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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  • tipoo - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    The iPhone 4 always scores near the bottom of the 2.0 test since its native resolution is so high, but I'd be interested to know how it does with the resolution independent 2.1 test? Reply
  • B3an - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    ...but the iPhone 4 is already in the 2.1 tests which are all run at 1280x720 so it's equal on every phone... and unsurprisingly it's the worst performer. Reply
  • Lucian Armasu - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    The iPhone 4 has a GPU that is one generation older than the one in the first Galaxy S phone. So that's the main reason why it performs the worst in all these GPU tests. Reply
  • LostViking - Saturday, September 17, 2011 - link

    You can do the math already.

    If you calculate the pixel ratio (width * height) between the iPhone and the others you can correct the numbers.
    Reply
  • 3lackdeath - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    When are you guys going to start adding WP7 to the Comparisons list WP7 is soooo lacking in your reviews.

    It has been out for a while now you know, a long long time did i say long?.
    Reply
  • shamalh108 - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    Hi Brian.. first off thanks for the great review..its quite honestly the best I've read on the SGS2..

    As an SGS2 user i need to just testify to my experience of the AOS bug..
    This bug or its effects aren't actually experienced by me while the phone is actually in use, but actually results in a dramatic use of battery when in suspend.. it is intermittent so it won't occur all the time but over the last month I've been able to identify it using battery monitor pro.
    what i find is that in the morning when unplugged i can put my edge data on and then leave the phone in standby for up to two hours and see no drain... if i then proceed to use the phone for about 20min and note the battery percentage , i then lock the phone and leave it in standby again with edge data enabled and push email... after closing all tasks but the battery percentage will drop by up to 10% in those two hours while battery monitor pro reports an estimate usage of 100+ mah ..compared to the same running conditions it was in when just unplugged and consumed almost no power. this isn't always the case though sometimes the phone will only drop 2% or less per hour with the battery monitor pro reporting usage of 25~35 mah ... As you can see this bug actually affects standby time more than nonstop usage and that is probably why the benchmarks havent been affected.. also im not sure if its normal but when the phone is experiencing the high usage and i look at the process cpu usage the events and suspend process are consuming around 15~20% cpu... this checked immediately after unlocking the phone using watchdog task manager pro.
    while i understand all the measurements are estimates .. i really feel the effects of this as with the same usage i can't be certain if ill get the 14hours battery life i need or 10.. what is the normal power consumption for an android phone in suspend as I've noticed my brothers HTC desire consistently consumes 10~15mah in standby with a similar set up..

    again thanks for the great review..
    my international SGS2 is running stock with no root , XXKF3 .
    Reply
  • willstay - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    I have been using SGS2 for two months now and this is my 3rd Android. In the past, I always flashed closest to stock ROM, now after 2 months, I think google should consider touchWiz kindof UI as default. It is really minimalistic with just few tiny bit feature that makes it way better than stock - folders and page scrolling where I can put important apps in page 1, system apps in page 2 and so on.

    One consistent touchWiz feature to swipe contacts left for message and right for call is a must have.

    I must be having over sensitive eye that comfortable brightness level I use during day (indoor) is zero and for evening and night, I am using app called "Screen Filter" to make it dimmer. (I know this is only me - for my laptop I had to hack drivers to make it dimmer than allowed normally).

    When idle, processor goes back to 200 MHz and normally with wifi off, cellular net off, SGS2 lives through the night depleting only 1% of the battery. When I only use it for phone and sms, I get two days. Most of the time when I have access to desktop, I turn off wifi and push mail. My usual battery indicator runs as follows - fully charged before going to sleep - 99% when I wake up - I turn wifi and push mail on and by the time I move out to office it is 97% - wifi off in office but sometimes on when I move out of my desk to run SIP client and get my desk extension routed to phone and by lunch time it is 90% - push mail on and cellular net on during lunch time 86% - when I reach home it is from 80 to 75% - that is when my phone gets highest load of games, browsing, wifi, pushmail until I plug for charing around 11 pm and before I plug in it is usally 30%. For comparison, the lowly Nokia 1280 I am using for backup ran for 15 days in single charge and there was still 1/5 bar left in it.

    "light weight seems to imply a certain level of cheapness" - people will soon start to understand weight has no correlation with quality and when devices grow bigger and bigger, they will appreciate lighter weight design.

    As for me, this is my first Samsung and I am impressed!! Unfortunagely SGS2 has short life it seems - I am so impressed with this light weight, thinness, SAMOLED+, touchWiz that I am getting SG-Note at whatever cost when it comes out :)
    Reply
  • shamalh108 - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    hey willstay.. wow ! please help me , how are you getting such astonishing battery life ? what Rom are you on ? is your phone used at all during the day ? i simply can not get that kinda standby consumption between my few use periods during the day.. i love my phone and right now its just the battery life that's frustrating me.. why are the reports so varied .. any info you have would be welcome :) Reply
  • ph00ny - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    I'm also getting a full day of usage like the user above. I ran stock rom forever until i ventured over to the some of the newer custom roms and i'm getting slightly less battery life with the newest sensation 1.6 rom (2.3.4) compared to stock and cognition 1.07. Reply
  • willstay - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    I am using default ROM but flashed kernel for rooting. I guess it must be rouse app. I've found Location And Security -> Use Wireless Networks eats up around 7% of battery through night (which otherwise is only 1%). Sometimes service called MediaService (after I've played songs through Btooth) eats up around 25% through sleep hours. Once I used very nice network bandwidth monitoring app to find individual data usage, it was sipping 25% during sleep hours (I install this app only when I need it). Pushmail on low signal cellular network eats battery like hell - my phone gets warm at the back. Interestingly, always-on low light digital clock of app NoLED eats only 20% through night. For most of the bug related drainage, flushing RAM helps.

    If I were you, I would temporarily uninstall few apps at a time to find the culprit. You may be able to short list possible apps through battery usage tool of the phone too.
    Reply

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