Android phones are popping up all the time, so if you’re in the market for a new smartphone, it can be quite hard to figure out which one to buy. Samsung’s latest Android-based phone is the Galaxy S II, which has recently made its way into the United States, while being around in countries like South Korea for most of the year. It’s a powerful, thin and light handset with a pleasant set of features.
The version that I’ll be reviewing today is specifically for AT&T, and has slightly different design changes when compared to its T-Mobile and Sprint versions. It will currently cost you $199 for an upgrade of an existing AT&T line, or with a new 2-year contract. Be sure to check out our video review, which is at the bottom of this post.
The Galaxy S II’s packaging uses AT&T’s standard orange color scheme. Inside, you’ll find the Galaxy S II itself, a few user manuals, a USB cable, and a USB wall charger.
Third-party accessories are aplenty, but you’ll want to make sure that the particular, for example, case is compatible with the AT&T-specific version of the Galaxy S II.
Samsung wasn’t holding back in terms of performance and features:
1.2GHz dual-core Samsung Exnyos C210 CPU
4.3″ Super AMOLED+ display (480×800) w/Gorilla Glass
16GB internal memory (expandable by 32GB via microSD)
1650 mAh battery
Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread
AT&T “4G” HSPA+ support
8MP rear-facing camera (w/1080p video capture)
2MP front-facing camera
The design of this particular smartphone is very nice, with well-rounded corners and a textured back cover. Samsung has been known for making incredibly light devices, and this is no acception. It’s not as light as the Samsung Focus, but is still light to where you’ll want to hold onto it with some extra grip just to be assured that it won’t fall out of your hand or something similar.
Thin devices are all the rage lately, so you may expect this one to be thin. While it is, it’s definitely not the thinnest recent smartphone. The device is actually thick near the bottom of the device where the speaker is housed, and is thinner throughout the rest. A number of smartphones are taking this approach when the design phase occurs.
The button layout is simple. You’ll find the volume rocker on the right side, while to the opposite side is the power button. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated camera button, which is a huge disappointment. The top of the device is where you’ll find the top microphone as well as the 3.5mm headset jack. At the bottom, you’ll be greeted by the USB port and bottom microphone. On the back of the phone is the 8MP rear-facing camera, Galaxy S II logo, and speaker opening.
The back cover is snapped into place by several points of contact, and can easily be put back together. The cover itself features a very nice texture to is, which adds extra grip to the device and makes it look good.
Under the back cover is the 1650 mAh battery, microSD card slot, and the full-sized SIM card slot (my iPhone 4 microSIM works fine in it).
Samsung’s super AMOLED displays have been known for having incredibly vibrant colors, and the super AMOLED+ display in the Galaxy S II really shows that off. For playing games and using Android, the colors are very nice to view, and text is ultimately very clear. Perhaps, sometimes, the display is too vibrant, so when you’re watching videos or viewing photos, colors may seem too vibrant to where they seem a bit beyond life-like. This shouldn’t be an issue to most people, as you’ll quickly get used to it.
The Galaxy S II features Corning’s Gorilla Glass, which provides for incredibly strong glass. My last encounter with such glass was with the Samsung Focus, to where you can take a pair of scissors to attempt to scratch the display, and nothing will appear. It’s quite amazing, and this is one of my most favorite features of the phone. You won’t need to ever worry about using a screen protector (unless you want to go for an anti-glare one, which I recommend).
Being a recent smartphone, this display support multitouch, so using two fingers to zoom in works just as you’d expect and is very responsive.
Most of the phone is made out of plastic, which is what primarily helps with its lightweight design. This candy bar of a phone is made very well, and I never once worried about the build quality with my two weeks of testing. I imagine it’ll hold up for a number of years without showing signs of wear, as long as you don’t purposely abuse your phone. A few moderate drops here and there and you’ll most likely be safe.
Paired with the 1GB of available RAM (technically, only 837MB of RAM is available), the 1.2GHz dual-core CPU provides very speedy performance when opening apps and using them. It’s also great for 3D games, such as Riptide GP or Iron Wars. And, yes, this phone is able to handle Angry Birds with ease. Also, thanks to the 1GB of RAM, you’ll be able to leave many applications sitting in the background without having to worry about any real decrease in performance or stability.
Web browsing is where the performance really starts to decrease. When loading web pages that are optimized for mobile viewing, they load incredibly quick, and scrolling/zooming is silky smooth. When loading desktop-optimized web pages, loading times are greatly impacted, especially with pages with Flash content. I highly recommend disabling Flash. While it’s practical on tablets to where the web browsing experience is more desktop-like, I just don’t see any use for Flash on smartphones. Another negative bit when using Flash is that, since it uses more CPU cycles, it’ll use up your battery more quickly.
Call quality is great, with the recipient of my calls being able to hear my clearly, and me being able to hear them clearly through the front earpiece. Calls using the speaker were very well done.
If you want to listen to music or listen to a movie using the integrated speaker, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s not that bad of an experience, even at high volumes, to where the audio won’t distort at all. The speaker itself is able to get very loud, too.
Note: Clicking on an image will load the full, unedited versions of the images. If it gets stuck while loading, click on a blank area of the web page, and click on the following links for the JPEGs: One | Two | Three | Four | Five
The rear-facing 8MP camera takes very accurate and crisp looking shots, assuming you have plenty of natural light. Indoor shots resulted in out-of-focus images with a noticeable amount of grain. Using the LED flash will help tremendously with this. Unfortunately, most likely due to Android, it takes at least 3 seconds (or more) to take images using the built-in Camera application. Maybe this can be improved in a software update, or maybe it really is the camera itself, but if you’re looking to take quick action shots with this camera, you may be let down.
If you fancy making video calls, then the 2MP front-facing camera will be perfect for that. While overall quality isn’t nearly as good when compared to the rear-facing one, it performs well during Skype and Fring video calls. I didn’t actually take and photos or dedicated videos with the front-facing camera, unfortunately, but I don’t anticipate on many doing that either.
Many smartphones incorporate high-end 1080p cameras, including this Galaxy S II. The exposure and auto-focus take a little while to appropriately adjust themselves with varying levels of available light, but once they do, videos look accurately portrayed and are quite crisp. You’ll find my raw/unedited 1080p video sample (YouTube) embedded right below. The audio quality is satisfactory, but could’ve been improved. Real-time video stabilization would also have been nice, but maybe in the Galaxy S III.
I only really wish, as mentioned earlier, that this phone featured a dedicated two-stage camera button. Sometimes, it’s a real hassle to have to find the shutter button on your screen and tap it.
Surprisingly, the battery life is very good. With light-to-moderate use, I was able to get roughly 58.5 hours of use/standby from the time I unplugged it from the charger and when it died. It was actively receiving new emails and text/picture messages. I was also playing games, tweeting, checking/updating Facebook, using Foursquare w/location services enabled, watching streaming video from YouTube and via SlingPlayer, and more. Also, auto-brightness was on the entire time.
I expect that the average user will be easily able to get through a day and a half of use with this phone.
You won’t be getting a subsidized Android experience with the Galaxy S II, as Market, Gmail, and Sync are all present.
Being an AT&T phone, you’ll be seeing several AT&T-specific applications on your home screen and in your applications list, including myAT&T, Live TV, Code Scanner, FamilyMap, and a few more.
Samsung bundles in their own applications, too, including a video editor, photo editor, Kier Air (for wireless syncing), a diary, and more. If you want to buy or rent TV shows and/or movies on-the-go, Media Hub allows you to do so, with a number of recent titles that are cheap to rent, but not so much to own.
Please refer to the below screenshot gallery for a look at the interface, included applications, and more.
Samsung has really done an extraordinary job with the Galaxy S II. It looks good, performs great, has incredible battery life, and is all-around a solid smartphone. If you’re currently in the market, I see no reason why you shouldn’t get the Galaxy S II. Keep in mind that, next year, we’ll be seeing quad-core smartphones with much higher resolutions. If you can wait a quarter or two, then that would will be worth it, but if you need one now, then the Galaxy S II wouldn’t be a bad mistake.