Cellular

So we’ve already mentioned that SGS2 contains Intel/Infineon’s latest and greatest X-Gold 626 baseband, which supports HSDPA 21.1 (Category 14) and HSUPA 11.5 (Category 7) support, though SGS2 actually only supports HSUPA 5.76 (Category 6) according to Samsung. Of course, this international edition includes quadband UMTS and GSM support.

I used the SGS2 on AT&T in the USA, and my particular market only has PCS 1900 MHz support, meaning both GSM and WCDMA carriers both only sit in the PCS 1900 MHz band. I remember that one of the first things I did with the SGS2 at MWC was check whether all of the same excellent dialer codes worked, and thankfully they do.

  

Samsung continues to have the absolute best field test / engineering menus of any handset vendor, and on the SGS2 dialing *#0011# gives you access to information about the current connected carrier, band, RCC state (what signaling state you’re in) and signal (ECIO and RSCP at the bottom). There’s a field marked HSPA+ used which I think has confused some people - this shows 1 when data is being transacted (DCH state). I should also mention that I’m incredibly grateful that SGS2 shows all the correct and proper status indicators for network connectivity at the top - 3G, H, and H+ appropriately, instead of this trend in the USA of calling every UMTS connectivity state “4G” - ugh. As an aside, it’s normal to see 3G when in the idle state, and then a negotiation up to H+ when in the DCH (Dedicated CHannel) state if you’re on an HSPA+ network. I haven’t seen H+ show when in the FACH (Forward Access Channel) state.

Samsung Galaxy S 2 - Network Support
GSM/EDGE Support 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz
UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA Support 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 MHz
HSDPA/HSUPA Speeds 21 Mbps / 5.76 Mbps
Baseband Hardware Infineon/Intel X-GOLD 626 HSPA+

I ran 318 speedtests on the SGS2 using the Ookla Speedtest.net application, and did our usual thing and come up with a histogram showing throughput for those tests. Again, this is more indicative of AT&T speed than what the SGS2 is capable of, given that I’ve seen other SGS2 users seeing much faster on other WCDMA networks - I’m insanely jealous of all of you. I tested throughout my 1900 MHz market in Tucson, Phoenix, and on the positively dreadful 850 / 1900 WCDMA network in Las Vegas, which remains completely unusable even when CES or any other conference isn’t happening. But I digress.

First up is downstream, which develops a nice little normal distribution when you run enough tests like we’ve done here.

Downstream Performance

Again this is really more indicative of what you’re going to see in the markets I’ve tested in with AT&T. Speeds top out at 7 or 8 Mbps if you’re very lucky, with performance most of the time between 2 to 4 Mbps. The average here is 3.11 Mbps, with a standard deviation of 1.56 Mbps. That sounds about right to me given how many of these things I run when I’m not even testing a phone.

I’m also aware of the whole AT&T HSDPPB (“4G” unlimited data) versus DPPB (3G unlimited data) SOC code thing and the corresponding difference in APN. I used them interchangeably for a week or so and honestly didn’t see any difference.

Upstream is next, where AT&T continues to employ lots of artificial shaping, limiting upstream to at maximum 1.7 Mbps.

Upstream Performance

 

I’ve heard speculation that AT&T is limiting the HSUPA category to 2 or 3 (which is 1.46 Mbps), or category 5 (2.00 Mbps), but neither of those line up nicely with the artificial-looking wall that seems to exist on AT&T at 1.7 Mbps. I’m very positive however that there’s shaping going on here, the last remaining question is whether it’s enforced by only allowing a certain HSUPA category, or shaping somewhere else in the network. It’d make sense to me at least to do the latter of those two. It’s disappointing because there’s definitely the potential for much speedier upstream than what I see here.

Last is latency, which looks pretty typical, though there are some outliers in the data entirely from the abysmal Las Vegas performance tests:

Latency

Average latency works out to be 147 ms, which is pretty par for UMTS as far as I’m concerned, unless you’re lucky enough to be somewhere with much better backhaul and a flatter IP-based network architecture.

For the most part, I’m very pleased with SGS2’s cellular connectivity situation, though there’s a bit more to talk about. I noticed that sometimes cellular connectivity will stop and become unresponsive for anywhere between a few seconds, and minutes at a time, requiring a battery pull or lots of patience before working again. Toggling airplane mode doesn’t work when that happens, and usually it’s manifested by the data-type indicator disappearing. I’m not sure what the story is here, but it seems like I’ve seen a lot of Samsung phones having data sessions randomly lock up and then come back after a while, lately.

In addition, Samsung makes the mistake of going with a signal bar visualization with very compressed dynamic range. Since the whole iPhone 4 debacle, I’ve seen something of a trend towards a strict linear scale (which makes more sense), but SGS2 definitely doesn’t go that route. It’s not a huge deal however, just something to be aware of. I’m willing to overlook that issue considering that getting the real story on connectivity is no harder than dialing *#0011# and looking at the real number.

I’ve also read a bunch of accounts which claim that the SGS2 has iPhone 4-like deathgrip, which needless to say piqued my interest. Of course, I’ve been religiously measuring unintended signal attenuation on every device I’ve encountered ever since, so the SGS2 doesn’t get spared that treatment.

Signal Attenuation Comparison in dB - Lower is Better
  Cupping Tightly Holding Naturally Holding in Case On an Open Palm
Samsung Galaxy S 2 18.4 5.9 - 12.2
Droid 3 16.0 11.3 - 5.0
HTC Sensation 15.0 10.0 8.0 0.0
Samsung Droid Charge 10.0 10.0 5.0 0.0
HTC Thunderbolt - LTE 5.3 2.5 - 4.4
HTC THunderbolt - EVDO 6.5 0.8 - 7.2
Verizon iPhone 4 16.5 15.5 9.0 7.9
LG Optimus 2X 13.7 9.3 - 5.9
Nexus S 13.3 6.1 - 4.3
Droid 2 11.5 5.1 - 4.5
BlackBerry Torch 15.9 7.1 - 3.7
Dell Streak 14.0 8.7 - 4.0
Droid X 15.0 5.1 - 4.5
AT&T iPhone 4 24.6 19.8 7.2 9.2
iPhone 3GS 14.3 1.9 3.2 0.2
HTC Nexus One 17.7 10.7 7.7 6.7

The data is actually quite interesting, with the SGS2 showing more than the 15 dB average attenuation in worst case, and an unusually high open-palm result as well. If you go back to the disassembly and look at that antenna module, you can start to see why this is so bad. It’s located right in the plastic bulge, and the active region of the antenna printed on the plastic is less than a mm separated from the exterior. The result is that though there’s obviously no galvanic contact (there’s a plastic insulating layer between), there still is some coupling and attenuation in the near field right here.

I honestly don’t think it’s an iPhone 4-level problem at ~18 dB in this worst case (which I’ll remind you literally involves both hands clasped around the device as close as possible), but it’s still more than average.

Inside the SGS2 2.4 and 5 GHz WiFi, GPS, and Audience
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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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