REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy S 2

Upon first picking up the Samsung Galaxy S II, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you're merely lifting some dummy model, or an empty chassis; it's that light. Its 116 gram weight is complimented by its remarkably slim design, with a thickness of 8.49 mm making it one of the thinnest smartphones on the market. Though we'd usually frown at the use of plastics over metal casings for our phones, here it makes sense, keeping the device so light that it's easy to forget it is sitting in your pocket at all. While the silver edging and central home button apes the iPhone design somewhat, we're fans of the textured effect on the rear, giving the wafer-thin handset some much needed, grip-saving, friction.

Though thin and light, the Samsung Galaxy S II is also a large smartphone, measuring up at a width of 66.1mm by a height of 125.3mm. It may be a sticking point for those not too comfortable holding bigger devices to the side of their heads, but the size is not without good reason. Samsung have slapped a gorgeous 4.3 inch super AMOLED screen onto the front of the phone, which is a real joy to view. Though its resolution isn't quite of Retina Display standards (coming in at 480x800 pixels compared to the iPhone 4's 640x960), we felt that its colours and contrast ratio were superior. Fantastic brightness levels not only bring photos and videos to life, but also make use in strong sunlight more palatable than with many rival handsets, as well as having a superbly wide viewing angle.

The Galaxy S II is also as fast as it is light, bright and thin, thanks to the inclusion of a dual-core 1.2GHz processor. It can't be stressed enough how great an effect the chip has on the overall premium feel the phone has; it's by a country mile the silkiest Android phone we've had the pleasure of playing with. Swiping through Android's multiple homescreens is swift and responsive, while the usual sluggish effect of running multiple, system intensive apps at once is all but absent here. Flash content for instance, usually a testing drain on Android phone's usability, is handled with ease, even when embedded within a busy web page. Likewise, playing 3D games like Gameloft's N.O.V.A was akin to playing with a dedicated handheld console. The dual-core makes the sometimes flaky nature of the Android OS feel far more polished overall.

It's a shame then that Samsung's tweaking of the core Android 2.3 Gingerbread experience is a bit of a mixed bag then. Version 4.0 of the company's TouchWiz UI sits on top of the standard Android interface. Some additions are genuinely useful; a pre-loaded Task Manager application lets you easily keep tabs on apps running in the background, while Polaris Office is very useful if you need to do some light editing of Word, Excel or Powerpoint documents on the go.

However the four Samsung Hubs that are central to the 4.0 version of TouchWiz are a hit-and-miss affair. The Social Hub is a nice way of pooling all your networks and contacts into one feed, though you're unlikely to favour it over dedicated social networking apps for Facebook and Twitter or the native email client. The Gaming Hub offers a handful of free titles, but much better stuff is already available on the Android Market store, and much of that also free. The Music Hub uses the 7Digital platform to sell you MP3s, but is no match for iTunes in terms of the breadth of the catalogue nor its presentation. The Reader Hub is probably the pick of the bunch therefore, offering book downloads from Kobo, newspapers from PressDisplay and magazines from Zinio, in a slick library interface. There's also a totally unnecessary Samsung Apps store to go alongside the regular Android Market; stick to Google's offering for both a wider range and higher quality of apps.

Some light motion controls are also available when handling the Samsung Galaxy S II thanks to the TouchWiz UI. Holding the screen with two fingers and then tilting the device to activate the accelerometer will see web pages and images zoom in and out, as well as certain thumbnail views tapering and tilting. You can also organise homescreens in a similar way by holding down an app and then tilting the handset to drag the icon to another location. It works very well, with the dual-core again preventing any lag. It's hard though to see much of a practical application for the motion features present here over the regular tap and swipe controls.

An excellent camera is also on hand with the Samsung Galaxy S II. The 8MP snapper sits centrally at the top of the handset's rear side, and also features an LED flash. A clean interface with plenty of picture modes makes it a breeze to set up a picture, with an autofocus as good as any we've seen on a smartphone. Again, the dual-core means that the camera app fires up almost instantly, meaning you'll have no excuses for missing a precious moment. It's even more impressive when shooting and playing back 1080p video, producing sharp, judder-free images. While not a match for a dedicated digital camera, the Samsung Galaxy S 2 is more than a match for all other smartphones in this regard, baring perhaps the Nokia N8.


It's genuinely hard to find fault with the Samsung Galaxy S II. Though Android and Samsung's own TouchWiz UI still aren't quite up to the sleek standards of iOS, the hardware on show here makes this not only the greatest Android device we've seen so far, but a definite equal for the iPhone 4. Its zippy processor and deft handling of Flash content may even make it the better of the two devices in some eyes. Samsung have really raised the stakes here. Steve Jobs and co are going to have to pull something really special out of the bag with the iPhone 5 to top this offering.


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