The Samsung Galaxy S II (SGS2) has got to be one of the most anticipated Android phones of 2011. There are already plenty of excellent reviews of the SGS2 (some listed at the end of this post), so I will not write yet another post to review the phone. What I’ll do, instead, is to share my experiences with the SGS2 coming from a Nexus One user. There are big expectations of the SGS2, because it succeeds the Samsung Galaxy S, which was also a superb phone at its time.
Several months ago, I did quick review of the recent line up of Android phones. Nothing stood out as particularly spectacular that would represent a significantly worthy upgrade to the Nexus One. Sure, there were many better phones, but none were, in my opinion, all-around significant enough improvements. Then SGS2 arrived, and it qualified as significantly better for several reasons:
- 8 megapixel auto-focus camera
- Dual-core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex A9 CPU
- Super AMOLED Plus display with true RGB subpixels
- 1GB of RAM, 16GB built-in flash memory
- Very slim (8.49mm) and very light (116gm)
Notice that I omitted to mention the large 4.27″ display. You see, I don’t actually consider that an advantage. I’ve figured that a 4″ display is more than enough. I don’t see any compelling reason why a phone needs to have a 4.3″ display. One of the reasons I liked the Nexus One was its diminutive size. Alright, the Nexus One isn’t exactly diminutive, but it’s more compact than the previous phones I’ve owned (Nokia N97 and N95 8GB prior to the Nexus One). The SGS2 was, in terms of its surface area, too big. I know some people will love the 4.27″ sized display, so this could be a rather subjective matter.
The thinness of the SGS2, at just 8.49mm, is really something spectacular. It might even help win over people (like me) who feel that the display is too large. I’m quite happy that Samsung got rid of the chrome edge that adorned the original Galaxy S. Gorilla glass completely covers the top surface of the SGS2, except for the speaker at the top and the home button at the bottom. The phone’s shell is somewhat featureless, which gives it a very clean look. Overall, this large thin black slate is simply gorgeous. I’m almost willing to forgive the 4.27″ display.
I was still very worried about the size of the SGS2. That is, the size in terms of surface area. It looks very big, too big. It felt too big even when I play with the demo sets. But after using the SGS2 for several hours, it turns out that it didn’t feel too uncomfortable to hold in my hands. I think it could be that my hands are relatively large (at least by Asian standards). On hindsight, I realized that my Nexus One was slightly too small in my hands, lending a sense of insecurity that the phone would slip out of my hands. I liked that the Nexus One doesn’t make much of its presence felt when placed in my pants pockets. The SGS2’s 125.3mm x 66.1mm surface area, however, was just a little too much, and the 8.49mm thinness was not enough to make up for it. Again, I think a 4″ display would have been better. Alright, I’ll stop complaining about the display’s 4.27″ size for the rest of this post.
The SGS2’s display is superb! The Super AMOLED Plus is really magnificent. I’ve simply not seen anything so brilliant. The display is very bright, and the colours come out very vibrant. In fact, the display is so brightly lit that I thought it must have been set at maximum brightness, and I subconsciously worried about how it would drain the battery. But it was not so, on both counts (i.e. it was nowhere near maximum brightness, and it is supposedly quite energy efficient). Viewing photos and watching videos will be so much more enjoyable with such a splendid display.
The SGS2 fails in the “nice to touch” department. The all-plastic shell makes it feel cheap, and the plasticky buttons don’t feel good to push either. The power button of my Nexus One failed me after almost one year of use. I sure hope the SGS2 buttons will be more hardy. The textured back cover helps to make a more secure grip when you hold the phone, and it’s a good thing that Samsung didn’t make it glossy to blend in with the rest of the phone’s overall look.
Like many other Samsung phones, there’s a chin at the back of the SGS2. It’s actually not as pronounced as it looks in photos. I’ve found a usefulness for the chin: It’s something to grip as I pull it out of my pocket. The real purpose, of course, is probably to help the phone balance properly when placed flat on its back, because the 8 megapixel camera housing also protrudes slightly from the back.
One of the thing I love to do very much on my phone is to take photos. I’ve been stuck with 5 megapixel camera phones for many years, starting with the Nokia N95 8GB, the N97, and then the Nexus One. The SGS2 is not just an upgrade of megapixels. It’s the picture quality that has also improved. My Nokia phones clearly produced better quality photos than the Nexus One did. I guess, generally, Nokia made better camera sensors than HTC. I can’t compare directly with Nokia now, but the SGS2 does seem to produce better photos than the Nexus One (again, I’m talking about image quality, not about megapixel count). Better than the iPhone 4 too, if I may add. The shot-to-shot time on the SGS2 is also much faster than the Nexus One, but I still no match for the iPhone 4.
Although the Nexus One’s 1GHz Snapdragon CPU was no slow-coach, newer more demanding applications are starting to push its limits, and this year, everyone starts to look at dual-core processors. The SGS2’s dual-core 1.2GHz Exynos processor, based on ARMv7 Cortex A9 architecture, is the current champion of mobile phone CPUs, with no competition in sight at this time.
I wasn’t looking out much for better sound quality when I was deciding if I should get the SGS2. But when I took my first phone call on the SGS2, I immediately noticed the superior sound quality of its earpiece over that of the Nexus One. The bass reproduction is strong and clearly present. Voice is crisp, and overall sounds are crystal clear. I’m also pretty surprised at the quality of the earphone output, using a proper pair of earphones (I’ve made it a habit of immediately abandoning the free earphones included with any music-playing product). I’m not going to critique it like an audiophile would expect of audiophile-class equipment, so I’ll just summarize thus: It’s the best I’ve heard from any mobile phone.
GPS fixing speed on the SGS2 is remarkably faster than the Nexus One. In places where it might have taken a minute for my Nexus One, the SGS2 took like 10 to 15 seconds. Getting an accurate fix on your map location is now a lot more convenient. I am quite surprised that the SGS2 can even get a GPS fix while it is indoors… 3m away from the nearest window.
Last… and certainly not the least, something that is very important: battery life. I think it is safe to say, it beats the Nexus One. So far I’ve got less than 5 full charges on the phone. Each cycle the battery seems to do better and better. Of course, it will plateau somewhere and reach its optimal performance level. Right now, it’s doing about 2% battery drain per hour with light use (yes, the phone is actually used… not that I’m just leaving it on standby without touching it).
So that’s my thoughts on the SGS2. Apart from the oversized display, I’m liking everything else about it. I feel it’s a worthy upgrade from the Nexus One.
- Super AMOLED Plus display is awesome
- Long battery life
- Quick GPS fix
- Camera quality
- Overall good looks (of the handset)
- And… the original 5 reasons at the top of this post
- 4.27″ display is too big
- Cheap plasticky feel
Incidentally, I found myself quite liking Samsung’s firmware. I had originally planned on jumping to CyanogenMod 7 as soon as I can, but I’ve decided to stay with Samsung’s firmware. At least for now. I’ll write more about this another time.
If you like links to full SGS2 reviews, try the following: