In the IT world, seeing an absolutely top-notch product from a company trying to show itself in the best possible way and prove itself to the market isn’t such a rare occasion. However, experience has shown us that the heir to such a product rarely matches up to the original one. The reasons for this are many, ranging from high expectations from the end users to the manufacturer losing focus. With all the hype surrounding the announcement of Galaxy S II, we’ve been very interested in whether Samsung will be able to break this rule and make a phone that would surpass the best-sold Android device ever.
From the moment when we’ve taken Galaxy S II in our hands for the first time, it was clear to us that the responsible personae in Samsung had been carefully watching over market reactions and done their best to correct all noticed drawbacks. The new Galaxy S is a bit thinner, larger by a few centimetres, mostly because of the improved, bigger display, and to top things off, lighter by three grams, which is almost unbelievable. On the back, one can see the hardware flash boasting next to the camera lens, rectifying what’s probably the main hardware flaw in the previous rendition. The phone feels a bit more “cubic”, with a rugged surface of the battery cover, so that you can’t just drop the phone accidentally. The microUSB connector has moved to the bottom, as well as the audio connector, whereas all buttons have remained at their familiar places. Having in mind that the camera has advanced much since the previous model, we were surprised to see that no separate “shoot” button has been introduced; there was enough room, if anything. Below the lid, there’s a higher-capacity battery, as well as the microSD and SIM slots. For whatever reason, the folks at Samsung have decided to physically prevent the removal of the microSD card while the battery is powering the device. This practically disables the option of hot-swapping memory cards while the device is on, which could have been a useful feature.
|Galaxy SII on the left, Galaxy S on the right||Galaxy SII on the left, Galaxy S on the right|
The display on Galaxy S has garnered quite a few fans, although some were bothered that it tends towards blue and green a bit too much. However, the strong colours and an incredible contrast were perhaps the main reason to buy this phone for the less tech-savvy. No need to change a tried-and-true formula, so the “No. 2” brings us an even larger display, with a more accurate colour display and phenomenal viewing angles. The resolution has remained the same, but this hasn’t had a negative impact on display quality; on the contrary, smaller letters are now sharper and easier to read. This display is protected with a layer of Gorilla glass as well, which gives it firmness and resistance to mechanical damage or scratches. This is exactly why the phone feels very firm as a whole, regardless of the reduced thickness; we’d go as far as saying that it really feels like holding a metal plate in your hands. The screen has an extra coating to help battle greasy fingers, so fingerprints are now less noticeable than ever before.
For those who were keen on finding flaws in the first Galaxy S, the lack of a hardware flash was probably the main argument. Therefore, we bow down to Samsung’s engineers who’ve managed to make the phone even thinner despite the addition of an improved camera and a LED flash, as well as the front camera. The new main camera has not only gained more megapixels, but also the ability to record in full HD (1920x1080 in 30 fps). Videos made in this mode are excellent, with barely noticeable compression-induced artefacts and without any frames skipped. We’ve particularly appreciated the fact that the focus changes on-the-fly during the recording, so that close or far objects are quickly sharpened or blurred according to the current scene. The newly-implemented flash is working exactly as expected - good enough to make the unclear blurs on the image clearer (at least as far as closer objects go), even in complete darkness. Under better light conditions, static images are excellent, putting this device in the category of those rare mobile phones that can actually take photos worthy of being transferred to paper. If you want to have a quick look at a video on an HDTV, after the beach or at a friend’s, you can do that as well, but only if you pay extra. Unlike some competitors that put the HDMI adapter in the product bundle, Galaxy S II does this via the microUSB connector with an MHL adapter, which will be reasonably hard to find.
Galaxy S II comes with the latest version of Android OS for mobile phones, 2.3.3, already tested and proven. The true novelty is the latest version of the TouchWiz interface, 4.0, which brings many improvements. We’ve particularly liked the ability to change widget size for the widgets that support this sort of tweaking. Ergo, instead of having several different widgets for the same program, but of different size, one is enough now. If you want to change its size, just press it and wait for the triangle to appear in the corner; afterwards, you can just guide the borderlines as you wish. The process of selecting a widget has been rendered more attractive as well; instead of a simple list, you’ll be greeted with an icon list, tilted at the same angle as the phone itself. Another attractive option, although not as usable, is transferring widgets from one screen to another by simply tilting the phone. We’ve also liked the meteorological Live Wallpaper, created in cooperation with Accuweather. You can pick one of the two available landscapes, and the weather on these, as well as the time of day, will be adjusted automatically according to your location.
The application list can finally be sorted whichever way you want, and in two ways at that. You can either make a folder which will contain multiple applications or choose specific applications to be grouped on a particular page. This way, you’ll have multimedia applications in one place, work ones in another, social networking in yet another etc. The new Galaxy has received an extra movement sensor, which has a very interesting purpose within the OS. If you press the display with two fingers simultaneously and tilt the phone forward or backward while viewing an image or reading something, the display will be zoomed in or out, as if you were reading the newspapers and trying to read something a bit more closely. Bizarre the first few times, but very efficient and useful afterwards.
Samsung’s has also finally clearly shown that HUBs weren’t reserved merely for Windows Phone 7 devices. This particular phone has four of them: Social, Music, Game and Readers. Social networks in the Social HUB are excellently represented, providing you with info from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Gtalk, MSN and Yahoo! Messenger, without the need to run a separate app for each of these. We can’t tell you too much about the Music HUB, as the service isn’t functional in our country, unfortunately. On the other hand, the Game HUB has turned out more interesting that we had expected. Besides the solid number of games available for free and for less demanding players, you can also use this service to reach a great number of Gameloft games, typically of excellent quality, and aren’t present on Android Market. Furthermore, you can even download demo versions of most of these games, buying the full one only after making sure that you like it. Payments can be made by credit/debit cards, without the need to create accounts and other complications. The Readers HUB is intended for reading daily newspapers, books and magazines. You can download a few editions free of charge, while having to pay after that. The good thing is that a solid number of books are in public domain, which will enable you to significantly widen your library with free editions. As for the monthly issues, only a few world-renowned editions are available, while your local choices might be limited. Unfortunately, the latter are often non-interactive PDFs and don’t read well on mobile phones.
Users who manipulate a lot of Office documents will be glad to see Polaris Office preinstalled, which handles all sorts of documents with ease. There’s also the solid e-mail client, although we recommend the use of the Gmail application whenever possible. The internet browser is impressive, as the strong hardware provides an incredible browsing experience. Internet pages often load more quickly on the phone than on many PCs, and Flash animations are nothing for this phone. Flash video in 1080p plays back perfectly within a webpage, without the need to query a special application. You’re free to open new tabs, move the page or switch to fullscreen with the playback ongoing, which is something that even many netbooks and notebooks dream of being able to do. The strong hardware has also enabled image and video editing applications to do more than just the most basic of tasks, instead offering more and more advanced manipulation. By the way, Samsung has enabled video streaming of TV signal to mobile phones and tablets on the recently presented SmartTV models, and you’re guessing already, Galaxy S II is on the top of the “supported devices” list.
Slow tracking of GPS satellites is a well-known soft spot of the predecessor, and we’re glad to say that it’s been much improved this time. Position location is precise and several times faster than before. All the more reason to regret that voice navigation isn’t an option with the preinstalled software, but if you really need one, you can always get specialised software the likes of iGO navigation, which offers high-quality worldwide support. This way, your smartphone is quickly transformed into one of the highest-quality navigational devices we’ve ever seen.
More experienced readers are probably already wondering aloud what sort of hardware this phone has to run all this and face the challenges that the software base puts in front of it. Unlike many devices based on NVIDIA’s dual-core platform, this SoC (System on Chip) was made by Samsung directly. The CPU is basically a dual-core CPU working at an unprecedented 1.2 GHz. It’s accompanied by an exceptionally fast graphics card and an entire 1 GB RAM, creating a system that no other device on the market can match. Not even multitasking between large and memory-intensive applications (i.e. games) is no problem, so the power hidden in this beast really seems promising in the long run. For results this remarkable, a price has to be paid, but this time around, it’s nowhere near as taxing as we thought it’d be - the phone heats up a bit more when you’re running a processor- or graphics-intensive application; the stronger hardware has also eaten up the advantage of a higher-capacity battery compared to the first Galaxy S, which brings them to the same level in terms of autonomy, i.e. around 24 hours on a single charge with heavy use and up to two days with moderate use.
Have we got the new king of Android smartphones? From the moment when it’s first taken into the hand, Samsung Galaxy S II clearly says that it’s a top-notch device in all aspects. Extremely light and thin, but firm at the same time, with a stunning display; it’s unlikely to leave anyone unimpressed. The corrected drawbacks in the predecessor, exemplified by the addition of a flash, an improved camera and display, a perfected GPS module and a far stronger hardware base, state immaculately that Samsung is there to be the best, and that all customer remarks are well thought about. Whatever you may want to do on this phone, you know that it’ll be blazingly fast, to the point where we really can’t envisage any device comparing to this one. Add to all this the improved user interface, as well as a better customer care by Samsung in terms of updates for the operating system, and the answer is clear - Samsung Galaxy S II is the king of Android smartphones.
|Samsung I9100 Galaxy SII|
|CPU||dual-core 1.2 GHz Exynos|
|Memory||1GB RAM, 1GB ROM, 16GB internal storage|
|Battery||Li-Ion 1,650 mAh|
|Display||4.3", 800x480 pix, capacitive Super AMOLED Plus|
|Connectivity||microUSB, Bluetooth, WiFi, HSDPA+, GPS, USB to HDMI|
|Cameras||main: 8 Mpix with auto-focus and LED flash, frontal: 2 Mpix|
|Operating System||Android OS 2.3.3|
|Size||125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5 mm|