SGS2 Intro

The road to our Galaxy S2 review has been a long one. The first time we saw the device was at Mobile World Congress, where it was initially announced. There, Anand and myself played with and hurriedly benchmarked one and came away more than a bit disappointed with performance. I set my expectations based on our initial experience and came away from the conference prepared to be underwhelmed when the device launched internationally and stateside. There was never any doubt in my mind that the device would be a runaway success just like the first one, but I still came away disappointed.

Boy was I wrong. The device that launched internationally is completely different, in the positive sense.

It took a long time for us to get an international Galaxy S 2 in our hands, but we finally got one, and for the past few weeks I’ve been using it as my primary device here in the US on AT&T. It’s not an exaggeration at all to say that we’ve received more requests for a Samsung Galaxy S 2 (henceforth SGS2) review than any other smartphone, by at least an order of magnitude. The tomes of information already written about this phone has made it all the more daunting to dive head-first into a comprehensive exploration of the device, and we’ve tried to do our best.

Physical Impressions

First things first, how does the phone feel? I keep going back to MWC because that’s when first impressions were made, and thankfully in-hand feel didn’t change at all since then. The SGS2’s back eschews the plasticky smooth back of the previous SGS, and instead includes a textured battery door which snaps on. The new battery cover doesn’t wrap around to the front, instead only snapping into the back. There’s a notch in the top right which you can get a thumbnail into and pry the battery cover off with.

Moving to a textured surface instead of the SGS’ oft-derided slick plastic back gives the device a much needed boost of in-hand-feel. When I first encountered the phone at MWC I was shocked how much of a difference this simple change made. The edges are still lipped in smooth glossy plastic, but on the whole the device feels much more competent than SGS1. It appears to be the same material, but now there’s much less of a propensity for scratching or slipping around. I feel like the design language of the original SGS is still here, but it’s all grown up.

It’s impossible to go any further without noting just how thin the SGS2 is. Samsung has taken something of an obsession with holding the thickness crowns for its products, something the SGS2 did indeed hold for some time, at 8.49 mm at its thinnest point. Like the other SGS phones, there’s a bulge at the very bottom which throws a bit of a wrench into the device being completely uniform in profile. It is here that Samsung also locates antennas and the loudspeaker, though the real purpose for this bulge seems to be at least somewhat ergonomic. This bulge is around 10.1 mm thick, which is 1.61 mm thicker than the rest of the phone. For comparison, the old SGS was around 10.0 mm thick all over. As a result, the SGS2 is on the whole noticeably thinner, all while dramatically increasing power and features which we’ll get to in a moment.

Next up is the relocation of the microUSB port. The original SGS’ microUSB port placement drew a lot of discussion, as it’s at top left and behind a small door on the international variant and most regional variants. The SGS2 however relocates the microUSB port to dead center of the bottom face of the device, and just right of it is the primary microphone port. I got used to seeing the microUSB port up top and understood that choice, but having things at the bottom just feels more natural.

The volume rocker and power button are placed basically in the same position on SGS2 as the previous generation. Power is on the right about three quarters of the way up the right side of the device, and volume on the left side positioned with the top of the volume rocker in-line with the top of the power button. Thankfully these buttons are communicative and clicky as ever, I can’t find any fault with them.

There’s a notch which looks like the slot for a hand strap just above the volume rocker. There’s no microphone attached on the inside to this area, so it’s a bit unclear to me what this is for if it isn’t for a hand strap.

At top is another microphone port for both noise cancellation during calls using a discrete solution by Audience. Right next to it is the standard 3.5mm headphone jack.

The front of SGS2 is one unbroken glass surface, just like you’d expect for a top-tier smartphone launching this generation. Starting at the top is the 2 MP front facing camera, and right next to it is the proximity sensor and ambient light sensor. Of course, the real centerpiece is the 4.3" WVGA Super AMOLED+ display (henceforth SAMOLED+) which we’ll talk more about in a moment.

Physical Impressions and Comparison Table
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  • jcompagner - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    When i am already using it for months and months now, and i am already thinking maybe next month or 2 i will replace it with its successor the Nexus Prime or what ever it may be called...

    Again here the complains about no updates.
    What are you people complaining about, please...
    Samsung releases, yes not officially but they are real samsung releases, quite often roms
    for example here are the SGS2 once's:

    http://www.samfirmware.com/WEBPROTECT-i9100.htm

    A few releases per month, i am now on the latest one (2.3.4 of August 12)

    If you look there to other phones you also will see many updates of all the latest phones of samsung.

    So it is very easy and you dont need to root if you don't want to, just flash these roms. and you have a updated samsung made rom. (but yes 'leaked')
    Reply
  • Reikon - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    "Vellamo produces its scores directly from frame counters, so what you're looking at is a direct representation of how fast these devices scroll through the three web tests above. The Galaxy S II is 20 - 35% faster than the Photon 4G and 45 - 100% faster than the EVO 3D."

    You mixed up Photon 4G and EVO 3D, either in the table or the comment under it. The data shows the SGS2 20-35% faster than the EVO 3D and 45-100% faster than the Photon 4G.
    Reply
  • Stormkroe - Saturday, September 17, 2011 - link

    I thought I was the only one noticing this too. I'm also concerned with the adreno missing from the 2.1 off screen render tests, as well as pointing out that it would definitely be beating the S2 in GL 2.0 Pro if resolutions were normalized there. Feels like the whole thing was meant to really set the mali on a high horse. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great, just not "double the speed of the competition" when you throw the entire lineup in the mix. Reply
  • poohbear - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    Nice to read this review finally, it is indeed an awesome piece of hardware. Im not even sure the iphone 5 will be able to compete? guess we'll find out next month! Reply
  • PWRuser - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    Is the SGS2 memory the newer 30nm LPDDR2 1066 or the 800 one found in older phones? Reply
  • QWIKSTRIKE - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    When will you do a Sprint review with CDMA antenna signal repsonsiveness Reply
  • Olrac - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    Just for those who would like to know I am running The galaxy s2 overclocked to 1.6Ghz and its rock steady no crashes or freezes does not even get much warmer

    Linpack Single Threaded = 74 average and Multithreaded = 114

    Revolution rom with ninphetamine 2.1.3 kernel
    Reply
  • lamecake - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    Just for comparision.. I have a HTC Sensation clocked at 1.6ghz with a Sense based rom. It's actually perfectly stable to 1.78ghz here but 1.6 should be no problem for any sensation.

    Linpack Single Threaded = 58 average and Multithreaded = 95

    Pyramid3D 7.4.0 with faux123 0.1.4 kernel.

    CM based roms just popping up, so anxious to see how a non-sense rom compares to the SGS2.
    Reply
  • Pessimism - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    is not a coin cell battery. it is a supercapacitor, sort of a cross between a capacitor and a battery, they use them as a buffer between the phone and battery Reply
  • lchen66666 - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    Rumors of iPhone5 indicate that iPhone5 will have the iPhone4 form. If this is realy, that would quite disappoint me. I will definitely consider GSS2 when I upgrade my old iPhone3GS. I was hoping iPhone5 comes with 4"+720P display+some other improvement(new camera chip, new design of antenna, and new CPU). 4" seems to be the sweet spot to be the smart phone(not too big, and not too small). If Apple doesn't have much improvement in the display. The faster CPU is not that useful.

    The review is very detail. Not very happy with a couple of things on GSS2. Resolution is not high enough for a 4.3" display. Audio quality is not good. Seems like GSS2 has very good camera chip for video and photo. Really like it. From your other review, I got impression that Super ALMOD plus display is much better than IPS. From this review, seems like SALMODE+ is similar to SIPS display used on other smart phones. I haven't seen Samsung SALMODE+ display in person.
    Reply

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