The Samsung Galaxy S 2 has the weight of expectation crushing down on its skinny 8.49mm deep frame – and with an iPhone 5 possibly still half a year away, that’s a lot for one handset to bear. So does this Android 2.3, dual-core handset live up to the hype, and the hope? We’ve been testing it out ahead of its 27 April launch – read on and find out in our in depth Samsung Galaxy S 2 review right here.
The first Samsung Galaxy S was a triumph of engineering with a surprisingly accessible bake of Android. That was in part down to the phone’s eery resemblance to the iPhone – so uncanny in fact, the Apple is now suing the South Korean company for allegedly plagiarising its designs and software.
Regardless of where Samsung is getting its inspiration right now, if your contract is currently up for renewal, we can’t think of any reason not to get the sequel. Let’s take a look.
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While the original Galaxy S resembled a giant iPhone 3GS a year late, Samsung has crafted something slightly more original this time around. While the Samsung Galaxy S 2 doesn’t stray from the typical “black slab” design ethos of almost every handset these days, its flat back, plastic casing and long straight lines at least don’t ape the iPhone 4 too much. On the top, you’ll find the the 3.5mm audio jack, while a volumer rocker and screen lock button sit on the left and right hand sides respectively. On the bottom is the micro USB port, which can also be used to output video to a HDMI cable with an MHL adaptor.
Holding it in your hand, it feels like someone’s stretched out a Samsung Omnia 7 with a rolling pin. The textured plastic back doesn’t scream premium, but it is pleasant to the touch, shrugs off fingerprints, and the plastics don’t ever creak as they’re wont to on occasion on the Galaxy S and Nexus S handsets. While it’s not a unibody phone, it still feels more like one than another recent anorexic Android phone, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc.
Speaking of eating disorders, the Galaxy S 2 is shockingly thin. This time around the small hump at the bottom barely adds any depth – it makes the handsome Google Nexus S look bloated and chubby by comparison. Samsung really should be commended for pushing the boundaries in this way – we can confirm that smartphones this thin are not just practical, but preferable.
If we must have a moan, we’re still not convinced about Samsung’s buttons below the screen: we’d be quite happy with a capacitive home button instead of a clacky key, and we’d prefer all three to be illuminated all the time when the screen is unlocked. As it is, they spring to life sporadically, which can be a bit confusing if you forget which one the back key is.
The Galaxy S 2 isn’t beautiful in the same way the HTC Legend and the iPhone 4 are, but it’s perfectly functional, and we mean that in the most flattering way possible.
On paper, Samsung’s screen sounds a tad last gen. While the iPhone and other Android phones are moving to qHD (960×650) resolution screens, Samsung is sticking with 800×480 – and this time, it’s stretched it out over 4.3-inches instead of 4-inches, so it’ll look even grainier. Right?
Nuh uh. When placed next to a Google Nexus S with an older generation, but more pixel dense Super AMOLED screen, we struggled to make out the individual dots in the app icons where we could see them on the smaller phone.
Samsung says this is down to its new Super AMOLED Plus display packing in more sub-pixels – we can’t say for sure, but it looks marvellous, with the same vibrant colours and deep blacks you’re used to on Samsung’s biggest and most bestest smartphones. Outdoor visibility also appears to have been improved: we could still (just) read emails with sunshine pouring onto the screen.
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We did notice one curious trait however: you can’t always set the brightness to maximum. If the phone gets too warm, it caps it to around 70 percent, warning you of “overheating”.
Overall, we welcome the new screen tech – touch response was everything you could hope for, and it’s good to know a Gorilla Glass overlay will keep your keys from nicking it (A sad omission on the Nexus S, as we discovered the wrong way).
For Android newbies, a little primer: the Samsung Galaxy S 2 runs the latest build of Google’s operating system for mobiles, Android 2.3 or “Gingerbread”. You can read all about that in our Google Nexus S review: in short, it’s a stunning and feature packed OS, with everything from Flash support to mobile hotspot connectivity and awesome Google services, including Maps and intelligent voice commands.
But it’s not the quite same experience as that on the Nexus S, because Samsung has added quite a few extra features, and changed how navigation on the phone works. We typically frown upon these Android skins, but Samsung’s is largely successful – though we can see why Apple might think Samsung has been studying up on iOS 4. From the side swiping app menus to the row of icons that appears at the bottom of the screen when you try to add a new widget, there are some striking similarities.
Just as on the original Galaxy S, Samsung has slapped music and power controls on the drop down notification bar for easy access, and added its own keyboard. With large, responsive keys (The extra screen size helps), it’s one of the most accurate around, but it lacks the auto-punctuation smarts of the standard Android 2.3 keyboard – you’re best off grabbing that off the Android Market, or switching to Swype, which comes preloaded.
Samsung’s seven homescreens are pretty enough, and you can pinch on the screen to zoom out for an overview of each of them, but the only widget of interest is Samsung’s email window, which actually lets you see the subject and sender of your latest messages. Google still hasn’t figured this one out for Gmail, oddly, so it’s a welcome touch.
Much more useful however are Samsung’s social network integration and media streaming apps. While we disapprove of the Social Hub app pulling in your email, it does a good job of showing your tweets, Facebook updates, and LinkedIn/MySpace ramblings in one place, and it’s an easy way to chat on Yahoo! and Windows Live Messenger if that’s what you’re down with. The phone also makes a good stab at linking your Facebook friends list with your Google contacts, and lets you manually connect others as well – considering Google actually removed this feature from the Nexus S in the last over the air update, it’s a welcome option to have for virtual social butterflies, if not quite as comprehensive as HTC Sense on the HTC Incredible S, Desire S and upcoming HTC Sensation.
As ever, Samsung’s allShare app lets you easily stream media over DLNA with no particular problems, but an interesting feature we’ve not seen before is Kies air. Fire it up and you’re given an IP address: pop this into the browser on your PC or Mac (Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox are supported, and Chrome works fine too) connected to the same network, and you can then see the entire contents of the Samsung Galaxy S 2, browse through files, messages, call logs and even ringtones, and transfer files over the air. It’s not fast, but it’s easy to use and certainly beats using Samsung’s stupid Kies syncing software, which starts up on the phone whenever you pop a USB cable in.
You’ll also find basic photo and video editor apps on the Galaxy S 2, but our favourite and final add on is tucked away in the settings – Motion. Turn this one and you can mute calls by turning the phone face down, tilt to move through photos and double tap the home button to trigger voice search (It’s Vlingo rather than Google search, but the latter is still readily accessible, and you can set which you use).
There are few little problems with the whole software experience on the Samsung Galaxy S 2 however. While you can mount the phone and its memory as mass storage on your computer with a USB cable, you can’t set it to automatically – you have to follow a several step process every time, which will irk Songbird and doubleTwist users no end.
Then there are Samsung’s much vaunted new hubs, which are pretty much just apps you can find on the Android Market anyway. The Music hub is just a front for 7digital’s a la carte tune download service, while the Reader hub simply provides a shortcut to the free Kobo eBooks app and Zinio, a magazine app that amounts to little more than a rubbish PDF reader. The Games hub meanwhile packs in some crude, sub-Farmville titles that definitely aren’t worthy of a place in our best Android apps 100 list, and the virtual shelves of the Samsung Apps store are as sparse as ever – we honestly think Samsung should give up on this already. We can’t see many people using any of these much, but that’s alright when everything else runs just fine.
Early adopters might want to think twice about the Samsung Galaxy S 2 – there’s no way this will be getting the next Android update, Ice Cream, before the Google Nexus S. But for everyone else, the other friendly, even human touches will more than make up for staying a step back from the bleeding edge – and it’s worth noting that Samsung has shown real commitment to Android updates with the original Galaxy S, which is on Android 2.3 before the sequel is even out.
If you’re after a mobile for watching video on the go, there’s no question you need the Samsung Galaxy S 2. On top of the lush screen, Samsung’s video player opened every file we threw at it in every resolution, including 720p MKV containers (though subtitles didn’t work) and 1080p MP4 files, and played them back without a hint of stutter.
We weren’t able to test out the HDMI-out skills of the Galaxy S 2, but will update our review as and when this changes.
The Samsung Galaxy S 2′s eight megapixel camera turned out to be quite the snapper, grabbing photos with very satisfying detail and sharpness where HTC’s standard five megapixel sensor turned in washy, mediocre results.
Things go to pot a bit in lowlight – there’s lots and lots of noise as you might expect, but at least there’s a flash on it this time. The Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc with its Exmor R sensor is still the Android cameraphone to beat, but the Samsung Galaxy S’s camera app is at least easy to use, with a lorra lorra options, so you can tweak ISO, white balance, metering, exposure, focus mode and more. And then of course, there’s its video recording prowess.
As you can see in this clip, the Samsung Galaxy S 2 has no problems snaffling up 1080p video without a stutter, and when objects are in focus things look mighty fine indeed. As you can see towards the end of the clip however, the auto focus is rather erratic. A small price to pay we think, and something we suspect most potential buyers will never even notice.
Performance and battery life
Call quality was more than pleasing for a phone so slim: we were able to comfortably conduct speakerphone chats without our voice being scrunched up at the other end. What you’re likely more keen to know about is the speed of this phone: it’s packing a dual-core processor clocked at a sizzling 1.2GHz.
Now we don’t normally like to do benchmarks at Electricpig – rarely do they equate to real world experience. But if you must know, the dual core Galaxy S 2 trounces the competition with a Quadrant score of 3,166, and this translates into real world experience. Unlike the LG Optimus 2X and its laggy launcher, the Galaxy S 2 is never anything less than blazingly, disgustingly fast. Dungeon Defenders, which uses the Unreal mobile engine, looks gorgeous and plays smoothly, HD video runs without a fault. This is the fastest Android phone we’ve tried to date.
And yet, it doesn’t accelerate through the battery life because of the twin hummers inside. The high capacity 1650mAh battery drops at the same rate as the Nexus S’ does in day to day use, we found. With syncing, Wi-Fi and GPS on we had no problems clearing morning until night – it won’t leave you high and dry like the power slurping HTC Desire HD will.
Samsung has triumphed again with the Samsung Galaxy S 2, almost in spite of itself. Its software hubs are deathly dull compared to the movie service on the upcoming HTC Sensation, but they still don’t hamper an otherwise class act.
From the internals to the lavish display to the friendly touches that make Android 2.3 helpful, we’re confident this will convert all but the most die hard of iPhone fans. An iPhone should be this big, it should be this thin and it should bally well play all the video the Galaxy S 2 can.
Samsung can stand tall and proud, and begin moving away from iOS imitation: the Samsung Galaxy S 2 is a surefire contender for phone of the year, and gadget of the year too.