Video: Bell Samsung Galaxy S II 4G Review

Daniel Bader

July 15, 2011 7:02pm

It’s been a long time coming — well only a year, which in the smartphone world is an eternity — but Samsung’s Galaxy S II is here. The phone, which has been touted as many grandiose things, including the iPhone’s main competitor, is a beast. What’s obvious is that Samsung learned from its many missteps and quality issues that plagued the often-vexing line of Galaxy S devices, and have improved on every major feature. With Bell launching the Galaxy S II along with several other Android “Superphones,” what sets the device apart? We’ll take you through the haves and havenots of this beautiful Android phone, so stick around.

Specs

– Android 2.3.3 with TouchWIZ 4 overlay
– 4.3” 480×800 pixel Super AMOLED Plus display
– 1.2Ghz dual-core Exynos processor with Mali-400MP GPU
– 1GB RAM / 16GB Internal Storage (2GB for apps)
– 8MP back camera / 2MP front camera
– 1080p video capture with anti-shake
– 21Mbps HSDPA / 5.76Mbps HSUPA
– WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, DLNA, WiFi-Direct, dual microUSB/HDMI out MHL port
– Stereo FM radio, native DivX playback
– 1650mAh battery
– 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5 mm
– 116g
– GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSPA+ 850/900/1900/2100

The Phone

Firstly, the phone is thin. This has been mentioned before, but it needs to be put into context. Unlike the 4″ original, the sequel adds .3″ to the screen size, and that extra width and height could easily create problems for those with smaller hands. But since it measures 8.7mm at its thinnest point, the added width is hardly noticed. Indeed, when comparing it to a more modern phone like the Nexus S, which itself improves upon the design of the Galaxy S in many ways, the sequel actually seems smaller. This is quite a feat, and in a consumer market where looks are everything it’s important to recognize just how significant a victory this is for Samsung.

That the phone weighs 116g is a victory, too, but with featherweight comes feather materials, and the Galaxy S II is all plastic. Granted, thanks to the well-designed battery cover there is little to no creaking, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that the material feels underwhelming compared with many similarly-priced smartphones, including the recently-released HTC Sensation 4G, which is battling with the SGS2 for shelf space at Bell. Still, it feels solid and is a pleasure to hold.

The Galaxy S II incorporates many design elements from the original — the tactile home button and two capacitive buttons on either side; the right-side power button; the slight “chin” on the bottom — but they’ve squared it off, maturing the look somewhat. Samsung have also removed the garish chrome siding of the original Galaxy S that exuded the exact opposite of premium. Instead, the SGS2 is all black. The battery cover is a thin piece of plastic that I actually laughed upon first viewing. “This is going to snap so quickly,” I thought. But I quickly discovered that it is some sort of mutant plastic that can bend, almost in half, and retain its shape. It’s extraordinary.

The overall build quality of the Galaxy S II is good — not great, but good — which affords it a slimness that no other Android device can touch right now except for the Xperia arc, which lacks many of the same high-end internals.

To call the 4.3″ Super AMOLED Plus display the best on the market would be selling it short. It’s the best, period. Only Samsung could one-up itself so entirely as to make the previous best look merely good.

Getting the elephant in the room out of the way, yes the resolution stays the same at 480×800 pixels and, in fact, compared to the original Galaxy S the sequel has a lower pixel density. Should this matter? Maybe. In a market of qHD Android phones and Apple’s Retina Display the lower number of pixels is admittedly disappointing. But I’ve seen too many poor-quality qHD displays to acquiesce to its inherent superiority; the Galaxy S II makes up for its lower pixel count in numerous ways.

First, the colours. If there is one thing unparalleled about the Super AMOLED Plus technology, it’s the reproduction of colours. Super LCD may be slightly brighter, but it can’t hold a tail to the sheer vividness of AMOLED. And since the original Super AMOLED, Samsung has addressed the only major complaint: its graininess. The Galaxy S II manages to fit 12 subpixels into every pixel, as opposed to the original’s eight, eliminating the minor aliasing caused from not having a full RGB palette. As a result of having an equal number of red, green and blue subpixels, the Galaxy S II recreates colour in a way no other smartphone can touch. It’s difficult to appreciate until you view it in real life.

Along with superior colour, absolute white and absolute black look pretty great. Because AMOLED technology has no use for a separate backlight, black is merely a pixel turned off. Same with white: when viewing text, you feel like you’re reading from a piece of paper. Combined with the larger 4.3″ size, it makes for an excellent reading experience.

If there is one complaint to be lodged at the screen it is that the max brightness level doesn’t seem to be as high as similar devices. Though I don’t have the tools to measure maximum brightness, a subjective observation would put the Galaxy S II at 1/3 less max brightness (measured in nits) than the HTC Sensation. A look at Anandtech’s review of the Samsung Droid Charge, which uses the same 4.3″ SAMOLED+ display confirms this: a result of 283nits compared with 571 nits for the iPhone 4 and 397 nits for the Sensation. Due to the fusing of disply, digitizer and glass, the Galaxy S II loses less light to reflection, so it doesn’t appear as dark as it sounds, but it is occasionally difficult to see the display in the sunlight.

TouchWiz4

Before we broach benchmarks, in which the SGS2 does exceptionally well, I want to comment on the performance of the operating system in general. Running Android 2.3.3 atop Samsung’s TouchWIZ4 skin, there is much to be happy about. Improved in many ways of the original, the new TouchWIZ simplifies the task of organizing your apps and homescreens. The basis is similar to the stock Android homescreen/app drawer combination, but incorporates a lot of neat features. It’s easy to navigate between screens quickly by scrolling along the seven permanent “dots” above the shortcut bar, and pinching anywhere on the screen displays a star-shaped “helicopter” view similar to HTC Sense. Once in that view, you can drag and re-order any page in its entirety.

Widgets are now resizable, which is a huge plus (though only certain Samsung widgets) so you can resize  your weather widget along a grid to 4×4 or 4×1 squares depending on how much stuff you want to see. Speaking of widgets, the regular tap-and-hold feature to bring up the Shortcut/Widget menu has been re-imagined to fit on the bottom shortcut bar, allowing you to reorganize your homescreens as you see fit without the slow touch-and-guess stock Android method. There are also a number of helpful, attractive widgets provided by Samsung including the Associated Press news service, and a very usable weather widget powered by AccuWeather. Resizing is easy and intuitive, and emphasizes the little touches made by Samsung to improve the overall experience.

They have also made extensive use of the accelerometer. Tilt the phone left or right when moving an app from one screen to another, and the icon will zoom through the homescreens. Samsung also makes use of tilting in the hardware-accelerated browser: with touch fingers, touch anywhere on the screen and tilt the phone up or down to zoom in or out of the web page. Both feel like gimmicks, but the latter is extremely useful.

The app drawer operates horizontally, an issue for fans of the vertical scroll like me, but that’s a minor complaint. A major complaint about the app drawer is that it is not sortable based on most-used apps, or even alphabetically. Your last-installed apps are installed on the right-most page, and that’s that. Similar to the homescreens, you can get into “helicopter” mode in the app drawer, too, and reassign pages in their entirety, which is helpful, but dragging individual apps from one screen to the next is something I hoped to leave behind in iOS.

There are two weather-based live wallpapers included with the phone, and they look nice enough, but I was hoping Samsung would include a couple that would show off the graphics capabilities of the GPU. Instead we have one that shows the weather from a beach perspective, and another showing weather from a wind perspective. Why phone manufacturers think people are so fascinated with weather is beyond me (see HTC’s Sense 3.0 for proof) but there it is.

Another nicety about the interface is that screenshot taking is built into the framework. Hold down the home button and press the power button, and you’ll hear a nice “click” and the screenshot is ready in your Gallery. Perfect.

From a usage perspective, apps load almost instantly, and there is nary a sign of lag when navigating through the various menus. TouchWIZ4 has a warm, almost saturated colour palette which is complemented by the beautiful screen. Along with adopting the general look of Gingerbread, Samsung has left the menus fairly stock and no worse for the wear as a result. This is Android we are talking about, and as much as manufacturers might want to differentiate themselves by putting the notification bar on the bottom or adding shortcuts to the lockscreen, in its unfettered state the OS is extremely capable, and more and more these superfluous additions seem like bloat. Samsung has struck the right balance of function and performance.

Performance

The Galaxy S II comes equipped with a dual-core 1.2Ghz Exynos processor and a Mali-400MP GPU. This Samsung-produced SoC has been widely touted as a capable competitor to nVidia’s Tegra2 offering which pervades so many modern Android phones, including Wind’s LG Optimus 2X, Bell’s own Motorola Atrix and all of the current crop of Honeycomb tablets.

As stated above, UI performance is all but perfect. I noticed no slowdown or stuttering of any kind. It’s difficult to appreciate without using it, but one gets a feeling of roominess from the SGS2’s performance that just isn’t there yet with other devices. What I mean by roominess is that understanding that no matter what you throw at it, and how much you multitask, this device can and will keep up. Sure, individual apps that are badly written and perform poorly on other devices will still perform poorly on this. But graphics-intensive applications like the 3D Gallery, which often taken upwards of 10-15 seconds to start displaying photos on other devices, are already there on the Galaxy S II. They’re just there. No loading, nothing. It’s incredible.

Similarly, Samsung is touting the camera performance of this device, but the miracle is how quickly the camera app opens. Touch the icon and it’s there, ready to shoot.

Many will remember the stuttering that would occur on the original Galaxy S Vibrant from time to time, especially when installing apps. It made it almost impossible to do anything else on the phone. Thankfully, Samsung has addressed this issue. You won’t likely even notice that you’re installing one, or several apps. This is the power of 1GB RAM.

Often the subjective benchmark of Android performance is how well a device plays back high-resolution, or graphic-intensive Flash inside the browser. While still imperfect, the SGS2 does an excellent job playing most movies and games, even YouTube movies at 720p.

Although I’m not as taken with Quadrant Benchmark Suite as I once was, I have to inform you that the Galaxy S II obtained a score consistently above 3000, often around 3200. This compared to 2500 on the Optimus 2X, which runs Tegra 2, and 1900 on the Sensation 4G. Granted, the Optimus 2X is clocked 200Mhz slower on each core, but the results are impressive nonetheless

Linpack measured a multi-threaded score in the range of 85-91MLOPS, compared to low 70s of HTC Sensation (Snapdragon 8260) and low 50s of the LG G2x (Tegra2). Suffice it to say, this CPU/GPU combination has some serious guts.

As you can see above, the SGS2 got a ridiculously fast 3354.2ms result on the Sunspider Javascript benchmark, which is twice as fast as the Sensation 4G.

Oh, and the device boots in less than 30 seconds. Boom.

Camera

The 8MP/2MP back/front combination is pretty potent. I found that photos came out sharp and slightly muted, so turn up the saturation a bit if you want a shot more akin to the iPhone 4. Detail is plentiful, and grain is kept to a minimum even in dark areas, though it certainly is present. Fine-grain options like ISO settings and exposure are available, and there is even an anti-shake option to prevent wasted shots. Effects such as grayscale and sepia are built into the app, and there are plenty of Scenes and Shooting modes, such as Action Shot, or Smile shot, to satisfy even the most staunch of tweakers. Curiously the ‘Review’ setting, indefinitely keeps the photo on the screen after it’s taken as opposed to disappearing after a couple seconds like on other phones. You either have to manually go back to the camera app, or turn off review altogether.

Video shot in 1080p is also quite good, and certainly welcome. Shooting at a healthy resolution of 1920×1088 pixels, results are generally free of artifacts, though panning over a scene from a stationary position produces some judder, which is to be expected from a mobile device. In good lighting it maintains a lovely 30fps, though that number dips slightly when there is heavy movement. The sensor gives us some excellent low-light results, certainly comparable to the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc, which we’ve been using as the benchmark for video capture on a phone, even though it maxes out at 720p.

One benefit of having a beefy processor is the speed at which the device can take shots. Both front and back still shots are lightning quick to focus and snap. All that’s missing is a dedicated camera button and the SGS2 would be a good substitute for your point and shoot. As it is, the device, while capable, is a little awkward to hold in one hand; we’d like it if the shutter button was a little wider, a little more sensitive to touch. The phone dropped out of our hands a couple times trying to peck at the screen.

The 2MP front-facing camera is also quite a decent performer. Though the device has not incorporated native video calling from Android 2.3.4, we hope it will get it in a future update. As it stands, stills are clear and bright under the right conditions and will do for all those times you don’t have a mirror nearby.

GPS

The Galaxy S series had problems with GPS. We’re not going to get into it. Google it. It was bad: phones couldn’t get a signal, or when they did, couldn’t maintain one. Or you’d be driving down the highway and it would suddenly think you were five miles away, and insist you turn around and head back the way you came. A software “fix” was apparently released, but the issue was primarily hardware-based and could not be rectified in many cases.

Well, I can with a smile on my face say that the GPS problems have been fixed on the Galaxy S II. I was usually able to get a satellite lock within a few seconds, though occasionally it took nearly thirty seconds. But it is accurate, and works well with Google Maps and Navigation, along with the myriad check-in services you like to use.


Network Speed, Call Quality and Connectivity

As I mentioned in the Sensation 4G review, Bell does well when it comes to speed and call quality. Despite containing a radio capable of pulling 21Mbps, in the Speedtest.net application, I hit a maximum of 2.9Mbps download and 2.2Mpbs upload, which is slightly slower than the Sensation in the downlink and minutely faster in the uplink. Though not consistent, these results were generally repeatable.

What truly impressed me, though, were the consistently low ping times I achieved, which, along with high data speeds, are the main boon to page loading times. While HSPA+ networks such as Bell’s can theoretically achieve maximum speeds of 42Mbps, high ping times are what set it apart from next-gen networks that use LTE technology. It’s good to know that Bell has done good work keeping ping times as low as possible.

I did hit a couple snags with data speeds. Occasionally, when loading a bandwidth-intensive website or downloading an app from the Android Marketplace, the device would drop its data connection completely. Some of the time it would return after a few minutes, and other times it would take a restart of the phone to get it back. In those instances, the APN settings (the address that connects the device to its carrier in order to route data traffic) simply disappeared, and would reappear upon reboot. Hopefully it is a localized issue with the device and not a software bug in Bell’s shipping software version, but we’ll have to wait until the device is released to confirm this.

The original Galaxy S series was criticized for weak call volume from the headset, and a poor external speaker. I can happily say that Samsung has improved both, but the former more than the latter. I was often impressed by the quality of voice calls, both to landlines and other cellphones. With little distortion and nary a dropped call, it was difficult to find an area around the GTA where the Galaxy S II didn’t have five bars of signal. The device also comes with a second microphone for noise cancellation.

The single back-located speaker is sufficient, but maximum volume is considerably lower than what is ideal to facilitate conference calls or even operate as a music speaker. While no better than most other modern smartphones, it’s a small disappointment in a phone that innovates in almost every other way. That being said, the audio quality from the single speaker is good enough to listen to your music.

I found the tonal quality from the headphone jack to be quite lacking. High-quality MP3s produced sibilant highs and demonstrably grainy lows, along with an overall lack of bass. Mid- to high-range, where the human voice is typically carried, was tucked away behind some sort of film. This was a disappointment compared to the generally-excellent quality of other Samsung devices which uses very high quality audio components.

The Galaxy S II comes equipped with some modern connectivity options: WiFi a/b/g/n and a Bluetooth 3.0 stack make for some quick data transfers. I was able to connect the device to my A2DP bluetooth stereo without issue, and sound quality was excellent. Unfortunately, Samsung didn’t see fit to provide the device with a SIP VoIP stack which ordinarily ships with Android 2.3. Though nothing a third-party application can’t fix, it would have been nice to see it present in the shipping ROM.

Some Nice Touches

There aren’t that many ways to differentiate an Android device anymore in terms of software, but Samsung tries pretty hard with some of its custom features.

There is Kies over WiFi, which connects to your WiFi network and allows you to wirelessly “connect” to your phone from any computer web browser. You can sync contacts and photos, transfer files and music, and “view” your device from the web.

Then there’s WiFi Direct, which will forgo the access point and connect directly to other compatible devices. This allows two phones, for example, to transfer pictures, music and other files between them without the need for a router hotspot to facilitate the connection. Not many products support this upcoming standard at the moment, but for those who find Bluetooth rather slow, it’s a nice feature to have.

For the keyboard aficionados, Swype is pre-installed on the device, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. We always found Samsung’s default keyboard to be a bit underwhelming, especially when it came to quick typing – stick with SwiftKey X or Smart Keyboard Pro for that, both available in the Marketplace – but things are much improved this time around. The keypad is multitouch-compatible now, and individual letters are larger and easier to press than before. Thankfully they have included in the top row of letters a way to enter numbers without pressing the Alt- button. Just hold down on any key in the top row and after a moment a number will appear. Very handy for passwords. Unfortunately Samsung didn’t see fit to include the much loved double-press-spacebar-for-period shortcut on its keyboard, much to our chagrin.

Samsung have also been good enough to include nearly 2GB worth of app storage onto the device, double what was included in the original Galaxy S. This also contrasts favourably with the HTC Sensation which ships with just over 1GB free application storage. And of course, since this is running Gingerbread, you can manually move over any apps to the SD card, though the device does not ship with one. Instead it comes with 11.5GB of built-in storage, partitioned for use as file storage: it cannot be used to store apps, unfortunately.

Apps A-Plenty

Samsung has included a number of useful apps with the Galaxy S II, and Bell has thrown some in, too, for (good) measure. When we first brought you news of TouchWIZ4, it was revealed that it would include four “hubs”: Social, Music, Readers and Game.

The first is a Samsung-built application that consolidates your social media accounts such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn with your IM accounts such as GTalk and Yahoo! Messenger along with any email accounts you may wish to set up. Both a competent feed reader and email client, it is unlikely to replace any dedicated app you would use, but as a single app to devour your various social feeds it certainly is useful to have. Unlike Sony Ericsson’s Timescape, you can actually respond to Twitter and Facebook messages inside the application, though without a widget the app loses a lot of its usefulness.

The rest of the hubs are merely re-branded third-party applications: Music is a 7Digital-powered music store and player; Readers is a combo of Kobo eBookstore and reader, PressDisplay newspaper reader and Zinio magazine reader; Game is powered by mobage and is, as expected, a game store, filled to the brim with Gameloft fare that can be found in the Marketplace for less money. Avoid that one.

Bell’s offerings are identical to that of the Sensation, and its various Android phones before it. TV&Radio is an app that allows you to subscribe to various Bell content, including CTV, MTV, TSN, as well as some HBO and CBC shows for good measure. For $5/month per subscription package, which is charged via carrier billing to your Bell account, it is an intriguing and, for some, worthwhile addition. For others, it’s just going to be another app icon to delete from the home screen. Bell also throws in a couple game demos from Gameloft and a $10/month GPS Naviation app powered by TeleNav. All in all, there is very little bloatware compared to most American carriers, but it is frustrating that we have no choice to uninstall the apps, especially the game demos, which, if purchased from the app cannot be transferred to another device unlike those bought from the official Android Marketplace.

Quibbles and Foibles

Not all is perfect in the land of the SGS2. Besides the aforementioned problem with intermittently losing data, for which I am willing to give Samsung the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to a hardware defect, there are a couple more rather vexing issues to contend with.

Samsung feels it is necessary to affix the Galaxy S II with a vibrating mechanism that has more in common with a high-powered vacuum cleaner than a smartphone. Certainly some would see this as a benefit – say, you’re a heavy sleeper, and need to be woken with a start – but for most people the intensity is excessive. When receiving an email, a text, or any notification for that matter, the device vibrates for over a second, with a fierceness rivaling vindictive. This would be OK if it was adjustable, but it’s not.

This extends, as well, to charging the device. When it reaches 100%, the phone issues its vibration like an attacking army, about an hour or so after I tend to drift to sleep. For the occasional time I forgot to put the phone on silent, I would startle awake, wondering who the heck was texting me at 1am. The other issue is the intensity of the vibration itself. Because it’s so intrusive, it’s difficult to leave your phone on your desk, or at a coffee shop, without distracting or alarming those around you.

Briefly, because for some it will be a non-issue and for others a big one, the Bell Galaxy S II forgoes the NFC option that ships with some international versions. While not the “game changer” as Google hyped it would be with the Nexus S, many handsets, including several upcoming BlackBerry handsets, and potentially the next iPhone, are going to be utilizing the low-powered data transfer technology for retail payments, money transfers and tag reading. Oh, and for those coming from a Nexus S, there is no CRT-off effect. Not sure why Samsung forwent this awesome Gingerbread inclusion, but it’s not there.

Battery Life

Do you want the good news or bad news first? Good news: the Galaxy S II has some of the best battery life of any Android device we’ve used. Its 1650mAh battery can easily last two days on a single charge when used judiciously, and should be a blessing for any frustrated Android user coming from a last-gen device.

Bad news? It’s still not good enough. While it can idle for several days without breaking a sweat, the Galaxy S II likes to eat up battery as much as the next (Android) device. Keep your background processes to a minimum, kill errant apps (I hate to admit it, but the included task manager did come in handy once in a while) and you’ll be very pleased with the results.

But, as I did, load the device to the brim with background updates such as Twitter, two push email accounts, Sugarsync and Google+, which independently sync in the background, and within 12-16 hours you’re in the red zone.

We musn’t fault Samsung for this, though. I’ve reviewed a lot of Android devices in my day, and they all behave the same. Even Google admits that errant apps can reduce apps significantly, yet the open nature of the operating system invites such opportunities. Apple certainly had good reason to only allow certain operations to continue in the background, and we hope that Google follows suit by tightening the noose around troublesome apps and their developers.

Hackability

In a word, yes. The Samsung Galaxy S II has an unlocked bootloader and, already, a vibrant developer community committed to eeking out every drop of performance from this beast. Already overclocked to 1.5Ghz, the device should have a very fruitful live for the myriad custom ROM “crackflashers” out there. Check out XDA-Developers for more information.

Conclusions

If you’ve made it this far, I’m impressed. Impressed that you’ve sat still long enough to read over 4000 words straight, and even more so that you haven’t run out to purchase the device. I’ve heaped a lot of praise on a phone that has had some incredibly high expectations – almost exceedingly so. For the most part, it surpasses all of them: this is the best Android phone ever released. By far. Samsung has made using Android a pleasure in a world where it’s often the complete opposite experience. From the lithe body to the gorgeous screen to the overall expediency of the OS, the Galaxy S II puts all other smartphones to shame.

But Samsung’s flagship isn’t without its problems. The build quality could definitely be better, especially when put next to HTC’s Sensation, which itself is a force to be reckoned with and no slouch in the performance category either. Where the Sensation trounces the SGS2 is in the screen resolution department; though the browser is smoother on the Samsung, the Sensation has more pixels and websites render more true to their desktop form. Less scrolling, more text.

It will be interesting to see how Bell markets both devices, as their price points are too similar to give one a clear advantage over the other. Each has some distinct advantages, and consumers will be drawn to one based on a number of factors – few approach a new smartphone purchase without having at least some history with the manufacturer or brand.

The Galaxy S series was a great success for Samsung, but it also had its fair share of problems, many of which have been resolved here. The Galaxy S II also improves upon the original in almost every way and it’s only been a year since the release.

One thing a number of people would like to know is whether this device will receive updates in an expeditious manner. The Galaxy S Vibrant, released in July 2010 on Bell, has yet to receive its Gingerbread update over a year later. Whether the carrier or manufacturer is to blame, this has left a bad taste in a lot of consumers’ mouths, whom I’m sure will be reticent to throw down their money on this upgrade, however tempting the product. Indeed, it may be expedient for Bell to release a statement committing to updating the Galaxy S II for at least 18 months, as was outlined at Google IO earlier this year.

But I have no doubt that, a year from now, many of us who decide to purchase a Galaxy S II will be very happy, even if its software has not changed much. Out of the box it runs every Android application with aplomb, and in a year from now, with the Galaxy S III on the horizon, it will probably hold up pretty well. The Android market is iterating very quickly — quad-core processors are expected early next year — but the SGS2 feels like we’ve hit a sweet spot.

So, the best Android phone ever released. The best smartphone experience ever. Sure, the next iPhone is on the horizon, along with a number of competing Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 devices. But Samsung has pre-emptively volleyed the first cannon. On it reads just four words: “Come and get us.”

The Bell Samsung Galaxy S II will be available for $169.95 on a 3-year term and $599.95 outright on July 21st. (Virgin will also be releasing this too.)

Rating: 9.5/10

Pros:

– Beautiful screen with excellent contrast levels, great colour saturation and white tone
– Fastest dual-core processor on the market. Extremely smooth performance
– Lovely form factor; light and easy to hold, despite the 4.3” screen size
– Nuanced improvements to Android with TouchWIZ 4
– Good battery life, especially with power-saving features turned on
– Improved multitouch keyboard, along with Swype pre-installed
– Hubs are useful and easy to use
– Camera quality is excellent; 1080p is smooth and artifact-free
– GPS works
– Easily rooted and moddable for custom ROMs and kernels
– Kies Air and DLNA support removes the need for a computer

Cons:

– Maximum brightness is lower than competitors
– Battery life sometimes lacking
– Low speaker volume
– Poor headphone audio output
– Plastic construction may be a turn-off for some
– No NFC module or SIP VoIP stack included
– No Gingerbread CRT effect
– Expensive

—-

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  • cybik

    Finally, confirmation: no NFC.

    • Sean

      DRAT I was hoping this would have it

    • TomatoGuy

      NFC or not, buying iPhone from now on instead of Samsung Galaxy II is a very stupid move. Even if you are Apple fanboy, this phone is superior in every possible way. And iPhone 5 won’t change anything.

  • Aj

    1st, I want sooo bad

    • Jerrik

      I hear ya. I use the demo version of this phone all the time at work and I love it. I can’t wait to purchase it from work on the 21st!

  • Aj

    Damn foiled, I assume the unlocked one you can purchase from newegg.ca will be NFC capable.

    • Richard

      No, the version from Newegg is the international i9100 and it doesn’t have the NFC chip either.

  • BBC

    I am not too concerned about not having NFC. To me it’s like Master Card Paypass. I have the feature but rarely use it.

    • Richard

      While not a deal breaker for me, I would have liked to have the capability. I use the Paypass from both my MC and Visa cards from time to time and I’m intrigued at what Google wallet will bring to the table in the coming months, as well as Paypal’s answer to that.

  • EmperumanV

    Will the UK factory unlocked version be able to get the 21Mbps speed if with a Bell him card?

    • Vito

      The Bell version won’t even get the 21Mbps speed…

  • Sean

    Ugh I9100M was hoping we would be seeing an I9100 version… or is the M what europe has also ?

  • stephan

    I will be getting one on the 21st for sure. And whats awesome is, Ill be eligible for antoher upgrade in november(which I’ll likely save) if anything else pops off lol…joys of having two phones on my account. one of which is monthly, and another which has less than a year left on contract.

  • y2b

    Great review, I can’t believe I read it all! It was really, really good. In fact, the Engadget review of this was worse than this. Great job Mobile Syrup :) Looking forward for news of the Droid 3 for Canada.

  • kljasdg

    i think some of your cons are invalid.

    1. battery life: it is amazing, i’ve tested it out.
    2. headphone audio out. samsung has great audio quality.

    • Vito

      I have an unlocked GS2 from Europe and it has NO connectivity issues – this might just be a Bell issue.

      SIP/VoIP *is* available for this device. I’m not sure what firmware was supplied for this review, but clearly it isn’t a new version. I just upgraded to the latest firmware and it includes Google Talk with Video and the VoIP option. That said, you can’t count on Bell to provide a timely upgrade, but it’s pretty easy to upgrade yourself.

      All phones battery will be compared to iPhone. With that in mind, battery life isn’t great – it’s not bad, it’s just average – which isn’t bad for this type of device. Battery goes down really fast when you’re recording 1080p video or using GPS.

      Camera really is fantastic.

      The default MMS app is crap. Picture messages come in a slide shows that you have to “play” – unlike the default Gingerbread MMS that makes presents them as standalone pictures. This annoys me to no end.

      I’m curious about some of the “Pros” in this review… Touchwiz does not add any value and at best can be described as not getting in the way too much. Hubs are useless and drain battery unnecessarily. GPS working is a “pro”?

      The phone is very nice to hold and everyone who has handled it has only good things to say – but they do note it feels lighter than expected.

      I found the Samsung keyboard to just get in the way. The most annoying thing about it is that when you turn on word prediction it will keep popping the guessed word window up and down as you start a new word. It’s not an issue with all apps, but it affects the MMS app and it just drove me crazy. It’s very distracting to see you message window bobbing up and down every time you hit the spacebar. You need to try it to see what I mean. Thankfully this is easily corrected by downloading one of the Gingerbread Keyboard apps from the market.

      Fixable quibbles aside, this is the best phone I have ever owned and I whole heartedly recommend it.

      One last thing, a friend of mine also has the phone and we had Video Chat using the built in Samsung software and we were charged by Rogers for a “roaming video call”. Not sure if this will be an issue with Bell, but Rogers doesn’t carry the phone and yet the video call app triggered a charge on their network – so just keep an eye out.

    • KingK

      You are wrong. Audio is not great, already been tested throughly. Check the hardware, it’s a step back in audio.

      Battery is horrible, anyone who says otherwise is not using the phone. There’s only a HUGE thread about bad battery life on xda. You can’t expect good battery life from any top end phone unless you use it like a blackberry or try a million different hacks.

  • Huttfuzz

    First of all, great review.

    Secondly, for the part about Loss of connectivity, i hope it’s not the same thing that happened with my Atrix. It came out with 2.2.1 OS and i had to reboot it once a day because i completly lost connectivty with the HSPA+ network. When the 2.2.2 release came out, this was fixed.

    I know some Bell representatives talked about some phone not “software ready”…maybe that is one of the reasons…

    I’ll see on the 21st i guess..

  • James

    I just put down a deposit for the phone to arrive next week.. I feel like a kid around Christmas time all over again

    • Jerrik

      You and I both hahaha.

  • dan

    It sounds like s**t when using headphones?…. That’s a deal breaker.. Please elaborate

    • Steadiman

      Samsung is in denial mode when it comes to head set call volume. Google “Samsung galaxy s II headset call volume” and sort your way through the 2,140,000 hits returned about the anemic, poor, weak, just plain crappy reality that comes to users of headsets of the Galaxy S II.

      Samsung tech service can’t call anything up on their screens that even acknowledges that it’s an issue.

  • Big 3

    anything over 4.0 inches is too big!!!. Besides the size, it’s a good phone

    • Canadaboy

      that’s NOT what she said

  • Gab

    Not the first reviewer to mention audio quality.

  • Viper

    love the use of none shall pass by aes :)

  • roman129

    No CRT-off is a deal breaker. :p

  • Tom

    Noticed the model number is GT-i9100m… How does that differ from the GT-i9100 model?

    • Richard

      I’ve been wondering that myselt too. The old i9000m had a different radio band from the international version. This one seems to be identical to the i9100 so I have no idea why they gave it a new designation.

    • R

      the m stands for “canadian version”

  • Justin

    Roman129….You can download the CRT-off. It’s an Android device…you just need to learn how to use it to it’s potential. I’ve had the device for 6 weeks now….it’s hands down the best smartphone I’ve ever had the chance to use and I have had over 50 smartphones.

    • ObiWanPhonobi

      There’s no way you’ve had over 50 smartphones. You’re talking out of your a*s. As for everyone saying this is better than the iPhone I can’t help but laugh. battery life is worse, it has 1/2 the resolution, terrible speaker and headphone quality, considerably less apps in the market place and is technically in violation of Apple patents. And don’t give me that crock that people are trying to say. The Super AMOLED screen does not mean anything. I can still tell the difference between the 2 and the Galaxy 2 just looks blocky and pixilated like every other smartphone other than the iPhone 4. So it doesn’t have a dual core processor? Who cares? It’s a cell phone.

  • Scott

    Can anyone tell us whether bluetooth dialing works on this phone? Thanks.

    • Zena

      oh god! Apple fanboys and Android Fanboys at it again.

      Go find something better to do. Every phone is made for a different person. Dont like this? then go get the iphone. and if ya dont like the iPhone get this.

  • Tony

    Tried it today…Plastic and more plastic…colours are weak..sound is terrible for a super and expensive smarthphone. Will wait for the new Iphone. The Best Buy guy told me that Rogers will have the same phone in a few weeks…(I always had terrible service with Bell).
    Not Impressed.

    • Jerrik

      Your Apple fanboyish comment is irrelevant.

    • mrpulla

      Obvious troll is obvious. The colours are weak? That’s how we all know you’re auditioning for the Apple cheerleading club. The colours are the best to ever touch a smart phone, or should I say super phone? Period. As the gsmarena (check the review there, amazing as well) review showed, the audio for this phone is elite. I really hope you get paid to do what you do (troll, blatantly lie), otherwise you need a new hobby my man. God bless.

    • Josh

      stupid apple lovers you know samsung is the reason apple phones exist right? the processor in the iPhones are made by samsung to the more you talk about how much samsung sucks the more u say iPhones suck as well ahaha

  • UserNumber42

    Hey Mobile Syrup, can you add an option to hide any comments where somebody mentions an iPhone on an Android posting and an Android phone on an iPhone posting? Reminds me of when I was 13 and I’d fight with my friends over Genesis vs Super Nintendo (ie: Genesis has blast processing! SNES has better RPGs! Genesis has blood! SNES has more colour and better sound!)

    I digress…

    As for the plastic… a friend of mine has a Nexus S with a minimal rigid plastic “case”. Teenager with his first phone. Stood up and it slid off his lap, down the deck and 7 feet onto concrete. Blew the case right off, and yeah, there were some scratches (should have gotten an Invisible Shield), but NOTHING ON THE PHONE BROKE.

    Must also mention that I live in a small town in the mountains of BC and I’ve never had a problem with reception with Bell, even snowboarding on the back of the local ski mountain.

    But seriously, a person should be worried about the practicality of a phone, not how it feels (plastic vs metal) or how it looks in your hand.

    Also, hey Mobile Syrup, this is my first comment. You rock for info. Been waiting for the S2 since February and you’ve been a great source of info! Thanks!

  • Joe

    For any smartphone I would expect data connectivity to be a non-issue. The whole point of a smartphone is the data connectivity. Can you imagine a BlackBerry or iPhone that needs to be rebooted once a day because it loses data connectivity? “Oh, I never got your email because my phone lost connectivity”. I score this a huge negative. I hope it’s not a hardware issue as the reviewer puts it. I hope it’s a software issue and can be fixed on the next release.

    I’ve been waiting to get the SGSII and will buy the phone but the data connectivity is a huge negative in my books.

    • WoofWoof

      @Joe: How can you even say that? The iPhone has connectivity issues right out of the box. Apple’s solution? Buy a skin. Blackberry has always had lower signal resolution compared to other smart phones, and the slider issue with the torch? I mean, seriously!

  • Josh

    How much did HTC pay you to say that bud?

  • Claudiu Corbea

    This phone would be so sweet with a 3.5-3.7 inch screen in a smaller form factor.

    • KingK

      That’s too small. 4″ is the sweet spot.

  • Inhert

    So can I just walk in a bell store, say I want to buy an SGII no contract, walk out, unlock it, go to rogers and say this is my new phone, can I have a new contract with it?

  • Max

    It’s a day one buy for me that’s for sure.

    One thing tho, I wish battery life and audio quality is great or at least, acceptable.

  • Jayyy

    I talked to someone at bestbuy and played around with the phone they had on display and i was told that the phone was delayed from the 14th to the 21st due to the connectivity issue and that samsung has recalled all phones to install gingerbread 2.3.4 which will correct the slight connectivity problem.

  • John

    Are you working for HTC or something? You always bash samsung phones here. At least GS2 doesn’t have death grip/dust under the screen/screen flickering nightmares of the Sensation.

  • John

    oh and add loose battery covers and unresponsive touchscreen too.

  • jim

    I think it is funny that they still compare everything to the iphone which came out a year ago. Wow a great phone with a crap battery. I think I will stick with a phone I can count on the whole day and is more fun because it has the best selection of apps. The iphone.

  • Chris The Amazing

    Pro… GPS Works, Thats Not Exactly A Pro.. Thats Something That Just Should Work.

  • Sunshine

    You guys know that the phone was recalled on the 13th of July because of an unannounced error within the software. This review was using a SGS2 before the fix. Now that’s not to say that it will be different but ya just never know what they are gunna do. I hear (rumour) 2.3.4 will be added on to the phone before release date. I really do hope so :) Can’t wait to get this. Was all ready on the 14th until I found out they delayed it one week :\

    • Daniel Bader

      @Sunshine,

      We’re hoping that Samsung took the time to update the software to 2.3.4 and fix the outstanding bugs before shipping to retail. We have to review units based on their current software, and cannot assume things are going to be fixed until they actually are.

      In the event the device ships with a different software version, we will update this review with a follow-up piece and do another hands-on.

  • EmperumanV

    Maybe all for the best in terms of the software update to 2.3.4.

  • some dude

    just went to pitt meadows Costco and lady told me Rogers will be getting a sgs2 later this year behind bell also.

  • Chris

    Great review, just a few quibbles:

    – Why not mention the free Google navigation as an alternative to the $10/month Tel Nav?

    – Moving apps to the SD card means the INTERNAL SD card, e.g. the provided 16GB memory, NOT onto any external SD card the user buys & installs

    – Android 2.3.3 does not run atop TouchWIZ4; you got it backwards.

  • antoine

    Hey I’ve been using my Bell store demo galaxy S II for some days now, and I happen to get 3500 quadrant mark, 6mpbs on speedtest.net and a maximum of 90mflops in linpack, dont know what version you used but it’s probably a pre-release ! anyways great phone overall, I’m probably gonna order one for myself within the next few days, I currently have a wp7 and im tired of waiting for mango to get all the goodies that wp7 is lacking…

  • Shan Khabra

    I was just wondering if it is worth putting a screen protector on the samsung galaxy s II 4g? Because I heard this screen on this device is made of gorilla glass and it doesn’t get scratched easy.

  • Frank

    One day left and…well, I think the reason why it was delay is purely marketing and have time to pile stocks of the phone. The excuse Bell gave is purely nonsens come on! A software problem that took only one week to solve!?? What happen to ”all” the phones they already have in stock?

    Marketing and stock number that is the only reason!

  • Masood Shah

    BEST PHONE EVER! if only i could afford it!! :(

  • thantos

    beyond the screen… I don’t understand why this phone gets such high praises while the atrix, which based on this review, is next to identical with a bigger battery. Doesn’t make sense to me and possibly a little biased. If someone is willing to lend me an SGSII to compare along my atrix, I’d happily retract my statement.

  • Keyvan

    What is the difference of this 4G version of the SGS2 and the international version on the web? is the CPU/GPU different? NFC/no-NFC? or is it simply a marketing ploy to put 4G on the Bell version?

    Should I wait for the Samsung Hercules coming to Rogers (so I hear) or should I buy the SGS2?

  • Julia

    Will this device ever arrive at Roger’s?

  • A. Carmine

    $599.95, expensive??

    Lets not be tools of carrier pricing. This thing is priced to deter people from buying phones outright (as we should) so that people will lock themselves in for 3 years

  • Dave

    Don’t give out false info! I rooted mine the day it came out (I9100M). I used the kernel from CF. No issues here.

  • Mike

    okay iphone 5 has NOTHING on this. Samsungs finest yet

  • Curtis R

    Samsung Fascinate is a piece of crap..usability is terrible. Cannot see screen except inside without any glare and cannot hear the phone while driving or out on the street. When will the Product Design team realize they need to real world test.

    I will go back to iPhone and definately the iPad since the Galaxy tablet is likely just as bad. Oh yes and when will Google actually build something again that works…Android seriously sucks!!!

  • Steve Dion

    Great phone, really. But one MAJOR complaint i have is that it gets really hot close to the ear when using it moderately. Very uncomfortable. Stock keyboard offers no french canadian support.

  • SUNIL BANSAL

    VERY FINE HANDSAT

  • GO4IT

    great write up!
    cheers
    Moe

  • howard olsen

    I waited and waited and waited for the Apple announcement and I can tell
    that what came was a HUGE disappointment. I don’t care that there
    wasn’t a major design overhaul, the 4 and 4s are the sexiest hardware
    designs out there at the moment IMO, but for me the deal breaker was this: No
    LTE support. With carriers all over the world rolling ot LTE networks,
    for apple not include support in this release was a deal breaker. I
    predict they are going to come out with 5 within the next year and piss
    off everyone who just locked into new contracts to upgrade to 4S, just like they did when they
    announced 3GS shortly after 3G. I was angry then but forgave them for it. This time I pre-ordered the Samsung Galaxy S2 on Rogers which LTE
    ready and backward compatible and couldn’t be happier. I and am now
    fully future proofed and completely off the Apple Train a free to do what ever I want with my phone. I loved my iPhone but I know I’m going to head over heals with Andoid and this Samsung.

  • SK

    Is there any good fellas who can how to unlock iphone4 and where. Many many thanks.

  • Confused

    Pros

    – Good battery life, especially with power-saving features turned on

    Cons

    – Battery life sometimes lacking

    ????

  • Me

    I dislike the unlock key being on the side, it is so awkward to me.

  • andrew

    did anybody else notice that scrotie mcboogerballs is one of his contacts in the video?

  • Tyya

    Good to find an expert who knows what he’s talknig about!

  • bailey

    I like the phone but the volume sometimes drops when talking, and phone occasionally freezes. Using advanced task killer has helped with battery life but not happy about less than great volume.

  • bailey

    like the phone – had it for 2 months now but battery life isn’t great (task killer helps a bit) and occasionally the volume drops when making calls…