Product Type: Samsung Smartphone
Newest Review: ... 4S, at a much lower price. So far, I am good with it. It was hard to stop using my iPod 4 (the UI is better in iPhone, I believe), but it w... more
In a galaxy not so far away.....
Samsung i9100 Galaxy S II
Member Name: sandemp
Samsung i9100 Galaxy S II
Advantages: Beautiful 4" screen, music player, video recorder, great for internet
Disadvantages: Battery takes an age to charge and would probably be better lasting longer
As upgrade time reared it's head once more I decided it was just about time to forget about the low to mid range phones and cheaper contracts and go for something top of the range. While for many top of the range automatically equates to the iPhone, I'm a little different and have a huge dislike for the iconic Apple brand and was looking for something running the Android OS. With my previous three phones being Samsung, I felt it was best to stick to a brand I trusted and so I picked the Samsung Galaxy S2 as an upgrade from my Galaxy Europa. I received my phone free as part of a 24 month contract (£31 for 600mins/unlimited texts/500MB mobile internet/2GB Openzone access) but it is also available on PAYG for around £400.
==Episode 1 - First Impressions==
The Samsung Galaxy S2 comes supplied in a rather classy and sexy matte black box with silver highlighting that simply exudes quality. On opening the box the Samsung Galaxy S2 is revealed in all it's majesty along with it's battery, a USB cable, charger, set of earphones/hands free set, spare ear buds, quick start guide and rather random micro SD card adapter (but no card). It's worth noting that neither a comprehensive instruction booklet nor installation disc are included.
The first thing that came to mind on opening the box is just how big the Galaxy S2 is, over the years the trend had been for mobile phones to get smaller and smaller, from the bricks of the late 80s to tiny Nokia's and clamshells as the last decade came to a close. Now with the advent of smart phones that are so much more that just phones it seems that once more bigger is better with screen size being the major factor in this. Although very thin (less than a centimetre) the Galaxy S2 is large at approximately 12.5cm by 6.hcm, with the majority of that being taken up by the 4.3" screen. This sheer size does take a while to get used to and I do still feel a little self conscious holding it to my ear.
Style-wise the Galaxy S2 is fairly understated, being a simply rectangular in shape with curved corners. Although also available in white, my Galaxy S2 is the more common black version and surprisingly enough it's black. The front of the phone is completely covered with glass, the edges are glossy black and the back cover is formed of a textured material. There are very few physical buttons on the phone, on the front screen there is only the one, a home key. Then there is a power button on the right hand edge and rocker control on the left and as far as physical button go that's it. The only other areas to break up the smooth lines are a micro USB port for charging or connecting to the computer and a 3mm headphone jack. This lack of physical buttons and the clean, sleek lines certainly make the S2 a sexy beast, personally I think it looks fantastic. Although the S2 certainly is much larger that any mobile phone I've owned for the last few years (twice the size of my old Galaxy Europa) it soon becomes comfortable to hold and operate especially as it is very, very light. Due to it's size it does not fit comfortably in my pocket, which is a slight downside as there are times when I don't wish to carry my handbag round with me.
Preparing the S2 up for first use was simplicity itself, the battery needed to be installed and I must say that the back cover is fairly easy to remove for this, but does feel very thin and a little flimsy. As with any modern mobile the battery comes partly charged, but it is a good idea to fully charge it before first use (yeah, like that's going to happen). What I particularly like about this phone (and most modern Samsungs) is that it can be charged either by connecting to a wall plug or via USB to a computer and that the USB connection is a standard type meaning that I need fewer leads hanging around and should my battery run out at a friend's house there's a good chance that they will have a suitable lead. First (and subsequent) charges have taken a fair amount of time, it takes a good couple of hours for the battery to charge from dead, but this may have something to do with the fact I have wi-fi constantly on and receive several emails during this time. Should you wish to upgrade the memory the S2 takes MicroSD cards up to 32GB in capacity, but the slot for these cards is a little awkward to access being behind the battery.
Switch on time for the S2 is amazingly fast, which may have something to do with the dual-core 1.2GHz processor, with it taking a matter of seconds for the phone to be ready to use (although this does start to slow a little as the memory fills). As the phone sparks into life you cannot help but be impressed with the glorious Super AMOLED Plus screen, which is beautifully bright and fantastically vivid. I don't in anyway pretend to understand the technology behind this screen but this combined with the 217 ppi (pixels per inch) gives a viewing experience on a par with looking at a traditional glossy photograph, with a depth that has to be seen to be believed in all lighting conditions.
On first switch on there is a small amount of setting up that needs to be done, most of which is simply a case of following the prompts. If you're thinking about buying this phone then if you don't already have a Gmail account, now is the time to get one as, as with all Android based phones Gmail is heavily integrated into the operating system. I love the Android operating system, find it easy to navigate and the S2 comes with version 2.3.5 installed which is codenamed Gingerbread. Gingerbread is not quite the latest version of Android, but a newer version will soon be available for download.
Navigating through the seven home screens and five application screens takes little more than a sweep of the finger. The touch screen is at a perfect level of sensitivity and very accurate, although it may take a little while for those unaccustomed to touch screens to get the hang of things. I'm guessing that different providers will put their own stamp on the home screens, but I love the way they're set up on my phone. If you don't like the way your home pages are set up then it's a simple enough task to customise them to your exact taste, including adding your own wallpapers and shortcuts to your favourite apps.
On first impressions while relatively large the Galaxy S2 is a gorgeously sexy phone with a beautifully vivid and responsive screen full to bursting with functions for me to play with. If I were only taking these first impressions into account, I would have no hesitation in handing out a full five stars out of five.
==Episode 2 - The Basics (Calling and Texting)==
Once I'd fully charged the battery I took the opportunity to start playing with the phone including setting up the security settings. By default the phone will go into standby if it doesn't see any action for about ten seconds and to bring it back to life you need to press the power button and then sweep your finger across the screen. But this can be changed to make the phone more secure and you can set it to require a PIN or password to be entered or even for a pattern to be swiped across the screen.
Adding numbers to the address book is a fairly simple affair, with any contacts from your Gmail account being automatically added. When adding your own contacts you have a choice of whether to save the contact to the phone, SIM, Gmail or Hotmail account, but I only ever save to the phone. As well as name and number you can add such extras as their Skype username, IM usernames, postal address, birthday, website and anniversary. So rather than being just a list of phone numbers this is far more like a physical address book, only one that you can easily carry round with you. Not being someone that has hundreds of contacts I have no idea how many this phone can hold, but would imagine it is limited only by the available memory. What I love about the contact list is that it provides a one stop shop for making calls, sending texts and even sending emails.
Making a call is simplicity itself whether the number is entered via the on screen keyboard, from the call log or through the contact list. The call log is, in my opinion, excessively detailed as it logs every call or text sent and received. Although the log is neatly date stamped it can be a chore
scrolling through looking for a number you called several days ago and I feel it would be far more logical if there was only the latest call or text from each number displayed with an option to expand the list if you were looking for a particular time of a call/text.
Receiving a call is even simpler, once you get the hang of it. All you need to do is swipe the green answer icon across the screen, not as I first thought tap it. Refusing a call is the matter of swiping the red reject button across the screen, simples. Deciding whether or not to answer a call is simplified by the fact that you can assign a different ringtone and picture to each contact. The actual installed ringtones are a bit naff to be honest, but with a little fiddling you can designate any music track you have on your phone as the default.
Once in a call, as long as reception is reasonable, everything is loud and clear and I've had no complaints at the other end either. If the volume isn't quite to your tastes it's easy enough to change it via the conveniently placed volume rocker. A really clever aspect is that the phone recognises that it's close to your ear and the screen switches off only to come back on when you remove it, which is a great power saving device. There have been a few occasions where the phone has taken a few seconds to recognise that it's no longer by my ear but these are few and far between. There is also the option to go hands free, whether by using the built-in speakers or the supplied earphones. Although the speaker is easy to activate, I do find it a little quiet and it echoes a little at the other end. Call quality through the earphones though is excellent. As far as reception goes, the S2 performs pretty well, managing to pick up signal in the same location as other phones and even managing in a couple of places where my previous phone struggled.
Once you get the hang of the touch screen texting on the S2 is a pure delight and it doesn't take long for you to wonder how you ever managed with a physical keypad. There are several options on inputting text messages, with the standard virtual QWERTY keyboard, the old fashioned 3x3 multi-tap, SWYPE and even handwriting recognition. Changing between the different inputs methods is a little convoluted and not as intuitive as it could be, especially as a comprehensive instruction manual is not included. (Go to the Samsung website to download a copy).
With the standard keyboard the keys are, perhaps, a little small and close together while holding the phone in portrait mode, but turn it on it's side and the keys are far larger and better spaced. The T9 dictionary on the S2 seems to be a standard affair that verges between excellent for common words and frustrating for less common. As is the norm any slang or swear words will have to be programmed but on the whole it does a reasonable job. The multi-tap keyboard is not something I've ever bothered with, but I would say that it would come into it's own for those who find the transition to a touch screen a little difficult.
The handwriting recognition is fun for a while and certainly a novelty but not something that I would see myself using regularly. While the S2 is fairly accurate in recognising the characters, as an input method it is incredibly slow. By far my favourite input method is Swype, where you simply trace the letters in the word you require across the keyboard. This method does take a while to get used to, but once mastered is, in my experience, the quickest way of writing text messages. If you've never used this method before I would recommend working your way through the tutorial, because this is the best input method ever. Another slightly more gimmicky way of writing texts is via voice recognition, in fact you can virtually control the S2 via voice recognition if that's your thing. There's an app that allows you to send complete texts, open the web or turn the camera on by the power of your voice, but although I've found it quite accurate it is something I tend to forget is available.
Rather than being organised by time and date, stored messages are organised in threads, with all the messages sent to and received by a particular contact grouped together. I love this way of organising my conversations as I can easily look back on previous texts and don't have to hunt through hundreds of texts if I'm looking for one in particular. I have seen some reports that the S2 dislikes messages spanning more than one text, but so far I've not had this problem. As well as standard texts, picture and other multi-media messages can also be sent from the S2, but this is standard nowadays.
==Episode 3 - Multi-media, the web and apps==
So the S2 is a phone, and a pretty good one at that, but it's so much more, it's almost like a mini laptop with all the different things it can do. The S2 can connect you to the internet, grab your emails for you, update your Facebook, feed your Twitter, play your videos and even rock the joint with some banging sounds.
The S2 can connect to the internet using a 3G (HSDPA) connection, which works reasonably well but will quickly eat into your data allowance. When using 3G there is a noticeable lag in loading web pages, but this is to be expected. Where the S2 comes into it's own is when you connect using the built in wi-fi, which is the n standard to give a fast, secure connection. I've had no trouble connecting to my home network or to public networks and all hotspots are remembered ready for the next time you're in range.
Although other browsers can be installed, the S2 does come with a pretty good browser that I have felt no need to replace. Pages load quickly and unlike some phones that can only display mobile websites the S2 can load any page including those stylising Flash Player (although this did need updating). I generally find that while perfectly crisp and clear, web pages are displayed in an extremely small font, but this is easily remedied by zooming in. I love the way that the S2 zooms (which works the same on photos), all I need to do is tap on the screen with two fingers and then twist them to zoom in and out. Once zoomed in I generally need to scroll from side to side and up and down, which is easily done by sweeping my finger across the screen. While the S2 would never completely replace my laptop, I have started to leave the laptop at home and use the S2 to access the internet while out and about. Among the different websites I've accessed on this phone there is Travian, Amazon and of course the various review sites. I've even used this phone to watch Channel 4 OD without a single problem.
The S2 can also be configured to automatically download your emails and allow you to answer them. I have configured both my Gmail and Hotmail accounts both of which are checked regularly with instant notifications.
Rather than needing a physical connection to transfer files between the S2 and a computer, it is all done wirelessly over wi-fi using Kies Air. While I find this a little slow it is a great improvement on the old Kies installation that would often freeze and allows transfer of files from multiple computers without the need to install any software. Kies Air is also used to update the operating system, but I haven't actually tried this yet. To use the Kies Air is simplicity itself, simply open the application on the phone and then type in the internet address you are given into your browser. Once opened you can look through the files on your phone, play them, delete them or add new files. Using this method to load files can be quite a lengthy process, I copied some videos and it took about 20mins for a 300MB file. The S2 does also have Bluetooth, which works well enough, but in my case is generally rendered redundant by the fact that I can transfer files from my laptop via wi-fi.
A major aspect of an Android phone is the applications or apps that you can add to customise the phone to your particular needs. The Android Market is filled to the brim with apps for almost anything you can think of, from games to banking to shopping to films with the vast majority of these being free. There are a number of different apps pre-loaded onto the phone, including iPlayer, but a couple I would recommend are the Kindle App (for books) and Tetris to while away a few spare minutes. I'm not going to into any detail about the apps (as that would be a whole different review, but suffice to say I've been impressed with the way the S2 handles various apps without freezing or stuttering. I also have a step counter app that works really well with the S2's internal sensors to help me keep track of how far I've walked.
If you own an S2 then you can forget about a separate MP¾ player as it performs wonderfully at these tasks and with 16GB of internal memory upgradeable to 48GB with a micro SD card there's plenty of room to store your favourite music and videos. As a music player the S2 certainly rivals an iPod, through the external speaker the music plays clearly without distortion even at top volume, but is a tiny bit quiet for me. When played through the supplied earphones though, all I can say is "wow". I don't know how they do it but it's almost as if you are sitting surrounded by the band with the sound coming from all directions. I love listening to my music on the S2, it's a very immersive experience with full rich sound and it's easy to pick and choose tracks, albums or artists and set up play lists. There is also an FM radio, which is pretty standard and only works while the earphones are plugged in.
While I was impressed with the music nothing could prepare me for the experience of watching videos on the S2. The first thing to note is that the S2 will play various video formats including DiVx and Xvid meaning that files do not have to be converted to inferior formats for viewing. Another impressive aspect is that when played through the earphones, the S2 is able to reproduce surround sound in a way that really has to be heard to be believed. Video quality is fantastically clear, with well defined colours and beautifully sharp detail (as long as the file is of decent quality) and I can easily sit in bed watching a film without straining my eyes. Where this video playback really comes into it's own is when watching films streamed from such services as Netflix. I've watched episodes of Firefly on this and it was a fantastic experience where I was almost ducking as the bullets were flying. I now love to watch films on this in bed and my partner loves that his sleep is not being disturbed by the TV being on. Films can also be outputted via a HDMI cable to compatable televisions, but this cable is an extra and so far I've not bothered with this option.
There are various games installed on the S2, but unfortunately these are all demos with very limited play time (30 seconds) before asking for money for the full version. Luckily there are plenty of games available for download through the Market, and I've really enjoyed playing some of these. Ant Smasher is particularly satisfying as you squash ants while avoiding the wasps. There is also a eReader pre-installed, but this is Kobo which I don't bother using as I'm happy enough with Kindle. There are various other multi-media options available, but these are really the only ones I have bothered with.
As seems to be the standard nowadays with Android phones the S2 comes complete with GPRS and Google maps. So in theory it can also take the place of your Sat Nav, but this isn't a function that I've ever bothered using. One aspect of the multimedia experience on the S2 that I'm not so keen on is the addition of "hubs". In theory these should make accessing music, videos and reading apps easier, but personally I find them a step too far.
==Episode 4 - The Cameras==
The S2 features not one but two cameras, the main 8MP camera and a front facing 2MP camera for self portraits and video calling. The 2MP camera really isn't much to talk about, it's decent enough for what it is but still something you are likely to barely use. The 8MP camera on the other hand is something that I make regular use of and it has negated the need to take a separate camera on outings.
This 8MP camera takes relatively good pictures in most lighting conditions, even those with low light and is equipped with an LED flash, which makes even spur of the moment club snaps possible. I wouldn't say the flash is the best or the brightest I have seen and it doesn't light up a huge distance, but it's still a very nice addition and certainly negates the need for me to carry a separate camera. As with most digital camera you can either leave it to automatically decide the best settings for you or play with the settings. I leave the settings as they are and the resultant photos are plenty good enough for my purposes and can even be blown up to 8x10 and look good. There are also some nice little special effects that you can use, nothing fancy but there's sepia, black and white, panoramic and my favourite, cartoon. You can also carry out basic editing after the photo has been taken, but strangely this does not include red-eye removal.
The absolute best thing about the camera though is that it doubles up as a HD video recorder, yes you read that right, the S2 is capable of full 1080p video recording. Although using the S2 to video eats into both memory and battery power at an astounding rate (a 32GB memory card can only hold 2hr 14) the quality is astounding. Videos taken with the S2 are super clear, super sharp and super smooth, far better than you would believe. I've used the S2 to create videos of my son and pets and then played them on a 32" HDTV with video quality rivalling Blu-ray. Not only that but it also records with full audio, picking up even the quietest of sounds. In short the video recording qualities of the S2 or nothing short of fantastic.
==Episode 5 - The Battery and Durability==
With such a bright vivid screen and so many functions I wasn't expecting too much from the S2's battery-life, but up to now I've been pleasantly surprised. I have to admit the first few charges didn't last long, but there again I was constantly playing with it fiddling with the settings. Once the novelty had worn off I was more able to gauge battery-life and I've been quite pleased. With moderate use, sending maybe 20 texts a day, calling for 10-20mins, playing music for half hour through the earphones, taking a few photos/short videos, regularly checking emails with the wi-fi on, I find the battery lasts up to two days. With more intensive use either taking or watching videos this goes down to just under a day. Something I do still find is that the battery takes a long time to charge, sometimes over two hours, which can be a little frustrating.
With this phone being a fairly new acquisition I am unable to fully comment on long term durability, but bar the slightly flimsy back cover it does feel very well made. The glass front is especially impressive and feels as if it will resist a certain amount of scratching, apparently it is made of super tough Gorilla glass (whatever that is). In any case I am being particularly careful with my S2 as I cannot easily afford to replace it, do not put it in a pocket or bag with keys and have bought a screen protector and gel case. Should I ever have any problems with durability then be sure I will return to update.
==Episode 6 - Conclusion==
Make no mistake the Galaxy S2 is one impressive bit of kit that is so much more than just a phone. Although it's larger size does take a little getting used to any inconvenience is more than made up for by what this little beauty can do. Firstly it is an excellent phone that can be used for making calls, then it is brilliant for texting, the Swype is just such a brilliant innovation. Then there's the fact that with it's large, clear screen and speedy processor it's almost like having a mini computer in your hand let alone it's music and video playing capabilities. And that's not even taking the 8MP camera with flash and HD video recorder into account. In short the Galaxy S2 is a fantastic smart phone that well deserves it's place as my new favourite gadget, and is one that I would recommend to every and anyone.
Summary: A fanastic phone that doubles up as a multi media player, digital camera, HD video camera