Samsung Galaxy S II 5 Stars

« Back to reviews Samsung Galaxy S II

 

Mobile phones don’t improve with age, and last year’s wunderkind can be this year’s has-been. So while the Samsung Galaxy S may not quite be in the bargain bin just yet, we were nevertheless still happy to hear its successor announced at the Mobile World Congress in February. So, we have been very patient and have now managed to get our hands on one.

Looking good

The original Galaxy S has a very definite look of the iPhone 3GS about it – not a bad thing, but it was hardly original. Of course, most touch-display candybar phones are going to look a bit the same – especially if they come in black and silver – but we’re pleased to say that the Galaxy S II has done its own thing when it comes to design. Its 4.3in screen is bigger than its predecessor’s and it is a Super AMOLED Plus screen. In terms of colours and pixels, it’s quite similar to the original, but its high contrast ratio and dual-core processor mean it offers better colours and vibrancy. It may not be up there with the iPhone 4’s Retina Display, but it’s not far off.

To squeeze in that screen, the Galaxy S II has been made quite long, but it’s also pretty slim – at just 8.49mm. It boasts sharp edges and a correlated reverse, and looks rather snazzy. The only downside to the back cover is that it doesn’t seem very sturdy when you take it off to remove the battery – which you need to do if you want to hot swap memory cards. And it’s hard to get it back on too. There’s also a small ‘chin’ at the bottom, but it still looks good.

TouchWiz 4.0

The touch-screen is really responsive – which results in a smooth experience for the user. The handset runs on the latest Android OS – Gingerbread 2.3 – but it also features Samsung’s own TouchWiz 4.0 UI. TouchWiz has not always proved popular in the past but this updated version is much better. The icons have a touch of the 3D, and there are Live Panels on all the home screens, of which there are seven. There is also a real-time weather widget – a bit like those on HTC’s Android phones. The graphics aren’t in the same league, but we did like the fact that you can add 10 different cities.

You can also add widgets and shortcuts to your home screens by dragging and dropping from the main menu – or you can simply keep your finger on the display – which makes the menu option pop up. There is a virtual panel or grid system, so it’s not possible to drag the icon just where you want it, but it’s not a major issue. What we did find strange was the face that two of the four ‘set’ icons at the bottom of each home screen actually do the same thing. Choose either the Contacts or Phone icons and you’ll be taken to groups, contacts logs and favourites – it’s a shame they didn’t use one of the icons for something more useful, such as the camera. If you want to see all the home screens as thumbnails, you can pinch and pull – quicker than trying to scroll through each one individually.

For messaging you can choose between the traditional QWERTY or the newer SWYPE method. While inputting using SWYPE is speedy, it’s just a shame that the space bar and full stop key are so close to each other, making it a tricky operation. If you’re not familiar with SWYPE, the way it works is that you slide a finger from key to key and then lift off your finger when you’ve finished a word. It might sound odd but it works pretty well. When texting, hold the device horizontally and the screen will autor-rotate so your messages appear in the left of the display and on the right will pop up the last message with your chosen contact and your text entry box.

Finger fun

Something else new on the Galaxy S II is gesture control. Using the handset’s accelerometers, you hold two fingers on the screen when browsing and then pull the handset towards you to zoom in, and then tilt it away to zoom out. And should you be dragging and dropping widgets, choose the panel and home screen you want by moving the phone from side to side. Incidentally, we found it really fast to browse, even if we had several web pages open. There are two reasons for this – the main one being the dual-core 1.2Ghz processor, and also due to the HSDPA and Wi-Fi connections. We experienced near instant streaming of YouTube videos, with hardly any buffering needed. We also found we could upload to sites including Flickr, YouTube and Facebook really speedily – the HSDPA connection offered speeds of up to 5.76Mbps.

Hubs

You can also download games from the Games Hub. There’s not much content to choose from at the moment, but that will change – and it is also possible to try all the games before you purchase. Hubs are also offered for Social, Reader and Music. We very much liked the Reader Hub, a virtual bookcase that gives access to magazines, books and newspapers from around the world. You can subscribe to your favourite ones and they will be downloaded automatically when a new version is released. You’ll have to zoom in to read, especially newspapers, but it’s handy if you want to read up on the latest news on a long commute.

Samsung’s Music Hub is supposed to compete with iTunes, but it can’t match up in either content or user experience. You can look for titles or artists, or you can browse through the genre to recommended areas. It’s also possible to make your own albums and playlist from the tunes you buy. The Social Hub can be used to integrate text messages, social network feeds, emails and Instant Messaging info into a single feed. It is also possible to choose how often updates are made, but do consider any data charges when you set it up.

Camera

Android phones don’t boast the best in cameras, apart from a few such as the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc; instead they always seem like a bit of an afterthought. We were disappointed by the lack of dedicated shutter key, but on the other hand we liked the speed of the shutter, the autofocus, eight megapixels, auto-focus and smile and face detection. We were pleased to see LED flash, as it was missing on the first Galaxy, and there was no chance of taking nighttime pictures. One issue is that the phone is lengthy and when holding it horizontally to take a picture it resulted in us covering up the lens with a finger. The pictures didn’t seem to be as colourful when we uploaded them to Facebook, but video was much better. We do think that overall the camera deserves some praise, and while it can’t live up to the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc it beats most of the Android phones in terms of snapper.

The sat-nav is also a big plus – it offers a super speedy A-GPS fix – even when we tried to put it off the scent by using it indoors. You also get Google Maps and Google Maps Navigation. We were only able to review a beta version but it still rewarded us with clear, full voice directions for walking and driving – you can also choose to lay a satellite or traffic view over the 3D map.

The verdict

We really like the Samsung Galaxy S II – if we had to describe it in one word it would be ‘brilliant’. There are a couple of issues, but nothing that would stop us buying the handset. Samsung has proved that it is moving on in the smartphone arena and it has made massive progress in the shape of the Samsung Galaxy S II.

Pros:
That dual-core chip makes the handset really fast.
Cons:
Photography fans will notice the lack of a dedicated shutter key.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 4 Stars
  • Ease of use 5 Stars
  • Features 5 Stars
  • Performance 5 Stars
  • Battery life 4 Stars

Final verdict: 5 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice