We ran a quick overview of the Samsung Galaxy SII Android smartphone when it first came out, but decided to revisit it after having lived with the phone for a few weeks now. And our first impressions have more than solidified. This handset marks a real transition away from Android as a catch-up platform, and indicates the point at which it now powers the best the world has to offer, in just about every way.
1. That screen, oh goodness that screen!
It only takes one second to eyeball the glorious 4.3 inch Super AMOLED Plus Capacitive screen and you’re in love. Incredibly vibrant colors, super responsive and a perfect compromise in size between a really useful web browsing format and something which is still very pocket friendly. Top that off with impeccable multitouch and motion sensing functionality and it’s a beauty. Really!
2. The unbearable lightness of being!
It is simply not possible to build a phone of this sophistication in a form factor thinner than a chocolate wafer, but the Koreans have done it. Whenever I hand it to people their first reaction is shock that it is so light, and yet feels so sturdy in the hand, which I guess is a tribute to the use of optimised materials and an amazingly micro-efficient design. Open up the military grade plastic sliver on the back, and you can hardly see where they’ve hidden all the magic.
3. Samsung loves them some hackers!
In stark contrast to certain other smartphone makers, Samsung has seen the light and embraced the customising hacker community. This week the company handed over a brand new SII to the ace tech dudes at Cyanogenmod to get them working on a modded Android operating system for the handset. That’s not a trivial commitment, and it’s a sign of how confident the company is in its technology and in the open Android platform.
4. The phone bit actually works? Crazy!
Never mind the famous Antennagate issues with a certain product, the big secret about most modern smartphones is the fact that they’re not exceptionally good at making calls. It’s probably something to do with cramming all those radios in those sleek shapes, and the tussle with battery life and everything, but many of them can act a little like a spoilt primadonna when it comes to holding a connection, especially compared with older ‘dumb’ phones. The SII however, is one solid performer; indoors, outdoors, in bad signal areas, even the odd short tunnel. Calls come through crystal clear and stay connected.
5. Lag, what lag?
This Samsung is the first smartphone we’ve seen that doesn’t lag in any application or function. Boot up Google maps, and up it comes, just about as fast as your laptop, scroll down huge blog pages and the content flicks past, nothing seems to phase it. Needless to say, it transforms the browsing experience when you don’t have to hang around waiting for the phone to catch up with your search requests, or a change of webpage. Astonishingly impressive performance.
6. Battery management that’s just plain mean!
The one thing you would expect from a smartphone with this power and size of screen is a battery that lasts 10 minutes, but the real surprise is the fact that the Galaxy SII can hold its own against any smartphone in the world in terms of battery performance. We easily get a day out of it, and sometimes two if we’re careful. Of course no phone in the world can cope with hours of GPS connect, but for most other functions, music, WiFi, video and calls, we’re amazed by how frugal the battery management system is in general. It’s obvious that there’s some serious control going on in the background to make this happen, and it works!
7. The best camera outside of Finland!
OK, so there’s no doubt that Nokia still holds the phone camera crown; their firmware, the long relationship with Carl Zeiss and their head start really show in this regard. But the pack is catching up, and nowhere is this more evident than in the 8 megapixel offering in this Sammy. It’s super fast with almost zero shutter lag when you press the button, and the results in daylight mean you can genuinely throw away your cheapo point and shoot dedicated camera at last. The 1080p high definition video capture is also excellent, although as with all these products you’ll have to be satisfied with less than great indoor low light results. But hey, it’s a phone remember?
8. Android 2.3.3 rocks!
There’s no question about it, Android has come of age in a big way with this iteration. It’s fast, stable and intuitive, and when implemented on a handset properly (i.e. without layers of obtrusive marketing or interface junk), as it is with this Samsung, it’s a cracker. If you like the idea of owning your own handset free of the requirement to register it with iTunes or any other higher ‘authority’, along with the power to customize it to your heart’s content, then Android is truly your friend.
9. Gorilla glass, meet guerilla specs!
The Galaxy SII packs a tough as nails Gorilla glass screen which is impervious to smears and dust and general keys in the pocket type scratches (literally a quick wipe on your sleeve almost instantly removes grubby marks), but it’s the guerilla specification that really wows. The 1.2 GHz Dual Core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 or 32 GB storage as standard, super high speed 4G data support, 8 megapixel camera (+ front 2 mp camera), microSD support up to 32 GB, A-GPS, Flash/DivX video support, Bluetooth, HDMI out, fast WiFi a/b/g/n (and tethering!), FM Radio, cracking sound system, and superbly ergonomic interface (the combination of soft and hard buttons/keys is masterfully implemented) make this a truly pleasurable phone to use.
10. Hurry up, the market’s open!
The Android Market is now every bit as valuable as any other on the planet, with the added advantage that you don’t have to suffer the skunky interface in iTunes. The recent addition of an easy to use web interface to the market, means you can view and manage all your apps in an instant, and installing new applications is a cinch. The best thing, however, is the fact that you’re not tied to one marketplace for your goodies, as there are a growing number of independent alternative marketplaces you can grab apps from across the globe. And you’re not going to be treated like a criminal by Google for using them, or for customising or tweaking your handset to your liking.
Well there you have it, our verdict on what we believe is an exemplary product of the day. Of course things change in weeks in the mobile phone game, but even with the inevitable obsolescence that is destined to come, we feel that this handset deserves to rank as a milestone in the Android platform in general and Samsung’s mobile market ambitions in particular. A standout product!