I’ve had my ASUS Zenbook UX32V for almost three years now and, if I’m quite honest, the fact that it’s managed to last this long has surprised me. Notsomuch from a “it’s still working” perspective, more that it still seems just as capable today as it did back then. Still it has begun to show its age in some regards, like the small 28GB SSD (which for some reason doesn’t show up as a unified device) being unable to do any in-place upgrades due to the limited space. Plus I figured this far down the line there was bound to be something better, sleeker and, possibly, far cheaper and so I began the search for my ultrabooks replacement. The resulting search has shown that, whilst there’s dozens of options available, compromise on one or more aspects is the name of the game.
Essentially what I was looking for was a modern replacement of the UX32V which, in my mind had the following features: small, light, discrete graphics and a moderately powerful CPU. Of course I’d be looking to improve on most other aspects as much as I could such as a better screen, longer battery life (it’ll get at most a couple hours when gaming now) and a large SSD so I don’t run into the same issues that I have been. In general terms pretty much every ultrabook out there ticks most of those boxes however once I start adding in certain must-have features things start to get a little sticky.
For starters a discrete graphics card isn’t exactly standard affair for an ultrabook, even though I figured since they crammed in a pretty powerful unit into the UX32V that they’d likely be everywhere the next time I went to look. No for most ultrabooks, which seem to be defined as slim and light laptops now, the graphics card of choice is the integrated Intel chipset, one that isn’t particularly stellar for anything that’s graphically intensive. Larger ultrabooks, especially those with very high res screens, tend to come with a lower end discrete card in them but, unfortunately, they also bring with them the added bulk of their size.
Indeed it seems anything that brings with it a modicum of power, whether it be from the discrete graphics chip or say a beefier processor, also comes with an additional increase in heft. After poking around for a while I found out that many of the smaller models came with a dual core chip, something which can mean it will be CPU bound for tasks. However adding in a quad core chip usually means the laptop swells in thickness in order to accommodate the additional heat output of the larger chip, usually pushing it out of ultrabook territory.
In the end the conclusion I’ve come to is that a sacrifice needs to be made so that I can get the majority of my requirements met. Out of all the ultrabooks I looked at the Alienware 13 (full disclosure: I work for Dell, their parent company) meets most of the specifications whilst unfortunately falling short on the CPU side and also being noticeably thicker than my current Zenbook is. However those are two tradeoffs I’m more than willing to make given the fact it meets everything other requirement I have and the reviews of it seem to be good. I haven’t taken the plunge yet, I’m still wondering if there’s another option out there that I haven’t seen yet, but I’m quickly finding out that having all the choice in the world may mean you really have no choice at all.
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:
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.