Friday, September 2, 2011

Samsung Galaxy S II 4G Review

Exactly one year ago, Samsung unleashed on the world a phone that would reshape not only the Android landscape but the smartphone market as a whole. The Samsung Galaxy S was a screaming success carrying Samsung to a great end to 2010 and into a whole lot of momentum for 2011. A few incremental upgrades were given to the Galaxy S and were pushed out as different variants like the; Fascinate 4G, Infuse 4G (which we will review shortly) and the DROID Charge. But all of these phone were simply "intermediary" phones to a true successor; the Samsung Galaxy S II. We will see if it will live up to the burden of being the sequel to one of the top selling Android phones of all time.

Overall Construction
The first thing you will notice on the Samsung Galaxy S II is the incredible thinness of the device. Its predecessor the original Galaxy S was already a thin device to begin with but Samsung saw fit to put it on a diet (while bumping up the proverbial muscles to a dual-core CPU). Like the Xperia Arc we reviewed the thinness doesn't really hit you until you actually have the device in hand.

At 8.49mm thin the Samsung Galaxy S II is the thinnest phone we have reviewed at Android Bugle. Again, like with the Arc, the ridiculous thinness begs the question, where does it all go? This Houdini-esque trickery does have some downsides though. Some people will find it rather odd to hold during regular use or during calls because of the form factor. But we had no problems in everyday use and the "reversed" chin, or "butt" as some friends have called it, really helps with the ergonomics especially when used for gaming or browsing.

On the subject of ergonomics, the Galaxy S II clocks in at an incredibly slender 116g, which makes it the lightest phone we've ever reviewed. We would have liked to see some metal in the construction of the Galaxy S II (like the Galaxy S Captivate). It would go a long way in giving the phone a more premium feel, better ergonomics and more reassurance in the overall long term durability of the phone. On the flipside, while the phone itself is entirely made of plastic it certainly is well put together and clearly we understand that Samsung has made the weight of the Galaxy S II a top priority and they surely succeeded.

Unlike the original Galaxy S and many of its variants the Galaxy S II sheds it's black glossy plastic back for a textured snap on cover that allows for a better grip on the phone and is surprisingly flexible. Although we feel it's poor man's substitute for a reliable rubberized coating. Nevertheless it is a good improvement on the fingerprint prone glossy back of its predecessor(s).

Again like the Galaxy S and many of the variants, the Galaxy S II lacks a notification light. We would like to see this on all Android devices but sadly given their track record, I believe Samsung will not include them on future phones. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Samsung Galaxy S II 4G

On a 4.3-inch monster phone, the first thing that catches the eye is the size of the screen. Now Samsung of course is the manufacturer of, what we believe are, the best screens on the mobile market. So it was only expected that they take their best of class Super AMOLED display, improve it and put it on the Galaxy S II and that's precisely what they've done.

The Super AMOLED display was already regarded as one of the best displays ever put on a cell phone. But the major complaint, that many mobile tech reviewer noted (including yours truly), is that it sported a PenTile matrix pixel arrangement. While this was far from a deal breaker for the vast majority of people it felt like Samsung (and other manufacturers) cut corners and deprived us of quite a few pixels that we expected from a screen that beautiful.

So naturally Samsung rectified the "issue" and switched their displays to the a real RGB stripe arrangement and named it Super AMOLED Plus. This change effectively increases the subpixel count of Super AMOLED Plus by 50% over Super AMOLED. To be quite frank, as ridiculous as the name sounds it really is justified as the screen on the Galaxy S II is simply the best display I've ever had the privilege of setting my eyes on.

Colors, black levels, contrast and brightness were all PHENOMENAL. Viewing angles were also spectacular although at extreme angles the familiar cyan hue that plagued past AMOLED displays would show but is much improved over older OLED screens and is NOTHING close to being a deal breaker.

As usual, single-touch and multi-touch gestures were all very accurate and as good, if not better, as most high End Android devices.

One thing we have to mention is that the Galaxy S II is equipped with a WVGA 800x480pixel which is significantly less than competing Android phones that sport qHD 960x540pixel resolution. That being said WVGA is still a respectable resolution and I believe it still delivers a good viewing experience. qHD would have simply been the cherry on top of an already delectable dessert.

Not much to report here, which is a good thing, as the capacitive "Back" and "Menu" keys are very responsive and the actual hardware Home button has good tactile feel to it. We have to admit that it is kind of odd to have a mix of hardware and capacitive buttons (like on the Original Galaxy S) but nothing to be alarmed about. The volume rocker is solid with a good feel and size. Unfortunately, like with all Galaxy S devices the power button is again on the right side. Now, I'm sure there is some design reason behind this but I just don't see it. The micro-USB port was moved to the bottom but the power button remains.

Battery Life
The original Samsung Galaxy S had a 1500mAh, just about par for smartphones today while the battery on the Galaxy S II was bumped up to 1650mAH. We already know that AMOLED screens already offer the best battery efficiency but the question remained whether 150mAh would be enough to power the Dual Core CPU. We can safely say that 1650mAh was easily sufficient to power through a whole day's worth of moderate use.

The combination of the Super AMOLED Plus' battery friendly technology and Samsung's excellent power management profile applied to the CPU governor is probably the reason why a 1650mAh battery (the same capacity found in the Galaxy S Fascinate 4G) is able to stand up to an entire day's use of cutting edge hardware.

Internal Hardware
What certainly makes a smartphone the "IT" phone of a given period has got to be the internal hardware. The Galaxy S II had people gushing over its alluring specs and for good reasons, this is the fastest hardware we've ever used on a smartphone. Android practically flies on the Galaxy S II.

- 1.2 GHz Dual-Core Samsung Exynos Processor
- 1GB of RAM
- 16GB of Internal storage expandable with microSD card slot upgradable to up to 32GB
- Mali-400 Graphic processor
- 21.1Mbps HSPA+ capable chipset
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- 8MP auto-focus camera with LED flash and 1080p HD video capabilities

Take whatever task you can think of that is possible to do on Android and the Galaxy S II can not only do it but do it faster than ANY other Android smartphone. Sometimes it's just as simple as that.

From the overall responsiveness of the user interface, to the buttery smooth scrolling and zooming in the browser, to the solid frame rates on EVERY game we threw at it there wasn't a task that the Exynos processor couldn't handle.

We're also happy to report that the Galaxy S II is devoid of the GPS issues that plagues the Galaxy S and its variants.

HSPA+ “4G” Capabilities
One of the main criteria of Bell's "Superphones" is that it need to be HSPA+ capable. The Samsung Galaxy S II certainly fits that requirement as it is capable of 21.1mbps speeds. The Galaxy S II did not disappoint in the speed departments as we were able to pull down 7mbps several times. Although sometimes speeds would dip to as low as 4mbps. Nevertheless in a well covered area it's safe to assume that speed will be great.

What we were most happy about was to see some good upload rates. Test would often result in 1mbps+ upload speeds and would often reach 3mbps which is outstanding. By real world standards 1mbps+ is often higher than land line based broadband connections.

As always in every review, this is only a small sample of the HSPA+ coverage speeds in Montreal so your mileage will vary, this is only to give you a rough estimate of the speed capabilities of the phone.

Speaker and microphone
The ear piece during phone calls was good and sufficiently loud at max settings. Microphone quality was on par. The external speaker was pleasantly loud, not dedicated speaker quality, but nevertheless louder than most smartphones.

The Galaxy S and all of its variants were known for taking fantastic shots but many of the versions were lacking a critical deal breaking feature; a flash for night shots. So like the display, Samsung learns from the mistake, adds an LED flash and even bumps up the pixels to a whopping 8MP camera and slaps it on the Galaxy S II.

The result? One of the best cameras on a cell phone on the market. The quality of still are absolutely superb. I'd even go as far to say as it is better than a good portion of point & shoot cameras available on the market.

As for video quality? Same story, video capture on the original Galaxy S and variants was already pretty good but on the Galaxy S II its simply out of this world good. At a mind blowing 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second, video quality was also the best we've ever seen.

The entire package is simply outstanding from the custom Samsung camera/video software to the actual sensor this is the best overall camera experience on an Android smartphone and perhaps any smartphone in the world.

Simply put, on your next vacation, forget the digital camera and HD camcorder because the Galaxy S II has you covered.

The Galaxy S II is equipped with a front facing camera and usually there isn't anything noteworthy to say about it. But since this is the Galaxy S II and everything so far is already over the top, it's no surprise that the Front Facing Camera is also top notch. Video Quality and Picture quality is really in its own league and approaching the quality of rear facing cameras found on Android phones just two years ago. The shots you will get from this front facing shooter will produce excellent profile pictures.

Sample Pictures


Samsung TouchWiz 4.0
Android 2.3? Check. Latest TouchWiz 4.0? Check. Does it mean a good experience? We think so. First off, it's good to finally see that a top of the line phone come out with the latest version of Android. So we'll hand it to Samsung for being on the ball and shipping the Galaxy S II with Android 2.3 Gingerbread.

Secondly, TouchWiz has been an interesting story. Somewhat like Sense UI from HTC, TouchWiz began on a platform other than Android but has made its greatest evolutionary steps on top of Google's OS. TouchWiz 3.0 wasn't exactly the most warmly welcomed overlay, especially amongst Android enthusiasts that might notice a resemblance to the UI of a competing Operating System.

Since a good majority of TouchWiz improvements have simply been carried over from TouchWiz 3.0 you can check out our Galaxy S Fascinate 4G review for a more in depth look at the changes that Samsung has implemented in the past year and a half including the various Hubs and interface tweaks.

We will try to focus on the additions to TouchWiz 4.0 that make it much more palatable and almost acceptable to even the most ardent Android enthusiasts.

First off, Samsung seems to have introduced a theme of accelerometer and gyroscope based gestures. In the browser and in pictures, if a user holds down to fingers on the screen and tilts the phone forwards or backwards it results in zooming in and out. We aren't sure if this is a good replacement for the ubiquitous pinch gesture but it certainly is an interesting concept.

Another interesting gesture based addition is the tilting motion that allows for users to move widgets from homescreen to homescreen. This allows widgets, folders and shortcuts to be placed without having to slide the to the sides and waiting for it to switch homescreens. This feature we can definitely see people using regularly when wanting to spruce thins up on their homescreen.

Overall these gesture based improvements, the changes to the looks (like widgets) to the UI and the enhanced features all have really made a drastic difference in the overall experience of TouchWiz 4.0 and Android 2.3 for one of the best mobile experiences available.

That being said the most ardent Android enthousiasts will always looks to get stock UI, and we totally understand. But for people who are have no preferences, TouchWiz 4.0 definitely is up there with HTC's Sense 3.0 as the most polished of the custom UIs.


Most of our reviews' conclusions will highlight the overall desirability of the device being reviewed. Of course every single one of them has their merit and of course their downfalls. But for the Galaxy S II, I'll keep it simple, it's not just the best smartphone available at Bell/Virgin/Sasktel, it's not just the best smartphone available in Canada, it is the best smartphone you can get in the world.

As other major carriers in Canada get their version of the Galaxy S II, the sentiment will probably stay the same. This phone will simply blow any potential buyers away with the total package of hardware and software. For those looking to stick with Bell and want the overall BEST superphone they have to offer look no further than the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 9.5/10
- Could have been made of more premium material but out of this world thinness and overall form factor are fantastic.

Screen: 10/10
- While we wish it had qHD resolution this screen is simply THE BEST on the market by a mile. Fixed our biggest complaint with Super AMOLED by getting rid of PenTile pixel matrix.

Buttons: 9/10
- Responsive back and menu buttons, nice home/volume buttons but once again odd placement of power button.

Internal Hardware: 10/10
- HSPA+ speeds were excellent, fantastic performance, all from the best hardware available in a smartphone, period.

Speaker and Microphone: 8.5/10
- Earpiece and microphone were good and decent at max sound. Exterior speaker is quite good.

Camera: 10/10
- Top notch stills and PHENOMENAL 1080p HD recording, top of class, competing easily with low/mid range point and shoot digital cameras and smartphone camera kings; Apple iPhone 4, Nokia N8

UI Changes: 8.5/10
- TouchWiz 4.0 brings MUCH more to the table than TW3. Still the ire of Android purists but some very nice additions that we would not be surprised to see in Stock Android. Android 2.3 out of the box.

Addition Enhancements: 8.5/10
- Motion controls are odd but very functional. Nice addition of multitouch keyboard and Swype

Included Apps/Bloatware: 7/10
- Bearable level of bloatware, but of course room for improvement.

Final Score: 9/10

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