The original Galaxy from last year was an impressive piece of kit, but this new version takes it to a whole new level.
Samsung has packed its wafer-thin casing with a fine array of some of the latest tech, including one of those fancy new-fangled dual-core processors, an AMOLED display, 8-megapixel camera, Android 2.3 Gingerbread, Samsung’s latest user interface, over-air syncing and much more.
Design and build
At 125 x 66 x 8.5mm the Galaxy S II seems almost two-dimensional – turn it sideways and it virtually disappears. It’s very easy on the pocket too, weighing in at just 115g. The trade-off is that while the front (glass) and sides (metal trim) ooze classy build quality, the thin plastic back feels decidedly flimsy.
There’s no sign of the standard Android controls, with just a single hard Home button beneath the screen. Press it, though, and the screen wakes up to reveal touch-sensitive Back and Menu buttons flanking it. On the sides are a volume rocker and power/sleep button (no camera shutter though), with a 3.5mm headphone jack on top and a microUSB power/sync slot on the bottom.
The 4.3in Super AMOLED touchscreen is a thing of beauty. Its 480 x 800-pixel resolution might not have quite the kudos of the latest iPhone’s 640 x 960 but it’s still stunningly sharp with extremely vibrant colours. It’s bright too, which helps when looking at it in sunlight, and just as sensitive as it needs to be, easily distinguishing between taps and brushes.
Interface and OS
Android 2.3’s the name, but dual processing’s the game and the combination of the latest version (well, it's 2.3.3, though 2.3.4 should be available as an update soon) of Android’s power management functionality with a 1.2GHz dual-core processor means this is a very nippy little smartphone indeed.
It whizzes through the apps with ease, and you’ll need to have quite a few running at once before there’s even a hint of lag.
This version of Gingerbread doesn’t include video chat and that other Gingerbread addition, NFC (Near Field Communication), has also been omitted.
With payments via NFC yet to take off in the UK this probably won’t be a deal breaker for many, but it would have been nice to feel there was some future-proofing built in, though we are told NFC support will be arriving via an update in due course.
Samsung’s TouchWiz 4.0 interface offers a distinctive look, and also now includes a series of four ‘Hubs’ which combine various related apps and functions for your convenience.
The Game Hub offers some exclusive games, but as yet it’s not a huge improvement on what you can get from the Android Market.
The Social Hub pulls all your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn updates into a single stream, which is very welcome. The Reader Hub offers books from Kobo, newspapers from Press Display and magazines from Zinio, plus you can add various ebook readers from the Market, including Amazon’s Kindle.
The Music Hub comes courtesy of 7Digital and offers quick access to MP3 downloads but not a whole lot else. Oddly, it’s not connected directly to the Android music player, so if you want to play your own music that you’ve stored on the Galaxy S II, you’ll need to come out of the Hub and load a different player.
Samsung rightly has a pretty good reputation among smartphones for its cameras and the 8 megapixel number here does its best to fly the flag. It can take snaps at up to a maximum resolution of 3264 x 2448 pixels and there are enough settings to keep most tweakers happy, with a variety of shooting and scene modes, including macro and action shots, as well as useful features like anti-shake, plus face and blink detection.
Picture quality is good overall with sharply defined edges and good contrast. The colour balance is certainly strong and never appears washed out, though on occasion it can perhaps seem just a little too virulent. There’s also a 2 megapixel camera at the front for self portraits or video calling, though you’ll need to wait for the Android 2.3.4 update to make use of it for video calls. Even then, it will only support web-based services like Fring, rather than proper network-based video calling.
You can record video in 1080p HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) which is a feature you’ll only find on the latest dual-core handsets. The quality is good though it’s a pity there’s no HDMI port which would allow you to transmit your HD flicks straight to a TV, like you can with the LG Optimus 2X.
Apps and browser
The browser displays pages well with text wrapping neatly and there’s a new trick on board too. Touch two thumbs on the screen and you can tilt the handset to zoom in or out. You can also pinch to zoom of course, but the extra functionality is a little easier to do once you get used to it. You can also use the motion sensor when you’re placing icons and widgets on each of the seven home screens – press and hold an icon, then tip the handset until it reaches the home screen you want.
Media and connectivity
Films look great on that big, bright, sharp screen with its vibrant colours. While there’s no HDMI port there is DLNA support, so you can stream video, pics or audio to a compatible TV. Samsung’s Kies software is used for syncing with your PC (though it doesn’t work with Macs) and there’s also Kies Air, which allows you to sync via a Wi-Fi connection. In practise it’s a bit awkward, requiring an IP address which you get from the app, then type into a browser but if you really hate wires…
Performance and battery life
The Galaxy S II is fast, efficient, and yes, fun. But while there’s an outsize 1650mAh battery on board, the combination of dual-core processor, very bright screen and the temptation to run lots of apps at once all have an effect, and we barely managed a full day of heavy use.
- Fantastic 4.3in Super AMOLED touchscreen
- Speedy dual-core processor
- The best Android camera yet
- Flimsy rear case
- No physical camera button
Verdict: The Samsung Galaxy S II is a leap ahead of its predecessor and pretty much marks the state of the art in Android phones at the moment. With its sleek, slim good looks, dual core processor, quality 8 megapixel camera and Android Gingerbread, it’s just about as good as it gets, and a worthy challenger to the iPhone.
More info: Samsung Galaxy S II spec
Price: From free on contract; £500 SIM-free