T-Mobile Galaxy S II – Does the spec bump make this variant worth while?

GalaxySIItmobile

We’ve already taken a look at the international and Sprint versions of the Samsung Galaxy S II, and now T-Mobile’s variant is up to bat. This version ships with a slight spec bump, featuring a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor, the 4.5 screen bump also found on the Epic 4G Touch, and T-Mobile’s HSPA+ that’s capable of theoretical speeds of 42Mpbs. Does T-Mobile’s handset outshine the rest? You’ll find out in this review, so read on!

The Good
  • While you likely won't notice a difference, the 1.5GHz dual-core processor is a nice draw to this particular handset.
  • We've always loved the Galaxy S II's camera and this model is just as nice.
  • Even with the super Retina, qHD, and other high resolution displays available today, the Super AMOLED Plus display on the Galaxy S II will likely remain one of our favorites for a long time.
The Bad
  • Unlike the Sprint version, T-Mobile's Galaxy S II doesn't allow you to remove pre-installed applications or bookmarks provided by the carrier.
  • Some minor, but somewhat annoying bugs can be found throughout the phone's software that we haven't experienced on any other variant of the GSII.
  • The battery should get you through the day but won't give you the type of life other handsets will.

Hardware

The T-Mobile Galaxy S II is one powerhouse of a phone that should easily impress even the most picky customers. From its snappy processor to it's large Super AMOLED Plus display, this handset packs a punch that's built to satisfy.

As with most smartphones today, the face of the T-Mobile Galaxy S II is dominated by its 4.5 inch display. While we're seeing many handsets ship with higher resolution displays, the Super AMOLED tech makes you almost forget that the handset is only rocking a 480x800 resolution. This display isn't limited to this handset in particular but the screen is one of the best features of this phone.

Above the display you'll find the 2 megapixel front-facing camera, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, earpiece, and T-Mobile's logo sitting right below them all. Below the display is where you'll find the four standard Android buttons for menu, home, back, and search, with Samsung's logo right above them. Having both logos on the face of the device makes for a cleaner backside, which some may like but more on that later.

The handset's frame is constructed of a metallic looking plastic that we've seen on a few handsets before. The best way to describe the color is that is looks like a hematite stone. All sides of the device have the bare necessities, which makes for a cleaner look.

The bottom of the GSII houses the microphone hole for voice calls and the micro USB port for charging and syncing, with the volume rocker on the left side, and the power/lock button on the right side. On top, you'll find the 3.5 mm headphone jack, as well as another microphone hole for noise cancellation.

The rear side of the Galaxy S II is what you'd expect to see on the handset, as it's not dramatically different from any other version. The back piece is textured like the international version but is much more soft.

Here you'll find the 8 megapixel camera with its LED flash right below the sensor.  Just above the center of the battery cover is the Galaxy S II branding, which looks rather nice on the otherwise clean canvas. On the bottom of the back piece is the signature hump that screams Galaxy. Within the hump you'll find the speaker that's plenty loud.

As far as internal hardware goes, T-Mobile's Galaxy S II puts all others the shame when it comes to plain numbers. This version of the Galaxy S II sports the 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm APQ8060 dual-core processor. This sounds fine on paper but I saw no noticeable improvement at all compared to the 1.2GHz variants in real-world tests.

Design

Design-wise, T-Mobile's Galaxy S II is only slightly tweaked from that of the original. It feels slightly thicker than the Epic 4G Touch but it could be a result of the rounded frame that sticks out a bit more.

The metallic looking frame and the battery cover are virtually the only noticeable physical differences. The handset still screams Galaxy S II and you'd have a hard time finding something you don't like about the phone's design. The T-Mobile Galaxy S II also sports more rounded edges compared to the other variants.

The signature Galaxy S hump is found on the back of the handset, which may be subtle, but it definitely helps when holding the handset with just a few fingers.

Build Quality

As with most Samsung Android phones, the Galaxy S II is unsurprisingly made of plastic. This makes the handset lighter but it also lends to a cheaper in-hand feel.

The battery cover itself is textured like the other variants of the handsets but is much softer. The backing does feel nice in the hand but it seems to have less grip, which may be a turn off to some. Still, it's actually not that big of a deal but we do prefer the more textured feel found on the international Galaxy S II.

As with the other variants of the device, the large display may make some a bit stand-offish but since the Galaxy S II is so thin and light, it makes the large screen easier to wield. After using the Epic 4G Touch for the past month and now T-Mobile's Galaxy S II, going back to my G2X seems just tiny at this point.

Overall, the build quality of the handset is good enough but some may desire a more solid in-hand feel and you won't find on the Galaxy S II line. Still, the heavy use of plastics does have its benefits over a more solidly-built phone in some ways.

Software

The T-Mobile Galaxy S II sports Samsung's custom UI that's found on every other variant but I've experienced some quirks that I haven't seen on any other Galaxy S II before.

If you're not familiar with TouchWiz, it's a fairly easy to use, not over-bloated custom user interface that resembles iOS is a handful of ways. Still, TouchWiz may not be the prettiest custom UI (HTC still takes the cake as far as beauty) but it's more than usable, especially with the upgrades Samsung has provided with the new Galaxy S II models. There's nothing too special about TouchWiz but there's still a lot to like.

We still love the novel way to zoom into pictures and web pages by placing two fingers on the display and tilting the phone but it's hardly a feature to grab the phone for.

One thing that you won't be able to do on this version of the Galaxy S II is remove T-Mobile's bloatware apps. They are there to stay and there's no way around them unless you root your phone, which is already possible. With the exception of the pre-installed T-Mobile applications (more than 12), TouchWiz is essentially the same experience you'd find on the other variants of the Galaxy S II. For a deeper look into the software, feel free to jump into this review here.

Like the others, Vlingo is pre-installed for voice control. Simply tap on the home key twice and Vlingo will launch and from there you can make phone calls, send texts, get driving direction and more just by using your voice.

Shipping with Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread, The Galaxy S II brings features like video chat out of the box with Google Talk, better download management, and more. While we have no idea when the handset will receive the Ice Cream Sandwich update, we at least know that it will get Android 4.0 at some point.

I experienced a handful of bugs I've never seen on another Galaxy S II before with this version. After pressing the search key, entering your search term and hitting search, the screen would turn black and send my back to the homescreen, making me have to enter the search term all over again. This, along with the other bugs below happened many times, even after a factory reset.

Most of these problems were not serious but they would range from an email not clearing in the notification bar after you check it to having to restart the phone after installing an application. The latter I haven't seen on any Android phone before. I attempted to download Google +, and after a successful installation, trying to open it gave me a message saying that the application wasn't found on the phone. To alleviate this, I restarted the handset and had to re-install the application.

Still, despite these quirks I experienced with the handset, which may indeed be limited to the review unit we have kicking around, the overall experience was pretty solid. Seriously.

 

Benchmarks

The T-Mobile Galaxy S II fared pretty well in our benchmark tests but one should keep in mind that they aren't everything. We ran Quadrant, Linpack, and Neocore three times each and averaged out the scores.

Quadrant- 2999

LinPack (Multi-thread) - 80.381

Neocore- 56.46

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Web Browser

The web browser on the Galaxy S II is a nice experience that adds feature that many may like but may not be completely needed for some. One such feature is the dedicated brightness feature for the browser. We're still not sure why Samsung believes that it's important enough to give the browser its own brightness setting but we can imagine that some will appreciate the option.

The browser also takes some cues from the iOS web browser, and not in the good way. While both the Android browser and iOS browser are both built with WebKit, TouchWiz's browser share some of the quirks that the iOS browser has. Things like a checkerboard showing up when the page isn't fully loaded and you're scrolling too fast and the lack of text-wrapping when zoomed in makes the experience a bit annoying at times if you're used to the regular Android browser. That said, scrolling is buttery smooth and it's still a great experience.

Another annoyance that is likely more T-Mobile's doing than Samsung is that you can't delete the bookmarks that come pre-installed in the browser. This certainly isn't the case for Sprint's Epic 4G Touch and we wish T-Mobile would stop trying to shove its crap down users' throats. Then again, this isn't anything new to Android users.

Multimedia

The Galaxy S II has quite a few nice multimedia features. You can easily share music, movies, and pictures from your device to a compatible HDTV or watch streaming movies from an existing media server on your home network. Samsung's own Media Hub is also available for renting or watching movies.

The provided music player isn't bad in the least bit but it is a bit bare bones. I immediately downloaded the Google Music player from the market to take advantage of Music Beta and we suggest you do the same, even if you don't have an invite for the service.

Camera

Just like the international version and Sprint's Epic 4G Touch, the T-Mobile Galaxy S II can take some awesome shots. The new camera application is probably one of our favorites out of all Android camera apps, as Samsung allows you to customize options with quick shortcuts. It will likely be the most advanced camera software we've ever come across until Ice Cream Sandwich officially lands.

The handset can record in 1080p HD and does it rather well, too. The only issue we've seen is that the video can almost appear 'wobbly' but without distorting the entire video. This is mostly seen when there is fast movement when recording but other than that, the Galaxy S II performs like a champ in both photos and HD video recording.

 

Call Quality And Battery Life

Call quality for the Galaxy S II was perfectly fine in my experience. No dropped calls and the other end sounded clear as can be. That said, I use the phone very little but it was a solid experience through and through when I did.

I only wish I could say that the battery life was as solid as the call quality for T-Mobile's Galaxy S II. With the Epic 4G Touch, I was easily getting an average of about 14-15 (longest life on a charge was about 17.5 hours.) hours out of one charge, which is really ridiculous for an Android phone these days. T-Mobile's version never saw any sort of life span like that, with the average around 7 to 9 hours in one charge, though I did manage to kill the thing in almost five hours one day.

Of course, you'll likely experience battery life depending on how you use your phone. I rarely turn off settings and surf the web a lot, which is likely the main reason behind the excessive battery drain. That said, my habits haven't changed since I reviewed the Epic 4G Touch and battery life was the least of my worries with that handset. Whether or not this is a tradeoff with the faster CPU is beyond me but hopefully others have better luck than I did.

The Final Take

As the title asks, is the modest spec bump make the T-Mobile Galaxy S II the phone to get? In my personal opinion it would be a big no. But that's just in comparison to the other Galaxy S II variants available, namely the Epic 4G Touch. Don't get me wrong, though, having NFC on a phone is more important than a .3MHz CPU bump (to me) and that alone may be enough for some to choose the T-Mobile GSII over Sprint's version.

This is the 3rd Galaxy S II I have reviewed and since they are essentially all the same phone one would imagine the experience would remain virtually in tact. This is true for the most part but of the three GSII I've used as a primary phone, this particular version is my least favorite. From it's slightly tweaked design that feels cheaper in the hand to little things like non-removable T-Mobile apps and bookmarks you'll never use, Magenta should have toned down it's touch a bit. My complaints stem from seeing the differences between the three I have used and this particular model differs the most. In good and bad ways.

That said, as a whole, just like every other version we have touched, the Galaxy S II is awesome. Despite my annoyances I've had with this particular handset, the Galaxy S II is currently my favorite phone on the market and I'd be rocking one right now if a certain other handset from Samsung wasn't right around the corner. The T-Mobile Galaxy S II needs some more optimizations for battery life and hopefully we'll see some sort of bug-squashing update in the near future.

If someone was to ask me to suggest a new phone on T-Mobile today, I would point them to this phone, with the Amaze 4G in a close second.  Now, whether or not you should pay what T-Mobile is selling the Galaxy S II for is a whole other question but if you're due for an upgrade, the Galaxy S II may be exactly what you're looking for.

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  • Khaddem

    i agree with you about the bloatwares added by tmobile. I never understood the need to have them on the phone. This phone is good but as a longtime tmobile customer, i prefer the sprint version because you can remove the majority of the bloatwares, it has a notification light (like blackberry and htc phones) and you can switch between touchwiz and android skins. I plan on waiting for icecream to be added on the tmobile SGS2 and all the bugs fixed before spending my hard earned money on this phone. Or maybe wait for SGS3 all together

  • Anonymous

    I have SGSII, & love it… It wont bring me down.. *wink* 

    • Anonymous

      I have no idea what that means but glad you like it. :)

  • Tman10449

    you missed the best feature to write about on the phone!  The hspa +42 speed tests! By far much faster than the others

  • Sammy

    Can you take tmobile galaxy S II and use it for sprint?

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