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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  • mbetter - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    Nice looking phone but after my last Sprint Epic turned out to be such piece of crap, I'm not getting burned again. Reply
  • jmcb - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    Sadly....this happened to me from the old Win Mo days with the Omnia 1. I kept up with the GS 1 and now the GS2...and I give Samsung credit for whatever pros the phones have.

    But like with any phone manufacture...a bad experience can have a lasting effect. And for me it was something simple: build quality and reception. Both were bad with the Omnia 1 IMO. And ever since....I've been leery of Samsung phones.

    But...all n all the GS2 looks like more of a winner than the GS1.
    Reply
  • warisz00r - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    Eh, your loss. (you and the poster you're replying to) Reply
  • steven75 - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    ...still doesn't have functioning GPS? Yikes! Reply
  • WinProcs - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    The GPS now works very well. It finds the satellites faster than any other smartphone I have tried including the iphone 4. Navigon is preloaded onto the phone (in Australia at least). The earlier version of Navigon had some problems on the Galaxy S. That appears to be fixed with the latest software version. The S2 has never had a problem with the GPS.

    I loaded Litening ROM and find that the phone is faster than original and battery life is much better too. I charge it every night but it is normally sitting at about 65-70% after an normal days use.

    I had an iphone and a Galaxy S before the S2. It is better than both of those.
    Reply
  • ph00ny - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    Are we reading the same article?

    "GPS works this time around, and works well. I took the SGS2 on a 7-hour long road trip with me and used its GPS continually with no issues."

    Every review since the release has made it a point to check this and mentioned it clearly since the SGS1 debacle.
    Reply
  • Reikon - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    You missed the subject of the comment. He's talking about the original SGS, not the SGS2. Reply
  • JMS3072 - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    Does Hulu work using the Desktop user agent? Reply
  • Astri - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    Great review as always, but i was expecting to get more information about the famous color banding problem.
    Yes, the device is super etc etc, but its a pity to not be able to see everything on 24bit
    Reply
  • supercurio - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    Hi Astri.

    In some conditions yes on Galaxy S II you can perceive gradient banding or suboptimal dithering.
    The reason is not hardware at all, Super AMOLED+ controller and display work on higher bit-depth than 24bit, Gingerbread uses 32bit surfaces by default.

    You can see 3 situations with degraded gradients:
    - pre-dithered to 16bit or lower gradients or images
    - web browser (automatic 16bit dithering)
    - some games using 16bit without dithering instead of 32 on other phones.

    Every available mDNIe preset apply a sharpness filter between the GPU and the screen itself. Of course, it doesn't play well with the 3 type of content listed before.

    I reverse-engineered mDNIe controller registers to build a screen tuning app. Give a try to the dev snapshots: https://market.android.com/details?id=org.projectv... - root required.
    The current version is basic but I'll offer complete rendering configuration in the end.

    To avoid banding, use "Native" preset: as its named: no effect applied.
    Reply

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