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Samsung Galaxy S II: Shining bright

Jun 17, 2011

SamsungGalaxySII.jpg

Samsung wants Galaxy S2 to be the best smartphone in the market.

Rating: ****1/2
What's hot: Very fast, gorgeous display, future-proof hardware, superb video playback capabilities

What's not: Plasticky build, people with smaller hands may find it too large, no HDMI port


Almost a year after Galaxy S made a debut and dazzled the world with a premium take on Android, Samsung is ready for its successor. The company knows that topping the success of Galaxy S will require some special effort. And special effort is what it claims to have made for S2. We put it through paces to see if it can meet the mighty expectations.

Under the hood
Samsung wants Galaxy S2 to be the best smartphone in the market. And to achieve its aim, it has used its manufacturing edge to full effect. S2 packs a dual-core Exynos processor running at a zippy 1.2GHz. There is 1GB RAM to make sure that apps get all the memory they require. The phone comes with 16GB storage.

In terms of connectivity, all the usual suspects like 3G, Wi-Fi or DLNA are there. HDMI port, however, is a notable miss. For HDMI connectivity, an adapter will be sold separately for Rs 1,670.

On paper, S2 is a monster. We don't have too much faith in benchmarks — user experience matters, right — but just to put things in perspective, we used Quadrant, an app that tests theoretical performance of a processor, memory card and gaming capabilities. The phone scored 3370 points, over 900 more than Optimus 2X, India's first dual-core phone that we reviewed recently. This makes Galaxy S2 the world's fastest Android phone. At least, in theoretical performance. And, at least, for now.

Build & screen
Samsung has a habit of putting Super AMOLED displays on its high-end phones. And, S2 continues the tradition. Compared to the screen on Galaxy S, the Gorilla Glass screen on S2 has less-saturated colours and more sharpness.

Text looks better on a good quality LCD screen like that of iPhone 4 or Optimus 2X. For everything else, the 800x480 resolution screen is gorgeous. There is one glitch, though. The auto brightness dims the screen too much. But you can set it manually. For daily use, around 20% brightness works well.

Samsung also has a habit of using cheap-looking plastic to build its phone. And, on S2 the tradition continues. The back cover is particularly flimsy. For its size (125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5mm), the phone is surprisingly light at 116grams.

User interface
S2 runs on Gingerbread (Android 2.3) customized with TouchWiz 4.0 user interface (UI). Compared to TouchWiz 3.0, the new UI looks the same at the first glance. However, dive deep, and you come across a number of tweaks that enhance user experience. For example, messages or list of missed calls can be accessed without unlocking the home screen.

Live panels — in other words bigger widgets — can be placed on home screens. Ability to organize apps into folders has been added along with option to resize several widgets, TouchWiz 4 comes with apps like Social Hub, Gaming Hub and Readers Hub where relevant content can be put for easy access. There is a provision for motion-based gestures that use gyroscope to zoom pictures or move apps between home screens. The effects are nice but feel more like a forced novelty than something that would be used much by people in real life.

Performance & battery life
On S2, there is no hint of lag. It's buttery smooth. The performance while shifting between tasks during multitasking is top notch. The power of dual core processor is apparent when you install or launch an app. It happens in a jiffy.

Browsing is the same story. Scrolling is smooth even with multiple windows open in browser. And Pinch-to-zoom is fastest we have ever seen on any phone. It even works without any jitters on Flash videos.

Call quality was good though on few occasions there was slight background noise. It's not clear it was due to network glitches or produced by the handset. Keyboard is similar to what is found on Galaxy S. It's decent but not the best.

On Galaxy S, GPS was a major issue. This time, Samsung has paid close attention to GPS. On S2, it locks with satellites quickly, and more importantly, maintains that lock without any trouble.
For such a large phone, battery life is good on S2. Given that we have a patchy 3G service in India, it's difficult to get more than 10 to 12 hours of battery life on moderate to heavy use on S2. If you use EDGE, you can manage a whole day on a single charge.

Camera & multimedia
Finally, the part to which many of our readers pay special attention. There are two cameras on Galaxy S. The one on the back shoots pictures in 8 megapixel while the front camera carries tag of 2 megapixel.

The performance of primary camera on S2 is above average but not spectacular. Compared to Optimus 2X, S2 produced pictures that lacked details. But in terms of colours, this 8MP shooter slightly edged out the competition. The camera on S2 doesn't matches the high bar set by Nokia N8 or even Sony Ericsson Arc but it performs well enough and does justice to its 8-MP tag.

Full HD (1080P) videos are recorded in MP4 format. The quality is decent considering it's a smartphone first.

S2 promises the moon when it comes to playing videos. And when put to test, it delivers on its promise. To test video support on a phone, we play a number of clips encoded with popular codecs. S2 turned out to be the first phone that could play them all, including a 1080P clip with a bit-rate of 17mbps that can choke even netbooks.

Final say
At TOI, we are misers when it comes to ratings. But Galaxy S2, with its killer hardware and fluid performance, turned out to be one smartphone that deserves its stars. Apart from the plasticky build, there is nothing seriously wrong with this device. In case you decide to go for the most versatile and the fastest smartphone available in the market right now, look no further than Galaxy S2.

Samsung has fixed its MRP at Rs 32,890, though its street price is estimated to be slightly under Rs 30,000. It will be available in cellphone stores from June 9.