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Samsung Galaxy S II Review – Unlocked Edition

 

The Samsung Galaxy S II has easily been one of the most anticipated and talked about Android devices of all time.  When it was first introduced back at MWC earlier this year, we all started counting the days to its U.S. arrival after seeing the specs that Sammie was claiming to have included.  The problem is, that we are still waiting.  There is no telling why it has been left off of our shores, but that’s the unfortunate story.

So since all of the U.S. carriers and Samsung seem to be dragging their little feet on this one, I decided to grab the unlocked version, which works on AT&T’s HSPA+, to see if this device could really live up to all of the hype.  I also wanted to give you all a preview ahead of its U.S. release, just in case you were trying to decide whether or not you should pick up the DROID3 now, wait for this, or skip them all and head straight for the DROID Bionic.

Let’s dive in and see if it could live up to our high standards – something very few devices have been able to do over the last couple of months.  

The Good:

  • Hardware:  I’m not sure where to begin on this because it’s so damn good.  The device I’m using has a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, an 8MP camera that can shoot 1080p video, a front 2MP camera for video chats, 4.3″ Super AMOLED Plus screen, is thinner that almost any phone on the planet, weighs little to nothing, and has a 1650mAh battery that lasts forever.  The only thing missing here is an HDMI port, but Samsung has an adapter that can take care of that.  This phone is 100% today’s tech and you can just feel it instantly when you use it for the first time.
  • Screen:  The 4.3″ Super AMOLED Plus screen on the Galaxy S II is stunning.  As readers of this site, you already know that we’re big fans of these displays after we first held the DROID Charge, but this phone has only strengthened those feelings.  The resolution may be lower than many of the newer phones who are sporting “qHD” displays, but when it looks this vibrant and beautiful, resolution means nothing.
  • Battery life:  Let’s just say that I’ve not once been in a situation with this phone where I was worried about battery life.  And trust me when I say that I’ve been using this phone constantly since picking it up on both 3G and WiFi.  It will easily get you through an entire day without having to plug it in.  For example today, my SGS2 was unplugged around 7:15AM and replugged at 4:30PM and still had 68% left.  Remarkable, right?
  • Camera:  By no means am I a professional photographer, but I do like to think that I can tell if a camera takes decent photos or not.  The SGS2 is more than impressive to me with its 8MP shooter.  I’ve attached a variety of indoor and outdoor shots with different lighting below which I think you’ll also be impressed by.

(Click for full size versions.)
 
 

  • Front camera:  Samsung continued with their trend of putting high-end parts into this phone by not skimping on their front camera like most phone manufacturers seem to be doing.  They tossed in a 2MP camera for video chatting or self photos and not just a VGA as seen on the DROID3.  Solid.
  • Weight:  This phone is sooooo light.  Could it be too light?  Maybe to some, but to me it was a breath of fresh air after coming from a tank an HTC Thunderbolt.  There are actually times when I forget that it’s in my pocket, even with it’s massive 4.3″ screen taking up space.
  • Build:  A lot of people aren’t fans of the plastics that Samsung uses for their products, but there is something about this phone that just feels solid.  While I still wouldn’t recommend anyone corner-dropping it on concrete, I still feel like this phone could easily last through an entire 2-year contract – and that’s what we’re looking for, right?  And to give you an idea of the quality, you’ll want to watch the battery cover get abused and come out unscathed at this post.
  • Software:  It’s running Android 2.3.3 with TouchWiz on top of it.  While I can’t stand TW, it’s hard to hate the fact that the device is running one of the newest versions of Android available.  This is one of those phones that really highlights how stable Android as a mobile OS has become.  There are zero lag issues, apps load incredibly quick, and the overall experience is something that I wish all Android phones could experience.  Oh, and I’m also a huge fan of the pulldown toggles, so I’ve got to give TouchWiz at least a little props there.

 

  • Built-in screenshots:   Samsung has been building screenshot technology into their devices for almost a year now and we wish other manufacturers would take note.  With devices like the SGS2, you don’t need to root just to take screenshots of home screens.  All you need to do here is press in the physical home button and then tap the lock button to snap one.  Yep, we’re looking at you now Motorola and HTC.
  • HSPA+ (4G):  OK, so it’s not real 4G, but at least it’s faster than regular 3G.  Our only worry is that the U.S. version that lands on Verizon won’t be 4G LTE.  There are no real confirmations of that being the case, but rumors behind the scenes have certainly suggested that it won’t be.  If it’s not though, it would still be hard for me to not recommend that you buy this phone – it’s seriously that impressive.

The Not-so-Good:

  • Physical home button:  Yeah, I’m not going to lie, the physical button on this thing is a major turn-off.  If an Apple fan ever needed a spot on example of how Samsung is copying their stuff, they should be pointing right at this.  I have no idea why they decided to get rid of the Home and Search buttons to make room for this god-awful button, but they certainly did.

  • TouchWiz:  TouchWiz sucks for the most part, I’ve made this pretty clear.  But this is the most polished version I’ve seen and you can tell that it has definitely come a long way.  Samsung has taken this new magazine-esque approach that is close to being acceptable.  They have even tossed in some pretty solid features like AllShare and a WiFi Direct transfer system – unfortunately, as an Android homer, I want stock.

 

  • No HDMI-out:  Like I mentioned in the Hardware section, this phone does not have an actual HDMI-out port.  The good news is that Samsung already has a converter to give you an HDMI-out experience.  While the built-in port would have been nice, at least you have an option to make it work already.  It’s too bad it’ll cost you extra.
  • Low screen resolution:  As you can see, this is one of those that we threw in because we were struggling to find things wrong with the device.  Since the majority of phone manufacturers are coming out with “qHD” resolutions, we had to fault Samsung a little for still putting out a device with a 480×800 resolution.
  • Speaker:  The speaker on this phone is not going to blow you away.  It does get pretty loud for ringtones and such, but my experience on actual speakerphone’d calls was not all that impressive.
  • Seriously, that’s all that has bugged me about this phone…

Benchmarks:

  

The rest of the benchmarks can be seen at this post.

Hands-on and Quick Walk-through:

YouTube Preview Image

Gallery:

The Verdict:

It’s the best phone I’ve used to date – I’m talking ever, and I go through a lot of phones.  Since opening the pretty black package and firing it up for the first time almost 3 weeks ago now, I haven’t been able to put it down.  I’m constantly finding reasons to pull this phone out and use it.  The camera takes incredible photos, it browses the internet like a champ, has zero compatibility issues with the apps that I use, gets unbelievable life out of a single battery charge, and powers through everything I’ve ever tested it with thanks to its dual-core processor.  The Samsung Galaxy S II truly is one of the first Android devices that feels 100% complete.

Now, with all that said, there is one major situation that we need to talk about.  Let’s say this device comes out before the DROID Bionic – should you pass on it or pick it up instead?  That’s a very tough call.  Like I mentioned earlier, rumors would suggest that this phone will launch without a 4G LTE radio on Verizon, making this decision incredibly tricky.  All of the specs are future-proofed and there is no way you would ever be disappointed with it, but I know that many of you are following the “4G LTE or bust” moniker.

I’ll just say again that this is the best phone I’ve ever used (for now), however, that doesn’t mean the Bionic couldn’t come in and quickly steal that title away in a few weeks.  We’ve heard some pretty mind blowing things about the Bionic over the last couple of days from a few key friends, so let’s just end this by saying – August should be a fun month.

  • Steinhart

    I noticed you didnt mention call quality like with the razr or bionic can you mention if its on par with those other phones??

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Waldron/100003116600477 Michael Waldron

    ***I would just like to point out that AT&T’s HSPA+ network is almost an equivalent to Verizon’s LTE network at just under 1 megabyte of a difference.*** – AT&T sells this phone with a $200 dollar price tag. You can also buy the Skyrocket at AT&T with a 1.5 Duel Core Processor that has AT&T’s LTE network (in major cities).

    FACT: I used to use Verizon.
    FACT: AT&T offers more for less.
    FACT: AT&T’s network zooms past Verizon according to major networking bench-markers.

    ((I do not still have the links to my sources but this is not bias information, this is none but the truth. This is due to my incredibly fast search methods & didn’t realized I’d need to save the links to share on Droid Life. But I did so ultimately it’s up to you on what you believe.))

     I remember when you showed me how to ROOT my Motorola Droid almost 2 years ago. Very cool!

    • dgarra

      AT&Ts HSPA+ network is nowhere close to Verizon’s LTE, in most instances AT&T’s fastest is less than half of Verizon LTEs slowest.  No idea where you heard otherwise.

      AT&T and Verizon cost almost the exact same amount, but AT&T 3G is vastly superior to Verizon 3G. I haven’t used AT&T LTE yet so I can’t comment on that. Verizon, however, works everywhere.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Waldron/100003116600477 Michael Waldron

    ***I would just like to point out that AT&T’s HSPA+ network is almost an equivalent to Verizon’s LTE network at just under 1 megabyte of a difference.*** – AT&T sells this phone with a $200 dollar price tag. You can also buy the Skyrocket at AT&T with a 1.5 Duel Core Processor that has AT&T’s LTE network (in major cities).

    FACT: I used to use Verizon.
    FACT: AT&T offers more for less.
    FACT: AT&T’s network zooms past Verizon according to major networking bench-markers.

    ((I do not still have the links to my sources but this is not bias information, this is none but the truth. This is due to my incredibly fast search methods & didn’t realized I’d need to save the links to share on Droid Life. But I did so ultimately it’s up to you on what you believe.))

    @kellex:disqus I remember when you showed me how to ROOT my Motorola Droid almost 2 years ago. Very cool!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Waldron/100003116600477 Michael Waldron

    ***I would just like to point out that AT&T’s HSPA+ network is almost an equivalent to Verizon’s LTE network at just under 1 megabyte of a difference.*** – AT&T sells this phone with a $200 dollar price tag. You can also buy the Skyrocket at AT&T with a 1.5 Duel Core Processor that has AT&T’s LTE network (in major cities).

    FACT: I used to use Verizon.
    FACT: AT&T offers more for less.
    FACT: AT&T’s network zooms past Verizon according to major networking bench-markers.

    ((I do not still have the links to my sources but this is not bias information, this is none but the truth. This is due to my incredibly fast search methods & didn’t realized I’d need to save the links to share on Droid Life. But I did so ultimately it’s up to you on what you believe.))

    @kellex:disqus I remember when you showed me how to ROOT my Motorola Droid almost 2 years ago. Very cool!

  • Tomr

    I bought the phone, loved it, but had to return it! POP3 email does not work properly. Qquite often when a phone is tested they neglect to check email and if it works correctly. They usually just check the Goolgle stuff. All the Sprint techs in the world could not fix it. It turns out that it is a Touch Wiz software issue. I did not want to wait forever for Samsung send an update to fix. I am now waiting for the pure Prime experience to come out in a month or so.

  • Isaac Trumbo

    I just got the Samsung Infuse 4G, it has a 4.5″ screen, great battery life, no physical home button, thin, sexy… I love it!! The Galaxy S II looks awesome too. So many great phones out there! :D At least Android is the common denominator.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Duncan-Smit/100001154972519 Duncan Smit

    I love my SGS2, i will find and use any excuse to get it out of my pocket. People that i know who are true apple fanboys even bought it and that’s saying something. I LOVE IT.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll take one in the Sprint form, please.

  • Na

    I actually like the home button. I hate accidentally tapping my homescreen button. I like the way this one is set up.

  • Kyla

    How durable is the SGS2? I usually keep my motorola droid (original) in my backpocket while working and end up sitting on it.. I’m not heavy or anything but I’m already afraid if its too thin it might break in half?

  • Anonymous

    i f-ing love the home button!  Its so satisfying to press a big button for going home and leaving an app.  seriously! it also makes it look nice imo.  the real problem is its built-in voice program thing and their app stores.  terrible and stupid implementations.  

  • Miguel

    What theme pack was he using when it was still on adw?

  • Andril

    Damn that would be awesome in my parts – Can you hook a brother up?

  • Jason

    I can see why Crapple is sueing them! lol I don’t even see how sammy can say there not copying from them! That button on the front screen? The app icons? Funny thing is, when peeps get this phone and show it off, people are going to ask them if thats the *phone5. Can’t see a droid fan liking this phone with as much as it looks like our nemisis. (I know there no compition to us now, just saying)
    Everyone wants 4G now because of the new 2 year lock in for phones! If were going to buy a new phone and be stuck with it for 20 months it might as weel be able to utilize the new network. That’s my thinking on a new phone. Just waiting for my upgrade and seeing what is coming out will be the best for the next 2 years.

  • 4g63mark

    There’s lots to like about this phone but I don’t think I can get past it’s design.  I hate that button that makes it look like a cheap iPhone knockoff.  Also I dont like that flat non contoured shape that is uncomfortable in hand.  So far the best in hand devices as far as proper fitment are the Thunderbolt and the Charge.  But then again I don’t give a damn about how skinny it is.  Maybe because I’m not one of those fags wearing skinny jeans. 

    I like that its quick and makes proper use of its dual core processor unlike the idiots at Motorola.  The Touch Wiz and those lame wanna-be iPhone icons REALLY suck, so I’d have to eliminate as much of that as possible with a 3rd party launcher.  But the screen is every bit as beautiful as my DROID Charge.  Unless it comes to Verizon with 4G, I’d never consider trading it for my Charge OR my Incredible 2, but its still a cool enough phone for me to recommend it to certain people.  (Obviously I’d never recommend it to someone who hates iPhones as much as I do.  It would have to be AWESOME X 1000 for me to sport something that looks like a cheap fake iPhone.  But then again I would recommend buying this phone rather than putting MIUI on an existing device every single time.)

    • dieringer scott

      Im gay and you offended me

  • Anonymous

    Wow…This is really very great briefly review of Samsung Galaxy S II.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Emaw-Kennedy/504157652 Michael Emaw Kennedy

    I really like this phone but the one physical button kills it for me!

  • Eric V

    This or the iPhone 5 for my next phone, Thunderbolt is great but it gets boring so lets hope the SGSII can blow the iPhone 5 outta the water. Only if Android had a screen like apple’s and iTunes.

  • Eric V

    Didnt mean to Double post sorry

  • http://twitter.com/tittlemanscrest Stephen Parker

    TouchWiz is probably the most aesthetically unappealing UI I’ve seen on an Android device. I feel that it’s very childish looking. Especially with the colors they choose. I’m not sure that even makes sense, but it’s the best way I could explain it. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m asking from true ignorance here: what’s so bad about TouchWiz? I’ve heard a lot of people say it, but not really give a reason. Is it just because it looks like iOS?

  • Anonymous

    The Samsung Galaxy S II is a serious smartphone. Also, The S2 is a best mobile for web browsing, thanks to an accomplished web browser, with zoom, a big display and very quick data access.

    Samsung c3300

  • Anonymous

    What is the OG DROID? I have a DROID 2, but don’t remember hearing about the OG DROID. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    What is the OG DROID? I have a DROID 2, but don’t remember hearing about the OG DROID. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Make this 4G LTE and there is not a single phone out there that can compete with it – NOT ONE!

  • Anonymous

    Will there be a version with a physical QWERTY keyboard?  If it’s that thin and light, it would seem to be a possibility…

  • Doc Wllk

    I just did  a quick Google search for an extended life battery for the SGS2 and I found one very similar to the iPhone style Mophie juice packs. They are the ones that combine a case and an extended life battery into one. This may be strange but that is a big selling point for me and I hope they bring that accessory over to the states with the phone. If so that will be another reason to wait for it.

  • http://twitter.com/NeofiteXL Keith Kegler

    I think this might be my next phone….still rocking my OG Droid.

  • Anonymous

    Get that thing running CM7 as soon as its available!

  • Adamakesbi

    can’t wait to upgrade from my fascinate to this.

  • Anonymous

    What’s the big deal about HDMI out? Do you even know what MHL is?

  • http://twitter.com/jamdev12 jamdev12

    Hi Kellex,

    I was very inking towards getting a Droid Charge because of your review a few weeks ago. The thing that interested me the most about your review about the Charge was the battery life you talked about so much. You said it was great and that it surpassed the Thunderbolt in every way. I decided to wait and see what Anantech’s site would have to say and I trust their reviews a lot. They came to the conclussion that the battery tests for the Charge were worst than the Thunderbolt. I was very disapointed as I trust your site alot for many of my choices, but the fact that you gave the Charge a good review even though the battery life on it was weak gave me pause about this review as well. I would like nothing more than a Samsung Galaxy S2, but until Anantech gives it a fair review, I’ll be sitting by the sidelines waiting for the best phone to get.

  • Trdracer21

    if the sg2 dont come with lte imma be PISS i want this phone so so bad but a bionic better have 1gb of ram an a unlocked bootloader!!!

  • Trdracer21

    if the sg2 dont come with lte imma be PISS i want this phone so so bad but a bionic better have 1gb of ram an a unlocked bootloader!!!

  • Will Frame

    The Bionic will be fail. Motorola has been nothing but disappointment to me over the last year. They like to hype their devices, but they can rarely back up the hype and their stubborn refusal to abandon (or optimize) Motoblur and unlock the bootloaders of all of their devices prove that they simply don’t care what their customers want.

    Samsung listened to all of the complaints of the original Galaxy series (especially GPS) and came back with a home run. They have also sped up their release of updates.

    For me, the Atrix and my XOOM were the final straws. Motorola has lost my confidence.

  • Anonymous

    Not an Apple fanboy, but I love hard home buttons.  Too many times have my phones lagged and it’s nice to rely on a hard button to get me to the home screen or task switch.  Capacitive buttons just don’t give the same feedback.

  • http://www.facebook.com/achapman91 Drew Chapman

    what is the clock on your widgetlocker lock screen?

  • http://www.facebook.com/niang.gawane Niang Gawane

    i want this

  • Anonymous

    As far as comparing the bionic to this phone…can you? is it really apples to apples comparing two phones on two different carriers with different clock speeds? i am not being smart alec…i am honestly trying to understand. i don’t see a direct comparison between this phone and the dx2…different carriers…different clockspeeds…different android versions. that seems too different to compare to me. i mean, sure, i would rather have the benchmarks that this phone is putting out, but i can’t. i am a verizon customer. there is no guarantee that the version of this phone verizon would carry…assuming they decide to carry, would match these specs, right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/achapman91 Drew Chapman

    I have an upgrade in September, I feel like I’m going to have to make a huge decision.

  • Anonymous

    Hoping Sprint gets a WiMax version of this phone.

  • Anonymous

    Nice review. Very enthusiastic. Question: What is the RAM like? and, what about HD capacity, 16GB on board?

  • tjhrulz

    Hey kellen I always want to know this about devices but you seem to never say it anymore, what is the RAM in this device 728?

    • Stephen D

      1 gig, I believe it has around 880mb usable.

      • tjhrulz

        Thank you, googled it and found no solid evidence.

  • WormDoes

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Bionic was vanilla. Moto’s first flagship Andy was the OG, they need another and this could very well be it. That being said, I could care less about a locked down phone from Moto. I want Kernels and control

  • WormDoes

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Bionic was vanilla. Moto’s first flagship Andy was the OG, they need another and this could very well be it. That being said, I could care less about a locked down phone from Moto. I want Kernels and control

    • RW-1

      ” I could care less about a locked down phone from Moto. I want Kernels and control”

      Contridicting yourself ….

      If it’s locked down, you will not get your own kernel on it, and ROMs might get on it, but it will not be true AOSP ….

  • Gael Curry

    With the increasing use of voice input, I would like to see reviewers assess the MICROPHONE.   Not all are created equal, and some hardly work at all for voice input.