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Samsung Galaxy S II review

Verdict

A superlative smartphone from Samsung, with a fabulous screen, oodles of power and a cracking camera to match

Review Date: 9 May 2011

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: Free, on a £29.00 per month, 24 months contract.

Buy it now for: £330
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
6 stars out of 6

Features & Design
6 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Performance
6 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

There’s been such hype surrounding the Samsung Galaxy S II smartphone since we first spied it earlier this year, we were worried we might have expected too much of it. The specifications were tantalising, our first hands-on was all-too brief; would it be all we were hoping it to be, or a huge letdown?

In the end, we needn’t have worried. The Samsung Galaxy S II is a stonking smartphone, and it all starts with its most obvious asset: that huge 4.3in Super AMOLED Plus screen.

We loved the 4in screen on the original Galaxy S but this truly takes it to the next level. It’s bright – we measured a full white screen at 300cd/m2 at maximum brightness, and as OLED has no pervasive backlight (each pixel has its own light source), contrast is nigh-on perfect. A black screen registered as 0cd/m2 on our colorimeter, which means it’s pure, deep, unsullied jet.

Samsung Galaxy S II

Photos and videos look incredible. Colours leap from the screen with such fury that you almost have to look away. Even the traditional complaint over OLED screens, that they’re “grainier” than their TFT equivalents, can’t be levelled at the S II’s display and the reason for this is its red, green and blue subpixels are arranged in the traditional RGB grid, as they are in standard TFT displays.

Previous smartphone OLED panels have used what’s known as the PenTile grid, which gives you two green pixels for every blue and red pair and a rather grainy effect as a result. Look closely at a PenTile AMOLED display, such as the one found on the original HTC Desire, and you’ll find you can see the individual pixels; you can’t with the Galaxy S II.

Samsung Galaxy S II - a comparison of screen resolutions

The only significant complaint we’d have is over the pixel count. It’s still “only” 480 x 800, which means small text on zoomed-out web pages is more difficult to make out than it is on the iPhone 4’s 3.5in 960 x 640 display.

If we were being really picky we’d also highlight the fact that the brightness of the S II’s display can’t match that of the iPhone 4, which tops out at a ludicrous 475cd/m2.

We didn’t like the fact that the S II comes with its dynamic brightness setting turned on either. This dims the brightness depending on what’s onscreen, and when mostly white web pages load up, the brightness halves. Taken as a whole, however, these are relatively small considerations; the screen is at least as good as the iPhone’s, but in different ways.

Samsung Galaxy SII

Physical design

If the screen is impressive, the physical make-up of the Galaxy S II is almost as noteworthy. At its thinnest point, it claims to be the slimmest smartphone yet, and we were able to confirm this: using a set of vernier calipers, we measured it at 8.7mm. A bulge at the bottom and around the camera means it isn’t this slim along its entire length, but it’s nonetheless a mighty feat of engineering, and coupled with its light weight of 116g, the Galaxy S II is as pocket-friendly as any 4.3in-screened smartphone has any right to be.

Samsung has retained its iPhone-alike front-panel design, so the single physical button is retained below the screen (flanked by a touch-sensitive menu and back controls), as is the all Gorilla Glass front. The latter is finished with an oleophobic coating and resists smudges from greasy digits remarkably well.

What Samsung hasn’t done is improve the build quality much, or at least the impression of it. The previous Galaxy S felt a little too cheap for a flagship phone, and our opinion hasn’t changed this time around. The Galaxy S II’s textured rear panel is made of wafer thin, flimsy plastic and the chassis, aside from the glass front, is plastic too. If you want a phone that feels a million dollars, as well as looking it, the Galaxy S II isn’t for you.

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User comments

Back Cover

Having seen videos of the pitifull back cover this instantly puts me off. The iPhone 4 feels quality, and I'm hoping the HTC Sensation will be of a similar build quality. Such a shame Samsung couldn't have actually made a device I'd want as I'd maybe but it (although the TouchWiz interface is also horrid)

By EddyOS_2K9 on 9 May 2011

that huge 4.3in Super AMOLED

Super AMOLED Plus.

It eliminates the "graininess" of the Galaxy S screen.

"the screen is at least as good as the iPhone’s, but in different way".

Well I suppose that kind of grudging praise, extracted with all the grace and finesse of a tooth being yanked out without anesthetic, is the best we can hope for from Apple Pro.

By Lacrobat on 9 May 2011

Sheesh...

@Lacrobat He's just said it's the best phone on the planet (ie, better than the iPhone 4) - what more do you want?

By The_Scrote on 9 May 2011

@EddyOS

The most important thing to you in the quality of the back cover?

By Nodule on 9 May 2011

@EddyOS

I have heard that the back cover while flexible snaps on firmly making the whole thing solid and taught.

By Sarcen on 9 May 2011

@EddyOS

I have heard that the back cover while flexible snaps on firmly making the whole thing solid and taught.

By Sarcen on 9 May 2011

I'm not saying it's not a great phone, I'm saying the Samsung build quality is SO poor I'd never consider buying one of their handsets. I've already got my HTC Desire running Android 2.3.4 and think that's better built than he SGSII

By EddyOS_2K9 on 9 May 2011

HTC Sensation

The big question that remains unanswered is how does it compare to the HTC sensation? I appreciate that this hasn't launched yet, but does PCPro have any indication of the likely result of such a comparison?

By tirons1 on 9 May 2011

Haha

"graininess" of the SGS, who with a right set of brains carries a magnifier glass with him at all times (or looks at the screen from a distance of 2cm or less) ???
Anyway, most ppl when comparing products, don't see SGS' (and thereby also SGSII) strenght in its Touchwiz UI (gems like, swipe contact right to call, swipe left to message), or other gems like fully licensed copies of Swype and ThinkFree Office.
Also, the plastic cover is indeed flexible to take off, yet firm and solid when in its place.
Sorry if it wasn't clear I like my SGS just fine. Build quality is near perfect, when you consider iPhone 4's weight and harsh edges (definitely doesn't feel as natural as SGS' curves in your hand)

By Kimputer on 10 May 2011

Just got mine

I've had mine for 3 days and upgraded from an iPhone, I absolutely love it! I've been playing with it almost none stop & still not used all the features. I was starting to think no other phone could ever beat the iPhone but both mine are going on eBay along with my wife’s as she has just got the S2 & also loves it. This phone is just a dream after using an iPhone for years. The things which are better by miles include call quality, being able to use a micro/sd card, photo camera, video camera, the fantastic navigation features including turn by turn voice directions and voice input, music playback quality, tethering/ hotspot etc etc etc. The only thing I don’t like is it doesn’t have an app to control my Naim Hi-Fi but this will no doubt come soon. The back panel of the case is flimsy when you take it off but who walks round with the phone back in their hand? When it's where it should be it's solid. I loved my iPhone when I got it but this is in a different league. Anyway I'm off to play with my new phone. . . .

By GlidemanUK on 10 May 2011

GPS performs in Cloud Cover

Even under cloudy skies, Google Maps Navigation had no problem at all getting a quick satellite lock

Huh? Since when are GPS signals affected by cloud cover? Never, they are affected by trees and objects or terrain like mountains that block a clear view of the sky. I think this review is certainly from someone not very knowledgable.

I wonder what the iPhone 5 will have in store when it's released in October.

By Spaz888 on 10 May 2011

"I wonder what the iPhone 5 will have in store when it's released in October."

My guess is more of the things they could have included in the original iPhone but didn't just so it can keep drip-feeding fans.

By The_Scrote on 10 May 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Once you have a protector (and for a £500 that is the only sensible option) the back cover becomes immaterial. How many iphone 4 do you see without a protective cover? :/

By Manuel on 10 May 2011

"I wonder what the iPhone 5...

...will have in store when it's released in October?"

Rumour has it that it will have the proprietary Intel/Apple Thunderbolt connector rather than anything resembling USB3. So only gadgets made by Apple or approved by Apple will be compatible... as they will have veto over who Intel sells the chip to.

"Apple ...always building the garden wall higher... for your protection"

By fingerbob69 on 10 May 2011

Has the apple gone rotten?

It felt so good this morning getting rid of all the apple software from my PC. It's the beginning of the end for the apple walled garden!

By GlidemanUK on 10 May 2011

Seems like I owe you an apology

I was beginning to think the A in A-List stood for Apple :-)
It'll be interesting to see how the iPhone 5, if it is due this year, shapes up against this.

By KevinWMoor on 10 May 2011

Networks...

Just a quick question Johnathan. Who's doing the contract at £29 pcm?

By CraigieDD on 10 May 2011

Networks...

02

By GlidemanUK on 10 May 2011

Tariffs...

CraigieDD - there's also T-Mobile, who are doing it for £31 per month with a more generous ("unlimited") data allowance - http://bit.ly/jatjQx

Jonathan Bray,
Reviews editor,
PC Pro.

By JonBray on 10 May 2011

@Johnathan

Thanks for that. Noting your double quotes on unlimited. Surely that description has to stop now? Last point. It'd be really helpful if you had the option to subscribe to the comments list so that when someone posted a reply we could get e-mail notifications. Proven strategy for attracting return visitors.

By CraigieDD on 10 May 2011

Issue 17 magazine

Looking at the gallery all I can say is whoever has a copy of PcPro issue 17 for sale should drop the office an email.

By ardow on 10 May 2011

@tirons1

It'd be a little unfair, not to say pointless, to compare any currently-available phone to one that hasn't been released yet.

We all know the wait-a- bit-longer-and-there'll be-a-better-one syndrome. That's how some of us end up using the same crappy old handset for years.

Not in my case though - I'm putting off buying a new smartphone because I'm skint.

By Noghar on 10 May 2011

Wow!

I'm unsurprised that the latest tech is better than one year-old tech. Well done to Samsung for a good range of handsets, it's good to have decent competition and advancement in the marketplace.

Given the recent stories highlighting the pros and cons of the open versus "walled garden" approach to app development and app stores I wouldn't write-off Apple's approach just yet!

By paulgspence on 10 May 2011

The main issue I've seen with Samsung is that they are the worst for updating their phones. Some people have never had an update for their Galaxy S'. Hopefully they will correct this.

By james016 on 11 May 2011

@Noghar

The Sensation has been "launched" and reviewed. It should be on sale from the 19th May, so maybe we will get a comparison next week.

By tirons1 on 11 May 2011

@EddyOS

The reason the back cover is flimsly compared to the iPhone when you take it off is that you can change the battery and put in an SD card - unlike the iPhone.

On the iPhone you're not even supposed to take off the back cover, so obviously they have lower engineering requirements there.

When the SGS2 back cover is in place, it is solid, with no flexing or feeling of 'cheapness'.

They could have made the back cover more solid by making it 0.5mm thicker, but that would have made the phone thicker and gained nothing other than stopping some iPhone fans having something to alleviate their jealousy.

By pscsuk on 12 May 2011

Apple compatible?

I bought a Samsung for Christmas, then sent it back as the delivered software was completely incompatible with my iMac.
I contacted Samsung and was told that they were not interested in supplying Sync software for Apple products, (now THAT'S what I call 'Surrendering to Superior Forces') .
So Apple users better check to see if Samsung is showing a little more flexibility in this area.

By SteveHurley10 on 12 May 2011

Tripple post - why?

My post has been printed three times. Why? (No, I'm not doing it on purpose). It seems that every time I click 'Refresh Page', my post gets re-posted.

By SteveHurley10 on 12 May 2011

The flimsy back

Every review has mentioned the flimsy back and how it is not a solid feel apart from one. There is a reason why Eldar is called the king of mobile phone reviews (mobile-review.com). The piece at the back is the way it is because it also acts as a conductor for the heat the battery produces. He is the only one that has picked it up.

By mittun on 12 May 2011

@SteveHurley10 - Triple Post

When you submit a comment your browser posts it to the site along with the page url. When you "refresh" that data is re-posted by your browser along with the request for the page.
The site developers could fix it by preventing identical postings.

By jsebright on 12 May 2011

Screen photos misslabled

Your screen photographs seem to be labelled incorrectly.

Assuming the three photos are of a similar size area of screen and are of the 3 intended phones, then

The fIrst photo is of a 480x800 screen

The second photo is of a 960x640 screen

The third photo is 480x800 screen and either the photo itself is out of focus, or there is a matt screen surface.

But in any case, the second photograph with the much higher resolution screen, is clearly the iPhone 4.

By Henry3Dogg on 12 May 2011

@mittun

Great site - if you read Russian...

By alan_lj on 12 May 2011

Issue 17?

... Sadly until about 3 years ago I had every single issue of PC Pro from #1 to now. I ran out of room and had to get rid of them. If I'd thought about it, I should have donated them to a worthy cause...

By mrmmm on 12 May 2011

@alan_lj

you need to click on the British flag that is at the top to give you the English version.....http://www.mobile-review.com/index-en.
shtml

By mittun on 13 May 2011

ebook reader apps

how does the screen perform with ebook reader apps like the kindle app or others etc?

By darkhairedlord on 13 May 2011

At Last!

Thank you Samsung for finally coming up with a winning combination that blows the iphone out of the water somewhat!
Most will agree that the iphone has had a relatively deserved dominant market share, it pleasures me to say this could be the beginning of the end for apple. With decent hardware, android will eventually put apple in nokia's position; there is however the small issue of materialistic teenage girls

By eliot94 on 5 Jun 2011

Agree Eliot, good to see some competition, works out better for the consumer.

Only issue I have with my Android and is making me question purchasing the S2 is the lack of decent games. I don't even mind paying for them but there is a distinct lack of quality in the Market right now. The apps are good and I like that usually a paid for app on iPhone will actually be free on Android (such as TuneIn Radio) but quality developers don't seem to be that interested, besides Sony maybe with the Xperia Play which, let's be honest, is less than impressive and not much better than the old N-Gage... :)

Love the Avi/DivX support in the S2, definitely a key selling point for me.

By Deano on 5 Jun 2011

Battery Life Sucks

My first "premium smartphone" so perhaps it's my expectations but with all the juice settings down and playing a bit of scrabble and it's nearly done in a day. That aside, lovely.

By redziller on 5 Jun 2011

blown away

I received mine this weekend. I had no idea that the combination of Android and decent hardware had got this good. I took great and ritual pleasure in smashing my old windows mobile 6.5 phone to tiny pieces, it was the b'stard wh0re of a poxed pig.

btw, the first thing I did is buy a leather protector, the flimsy back piece is totally irrelevant (if flimsy).

Finally, thank you Google and Samsung for saving me from the religious cult that is Apple, I was wondering where to turn.

By dr_japeel on 6 Jun 2011

@darkhairedlord

I've installed Kindle and as I enjoy phat SF books it's a blessing to be able to read a title in one hand, thumb-tapping each page turn, standing on the tube.

By redziller on 7 Jun 2011

Premium Android Experience

Got hold of one of these today. My old i5700 was a good phone, but was really starting to show its age. With just 180 MB of RAM, it was crashing constantly when running more denanding apps, and eating its battery very quickly.

The Galaxy S II has been a revelation frankly. I can't vouch for the battery life yet, but I've been installing apps like there's no tomorrow and it hasn't broken a sweat yet. There's obviously power to spare in spades for future applications, which is exciting, and a feeling I never got with the Portal, even early on.

My first impression was how big it is compared to cheaper phones - not quite as big as my friend's Desire HD but pretty close. The screen is excellent, although I've actually found the touchscreen to be a little over-sensitive so far. 16GB should be plenty of storage for the time being, although this may change once I've synced Spotify.

Thre chassis is light and thin, and I'm not worried personally about the thin battery cover - it fits well, and has the mechanical strength of the case to protect it.

I got it for £27/month on O2 from Phones4U, 24 months with 500 MB data, which I think is a good deal for my needs. The deal is supposedly online-only, but ask the salesmen to check their system and it is authorized for use in store with the phone free.

By piphil on 18 Jun 2011

how to buy it

if anybody want to buy it I suggest you go

http://www.2011bestphone.com/?p=33 to know more information about it

!!! i think it can help you very much

By guoxing on 26 Jun 2011

PC Sync Software

Hi, could anybody tell me about the PC sync software?

I have used Samsung phones before, and though the phone was always excellent, the same could not be said about the PC Sync software. Whenever you try to sync the phone address book, calendar or tasks with Outlook, it has an annoying habit of duplicating entries on both devices. Their support seems to think they can brush it aside by telling you only ever to copy from one to the other, and never the other way round.

Other phones do not suffer this problem, so I am hoping by now Samsung have finally got there act together and fixed the problem.

By PcSyncQuestioner on 28 Jun 2011

Screen photos mislabeled..

I think Henry3Dogg is absolutely right about the screen photos.

You need to take a closer look because something's not right... just count the pixel columns.

By pinero50 on 3 Jul 2011

Comparison to HTC EVO 3D

Cool and very fast phone, but there is a new competitor. HTC came up with something new. A 3D phone HTC EVO 3D, so lets compare it to Samsung Galaxy S II at http://wikidi.com/compare/htc-evo-3d,samsung-galax
y-s-ii

By FiliB on 5 Jul 2011

iPhone 4's pitch = 77µm, Galaxy S II's = 117µm

To help appraise the differences, here are the respective pitch lengths:

- Samsung Galaxy S II: 800×480pix/4.3in = 117µm (217dpi)

- iPhone 4: 960×640pix/3.5in = 77µm (330dpi)

- Typical cheap notebook: 1366×768pix/15.6in = 253µm (100dpi)

- SONY Z ultra-portable (and ultra-expensive) laptop: 1920×1080pix/13.1in = 151µm (168dpi)

- Typical LED Full HDTV: 1920×1080pix/47in = 542µm (47dpi)

- Typical LED HDTV: 1366×768pix/22in = 357µm (71dpi)

- My good old SAGER (CLEVO 980) of 1999: 1024×768/13.3in = 264µm (96dpi)

- Typical cheap notebook in 1999: 1024×768/15.0in = 298µm (85dpi)

Notes:
- 1in = 25.4mm = 25,400µm
- "pix" = pixels, "in" = inches, "m" = meters, "mm" = millimeters, "µm" = micrometers = microns, "dpi" = dots per inch
- a pixel is a "dot" on the screen, it actually has non-null dimensions and area
- "pitch" is the distance between the centers of 2 close pixels

Let's make sure of the facts before getting in the cause -- Fontenelle

Versailles, Thu 11 Aug 2011 12:51:15 +0200

By MichelMerlin on 11 Aug 2011

Just got mine & very happy with it bar one thing and that's the stock browser won't use the BBC main website or National Rail Enquiries website going to the mobile both of which are utterly useless.

The only way around it is to enter the command about:useragent and select Desktop or Iphone from the menu, you have to do this each time that you use the browser. Grrr!

I now use Opera Mobile instead.

By SKINHEAD1967 on 19 Aug 2011

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