With the emergence of 4G technology in Australia, expect to see a number of upcoming devices coming in two flavours: with and without. The Galaxy S II (GSII) 4G is, for all intents and purposes, a rebuild of last year's hugely successful, but there are a number of tweaks and unique inclusions worth paying attention to.
In Thailand, they have a phrase, "same, same but different". They also have shopping centres and outdoor markets dedicated to selling fake versions of popular tech and fashion, which is probably where the saying comes from. Compared with the old GSII, this phrase best describes the new, 4G version. From a distance, old and new look much the same, but, on closer inspection, you'll notice the newer 4G model is larger, a little thicker and has a slightly bigger screen.
How much bigger? It really isn't much; up to 4.5 inches from the 4.3-inch display on last year's phone. More importantly, though, the screen resolution remains the same as last year and so you get less pixels-per-inch across the larger display, which is something you will notice if you were to compare the GSII 4G to newer phones that have been released this year. Its WVGA resolution (800x480 pixels) is notably duller than the crispness of the 1280x720 pixels you'll find on the, for example. Samsung opts for the same Super AMOLED Plus display we saw on the Galaxy Note, and this technology helps the screen appear bright and vibrant, but without the pixels, some images (and some widgets, in particular) appear soft, as though slightly out of focus.
The screen on the 4G model is slightly larger, but with a lower pixel density, compared to last year's model.
Much of the rest of the original GSII, that we know and love, remains in place. The 4G has the same central Home key below the screen, a micro-USB port on the base, an 8-megapixel camera and flash on the back, plus a microSD card slot placed below the battery cover. In the hand, you can feel the subtle differences; but the extra size and weight certainly impact on the usability of this phone, in any way.
User experience and performance
If the subtle changes in its physical design didn't interest you, we're not sure there is much on-screen to pique your attention, either. With the phone switched on, the GSII 4G is like a blast from the past. Samsung's TouchWiz UI is here, sitting on top of Android Gingerbread (2.3.6), and with a smattering of Telstra colour to boot.
In fact, the Gingerbread build of Android is one of the few noteworthy elements of the user experience, but mostly for the wrong reasons. Gingerbread is last year's Android, and it is most certainly on its way out. It's been superseded by Ice Cream Sandwich, and though a software update is possible, it could be a while before Telstra customers see it. On the telco's Software Update page, it lists the update as being "delivered for testing in June", suggesting six weeks or more, after the delivery, before the update is made publicly available. And that's only if testing goes smoothly.
Many will be disappointed that Telstra and Samsung are lagging behind in this update schedule; after all, the Galaxy S II was updated several weeks ago. This is both a blessing and a curse, however. There are a handful of neat Ice Cream Sandwich features missing — Face Unlock, Android Beam, etc — but this is also a highly refined version of last year's Android. This system has been impeccably stable during our review, and comparably speedy. Matched with a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor, the GSII 4G offers performance on par with the few Android 4.0 devices we've seen, so far, this year.
Obviously, 4G is the major selling point here, and, so far, we haven't been disappointed when connected to the 4G network. Downloading packages of data, like apps from the Market, are the best way to see the new 4G network in action; files of 20MB, or more, are ready to install in a matter of moments. But if you are choosing this phone for its 4G capabilities, be sure to check Telstra's coverage map, as you'll likely be out of the 4G availability zones often, if you don't live and work in one of Australia's CBDs.