Software

Before we go much further, I think it’s important to go over all of the software running on the international version of the SGS2 we’ve been loaned. I’ve made explicit mention of the fact that we were loaned this device because as a result it makes testing things with custom and leaked ROMs somewhat interesting. For the most part, carriers and OEMs don’t care as long as everything makes it back to them in exactly the same state they were shipped out, but it’s always a grey area. For that reason, I’ve been testing and using the device exclusively with the latest ROM for the phone as shown in Samsung Kies. As of this writing, that’s still Android 2.3.3 and firmware XWKF3. I realize there’s a leaked ROM which is 2.3.4, however we’ve opted to just go with official at this point.

The original SGS1 started Samsung’s trend of adding UI skins to high-end devices, and drew a firestorm of criticism from critics all over. Thankfully it seems as though Samsung has heard those complaints and has lightened things up considerably this go-around with TouchWiz 4.0 which runs on the SGS2. Where TouchWiz 3.0 (from SGS1) looked like a strange attempt at making Android 2.1 and 2.2 look like iOS, TouchWiz 4.0 is a much cleaner, less claustrophobic, and considerably less garish experience.

 

Starting with the lock screen, TouchWiz 4.0 continues the tradition of changing things here. Unlocking is achieved by moving the large graphic and clock off the screen, unless of course you’ve defined a custom lock pattern or PIN. Alerts such as new SMSes can be handled by sliding the notification ribbon across the screen. Of course this background is customizable and discrete from the main background as well. There’s really not much to say about this beyond that I’m still surprised TouchWiz didn’t take a nod from HTC’s Sense 3.0 and add shortcut functionality into this menu.

 

The main application launcher and home screens are what make or break a skin, and here I think there’s more positive than negative with TouchWiz 4.0. To start, home screen one is the far left, not the center. Switching between these is accomplished either by swiping back and forth or dragging on the dots at the bottom. This animation is extremely fluid - I get the impression that the entire TouchWiz 4.0 experience does leverage the GPU for composition and as a result feels very speedy.

 

There’s a contextual menu as well where new widgets, shortcuts, and folders can be added. In fact, most of the home screen customization takes a similar - screen on top, menu on bottom - approach, which makes a lot more sense than stock Android’s popup bubble schema. Tapping widgets gives you a long list of available widgets which tilt as you scroll through them. Just like other UI skins, there’s an assortment of skin-specific widgets that support resizing.

For the most part, I find that TouchWiz 4.0 moves away from the social-hub augmented with weird widgets motif set by the last generation of UI skins. That’s definitely a good thing, because most of the time that last generation failed to really deliver social experiences that came close to true first-party experiences.

TouchWiz 4.0 does still keep the bottom row of applications which is another throwback to iOS, and like other skins puts the application launcher shortcut in the far right.

 

By default the applications launcher presents icons in a 4x4 paginated layout, though you can toggle a list view as well and just scroll up and down. Menu edit brings you to a view just like the home screen customization page, where you can move icons around and also change the bottom row of shortcuts. There’s also folder support for organization. One major plus is that icons no longer have the chicklet-like background colors that made everything square and applications difficult to identify quickly. Thankfully, that’s gone, and the result feels far less tacky than the previous iteration.

Just like the home screen, you can change between pages of applications by tapping on the page number dot, or scroll back and forth quickly by sliding along the bar. This results in the same animated sliding view that the homescreen shows. I guess that’s one positive thing this go-around with TouchWiz, if anything you can’t criticize it for being inconsistent. For the most part honestly the launcher and homescreen TouchWiz components are pretty tolerable.

Just like in the past, the notifications shade drop down includes toggles for WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Sound, and Auto Rotate. It all works just like you’d expect it to. One small thing here is that if you’re in manual brightness mode, press and holding on the notifications bar and dragging left or right will change brightness along the scale. It’s a quick way to get analog control over brightness if you’re in manual setting mode.

Physical Impressions and Comparison Table Keyboards, Messaging, and a Smooth Browser
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  • VivekGowri - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    I literally cannot wait to read this article, and I similarly cannot wait for SGS2 to launch in the US. Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    You guys don't get early access to drafts? Reply
  • niva - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    I own an original Galaxy S, until it's been proven that Samsung updates to the latest Android within a month after major releases I will not buy anything but a Nexus phone in the future (assuming I even go with Android). By the time that decision has to be made I'm optimistic there will be unlocked WP7 Nokias available. Reply
  • Havor - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    Seriously , whats the problem, I was running 2.2 and 2.3 when they came out, could have them sooner, I just dont like to run roms with beta builds.

    So you never heard of Rooting and Custom Roms?

    Its the nature of companies to have long and COSTLY eternal testing routs, done mainly by people with 9 to 5 jobs, as delivering buggy roms is bad for there name, but then so is not updating to but its lots less hurtful, as most people dont care or know any better.

    Next to that if your phone is a phone is customized with extra crapeware by your provider it can be that it takes months before you get a update even do Samsung delivered one a long time ago.

    The rooting scene is totally different, its done by nerds with passion for what they do, and yes the early/daily builds have bugs but also get mouths quicker reported and fixed by the scene.
    And imho are the final updates just as stable as the factory builds.

    Dont like how your Android is working?
    Stop bitching and fixed your self, its not that hard, as it is a OS platform, just make sure you can root your phone, before you buy it.

    The following website explains it all.
    http://androidforums.com/galaxy-s-all-things-root/...
    http://androidforums.com/galaxy-s-all-things-root/
    Reply
  • vision33r - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    If it's your personal phone, you can do whatever you want. However like some of us here with jobs that let us pick phones. One requirement is the phone has to be stock and no rooting allowed.

    Samsung is about the worst of the 3 makers in terms of software updates.
    Reply
  • niva - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    Seriously calm down, I've heard plenty about rooting and custom roms but phone hackery is not something I'm interested in right now. I don't have the time or energy for it. I shouldn't have to manually go through rooting and updating my phone, especially when security issues are involved.

    I like the way 2.2 is working on the SGS. I bought this phone from a friend who upgraded and it's not something I would've paid the retail price for. I've not run into anything so far that's made me actually bother with the rooting and manual upgrade process. I've not read into rooting the phone or updating it, but I'm sure if I get into it this will take me a long time (hours/days) which I shouldn't need to sacrifice to run the latest version of the OS.

    From the political standpoint the blame is both on Samsung and T-Mobile apparently in terms of getting the new revisions out.

    From my personal standpoint I despise all companies who do not use the default Android distro, running skins and secondary apps, on the phones they ship out. While some of the things they do are nice, it slows down their ability to keep up with android revisions.

    On the other hand, my wife's Nexus (original one) updates faster than internet posts saying Android 2.3.x has been rolled out. It's friggin awesome. She had one problem with battery draining really fast after a recent upgrade but I managed to fix that after a couple of hours of forum searching and trying different things.

    So it's simple, if I will buy another Android in the future, it will be a Nexus phone, where I know from personal experience that everything works in terms of having the latest and greatest. Notice the Nexus S is made by Samsung, it's for the most part identical to the phone I have, yet gets the updates immediately and doesn't have the known security problems I'm exposed to.
    Reply
  • ssj4Gogeta - Monday, September 12, 2011 - link

    Well, the international version got 2.3.3 around ~3 months ago here (and earlier for other countries). Reply
  • poohbear - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    vision33r u dont know what you're talking about. People bitch and complaina bout software updates, but how are the quality of those updates? when its updated too soon there are bugs and ppl complain, updated later ppl complain about the wait times. I remember last year Motorola said they're not updating their XT720 to android 2.2., they're leaving it at 2.1. S korea Motorola was the only branch that decided to do it, but guess what? 2.2 was too much for the hardware in the XT720 to handle, and it ran slooooow! XT720 users all over complained about it, but the reality is the phone couldnt handle it. 90% of smartphone users want something stable that works, they dont care about having the latest and greatest Android build. So if Samsung errs on the side of quality and takes more time to release stable quality software, then all the power to them! Reply
  • anishannayya - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Actually, if updates are your hard-on, then you'd likely be looking at Motorola in the future (due to the Google acquisition).

    The entire reason why the Nexus lines of phones are quick to get updates is because the are co-developed with Google. As a result, these phones are the ones the Google developers are using to test the OS. When it is ready to go, it is bug free on the device, so Samsung/HTC can roll it out immediately.

    At the end of the day, any locked phone is plagued by carrier bloatware, which is the biggest slowdown in software release. Just buy an unlocked phone, like this one, in the future.
    Reply
  • ph00ny - Sunday, September 11, 2011 - link

    It's awesome to see this article finally
    I'm glad François Simond aka supercurio contributed to the article

    Btw that slot on the left is for the hand strap which is very popular in asia for accessory attachments
    Reply

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