The contract was up on the HTC Widlfire and the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S3 meant the prior model Galaxy S2 underwent a bit of a price drop – so I pounced. Despite it being exactly a year old model, I’m in shock and a little bit enamoured. The S2 packs in a lot of technology and it works so well, you forgive one or two rough edges.
In black, it’s a bit of a 2001 Space Odessey black slab; no design award winner. With power and volume buttons either side, there’s only one physical Home key on the front, the remaining Menu and Back buttons are soft keys. The MHL port at the bottom is both USB charging socket and output to HDMI (if you get the right cable). The 3.5mm headphone jack is on the top. The super responsive 4.3 inch touch screen dominates, with a very narrow bezel (perhaps a little too narrow for comfort). The case is surprisingly thin and compares well against other current phones, albeit, the finish feels a little too plastic.
However, hit the power button and WOW! The display is pin-sharp, with vibrant colour and excellent contrast. Native resolution of 800 by 480 means you can flip into landscape and get one of the best displays around, including one of the best soft keyboard layouts. Viewing angles are good, but the auto brightness feature gets unpredictable, so I mostly turn this off.
The larger screen size means that while the phone is bulky, it’s a joy for movie playback, detail is sharp and action is smooth. It compares well with other screens, giving dark black and bold, warm colours. It is a very smooth screen with little stutter or pixelation. Everyone instantly gets touch-to-zoom which works faultlessly.
Running Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread, you get seven home screens customisable with widgets and shortcuts. The utility menu is smoothly invoked with a swipe down, to quickly activate WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and Auto Rotation settings.
Phone, Contact, Messaging and Applications remain docked at the bottom when you are browsing the home screens. Customisers have the standard Android capabilities to personalise the phone with masses of Applications, Shortcuts, Folders, Wallpaper and numerous Samsung widgets.
Samsung has overlaid Android with its TouchWiz 4.0 interface which is functional hasn’t irritated me like HTC Sense (yet). The four Samsung ‘hubs’ I’ll cover another time – Music, Games, Readers and Social Hub (also a portal to Kobo bookstore and Magazines via Zinio)
The S2 has a good selection of apps loaded by default without an overload of Samsung bloatware. The essentials are all there, sign into your Google account and email is up and running. Google calendar still refuses to play, but I know that’s fixable. Startup the wi-fi service, download Facebook and Twitter and you’re running.
The Galaxy S2 has a dual core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor, 1GB of RAM and performs like a PC. Browsing web pages is effortlessly quick and is particularly impressive over wi-fi. Swapping between applications is never a chore. That wi-fi performance is excellent – app downloads blink by (showing me just how poorly the HTC performed). Swiping and task switching are effortless, there’s barely any lag and the screen refresh is smooth.
Battery life not as good as I’d like – even after I’ve turned off GPS, sync, adjusted the brightness, turned on Power Saving Mode to cut in when the power gets to 50%. With Wi-Fi on, outdoor brightness, a bit of web browsing, email and photos, I can get part way into a second day.
The camera resolution is 8-megapixels and has a decently quick virtual shutter. Stills are great for point-and-shoot, with very little noise and good colour, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the camera better. After the worst camera on the planet in the HTC Wildfire, I’m in raptures with this. Even the front-facing 2-megapixel camera takes better quality pictures.
I’m still playing with the manual controls, but already the camera is a vast inprovement over previous phone offerings. ISO adjusts from 100-800, there are five white balance settings and three metering settings. The Auto focus is solid and Macro mode is sharp to around 10cm which means I get to play around some. Samsung also offers Smile Shot, Beauty, Action, Cartoon and Panorama scene modes which are standards now carried through to the S3′s camera. Face Detection kicks in rapidly and hasn’t been wrong yet.
While the S2 shoots HD video at 720p and 1080p at 30fps with good results, it’s not as sharp as I’d like, but hey, it’s in hi-def! On a phone!
The S2 has 12GB storage on-board of which I’ve got 11.57 free with Android loaded, all the standard apps and a few photos taken with the camera. I’ve transferred my old 4GB micro SD card containing my music and essential bits and pieces from the old phone and it looks paltry.
One confusion is the switch from USB to MTP (Media Transport Protocol) as the default cable connection. Plug the S2 into the laptop over USB as I did, you may find the storage and SD card shows up folder structures but no contents. You need to revert to the classic Android USB utilities then everything is fine. But you won’t need it with Kies (below).
Polaris Office lets you create and edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. In portrait mode we did find the keyboard a bit cramped and frequently tapped the wrong keys and the predictive text isn’t as impressive as the iPhone 4. Alternatively the Swipe keyboard detects words as you drag your fingers over the keys, it works pretty well, although frequently didn’t recognize our choices, although this probably has more to do with us hitting the wrong keys. In landscape mode typing is far easier.
Additionally, you get Exchange Activesync, and Kies Air for accessing phone content over WiFi from a PC.
The Kies Air app is an amazing remote desktop (RDP) add-on; it allows you to browse the contents of your Galaxy S2 handset on your PC via your wireless network. Open the app, type the address it gives you into your PC’s web browser and browse the entire contents of the phone. You can view and manage photos, messages, bookmarks, call logs, video and music – all via Kies Air’s browser interface which includes a media player, image preview and categorised navigation for everything on the phone.
Oh yes; the phone works really nicely.
You may gather I’m quite impressed with the S2. Yes, certain fruit-based phones and Samsung’s newer S3 may beat it in some departments, but for the contract prices now available, this has to be one of the best packages of phone technology on the market. Expect more gushing reviews on the S2 here soon. RC