us on T-Mobile love it, and for some reason it wasn't included.  T-Mobile -- I'll trade you a 411 (and More!), a T-Mobile TV, and a Blio reader app for Wifi calling -- Deal?

SGSII

The specifics:

SGSII

Android 2.3.5 and TouchWiz 4.0, running atop the 2.6.35.11 kernel.  As shipped, the baseband is T989UVKID and build is GINGERBREAD.UVKID.  I've been checking every day for updates (we often see them right away with new models) and nothing yet. There has really been no reason for one that I can find.  No lockscreen bugs, no AP Mobile widget eating away at the battery, no radio wonkiness, or anything else that we've seen on other Galaxy S II models.  I'm sure something will pop up, it's software after all, and bugs happen.

 

The Camera

If Samsung changed the camera for this version of the Galaxy S II, you can't tell.  It's easy to use, delivers excellent pictures (for a cell phone), and is pretty fast.  It's not on par with a Nokia, or even HTC's new cameras, but then again Samsung isn't touting it as such.  They are giving you something you'll find fun to use that takes great pictures -- what more could we ask for?  It's also the first cameraphone I've used for any length of time that had a panorama function worth a damn, seamlessly stitching together less than perfect scenes.  The obligatory shot:

Panorama

Click me to enlarge

The still camera in normal mode works just as easy.  No need to fiddle with anything (though you can if you're inclined, or have the time before taking a picture) -- just point it, keep your finger off the lens, and tap the button.  The only thing lacking would be a dedicated camera button.  Here's a few stills you can click and blow up to check out.

T-Mobile SGS II T-Mobile SGS II

T-Mobile SGS II T-Mobile SGS II

T-Mobile SGS II T-Mobile SGS II

T-Mobile SGS II T-Mobile SGS II

The front facing camera doesn't do near as well.  Of course it's only 2MP and a cheap sensor, but i expected it to be a bit better than what we're used to because of the resolution bump.  It's perfectly fine for video chatting -- which makes the fact that Google Talk isn't able to use it suck even more.  It's one of the things that really irked me, because including it (and Wifi calling) would make this the perfect phone, and I'd call it a total 10.  Click the pic below for an example of the front facing shooter.

Hide yo kids, hide yo wife, hide yo husband

All the easy transfers over to video recording as well.  Once you decide what resolution you want to shoot at, just point and click.  The camera takes decent 1080p video for those times when you'll want to export them or play them on your television, but for general use I found 720p to be a better way to go.  The video camera does one thing very well that other manufacturers seem to have issue with -- the sound capture is excellent.  Have a look at samples of 1080p and 720p:

1080p sample

Youtube link for mobile viewing

 

720p Sample

Youtube link for mobile viewing

Quack!

 

Conclusions

Not much more to say here.  I've not had any time with the Amaze 4G yet, but I've used just about every other phone on T-Mobile -- and this is the best one by a long shot.  The Galaxy S II is one of the few phones I'd choose for myself, even though I'm less than comfortable with the size.  Dare I say it, but when the Nexus Prime Galaxy III next Nexus comes out, it better wow me if it wants to come home instead of this one.  If you're an Android fan, and a T-Mobile subscriber, you won't be disappointed if you pick one up.

 
There are 11 comments

dante501 says:

But the important question is is that version the best or is the Galaxy 2 EPIC Touch 4G still the best of all the Galaxy 2 phones?

Signing of from my Epic Touch 4G!

dklimah says:

Very sweet. Cant wait to get my hands on one

KaneHusky says:

Charging Port on the bottom of the device,right where God intended them to be.

mettleh3d#WN says:

Did Jerry say it has "incredible" battery life!? Did Tmo send AC a rigged unit? Lol

craigf#AC says:

The "too big" argument is bogus. I'll give you one anecdote as evidence. I've been trying to get my wife to give up on her Palm Pixi (I know, I know) and go to Android. I handed her my EVO 3D and she said "wow, that's huge! I wouldn't want to carry that." Then, I handed her the Sprint GSII Epic 4G Touch, which is physically wider and taller, but thinner and lighter. Her response? "That's nice...yeah, I'd consider carrying one of these." So, I think it's mostly about weight and "heft," not necessarily dimensions.

voghan says:

I really want to buy this phone but am going to wait for the Galaxy Nexus. I don't want to wait for Ice Cream Sandwich to eventually land on this phone.

I have been using one since the release day. Moved from the venerable N1.

The bigger screen is great, but the Touchwiz email app is not as good as the stock GB email app.

Data speeds in San Francisco are a lot better on this phone than the N1.

As a side note I tried the AT&T GSII, but was only getting ~100kb/s downloads in SF's Financial District!! Needless to say I returned that one.

The nicest thing about the phone when it's n your hand is the cyberskin material that they used on the back of the phone. Similar to the N1's. I hear this is also being used on the Galaxy Nexus when it comes out.

The camera does have a wierd shutter lag compared to the N1, and I miss not being able to use the trackball as a physical shutter button.

I will seriously be looking at the Galaxy Nexus when it comes out, I hope it is available on T-Mo.

I need GSM because I travel extensively and need to swap sims while abroad, so a Galaxy Nexus on Verizon is a no-go for me unless it is a "world" phone.

mitch10 says:

I had to return 2 Galaxy SII's due to the screen. First, both were actually DARNER than the LG G2X they were meant to replace. Second, they were noticeably green. The first make pictures of people look like they hailed from the Emerald City of OZ; the second only make people look like they were badly jaundice. I got charged a $50 restocking fee on the second one because the guy who took it back was probably color blind and couldn't tell the difference between the G2X colors and the GS2. It was obvious to everyone I showed in my office.

I've had lots of technical trouble with the 3 phone models I've purchased from T-mo; a total of 9 handsets. With this return, I've spend over $150 in exchange/return fees on defective phones in just over a year. I'm beginning to wonder if I am really saving any money by staying with Magenta?

strikethree says:

I have a Vibrant and I'm still on Froyo. Yet, HTC's G2 -- on the same carrier -- is already getting ANOTHER security update to Gingerbread.

I remember almost a year ago, I was still on Eclair! And everyone on here said it was the carriers' faults. The carriers delay the updates... so Samsung supporters, where are you now? Tmobile didn't delay the G2's updates, did they?

The point is, Samsung doesn't give a crap about already made purchases. And why should they? They made so many different phones for so many different carriers that they would have to devote a lot of their developer time to update every one of their phones. (so they don't) Plus, they have to update touchwiz. (instead of... you know, getting rid of it completely) I think it's obvious that they are putting their developers onto the NEXT version of phones. That's how they make money. Once the Galaxy III is out, you might as well get used to not getting anymore updates for the S2. (maybe one more... a year after everyone else)

Stay away from Samsung. (unless you are getting a Nexus which provide updates straight from Google)

s14tat says:

I have a Samsung Fascinate which is basically your phone but on verizon. We still don't official have gingerbread yet but we all have been running the leaked version for some time now. People who continue to buy samsung phones knows exactly what they are getting. They want the best camera, the best gpu, the best cpu, the best screen. We don't care about official updates because its so easy to root and flash roms on this phone its a non factor. I have a feeling why samsung have been leaking source codes early because they know that we the hacking community will get the update instead of waiting for the carriers to drag their feet to release the update.