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REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy S II Android 2.3/Gingerbread Smartphone [with Video]
Posted by Arne Hess - on Monday, 16.05.11 - 12:11:29 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 23735x
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Samsung's new and eagerly awaited Android smartphone, the Galaxy S II/GT-I9100, was one of the highlights at the recent Mobile World Congress where Samsung showed it the first time. It is Samsung's first dual-core Android smartphone which runs on Android 2.3/Gingerbread and which is powered by Samsung's own Exynos dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 SoC CPU at 1.2 GHz. This makes the device one of the fast Android smartphones available today. But it's also one of the fastest smartphones in terms of WWAN-support because the Galaxy S II features quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE as well as quadband UMTS/HSDPA (up to 21 Mbps)/HSUPA (up to 5.7 Mbps) at 850/900/1900/2100 MHz.

Furthermore it comes with Bluetooth 3.0+HS, WiFi a/b/g/n, aGPS and an inbuilt FM radio and for sure it also supports all kind of Android-typical sensors. The Galaxy S II comes with a massive amount of memory and has 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of ROM which can be even expanded with microSD memory cards up to 32 GB. With all the specs above, the Galaxy S II is nevertheless one of the thinnest smartphones today and measures 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.49 mm at a weight of 116 grams - including the 1650 mAh Li-ion battery.

The S II's 4.3" Gorilla Glass covered capacitive WVGA touchscreen is raising the bar even higher. While other smartphones either come with Super-LCD or AMOLED touchscreens, the Galaxy S II is the first smartphone which utilizes Samsung's brand new Super AMOLED Plus technology which is another major improvement to Super AMOLED! Also the main camera on the back is pretty much the best a smartphone can get today; it's an 8 megapixel autofocus camera with supporting LED flash which allows to record 1080p HD videos at 30 fps. But the Galaxy S II can't record HD videos only, it can also show them on HDMI TVs, using the MHL (Mobile High-Definition (Video) Link) standard which requires a separately available cable plugging into the micro USB port on the bottom. Furthermore, the device features a second camera on the front which is a 2 megapixel fixfocus camera which can be used for video telephony and chat.

While the Samsung Galaxy S II supports all Google Android services, it's not a Google experience phone and therefore it's not featuring the Android typical navigation-keys. In addition to the centered home button, the device features a backlight illuminated capacitive menu and back key but lacks a dedicated search key. Nevertheless, search can be opened by tapping and holding the menu key.

However, as high-end spec'd the Galaxy S II is, as low-end spec'd feel the used materials of the body. No question, the device feels rocking solid and is highly engineered, but the used plastic doesn't fit into the overall impression of such a top-level smartphone. The battery cover is a very thin and cheap feeling plastic which is even not a kind of soft-touch but patterned only. This lowers a little bit the overall excitement of an otherwise great looking smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy S II Hardware Hands-on

The Samsung Galaxy S II runs Google's latest available Android version version for smartphones - Android 2.3/Gingerbread - and the device supports supports all Google Mobile services including Search, Maps, YouTube as well as featuring Google's Android Market. However, rather than using the original Android Gingerbread UI, the Galaxy S II features Samsung's own user interface called Samsung TouchWiz. TouchWiz is used on many Samsung phones, including the the Wave-series of Bada phones, and provides a similar Samsung experience across different operating systems. It was even used on Samsung's Windows Mobile smartphones but isn't used anymore for Windows Phone 7 since Microsoft disallows user interface changes. Nevertheless, Android as a platform is open enough to allows it and TouchWiz adds a a good amount of user friendliness.

Samsung TouchWiz 4.0 features its own homescreen replacement including Samsung specific widgets and adds four static applications to the bottom of each homescreen. Furthermore, TouchWiz comes with its own application launcher and Samsung specific applications. However, the whole TouchWiz experience is pretty much customizable and apps can be rearranged the way they fit best.
Furthermore, some of the preinstalled applications either replace original Android apps like the calendar or E-Mail or aren't part of Android anyway, like tasks, photo editor or Polaris Office.

Very similar to Microsoft's Windows Phone hub-idea are the Samsung hubs which includes a Social Hub, a Music Hub, a Reader Hub and a Game Hub as well as a Samsung Apps application which comes in addition to Google's Android Market.

The Social Hub lists social network feeds from Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn as well as all the E-Mail accounts as well as it supports instant messaging services like Windows Live Messenger, Google Talk and Yahoo! Messenger. The Music Hub is Samsung's own music shop which is nevertheless not supported in all countries.

The Readers Hub offers eBooks, eNewspapers and eMagazines which can be either downloaded free of charge or can be purchased.

Similar to the Samsung Apps application, the Samsung Game Hub offers games for download, while the Samsung Apps offers all kind of Android apps, including some launch-exclusive apps, not available from the original Google Market.

In terms of multimedia, Samsung has also added a few apps which make the Galaxy S II even more useful. In addition to the music and video players, the Galaxy S II is also able to create slideshows from photos as well as editing recorded videos and snapped photos. Not a surprise at all is that the Galaxy S II supports DLNA and Samsung's AllShare allows to share and access audio, video and photos within a home network. Another interesting and Samsung only application is Kies air which allows remote access to the device, straight from a PC browser on the same WiFi network.

Also not a surprise is the camera user interface. Since Samsung is also building some of the best digital cameras, the company has a track record in camera user interfaces. This experience is also used for the Galaxy S II and the device cam feels less like a mobile phone cam but more like a professional digital camera.

There are so many options and ways of customization, that even semi-professional photographers should be satisfied with the results.

Samsung Galaxy S II Software Hands-on

Final Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy S II is one of the few upcoming Android rock-stars, no question! It has everything a best-seller needs today: It's super thin, it comes with latest high-end specs, it features a dual-core CPU and it's the first and only phone in the market with a Super AMOLED Plus display. All this makes it very unique today.
In terms of the design I definitely like the Galaxy S II, except that it's a little bit too plastic. However, I see Samsung's point that most likely only plastic was able to archive the thinness and weightiness but not aluminum or any other material. Fair enough but it destroys a little bit the overall positive design impression of the device. However, also part of the design is the front with the Super AMOLED Plus display and I have to admit that I fell in love the first time I turned on the device. The screen looks bright like a van Gogh painting and can be virtually viewed from any angle. There's not much space between the Gorilla Glass surface and the AMOLED display which is quite impressive and one of the latest enhancements of Super AMOLED Plus. Watching a HD video on the Galaxy S II is pure pleasure and it might be the best I've seen so far.
Beside the screen, the S II is also pretty complete in all other aspects. The main camera is fantastic and has the typical Samsung user interface which comes pretty close to a digital camera. And in terms of its wireless qualities, the Galaxy S II comes with everything a user expect and even more.

In terms of the software, Samsung made some real progress with its TouchWiz interface. Were the first TouchWiz interfaces quite okay, v4.0 is absolutely ready for prime time. It's well-arranged, provides the user the most possible flexibility by allowing customization and the additional TouchWiz apps, which are replacing some of the original Android apps, are adding some further value to the device. In terms of preinstalled apps, Samsung has excelled itself and the software pack is pretty complete and surprising.

All together, the Galaxy S II is one of the best Android smartphones on the market today/ever. It features specs like no other smartphone and even if it's not the only dual-core Android device, it's one of the dual-core smartphone which isn't shining with its CPU only but also the features around it which makes use of the CPU. However, such a power-house has its price and for sure it's not one of the cheapest Android smartphones. Without a contract, the Samsung Galaxy S II is now available across Europe for around 599 Euro.

Cheers ~ Arne

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