So the good people at Three sent me a new Samsung Galaxy S2 (or is that SII?) Android powered smartphone to test last week, and I’ve been using it ever since. Ahem…now I realise why Apple has recently sued Samsung. It’s not just about the ostensible copying, this is about a mobile phone (and presumably a family of products) which have the real design and technical specification clout to unseat Apple from its current leadership of the ‘cool’ smartphone pack.
Make no mistake about it, this phone is a colossal smack in the face to Apple, and if this is a sign of things to come from the Android market as a whole – and all the signs are that it is – Apple will struggle to keep up. Why? Read on and watch my video review at the end and we’ll see.
Design & Specification. The new Samsung (or Sammy as they’re affectionately known) definitely ‘pays homage’ to the Apple marketing tradition. Shipped in a simple matt black box, at first glance you’d be hard pressed to see a difference between the iPhone 4 and SII when you open the box. It’s only when you pick up the Samsung that the first major difference becomes clear. Wow, it’s light. And thin, impossibly thin for a phone with this specification.
It’s hard to show in photos, but in real life the SII is a sliver of a handset, sleek, black and so very very cool. Ice cool. Some commentators have said it’s cheaply built, mainly because of the wafer thin plastic back panel, but once you hold it in your hand you realise this is not an issue of cost, but of ergonomics. The designers have chosen ultra-lightweight materials to minimise bulk and weight, and it works in spades.
Just 8.4 mm thick and a mere 4 oz, and yet sporting a 4.3 inch capacitive screen? Miraculous. For comparison, my veteran Shaeffer ball point pen is thicker at the clip end. What makes this even more astonishing is the fact that this is a full on beast of a phone, with a 1.2 GHz dual core processor, 3G/4G, GPS, 1GB of RAM and 16 or 32GB of built in memory space, plus the ability to take up to 32GB in a microSD card. WiFi, quadband, 4.3 inch Super AMOLED capacitive screen, 8 megapixel camera on the back, 2 mp cam on the front, FM radio, Flash and DivX video support, HDMI out to your TV…the list goes on.
Display. One of the heavily marketed ‘advantages’ of the iPhone has traditionally been the awesome quality of its screen. No longer. The screen on the Sammy is every bit as responsive, bright, clear and robust as the Apple alternative. The Gorilla glass protection really feels tough and cleans with an instant wipe, the capacitive multi-touch is gorgeously responsive, and to cap it off, all that massive 4+ inches of screen real estate doesn’t appear to have impacted on conventional battery life expectations either.
In Operation. All of this wouldn’t be that impressive if it wasn’t backed up by a really solid implementation of the Android 2.3 operating system. The phone positively rockets along, with none of that laggy response when scrolling long websites, or stuttering video playback. The beefy processor soaks up the pressure and just delivers. The only time you’ll notice a delay when accessing online data is if you’re in the unfortunately still too common poor signal reception area, when the poor thing will struggle for air along with every other smartphone on the planet. This thing loves a good signal!
I also really enjoy Android 2.3. On this handset it’s fast, intuitive and robust. No lags, crashes or aberrant behaviour so far. Whipping around the menus is a breeze, and thanks to some nice Samsung touches, configuring the icons and layouts is also a simple task. There are also some nice custom touches like the Samsung zoom feature (two thumbs on screen and tilt) and the addition of Swype which is a really solid alternative to keyboard input.
Camera. The 8 megapixel camera is good enough to replace your generic point and shoot, but don’t go chucking that DSLR quite yet. Along with every other mobile phone maker apart from Nokia – who still have the best phone cameras in the world bar none – this offering is nothing to scream about. I found it a definite improvement on the ageing SE Xperia X10i 8 megapixel camera, but I suspect that it will probably only just hold its own against the iPhone in a head to head. The one major improvement? It’s fast, very very fast. Shutter lag is all but gone with the faster processor, which is a very good thing indeed.
Battery Life. It’s surprising how few reviewers give definitive answers on battery life, I guess it’s because it’s such a difficult area to cover. How your handset performs in this department depends on such a lot of variables, ranging from the type of app use to your distance from the nearest cell tower (further away forces the radio to up the battery drain to maintain a connection). What I have found surprising though is how ‘normal’ the battery use is with this phone.
I was expecting a much bigger drain, both in use with that large screen, and on standby, but in fact, the battery life is typical of this level of smartphone. I’m certainly not a heavy user, so I’m getting around a day or more of use per charge, but fire up GPS, or a game and the battery level instantly starts to drop at a rate. Nothing unusual there, then. Overall, for my needs, the battery range is impressively useable.
Conclusion. There is now no reason at all to avoid Android products when considering your next or first smartphone. With this one handset, the playing field has been totally evened out, and as I said at the start of this review, it’s clear that this is just one example of the type of ‘super’ phones which are hitting the shelves as we speak. The HTC Sensation is another, and we’ll see more as the year progresses. For my money though, taking into consideration the amazing form factor, gorgeous screen, top specification and punchy performance, I’d say that this Samsung Galaxy SII is currently the product to beat, and probably the best smartphone on the market anywhere in the world at the moment.
Above: Samsung Galaxy SII. Below: SE Xperia X10i.