Samsung Galaxy S II review


Jenneth Orantia turned her back on a lucrative career in law to pursue her unhealthy obsession with consumer technology. She’s known for having at least half a dozen of the latest gadgets on her person at a time, and once won a bottle of Dom Perignon for typing 78WPM on a Pocket PC with a stylus.

review Slowly but steadily, Samsung has been nibbling away at the iPhone’s lead. The company sold 10 million Galaxy S smartphones worldwide as of January this year (less than seven months after it launched), and the sequel, the Galaxy S II, is on track to beat it, having already reached three million sales in 55 days. But how does the handset perform up close — is it over-rated, or does it deserve its plaudits? Read on to find out.

The Galaxy S II is available in Australia through Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile.

The Galaxy S II achieves the near-impossible feat of making the iPhone 4 look chunky. A tiny 8.5mm waistline makes it the slimmest smartphone yet, and it’s remarkably light at 116g. This is all good on paper, but in practice, the plastic construction makes the Galaxy S II feel cheaper than it is. The angular lines and wider-than-average dimensions also make it awkward to hold and use one-handed. You can get used to it, but it just doesn’t hug the hand like many other phones.

Calling the Galaxy S II attractive would be a stretch. It’s discreet at best, with an all-black casing that pairs a glossy front with a textured battery cover. Viewed head-on, the edgeless 4.3″ screen is indistinguishable from the surrounding bezel, giving the illusion of a larger display.

Buttons have been kept to a minimum: there’s a single, iPhone-like home button on the front, flanked by two capacitive buttons (menu and back) on either side, a volume rocker on the left and a power/sleep button on the right. The microSD card slot is located behind the battery cover, and, annoyingly, you have to remove the battery before you can get to it.

The Galaxy S II runs the latest Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) operating system, and nearly all of its features rate as the best-in-class for their respective categories. The 1.2GHz dual-core Exynos processor (paired with a 1GB helping of RAM) is currently the fastest on the market, and the 4.3″ screen is as large as they come for smartphones – and is also the only one that uses Super AMOLED Plus display technology.

It supports 21Mbps HSDPA, and comes with 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0 and DLNA wireless media streaming. 16GB of internal storage can be supplemented with both microSD cards (up to 32GB) and USB flash drives (using an optional USB OTG adapter). While it doesn’t have a microHDMI port built-in, an optional MHL adapter converts the microUSB port to HDMI.

Samsung has done its usual trick of customising Android with its TouchWIZ GUI. Thankfully, it isn’t as much of a performance hog as it was on the original Galaxy S – or perhaps the faster processor makes it run better. Enhancements include a custom launcher and lockscreen, extra homescreen widgets, and modified dialler, contacts and calendar apps.

To top it off, Samsung has thrown in lots of bonus software, like the Navigon turn-by-turn navigation software (worth $49.95 separately), hubs for games, social, reading and music (the latter of which isn’t active yet), Polaris Office, and basic photo and video editing apps. Kies Air lets you wirelessly transfer content between your computer and the Galaxy S II through a browser interface, saving you from having to use the bloated Samsung Kies desktop software, and the free Samsung Dive service offers remote management options like tracking the Galaxy S II over GPS, remote lock and wipe, and the option to ring the phone and access the call logs.

Really, the only feature the Galaxy S II falls short in is its display resolution. 800 x 480 pixels seems wasteful on a 4.3in screen, and it’s especially galling when its two main Android competitors, the Motorola Atrix and the HTC Sensation, both offer qHD 960 x 540 pixel resolutions.

The Galaxy S II screams through everything you throw at it. The dreadful lag issues we encountered on the original Galaxy S are virtually non-existent; the only times we experienced lag was when ending a call (the on-screen controls take a couple of seconds to appear) and there’s occasionally a brief pause when you wake it up before the screen appears.

Web browsing is buttery-smooth, even on complex websites like that of the Sydney Morning Herald. Inline Flash videos are a little jerky, but still watchable – a big improvement over the Flash performance on single-core Android phones, where page loads would slow to a crawl and videos played more like slideshows.

The Galaxy S II’s rear-mounted speaker doesn’t lack for volume, but an overdose of treble makes music sound hollow. Like Flash videos, 1080p movies suffer from a case of the herky jerkies, and audio frequently loses sync with the picture. 720p and standard-definition videos, on the other hand, play perfectly.

Either way, the Super AMOLED Plus display provides deeper black levels and richer colours than any other smartphone screen we’ve seen, with viewing angles that almost extend a complete 180 degrees. Remember what we said about the Galaxy S II not being much to look at? That all changes as soon as you power on the screen. The vibrant Super AMOLED Plus screen transforms it from a simple black slab to an eye-catching visual sensation.

Performance from the eight-megapixel camera is well above average. Auto-focus – which you activate by tapping on the screen – occasionally misses its mark, but it’s sharp as a tack for the most part. Colours are vibrant without overdoing it, and skin-tones are accurate. The Galaxy S II’s speedy processor makes its presence well felt here, with fast camera startup and quick auto-focus and image processing times. The LED flash is bright to the point of blinding, but it doesn’t overpower the scene, so colours stay relatively accurate. The LED flash can double as a video light when you’re shooting movies, and you can record videos at up to 1080p resolution.

Call clarity could be better, with voices sounding a little muffled and scratchy through the earpiece, but we’ve heard far worse on many other smartphones. Callers on the other end didn’t report any issues, and volume from the earpiece and speakerphone is loud enough to hear on a noisy street.

We’ve all but resigned ourselves to sub-par battery life on high-end phones, and we weren’t expecting anything different from the Galaxy S II. Surprise, surprise: despite the phone’s ultra-slim dimensions, Samsung has managed to cram in an extra-large 1650mAh battery. Coupled with the power-efficient Super AMOLED Plus display and Exynos processor (which underclocks the chip when the phone’s idle), we were able to push the battery to 23 hours and 45 minutes of medium usage before it switched off completely. The downside is that it takes just over three hours to fully recharge from a dead battery.

The Galaxy S was designed to take on the iPhone 4, and despite its warts (sluggish performance, short battery life), it was one of the first real challengers to the Apple empire. We’re guessing that Samsung had the impending iPhone 5 in mind when it built the Galaxy S II, but this has failed to materialise so far, making the Galaxy S II, with its dual-core processor, 4.3in Super AMOLED Plus display and 8-megapixel camera, the most powerful and feature-rich smartphone on the market.

There are other smartphones out there with similar specs, but none of them pull it off as well as the Galaxy S II. Whether Apple actually releases a new iPhone this year remains a question, but if you’re looking to upgrade your current handset now, you can’t do any better than the Galaxy S II.

The Galaxy S II is available in Australia through Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile.

Image credit: Samsung


  1. Galaxy S II is wonderful phone. Its a sea of applications. HD viewing and sound quality unbeatable.

  2. You complain about the inconvenience of the SD card placement? Really? I haven’t removed my SD card in two years. So annoying that every two years I may need to be annoyed.

    And what a brilliant statement about the device not fitting in one hand comfortably. I guess it wouldn’t with a display that size, would it?

    Oh, and it’s not attractive…Its discreet? What a fine review. This little gem in the review will help all the ladies with coordinating their accessories.

    Imagine not getting deep, rich bass from a thumb tack-sized speaker inside an 8.5mm thick phone. Wonderful review. I am just surprised the glass wasn’t glassy enough for you.

    Next time, focus on the real review, not the nits because you wanted the phone to fit in your diminutive hand and replace your boom box.

    Adding Delimiter to those sources not populating my Google news feed.

    • Jesus. There’s no pleasing some people. The phone gets a top notch review in all areas and you still find things to whinge about. I guess if you bought one it must be perfect right?

      You’re obviously one of those geeks that only cares about the spec list, and don’t care about things like UI, style, form and function. All of which are important in a modern smartphone. Not being able to hotswap an SD card is obviously a minor downside to anyone that knows how convenient it is to change SD cards on the fly while travelling.

      As for the rest of your gripes with the review, they are too pathetic to even acknowledge. Get a life M8R.

      • Simon, you’ve completely misinterpreted M8R’s post. M8R is clearly illustrating their view that the reviewer is nit-picking, and that certain points the reviewer highlights as drawbacks stem from their unrealistic expectations of the phone’s capability and intended functions.

        I couldn’t care less about the topic, but your almost comical lack of accurate comprehension prompted me to comment. Re-read M8R’s passage regarding the non-hot-swappability of the phone. How you could possibly interpret that as saying “the absence of this feature is an annoying inconvenience” is simply beyond me.

  3. The Samsung Infuse also has the super amoled plus screen so that information was wrong as well.

  4. Just how loud is the volume from the earpiece i.e. how does it compare to other phones like the iPhone?
    I currently have a Nokia N8 and my only real complaint is the woeful maximum earpiece volume.
    The other question is how much better is 850MHz reception with the Telstra optimized version of the Galaxy S II?

    • It’s a couple of notches louder than the iPhone 4 at maximum volume.

      Not sure about the Telstra version of the Galaxy S II – it only went on sale yesterday.

    • Haven’t had any issues with the S2’s volume.

      I have found though if I am watching a video without headphones on since the sound is coming out of the back of the device it can sound too quiet but this is resolved not having my hand over the speaker there and making a bit of a cup with my hand when holding the phone so the sound bounces back. It sounds fine then

    • Battery life is such a variable thing, all the more so on smartphones that have AMOLED displays; these don’t have a backlight and selectively illuminate pixels as needed. There’s a reason why Samsung has made black the default colour in its TouchWIZ UI: it extends the battery life as the display doesn’t have to work as hard. But if you’re using apps with light-coloured backgrounds, such as a web browser, this will deplete the battery faster, as will having a light-coloured wallpaper and launcher.

    • I can get a day of heavy usage from my S2 before I need to charge it, no issue with battery life imo for a smart phone. You just chuck it on charge over night

    • We must be talking about different S2’s here, either that or we’re from a different parallel universe. I can’t go a day without a full charge overnight plus a full or semi charge at work. Without that and sometimes even with a semi charge I am left with a dead phone before the nights over and this is not always under heavy use, in some cases under very little usage.

      I should point out that I always have sync turned off, I have no live wallpapers, I have limited my desktop widgets to just the weather and the clock basically. I’m always making sure there are no apps running in the backgroud and killing off anything that is.

      I thought I was alone in the first few weeks but I found that that wasn’t the case here in my parallel universe. Unfortunately I don’t have the links to all the forums I was reading at the time but here is one that I still had bookmarked:

      Even then there were I guess those that had no problems and many of us that did. The general idea was that battery life would improve after a week of use but I’ve had my phone for close to 3 months now and there have been no improvements thus far.

      It was also mentioned that it was a known issue in Android that would need to be patched and Sumsung would need to include it in their firmware updates, so I’m still hopeful there. Other than that some had reset their phones without the Samsung app such as Social Hub and Game Hub and they’ve said that’s helped, but others have again said that made no difference.

      As I said before it is from personal experience, I’ve just been one of the many unlucky people and as I said in the post on my blog; ‘If battery life is not an issue and you are always close to a power source than this is the best phone in existence.’

      Well good luck to those going for the S2… I got mine imported so spent quite a bit back then and that would explain my frustrations when it didn’t meet my expectations coming from an iPhone 3G, I was expecting battery life equivalent to what I had seen and experienced from an iPhone 4.

  5. I was seriously considering buying an S2 but after reading multiple posts about the dreaded battery life problem, I’m having double thoughts….. hmmmmmm..

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