Keyboards

By default, the SGS2 comes with Swype and the Samsung keypad preinstalled. I’ve moved away from Swype in recent months and started taking to the default gingerbread keyboard quite a lot, and it’s odd to see that Samsung has removed it from their stock ROMs. For me, this was one of the major enhancements that came with 2.3, and it’s puzzling how many different OEMs choose to purposefully not include it, and instead include their own strange keyboard in its place.

 

The Samsung keypad honestly is less than ideal and feels like it belongs back in the Android 2.1 world from whence it came, which is likely why Swype is set as default. It lacks autocorrect functionality by default and generally just looks drab.

 

Getting autocorrection enabled requires diving into the menus and enabling it for your given language, and even then isn’t that great. I guess I’m confused why Samsung would elect to not include the excellent 2.3 keyboard and instead force users to install the APK themselves.

Messaging

SMS is one of those things that each phone needs to do perfectly, and I think it’s especially worth taking a formal look at when an OEM moves away from the stock Android application. Bring up messaging and you get a list of ongoing conversations sorted by last activity, just like you’d expect.

 

Tapping new gives you a nice, clean composition page complete with character count. The conversation view is threaded and in large speech bubbles, complete with date and time stamps on each message.

Honestly I can find no fault with the Samsung messaging application. It doesn’t make the mistake that other OEMs have made by making font overly huge or decorations take away from usability and vertical space, though the composition box could stand to be a row shorter so more of the thread is visible. In addition, I spent a lot of time hammering on the SGS2’s messaging stack to try and make it slow dramatically like I’ve seen a few other Android phones do - no such lag took place, which is a great sign, even after a few weeks without deleting anything.

Browser

Like the original Galaxy S, on SGS2 samsung has made enhancements to the browser that dramatically increase smoothness. At the time we could only explain the performance increase by shrugging and claiming it was GPU accelerated. We know a bit more now about what enhancements are required to make browsing smooth in this fashion, and the answer lies in a backing store. A backing store is essentially a nice way of saying cache, and in this case what’s being cached is the rendered page itself, which is either rendered into a texture or some intermediary that’s a step above final rendering.

A backing store is what makes iOS’ browser so smooth, and you can see it render into the texture (or if you overscroll beyond the render, where it hasn’t yet) with those little grey rectangles. Render into a big texture, and then it’s a relatively free GPU operation to transform and clip that texture when a user scrolls around the page, though zooming will require a re-draw. Until Android 3.x, however, the stock Android browser hasn’t had a backing store, which is why translating around feels choppy. As a result, it has been the burden of OEMs to make their browsers feel snappy by incorporating their own backing stores. HTC works with Qualcomm to bring an appropriate level of smoothness to their devices, I already mentioned Android 3.x has one (which will no doubt carry over to Ice Cream Sandwich), and Samsung again has one this go-around in SGS2 just like they did with the original SGS.

 

So how good is SGS2’s browser backing store? Very good. Far and away this is the smoothest Android 2.x browsing experience, by a large margin. The only downside to the whole thing is that the browser has 16 bit color, again undoubtedly to make this an easy texture for manipulation by the GPU. I’ve also noticed one or two times that the browser will go to a white screen instead of showing the content after it’s loaded, which to me indicates that getting the backing store always working perfectly with a big page can be a challenge - perhaps GPU memory is at a real premium when this happens. I’m told this is fixed in newer firmware editions. That said, the tradeoff is well worth it, as zooming, translating, just about everything is buttery smooth. Browser smoothness is finally basically at parity with iOS.

What’s very impressive is that Samsung even manages to keep Flash 10.3 plugins animated while panning and scrolling around, something that currently HTC temporarily halts while translating around in their browser. It’s hard to communicate just how smooth and fluid the SGS2 browser is, and I’d encourage interested parties to watch our video which demonstrates it.

Finally, there’s one last semi-hidden browser feature - custom user agents. Enter “about:useragent” into the URL bar, and you can pull up a menu and select between a number of different user agents and masquerade the SGS2 as an iPhone, Galaxy S, Desktop (OS X 10.5.7 Safari), Nexus One, Lismore, or custom. This is something again I wish the stock Android browser would offer similar control over.

Software - Android 2.3.3 and TouchWiz 4.0 Applications and Storage Partitioning
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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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