Samsung Galaxy S II Review
Update: You can now read our Galaxy S III review!
Samsung Galaxy S II to Forrest Gump, he might try to have a bite and say it’s because it felt like a bar of slim dark chocolate in his hand. Well, the top-shelf version we are holding now feels like that too. At the same time though its shell and inner workings have been ironed out just where it counts to shape the Android smartphone to beat this year.
Is it a worthy sequel to the Samsung Galaxy S, which was the Android phone to beat last year? After all, the green robot got equipped with the most powerful chipset and the most innovative screen technology at the time… will history repeat itself?
Samsung has gone dual-core with the chipset now, made the thinnest smartphone outside of Japan, upped the screen size to 4.3”, the camera to 8MP with flash, and slapped the newest 4.0 version of its TouchWiz Android 2.3 Gingerbread skin.
The display technology has also been innovated on, to the tune of 50% increase in perceived pixel count, but will these all be enough for the Samsung Galaxy S II to reach its ten million units sold target goal in 2011? Breeze through our review to find out...
So how thin is the Samsung Galaxy S II; what does 0.33” (8.49mm) really mean? The answer is so much so, that there’s an air gap between your palm and the back of the phone, and you always end up trying to squeeze it with four fingers on one side to the base of your palm on the other, so as not to drop it.
You can compare the Samsung Galaxy S II with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.
This is mainly due to the fact that the handset comes pretty wide, even for our larger than average hands - the Samsung Galaxy S II is actually one of the widest Android handsets, only giving way to some of HTC's high-ends.
We’d rather have the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc approach, to be honest – its screen is 4.2”, and it is almost as thin as the Galaxy S II, but is less wide, and fits very comfortably in the hand. SE’s “human curvature” design philosophy wins the ease of handling here, against the high-tech rectangular slab approach of Samsung’s labs.
That’s the only gripe we have with the design, but we guess that’s the price to pay for having a Super AMOLED Plus display. From what we know about the technology, Sammy was most likely forced to work the design around the display dimension template, not the other way around.
The other gripe we had with the design of the pre-production version – the back cover flexing inwards - has been largely dealt with in the retail phone. The battery cover is still paper-thin, but now the air gap between it and the battery inside, is almost non-existent, so no flexing when you push the back in with your finger.
The 4.3” screen evokes one word – fantastic. Super AMOLED Plus delivers better perceived resolution than Super AMOLED on the Samsung Galaxy S, since it uses a standard matrix to form an image with 50% more subpixels than the PenTile arrangement, used in the Galaxy S. The resolution stays the same - 480x800 pixels - but due to the use of a normal RGB matrix, text appears crisper in books and websites than on the Galaxy S, which has interpolated resolution of 392x653 pixels.
The Super AMOLED Plus display is also brighter, consumes 18% less energy, and comes in a thinner package than the previous generation, which has probably been one of the precursors for the slim chassis of the Galaxy S II. Samsung is moving to a laser-based production method for its AMOLED displays this year, which will allow for Retina Display-like 300ppi+ pixel densities, so we are looking forward to such higher resolutions.
Thanks to the increased brightness, and the low-reflectance coating, the display reads very well outside, better than the previous generation. Besides, you can boost the screen intensity significantly when framing your shots in camera mode, or watching videos in the player. There is an additional mode for that in these apps, called “Outdoor visibility”, which comes in handy when it's sunny outside. The browser and video player also have their own brightness setting sliders.
Samsung uses mDNIe+ - a mobile version of the image processing technology from its TV sets, to enhance the picture when watching media, similar to what Sony Ericsson does with the Mobile Bravia Engine on some of its new Android handsets. The display section in the Settings app allows you to choose from three general background modes – Dynamic, Standard and Movie – just as on our Samsung HDTV at home. Dynamic deepens the blacks for a visible contrast boost, casting away some detail in the process, while Movie mode brings a more toned down, cinematic atmosphere to the image.
In addition to these general display modes, while running video the player settings let you manually decide on the color warmth, and also adjust an individual brightness level. For all these improvements, the Super AMOLED Plus still has that blueish tint, which means its color representation is on the colder side.Contrast and viewing angles are still as good as they come on a mobile display, thanks to the AMOLED technology. On auto setting the light sensor doesn’t cope with adjusting the brightness smoothly, but rather skips through stages, which can get annoying if you are reading something, but it looks like a software issue, which might be fixed with a firmware update.
To recap the design overview we’d say that the etched edges of the 8MP camera area on the back are the only thing that sticks out of an otherwise bland plastic black chassis. The camera has an LED flash this time around, and the phone records any sounds accompanying the captured Full HD videos in stereo, thanks to the microphone duo, which also serves noise-cancellation duties. We have another distinctive feat at the bottom - the microUSB port doubles as an HDMI-out one. It is called a Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) port, but more about that later.
We don't mind the all-plastic design, however, since you come to appreciate this material whenever you are holding a phone beast with a 4.3” display, as it makes the Samsung Galaxy S II feel feathery – it weighs about the same as its first edition.
This, of course, is a subjective preference – some like more the unibody aluminum design of HTC’s hunks of a phone. After just a day or two spent with the device, it actually grew on us, and didn’t feel uncomfortable to hold, we just got used to it.