Exactly one year ago, Samsung unleashed on the world a phone that would reshape not only the Android landscape but the smartphone market as a whole. The Samsung Galaxy S was a screaming success carrying Samsung to a great end to 2010 and into a whole lot of momentum for 2011.
A few incremental upgrades were given to the Galaxy S and were pushed out as different variants like the Fascinate 4G, Infuse 4G (which we will review shortly) and the DROID Charge. But all of these phones were simply “intermediary” phones to a true successor; the Samsung Galaxy S II. We will see if it will live up to the burden of being the sequel to one of the top selling Android phones of all time.
The first thing you will notice on the Samsung Galaxy S II is the incredible thinness of the device. Its predecessor, the original Galaxy S, was already a thin device to begin with but Samsung saw fit to put it on a diet (while bumping up the proverbial muscles to a dual-core CPU). Like the Xperia Arc we reviewed, the thinness doesn’t really hit you until you actually have the device in hand.
At 8.49mm thin the Samsung Galaxy S II is the thinnest phone we have reviewed at Android Bugle. Again, like with the Arc, the ridiculous thinness begs the question, where does it all go? This Houdini-esque trickery does have some downsides though. Some people will find it rather odd to hold during regular use or during calls because of the form factor. But we had no problems in everyday use and the “reversed” chin, or “butt” as some friends have called it, really helps with the ergonomics especially when used for gaming or browsing.
On the subject of ergonomics, the Galaxy S II clocks in at an incredibly slender 116g, which makes it the lightest phone we’ve ever reviewed. We would have liked to see some metal in the construction of the Galaxy S II (like the Galaxy S Captivate). It would go a long way in giving the phone a more premium feel, better ergonomics and more reassurance in the overall long term durability of the phone.
On the flipside, while the phone itself is entirely made of plastic it certainly is well put together and clearly we understand that Samsung has made the weight of the Galaxy S II a top priority and they surely succeeded. Unlike the original Galaxy S and many of its variants the Galaxy S II sheds it’s black glossy plastic back for a textured snap on cover that allows for a better grip on the phone and is surprisingly flexible.
Although we feel it’s a poor man’s substitute for a reliable rubberized coating. Nevertheless it is a good improvement on the fingerprint prone glossy back of its predecessors.
Again like the Galaxy S and many variants, the Galaxy S II lacks a notification light. We would like to see this on all Android devices but sadly given their track record, I believe Samsung will not include them on future phones. Hopefully I’m wrong.
Android 2.3? Check. Latest TouchWiz 4.0? Check. Does it mean a good experience? We think so. First off, it’s good to finally see that a top of the line phone released with the latest version of Android. So we’ll hand it to Samsung for being on the ball and shipping the Galaxy S II with Android 2.3 Gingerbread.
Secondly, TouchWiz has been an interesting story. Somewhat like Sense UI from HTC, TouchWiz began on a platform other than Android but has made its greatest evolutionary steps on top of Google’s OS. Touch- Wiz 3.0 wasn’t exactly the most warmly welcomed overlay, especially amongst Android enthusiasts that might notice a resemblance to the UI of a competing Operating System.
Since a good majority of TouchWiz improvements have simply been carried over from TouchWiz 3.0 you can check out our Galaxy S Fascinate 4G review for a more in depth look at the changes that Samsung has implemented in the past year and a half including the various Hubs and interface tweaks.
We will try to focus on the additions to TouchWiz 4.0 that make it much more palatable and almost acceptable to even the most ardent Android enthusiasts. First off, Samsung seems to have introduced a theme of accelerometer and gyroscope based gestures. In the browser and in pictures, if a user holds down two fingers on the screen and tilts the phone forwards or backwards it results in zooming in and out. We aren’t sure if this is a good replacement for the ubiquitous pinch gesture but it certainly is an interesting concept.
Another interesting gesture-based addition is the tilting motion that allows for users to move widgets from homescreen to homescreen. This allows widgets, folders and shortcuts to be placed without having to slide the to the sides and waiting for it to switch homescreens. This feature we can definitely see people using regularly when wanting to spruce things up on their homescreen.
Overall these gesture based improvements, the changes to the looks (like widgets) to the UI and the enhanced features all have really made a drastic difference in the overall experience of TouchWiz 4.0 and Android 2.3 for one of the best mobile experiences available.
That being said the most ardent Android enthusiasts will always look to get stock UI, and we totally understand. But for people who are have no preferences, TouchWiz 4.0 definitely is up there with HTC’s Sense 3.0 as the most polished of the custom UIs.
Most of our reviews’ conclusions will highlight the overall desirability of the device being reviewed. Of course every single one of them has their merit and of course their downfalls. But for the Galaxy S II, I’ll keep it simple, it’s not just the best smartphone available at Bell/Virgin/Sasktel, it’s not just the best smartphone available in Canada, it is the best smartphone you can get in the world. As other major carriers in Canada get their version of the Galaxy S II, the sentiment will probably stay the same.
This phone will simply blow any potential buyers away with the total package of hardware and software. For those looking to stick with Bell and want the overall best superphone they have to offer look no further than the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G.
The Verdict: Hardware
Overall Appearance: 9.5/10
Could have been made of more premium material but out of this world thinness and overall form factor are fantastic.
While we wish it had qHD resolution this screen is simply the best on the market by a mile. Fixed our biggest complaint with Super AMOLED by getting rid of PenTile pixel matrix.
Responsive back and menu buttons, nice home/volume buttons but once again odd placement of power button.
Internal Hardware: 10/10
HSPA+ speeds were excellent, fantastic performance, all from the best hardware available in a smartphone, period.
Speaker and Microphone: 8.5/10
Earpiece and microphone were good and decent at max sound. Exterior speaker is quite good.
Top notch stills and phenomenal 1080p HD recording, top of class, competing easily with low/mid range point and shoot digital cameras and smartphone camera kings; Apple iPhone 4, Nokia N8
The Verdict: Software
UI Changes: 8.5/10
TouchWiz 4.0 brings MUCH more to the table than TW3. Still the ire of Android purists but some very nice additions that we would not be surprised to see in Stock Android. Android 2.3 out of the box.
Additional Enhancements: 8.5/10
Motion controls are odd but very functional. Nice addition of multitouch keyboard and Swype
Included Apps/Bloatware: 7/10
Bearable level of bloatware, but of course room for improvement.
Overall Score: 9/10