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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  • kreacher - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    I was disappointed to see that there is no mention of the screen 's inability to display 24bit gradients while Samsung claims its a screen capable of displaying 16M colors. Reply
  • supercurio - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    See my answer for Astri.

    Maybe you only checked a gradient in Web Browser or a specific app that forces 16bit surfaces.
    Each app has the ability to choose how the rendering is done in this regard.
    Internally, the Super AMOLED controller works in much more than 24bit in order to proceed to complex color-space conversions between the a digital frame buffer and an analog, very large dynamic range OLEDs.
    Reply
  • lemmo - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    Great review, and incredible detail on the audio quality. Shame the SGS2 has taken a step backwards on audio. Any info on the likely spec for the audio on the Samsung Nexus Prime?

    Also, any recommendations on reviews of best smartphones for audio quality? cheers :)
    Reply
  • supercurio - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the feedback!
    I really need it in order to improve next review.

    Organize it differently for better readability, maybe evaluate other aspects as well (like recording)

    I have no info about what's in Nexus Prime but I'd like to :P
    If somebody can send me a report: https://market.android.com/details?id=org.projectv... I'll study it.

    Best devices I know in terms of audio quality:
    - with Voodoo Sound: Nexus S, Galaxy S family, Galaxy Tab 7".
    - with or without Voodoo sound: Asus Transformer
    - soon with Voodoo Sound: Galaxy Tab 10.1 (incredible power stage for the headphone amp)
    - iPhones/iPad: clean DAC but boring headphone amp (unable to drive many cans to adequate levels)

    And.. many I don't know! (yet?)
    Reply
  • lemmo - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    Thanks supercurio, very helpful. I'll keep looking for more info on the Nexus Prime.

    Shame none of the other phones/tablets you mention have got the right spec for me.

    In practice, do you think the 'average user' will notice the poorer audio quality on the SGS2?
    Reply
  • yellowchilli - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    a very very good read thank you
    i've owned the sgs2 since its EU launch..it's interesting to see the slight differences/improvements samsung has put into the US release (e.g. the power button, camera ui)
    Reply
  • mcquade181 - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    I've had my SGS2 here in Australia for two months now and on a recent snow trip noticed some deficiencies compared to my friends Nokia N8. We both use the same provider (Telstra 3G on 850MHz):
    1. Whilst travelling there were periods where I completely lost reception whereas the N8 still had a signal and was able to make calls. This suggests that the SGS2 is a bit lacking in cellular sensitivity (and note that the N8 is not all that flash either when compared to the old Nokia N95).
    2. In our snow accomodation I could not get a reliable WiFi signal from the local hotspot whereas the N8 could (it was marginal, but it did work).
    3. Bluetooth on the SGS2 is unreliable with some devices. It keeps disconnecting after a few minutes.

    That said I do like my SGS2 and is better in many other ways to the Nokia N8 - in particular earphone volume and call clarity where the N8 is deficient. Of course android has a much wider selection of available apps than does the Nokia, although surprisingly ALL my favourite apps are also available for the Nokia.

    Regards from down under, Graham Rawolle.
    Reply
  • willstay - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    What a coincidence. After two Androids, I actually bought N8 and later sold it to get SGS2. Before Belle, swype was only available in landscape and my must-have apps are not there for Symbian. Reply
  • jcompagner - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    yes that is the only drawback i also can find of the SGS2..
    Wifi reception is really not up to standards.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    I'm not happy with the battery tests - they don't show real life usage. I'd still like to know what happens with the battery if you just leave the phone in your pocket for most of the day, or what happens if you leave it in standby overnight. All of my co-workers complain about battery life with their Android phones, and all want to get iPhones the next time around. The batteries seem to drain excessively with the phones doing nothing, and they are often dead when they go to use them. Who cares if you can browse the web for 7 hours or whatever...I just want the phone to be ready to use if its been sitting on my desk for half the day, or if I forget to charge it overnight. This is way more important - at least for someone like me who travels. (actually, I work a lot in wafer fabs around the world, and crappy reception in the fabs often drain battery quickly).

    I guess it will depend on what Apps are installed, and you use push notifications, but it would be useful to have a test where you charge the phone, and then let it sit for 8 hours doing nothing, and then report the battery life. The older Android phones seemed terrible at this, while my iPhone 3GS is great.

    This phone looks awesome, but I would need this information before I would consider buying it.
    Reply

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