Not long ago, Samsung was barely a blip in the Android space – back when the smartphone maker gave us devices like the Galaxy and Behold 2, and you could tell that Samsung wasn’t taking Android seriously at the time. However, in early 2010 the Galaxy S was announced, and became an instant hit. Now it’s time for the Galaxy S to take a step down and make way for its successor. The Galaxy S 2 takes everything we loved about the original, brings a slimmer body, comes with a dual-core processor, and is beefed up in almost every way. So, we just had to take the Samsung Galaxy S 2 for a review test drive.
You’re probably wondering if this the new king of Android phones. Read the rest of the review to find out!
Samsung Galaxy S 2
Now available in South Korea and Amazon UK
- 1.2 GHz dual-core processor
- 4.3 inch Super AMOLED Plus display (480 x 800)
- 8 megapixel camera with LED flash
- 2 megapixel front-facing camera for video-chat
- 16/32GB versions
- microSD card slot (up to 32GB)
- 1080p HD video recording
- HDMI support through microUSB
- Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread with TouchWiz UI
- Bluetooth 3.o
- WiFi (a/b/g/n) on 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands
- Super thin
- Feels solid
- TouchWiz gestures are slick
- Dual-core CPU is blazing fast
- Camera takes great shots and handles HD video like a champ
- Incredible display
- MicroSD card not hot-swappable
- The back cover is a very flimsy piece of plastic
- No dedicated HDMI port
- Back speaker needs to be much louder
The Galaxy S 2 is a significant upgrade from its predecessor in almost every way. From its dual-core processor, to its larger, superior display, the GS2 is a stunning device that will go down in Android history.
The processor will vary by region, but both chips are still top-notch. Powered by either the Exynos 1.2GHz CPU, or the NVIDIA Tegra 2, also clocked at the same speed, the Galaxy S 2 will deliver an unrivaled experience whichever handset you get. The only virtual difference between the two is the GPU, and from tests, we’ve noticed that the Exynos CPU lacks certain elements you’d find within Tegra (the shading layer isn’t shown with the Exynos CPU in quadrant). You likely wouldn’t even notice the difference, as they both set benchmark apps on fire.
Featuring Samsung’s new Super AMOLED Plus display, which is also found on the Droid Charge for Verizon, the GS2’s display is crisp and clear. The saturation of colors is beautiful, and performs well in direct sunlight. I found myself forgetting what I was trying to do on the phone because I was lost in the beauty of the screen. While we prefer a 4 inch display for the most part, the thinness of the handset makes the 4.3 inch display feel easier to handle. Speaking of thinness, the Galaxy S 2 is only 8.49mm, but still retains the signature Galaxy S bump on the bottom.
The front of the device is kept rather clean, leaving only the essentials. Aside from the massive display, you’ll find the earpiece at the top, as you’d expect, as well as the 2 megapixel front facing camera, proximity and ambient light sensors at the top, and the Samsung logo right below. Like the original Galaxy S, this unit has no search key at the bottom, which allows for the centered, physical home button, with the capacitive menu and back buttons surrounding it. The clean look is nice, but I do miss the dedicated search button. That said, the buttons may change once the handset lands on US shores, just like the original.
On the left side of the device, you’ll find the volume rocker, which is essentially just one small piece of plastic. It has a nice amount of feedback when pressed and doesn’t protrude out of the handset too much. The bottom is simple, only housing the charging port and the phone mic. We were a little sad to see no dedicated camera button on the right side, as the phone takes some great shots. Instead, you’ll only find the power/lock button on this side, leaving the top clean, where you’ll find the 3.5mm headphone jack and another microphone hole.
We were glad to see the Galaxy S 2 doesn’t ship with a shiny back plate, which caused the original to be a fingerprint magnet and feel cheap in the hand. Samsung chose to use a textured backing, which is still very much a flimsy piece of plastic, but the device still feels like a premium product. The back of the handset houses only the 8 megapixel shooter with a single LED flash, Samsung’s logo, and a small speaker on the bottom right of the hump.
Finally, it’s nice to see a handset that supports WiFi N and can actually take advantage of the 5GHz band. The G2X, iPhone 4, and others that support WiFi N can only use the 2.4GHz band, but Samsung somehow squeezed in the extra radio, and didn’t sacrifice size in doing so. The only other handset I’ve seen that can connect to this band is the myTouch 4G, but we’re sure there’s a few more.
Build Quality/Fit and Finish
While Samsung still went heavy on the plastics when making the Galaxy S 2, it feels nothing like the original, which felt cheap. The heavy use of plastics help the handset stay light, and Samsung gave us the best of both worlds. The handset has a nice weight to it while staying light, and feels solid in the hand. While I still think the Xperia Arc takes the cake as the sexiest Android handset available today, the Galaxy S 2 is a very close second.
The design of the handset keeps is very minimal, which lends to a very sexy look. There’s a dark metal trim around the front of the device, which looks a bit like hematite, and provides a nice contrast without being in your face. This trim is also found around the oblong home button, which is nice, but we would have opted for an LED light behind it for notifications. The textured, plastic back of the handset almost looks like metal upon first glance, and we’re sure this visual trickery was intentional.
Overall, this is easily Samsung’s best designed handset to date, and whipping this bad boy out of your pocket will immediately turn heads.
The Galaxy S 2 features the TouchWiz UI found on all other Galaxy S devices, but comes with a handful of new features that make the experience even better. Samsung introduces new gestures within the software that are helpful, and just plain fun to use.
TouchWiz keeps all the features we love, and adds some new elements that we have yet to see on a shipping Android handset yet. You’ll still be able to pinch the homescreen to reveal all screens, and rearrange them as you normally would with TouchWiz, but Samsung has provided a new way to move icons and widgets around from screen to screen.
Just like you would normally move an application or widgets on the homescreen, you hold down on the object. But instead of having to drag the object from one screen to another, TouchWiz lets the accelerometer do that for you, and all you need to do is tilt the handset in either direct to get to another homescreen. It’s a bit on the sensitive side, but it’s a great feature that we really like.
TouchWiz also offers up many Samsung-made applications like Social, Readers, Game, and Music Hubs, as well as a a nice photo editor and video maker. There are many more custom apps from Samsung pre-installed on the handset, and since they are actually nice and bring some functionality, it’s hard to call these applications bloatware, even if they are. Along with the custom apps, Samsung provides a hefty amount of widgets for you to customize your homescreens with as well.
Vlingo is pre-installed on the Galaxy S 2, and you can access the voice commands menu by pressing the home button twice, no matter what application you’re in. Android has voice actions built-in, but the addition of Vlingo is nice. From the menu, you can activate voice actions by saying, “Hey Galaxy,” and you’ll be asked by a very nice lady what you’d like to do. From there, you can make a call, send a text, get driving directions, or write a memo right with your voice.
We were delighted to see that the Galaxy S 2 ships with Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread, and while it’s not the latest version of the Gingerbread branch, it’s still a novelty to see a handset ship with this version of the OS right now. Even with TouchWiz covering up most of it, pieces of Gingerbread shine through, making the Android experience much more smooth.
The handset also allows you to take screenshots without rooting the phone or a dedicated application. All you have to do is hold down the home button and press power. The screenshot will be taken, and saved into the ScreenCapture folder in the internal memory.
We ran Quadrant, Linpack, and Neocore three times each and averaged out the scores, and here are the results.
Quadrant (System Benchmark) 3278
Linpack (Processor Benchmark) 46.54633 MFLOPS (mega floating point operations per second)
Neocore (Graphics Benchmark) 59.7 FPS (Frames per Second)
Don’t let the graphics benchmark fool you, as the handset itself is locked at 60 frames per second. This is still plenty fast, and we may see that lock get broken after it’s been in the hands of developers for a while.
Web Browser, Multimedia, and Camera
Usually when we review the web browser of Android phones, it’s almost always the same as every other handset out there, with just a couple of tweaks done to the UI. Well, we’re happy to say that the Galaxy S 2 brings a feature that we’ve never seen before. Similar to moving an application or widget on the homescreens, the web browser on the Galaxy S 2 allows you to zoom in or out using a gesture. All you need to do put two fingers on the screen and tilt the handset to make the page zoom in or out. It’s very sensitive, so you need to tilt the handset slowly. Still, we were amazed to see just how smooth it zooms when using this method.
Like all Galaxy S phones, the GS2 has a dedicated browser brightness option, and while we like options, it’s something most people will either forget, or never notice until you hit menu. Samsung also introduced a feature similar to what you’d find in HTC Sense phones, allowing you to access all open webpages by pinching the screen.
There was one issue that stuck out like a sore thumb, though. Flash didn’t work on the handset at all. We tried rebooting the phone and uninstalling the updates to the player, and still received no playback. The handset comes with Flash pre-installed, but we couldn’t get it to work for the life of us.
The Galaxy S 2 is one hell of a multimedia machine, as it offers quite a few options to play, access, and purchase media to your device. Since it supports DLNA with AllShare, you can stream your media to a DLNA compatible devices, and vice versa.
The music player for the Galaxy S 2 is rather standard, with a couple of Samsung tweaks thrown in. Don’t get us wrong, the bundled music player is candy for your eyes, but it could have more functionality. Since this is a DLNA supported device, we were hoping to see something like what HTC has done to its music player, and added a dedicated option for connected media. Then again, you can now download the new Android music player from the Market, so you may not even use Samsung’s pre-installed application.
The back speaker simply needs to be louder. Listening to music isn’t the enjoyable experience we were expecting, and we’re still wondering why Samsung didn’t throw stereo speakers on this handset. Some music and calls had a slight echo to it, which is was pretty disappointing.
The Galaxy S 2 sports a 8 megapixel camera, megapixel count doesn’t always translate to a good sensor. Luckily, we’ve been pretty impressed with Samsung’s cameras, and despite San Francisco’s bipolar weather, we still managed to get some good shots out of the thing.
The camera software is nice and offers a nice chunk of options for you to play around with. You’ll find your standard color effects, and image quality settings, but you also have options like Outdoor visibility, Anti-Shake, and Blink detection.
After taking a picture, the image will jump off the screen into the bottom right corner. This neat, but ultimately useless animation is very Apple-like, and we’re wondering if Samsung even
knows cares that the iPhone maker has taken notice of the UI similarities found in the Galaxy S phones.
There are only so many Android handsets that can actually record in 1080p HD at the moment, and the Galaxy S 2 records in full HD like a champ. The video comes out very crisp with little to no lag whatsoever, but the extra microphone on the top of the handset picked up a good amount of noise from the wind. Still, we’re glad that the handset can pump out such quality video, as some other phones like the Inspire 4G struggle to record in 720p without showing considerable lag.
Call Quality & Battery Life
Since we’re working with a European phone, we could only use T-Mobile’s 2G network. Calls were decent, but nothing extraordinary, and will likely vary greatly when used on the proper bands.
The Galaxy S 2 sports a 1650 mAh battery inside, and you can certainly tell. You’ll be able to get a day out of the handset easily, and if you’re looking to extend the juice a bit more, you can used the pre-installed task manager if you so choose. Either way, the battery life is impressive, and you won’t be looking for a place to charge the thing 6 hours into your day. Of course, power users out there will probably see a faster battery drain, but you may still be surprised how long it takes to reach for your charger.
Is this the best Android phone around?
Simply put, yes. The Samsung Galaxy S 2 is one stunning piece of hardware that is sure to please anyone who picks it up. We’re usually not a fan of custom user interfaces, but TouchWiz has been greatly improved, and the new gesture features are novel and fun. With a great display and blazing fast processor, this is one of the hottest pieces of hardware that is kept ultra slim and sexy.
The handset isn’t without its flaws, though. The speaker really needs to be louder, and taking off the back of the device makes it seem like it will shatter into little plastic shards. We also wish we would have seen a dedicated HDMI port to the handset, but now we’re just nitpicking. All issues aside, this handset just gained itself the Android crown, and is one of the best experiences we’ve ever had to date.
While I still love my T-Mobile G2X is every way possible, the Galaxy S 2 makes it look like a chunky looking handset. Still the G2X feels like a more solid device in the hand, and would likely survive a tumble. We’re not sure if the Galaxy S 2 would be able to endure a drop on a hard floor, but we’re also not looking to scuff up the sexy handset to find out.
Samsung has seriously stepped up its game with the Galaxy S 2, and is making it known that its not just gunning for Apple. It’s gunning for the world. There’s still plenty of competition coming its way, and soon the handset may have it’s crown snatched away. However, as of right now the Galaxy S 2 is probably the best Android handset to ever exist, period.