US carrier versions of the Samsung Galaxy S II - was the wait worth it?

US carrier versions of the Samsung Galaxy S II - was the wait worth it?
The Samsung event in New York yesterday had our troops on the ground witnessing the official unveiling of all three US carrier versions of its current Android flagship phone Samsung Galaxy S II, but was it worth the wait? This phone was officially announced on February 13, and sales started April 28 in Samsung's own South Korea.

We remember people joking in the comments at the time that Verizon will get it in April 2012 then, and now we know that it will land on US soil 7 months after the initial announcement, in mid-September. Adding insult to injury, the phone got announced for the US about four months after it started hitting the shelves in other countries. In comparison, the first Samsung Galaxy S had a pompous unveiling event for all four major US carriers about a month after it appeared on sale globally last year.

The reasons for the delay are complex. Unlike last year, now the four major US carriers have enough enticing high-end Android phones one can choose from already, with qHD displays and dual-core chipsets, so they probably didn't want to cannibalize their sales just a few months after the devices entered their portfolios. Verizon is the Android top dog, and it won't even carry the Samsung Galaxy S II. Does it mean that it is expecting an even better phone from Samsung in the near future, like the rumored Samsung DROID Prime? Probably, but there might have also been other reasons that weighed in.

"Negotiations with American telecom companies have dragged on" about the Samsung Galaxy S II arrival on US shores, one Samsung executive was quoted saying. Samsung has obviously both updated the hardware a bit, and changed the design of the Galaxy S II for its American debut. The Samsung Epic 4G Touch for Sprint sports a 4.52" display, which will also grace T-Mobile's version. The AT&T Galaxy S II stays true to the original 4.3" screen, but that's most likely because it already has a 4.5-incher on offer with the Infuse 4G.

So it turns out that the rumor Samsung is contemplating both 4.3" and 4.5" Galaxy S II versions from way back in November last year, was true. All the more puzzling why the delay for the US versions then, if the difference in screen sizes has been planned all along since the announcement.

Then we have that pesky physical home key conspicuously absent from any of the US versions, replaced instead with capacitive button. Apple managed to achieve a preliminary injunction on the sales of the Galaxy S and Galaxy S II in the Netherlands last week precisely on the grounds of external similarities with the iPhone's patented design, so this refab probably took some time as well. Samsung is obviously not taking any chances to risk a similar claim in the US, and, furthermore, no carrier would be willing to spend money marketing a phone that might be banned from sales any time at the whim of an ITC judge.

So the delay is a done deal, September will see Sprint's Samsung Epic 4G Touch and AT&T's version hitting the shelves, with T-Mobile's to probably follow at the end of October. What will be the mobile landscape in the US then, and won't there be other handsets to aspire to in just a month or so?

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In between Android Ice Cream Sandwich poster childs like the Nexus Prime, and dual-core phones with LTE connectivity like the Motorola DROID BIONIC, people will probably have a lot to choose from for the holidays on the Android front. Then there is the next iPhone, which will be launched around that time to further stir the cauldron.

So will those phones have advantages over the Samsung Galaxy S II enough to make you wait even more? In screen technology the answer might be yes, considering that the Nexus Prime is to sport that sweet Super AMOLED HD technology with 720x1280 pixels, which we hope to see announced at the IFA 2011 Expo this week by Samsung. PenTile matrix or not, an HD screen is certainly the next giant step in smartphone display evolution worth saving your money for. The next iPhone will also sport resolution higher than the 480x800 on the Galaxy S II, but its IPS-LCD screen uses a different technology. It might also take the crown of the thinnest smartphone in the US from AT&T's version of the Galaxy S II, but it is already so thin that the difference should be negligible. The choice of materials for the design might work to the iPhone's advantage, though.

Then there are the chipset and the camera - the dual-core Samsung Exynos is extremely powerful, so it is unlikely that TI's OMAP4460 that is rumored for the Nexus Prime, or Apple's A5 in the next iPhone will be significantly better. The only caveat is that Android Ice Cream Sandwich is being developed with TI's OMAP as its reference silicon, so ICS might work better with it, plus it will take time for the Galaxy S II versions to be updated to Google's newest mobile OS when it hits this year.

As for camera performance - the 8MP shooter on the Galaxy S II takes great photos, and records very smooth Full HD 1080p video, so you should be safe, nothing will change in that respect at least until the next generation, which will probably be able to record Full HD with 60fps instead of 30, and that's about it. The rumored 5MP shooter for the Nexus Prime is an eyebrow-raiser, but if it uses the new DSP algorithms in the OMAP4460 chipset, the resolution, as usual, is not a good indicator for the photo and video quality.

To wrap it up we'd say that even in September, the US carrier versions of the Samsung Galaxy S II will be one of the best Android phones you can get out there, with most of their features representing the best mobile hardware money can buy. The delay of its official arrival in the US, though, makes waiting a month or so more before you pull the trigger a wise choice.

By then we should have more info which carriers will be sporting the Nexus Prime and when. If you are on Verizon, you'll have no other choice but wait anyway; if you are on other carriers, it is advisable to sit tight in September, and keep your eyes peeled for our news and reviews in order to avoid buyer's remorse.

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