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Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II - The Best Android Yet!
The Galaxy S II has been one of those handsets that the mobile community has been craving for. Sure we have the iPhone 4, but S II was, as far as I was concerned, to be the next best thing or the alternative for those with lower budgets. A few weeks ago we did manage to get our hands on preview, but here’s a more in depth look at what the Galaxy S II has to offer. But to get the ball rolling here's a quick unboxing -
Let’s forget about it’s predecessor. It’s, to put it mildly, as good a phone as it is, but it’s a bit outdated as the world of Dual Core devices is here. The Galaxy S II is factually, the thinnest Android mobile phone in the market. It’s remarkably just 8.5mm in depth, which is just about a shade thinner than Apple’s iPhone. The 4.3-inch Gorilla Glass display manages to keep even smudges away, which makes viewing a real treat. If the colours are little too ‘in-your-face’, for lack of a better term, you can tone them down via the display settings for Background Effects. There’s even an option to activate an Outdoor mode that boosts both brightness and contrast to a seriously high level that makes it easier to view in bright sunlit conditions. However, even with default settings, you’ll have no real problem with viewing angles. The resolution on this, the first ever Super AMOLED Plus display is 480 x 800 pixels which is, of course not nearly as refined as the Retina Display on the iPhone 4 that has it beat hands down, even if the colours are brighter on the Galaxy S II.
The iPhone 4 should be a little worried
A couple of touch sensitive keys (return and menu) are placed on either side of the rectangular ‘Home’ button. The micro USB connector for charging, USB 2.0 for PC supported connectivity, MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) support and USB-on-the-go (no adapter cables provided) is located at the bottom while a 3.5mm handsfree socket is placed on top. Volume/zoom keys are located on the right side while a screen lock/Power button is on the left. Pity Samsung didn’t incorporate a small shutter release for the camera but it’s not really missed. What is a bit of a disappointment is the lack of a hot swap memory card slot. However with 16GB of internal storage it’s not really something I was too concerned about.
The thinnest one yet!
While it ranks high with me on the design front, being so light weight (116g), so thin and yet so large, I did notice that those with slender or long fingers usually ended up gripping the phone in one hand and activating apps that were a little too close to the edge with the tips of their fingers. While sensitivity is a good thing, in this particular case it’s not a good thing. The S II also feels a bit plastic-y and delicate being as light as it as, however I did drop it (unintentionally) a couple of times and although a couple of locks on the rear popped up, the handset remained unscathed. Impressive!
Features and Performance
Samsung’s all new TouchWiz UI 4.0, although much better looking than past offerings, is a wee bit sluggish. Their new option of adding widgets is by opening up a small sliding section at the bottom of the display so you can click and drag whatever you want onto the multiple screens (than can be added or removed). What I don’t like about this UI is that once you’ve reached the last page it doesn’t return to the first page like Launcher Pro, which, by the way, worked out much better than the Stock UI.
TouchWiz UI 4.0, better than before, for sure!
TouchWiz’s overall functionality is quite well laid out. It allows you to arrange apps in the menus with an edit option and unlike the desktop, rotates back to the first page from the last. You can also create folders if you wish to be a little more organized. Like the LG Optimus 2X, the S II also has gesture-based features like holding down on an app and tilting the handset to move between screens. You can also flip the handset to silence it, hold your thumbs on either side of an image and tilt the handset forward or back to zoom in and out. The Double Tap for voice commands options was a complete bust as it worked in the trial simulation but never after.
Swype input is by far the speediest way of typing once you get the hang of it. If you’e not used to it, I suggest using the tutorial, but it’s really not that hard. The phone book has a Merge with FB or Google set up that didn’t seem to do anything. I ultimately had to manually join contacts with FB and Google or Twitter. It was a bit unusual that I found no option to show my SIM card contacts though it was easy enough to copy them from the card to the phone and vice versa. So far, HTC’s sense UI phone book still has the best integration system. The swipe left/right to call and message respectively, was one of TouchWiz’s better ideas.
Customize the menus to your preference
The Samsung Galaxy S II, on the whole worked like a charm, pushing the Dual Core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor and Android Ginger bread (2.3.3) platform very steadily. Accessing data, opening apps, multi-tasking and creating or playing HD videos was almost fluid and lag-free.
The Galaxy S II truly excels in this regard. The music player, although lacking a jazzy gyro using, Cover-Flow style view, is simple and easy to use with EQ presets and an 8 band customizable setting, my personal favorite. It even has sound effect settings which include Bass enhancement for some seriously hard hitting low frequencies. A 5.1 Channel Surround sound option adds a little more to the value of audio output on the Galaxy S II. An in-ear styled handsfree kit is bundled and is quite comfortable to use and also manages to handle the output quite well even at peaked volume. It’s loud and clear enough for calls and music to be heard over the loud din emitting within a Mumbai local, needless to say, it passed my acid test.
Plenty of audio settings for personalisation
When it comes to video playback, the S II fully supports any and all files formats in a variety of resolution including full HD i.e. 1080p. There was no delay or lag while accessing or playing files. Visually, thanks to the brilliant display, playback was a pleasure. Watching videos in any lighting condition was just plain simple and comfortable. The S II also comes with a preloaded video editor that’s easy to use and makes things quite simplistic when it comes to creating videos from your image gallery or editing videos you’ve recorder via the camera. A photo editor is also provided.
Full HD playback
Than handset's FM radio in contrast was a bit average. Reception was just about adequate while commuting, with unfortunately quite a bit of disturbance. But when stationary in places where I usually get good reception it performed well enough.
Of course the Galaxy S II is a 3G capable phone capable of handling HSDPA with speeds of 21 Mbps and HSUP up to 5.76 Mbps. EDGE/GPRS functions quite well too but get yourself a 3G connection and you’ll seriously burn web space! With Bluetooth 3.0 + HS and USB-on-the-go capability the Galaxy S is well equipped for connectivity. Let’s not forget Wi-Fi with tethering and Wi-Fi Hot spot creation as well. Samsung also offers DLNA support for the Galaxy S II with their All Share app and Samsung Kies functions like iTunes for syncing and setting up an account for downloading apps etc. wirelessly. Another great feature regarding Wi-Fi is Wi-Fi Direct that pretty much works like Bluetooth for wireless transfer of data through Wi-Fi. Of course, it's only compatible with other devices featuring the same technology and rest assured there will be plenty of those real soon.
The various Hubs that include Samsung’s Music Hub (that was inaccessible), Readers Hub for getting eBooks, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, Game Hub and Social Hub (showcases all SN accounts into one space – LinkedIn, FB, Twitter, Email, Windows Live Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and Chat, Gtalk etc.) are part of the new TouchWiz UI 4.0’s make up. Samsung even has their own App market for downloading apps and another link to an online store called Samsung Suggests that offers apps that work well with the S II. Push services for email and FB are no different from other Android powered device.
Plenty of connectivity options
What was a big disappointment was the absence of a preloaded GPS software app. Usually Samsung offers a Route 66 based app but with a High-end device like the Galaxy II, not having it made a big difference. All of Google’s services were however present and accounted for from Maps to Navigation and Places etc.
Some of the ‘extras’ that Samsung has thrown in with the phone as preloaded content include Mini Diary – that lets you capture images with geotags and add a little information about the picture to it. It’s similar to Sense UI’s Footprints. Polaris Office is provided for reading and accessing documents and of course all the standard Android apps like Google’s Voice Search, Voice Commands (The voice command settings worked quite well provided you speak loudly and slowly), Task’s, Voice Recorder, Calendar with Google Sync, World Clock, Stopwatch, Timer and another extra - a File Manager are also provided. Widgets like an Agenda, Ap Mobile, a Sticky Notes type app called Mini paper etc. are also thrown in.
GIngerbread all the way
With an 8 megapixel auto/touch focus camera with an LED flash loaded onto the S II that’s capable of recording videos in 1080p @30fps, the handset was even more impressive. Although, I do wish Android handset manufacturers could devise a simpler camera like the iPhone’s, the S II does manage to offer quite a range of very digicam like features. Those include a wide range of scene modes, Geotagging, face/smile and blink detection, White balance, Beauty shot, auto stitch Panorama mode, Cartoonize, and action shots, a timer and a few color effects amongst others. The touch focus isn’t nearly as good as any of HTC’s new devices but on the whole, image quality was great. Details were clear and quite crisp for a mobile camera. Colour reproduction was also quite vivid.
Outdoor looks pretty good too
Video capture was just a little bit framed but not enough for anyone who’s not overly particular to find a reason to complain. On the whole the camera proved to be quite an asset for the S II with almost instantaneous activation when selected. Processing was also quite speedy so most of the time you won’t really miss those spontaneous moments.
Auto stitch Panorama
The S II also features a 2 megapixel fixed focus camera up front near the proximity sensor, just above the display. This camera could be used for taking pictures of yourself or for video calls. The quality of pictures from this camera is also quite decent for both video and images.
Great for macro
The 1650 mAh battery works out just fine for the Galaxy S II clocking in at 6 hours of standalone talk time which is quite impressive as mobile handsets go. I was also able to watch 2 full length movies back to back without the handset dying on me. The task manager and device’s pre-loaded Power Saving mode does help optimize the battery life of the handset as well. You’ll get about a day and a half of usage which will easily include a little bit of video, music, web browsing and at least 2 hours worth of calls.
The Bottom Line
The Galaxy S II, although officially available for Rs. 32,490 (16GB), is also available, in some locations, for about Rs. 30,000. The fact that the device performs quite seamlessly and is priced rather reasonably, impressed me. When compared to similar products like the LG Optimus 2X or the Incredible S, the S II stands out. If ever the iPhone 4 had to seriously be worried, the Galaxy S II would be the handset that would make it sweat. The one thing Samsung should do for the S II in terms of packaging is - include a more cables to fill out the empty space in the premium pack. An adapter for USB (like Nokia's) and a MHL cable would have been great!
While it may not have the elegance of the simplistic yet, classy user experience as the iPhone 4, it makes up for it with speed and just tad more functionality. Of course that will all change come iOS 5, but for now, if the iPhone 4 is too heavy for your wallet, the Galaxy S II the next best thing and well worth the price tag.