Samsung’s Galaxy S2: Powerful, Elegant, Sublime.

I’m pretty fiscally conservative when it comes to my own cash, agonizing over purchases for sometimes weeks at a time before I take the plunge. It’s enough to outright kill some purchases entirely like the Motorola Xoom that I was convinced was worth at least having around just for the “tablet experience” but couldn’t seem to pass my financial filter. There are however times when my inner geek becomes so impressed with something that it overwhelms any sort of fiscal responsibility and I’ll find myself in possession of my object of desire well before I realize that I’ve taken my credit card out of my wallet. The Samsung Galaxy S2 is a brilliant example of this as I had been looking for a new phone for a while (and the Windows Phone 7 handsets available weren’t wowing me) and a quick trip to the specification sheet had me deep in geek lust, and 3 days later I had one in my hands.

The Galaxy S2 is really another world away from any other handset that I’ve had the pleasure of using. It’s quite a wide unit with the main screen measuring an impressive 4.3″ (10.92cm) across the diagonal but it’s also incredibly slim, being only 8.49mm thick. It’s also incredibly light weighing in at a tiny 116g which you’d think would make it feel cheap when compared to other similar handsets (the iPhone 4 is much more meatier) but the construction of the handset is very solid despite it being entirely plastic. The front screen is Gorilla glass which is incredibly resistant to scratches. I haven’t had a single scratch on it despite dropping it a couple times and putting it in my pocket with my keys by accident, something that would’ve ruined a lesser phone. To say that the first impressions of just holding the handset are impressive is putting it lightly, it’s simply an incredible device to hold.

In fact coming directly from an iPhone to the Galaxy S2 I can see why Samsung is in hot water with Apple over this particular device. I’ve covered the TouchWiz interface being strikingly similar to iOS in my Android review but the handset itself is also very Applesque, sporting the same single physical button on the front right in the same location that Apple has. Although its hard to accuse them of outright copying Apple since you can only get so creative with large touchscreen devices, especially when some of the required buttons are dictated by the underlying OS.

Under the hood of this featherweight device lies immense processing power, a multitude of connectivity options and enough sensors to make privacy nuts go wild with lawsuits. To give you an idea of just how jam packed the Galaxy S2 is here’s a breakdown of the specifications:

  • Compatible networks: GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850, 900, 1800, and 1900; MHz UMTS: 850, 900, 1700, 1900, and 2100; MHz HSPA+: 21 Mbit/s;  HSUPA: 5.76 Mbit/s
  • CPU: 1.2 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 SoC processor; Samsung Exynos (GT-i9100)
  • GPU: ARM Mali-400 MP (GT-i9100)
  • Memory 1 GB RAM
  • Storage: 16 GB flash memory expandable with microSD (up to 32 GB)
  • Data inputs: Multi-touch touch screen, headset controls, proximity and ambient light sensors, 3-axis gyroscope, magnetometer, accelerometer, aGPS, and stereo FM-radio
  • Rear camera: 8 Mpx with auto focus, 1080p HD video, LED flash; Front camera: 2 Mpx for video chatting, video recording (VGA)
  • Connectivity: 3.5 mm TRRS; Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n); Wi-Fi Direct; Bluetooth 3.0; Micro USB 2.0; Near field communication (NFC); DLNA; MHL; HDMI; USB Host (OTG) 2.0
  • Screen: 800×480 px at 218 ppi WVGA Super AMOLED Plus
It’s this very list that sold me on the phone initially. In terms of computing power the Samsung Galaxy S2 is roughly equivalent to a full PC I owned just 8 years ago, except that this one fits in my pocket and can also make calls. The in built storage is extremely generous, even if 5GB of it isn’t really available to you. What really impressed me was the inclusion of an 8 megapixel camera that was also capable of recording in full 1080p HD, something I had only just recently been able to do after shelling out $400 on my Sony DSC-HX5V. There’s also a pretty decent camera on the front of it too, although I’ve yet to use that for anything. You might then be wondering how the picture and image quality stacks up against my little pocket camera, well I did a quick comparison video below showcasing both of them side by side:

As you can see it actually stands up quite well when compared to my Sony. The video and picture quality is very comparable, especially in well lit situations. However it does fall down in low light and any time there’s motion due to the smaller CMOS sensor and lack of image stabilization. The LED flash on it is also incredibly harsh and will likely wash out any low light photo you attempt to take with it, but it does make for a decent little flash light. It won’t outright replace my little pocket cam any time soon but it’s definitely a good stand in when I don’t have (or don’t want to carry) it with me.

The everyday usability of the Galaxy S2 is also quite good for someone like me who has large hands (…ladies 😉 and used to struggle somewhat with the smaller screens on other handsets. However one gripe I do have with the handset is the lack of physical buttons for the options and back buttons for Android. The Galaxy S2 opts instead for 2 capacitive buttons either side of a the physical home button which does give the device a much sleeker look but can also mean accidental button touches should you brush against them. Samsung has also opted to put the power button on the side of the handset instead of the traditional placement on top near the headset port, which takes a little getting used to but is quite usable.

Where the stock Galaxy S2 falls down however is in its battery life. With moderate usage the battery wouldn’t make it through a second day requiring me to keep it plugged in most days whilst I was work lest it die on me overnight when I went home. This could have been the deal breaker for this phone as whilst I’m not the forgetful type I do like to be confident that I can make it through the day without having to watch the battery meter like a hawk. Thankfully the guys over at XDA Developers came to the rescue again with their custom ROM for the Galaxy S2 called VillainROM. After going through the process of doing the upgrade my battery now lasts about twice as long as it used to, only needing charging once or twice a week. I’ve yet to run Advanced Task Killer to attempt to squeeze even more battery life out of my handset, but it’s good enough for the time being.

It should come at no surprise then that this has been a wildly popular handset with both the tech and non-tech crowd a like. In the 3 months since its release the Galaxy S2 has sold a whopping 6 million units and just anecdotally it seems nearly every single one of my friends who was looking for a new phone has got one as well as almost half of my workmates. I used to laugh at anyone who touted any smartphone as an iPhone killer but with the Galaxy S2 not even being available in the USA yet and already garnering such a massive reception it might be the very first single phone that will be able to come close to touching Apple’s numbers. Of course I don’t believe for a second that any single Android handset will be able to take down the iPhone, not for a while at least.

The Samsung Galaxy S2 has set the bar as to what smart phones should be capable of and it will be the gold standard with which all are compared to for a long time coming. The combination of elegant design, incredible power and features galore make the Galaxy S2 stand out from the crowd in a big way, so much so that buying any other handset seems illogical. For many it has the potential to replace several other devices with its top notch multimedia components, further improving the overall value that you can derive from this handset. Overall the Samsung Galaxy S2 is a wonderfully impressive device and if you’re in the market for a new smart phone I really can’t recommend it enough.

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