Samsung Galaxy S II review: Samsung Galaxy S II

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Lightning-fast performance. Super AMOLED Plus is fantastic. Camera is amongst the best we've seen. TouchWiz 4.0 has some neat shortcuts.

The Bad Battery life is disappointing. Video out requires a separate adapter.

The Bottom Line If it wasn't for its disappointing battery life, the Galaxy S II would be our favourite phone of the year to date. Samsung builds on the success of the original Galaxy with a really fast, attractive and fully featured phone, but one that requires a lot of juice to run.

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Design

The response to the physical build of the Galaxy S last year was pretty dismal. Almost everyone we spoke to about the handset commented on its flimsy-feeling plastic construction, though this didn't stop Samsung selling over 20 million of them. This year, it's mostly the same materials in play, but the result is much more appealing. The Galaxy S II (GS2) is still put together with several pieces of black plastic, each with a different texture, but now the overall impression you get is one of a premium quality. The front is glossy and slick, the back is covered in a rough-feeling textured grip and, at only 119 grams, the handset is positively featherweight.

The button configuration remains the same as last year, too; a single Home button below the screen with a touch-sensitive button on either side, a volume rocker on the left and a power button on the right. There's an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash on the backside of the GS2 and a 2-megapixel camera on the front for video-calling and pouty self-portraits.

Tying all of these elements together is an outstanding 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display. This is the third generation of Samsung's AMOLED panels, and while the names get longer and sillier, the screens definitely get better. AMOLED panels tend to be darker and richer looking than LCD, so while the whites of an image may appear off-white, the blacks are deep and very nice to look at.

Compared with other smartphones at this time, the GS2 is also impossibly thin, measuring only 8.5mm at its thinnest point. This slimness and its weight offset the large size of the screen, giving the GS2 a great feel in the hand and in your pockets or purse, despite its large footprint.

User experience

Our favourite Android phones this year all have a simplistic approach to the user experience. Sony Ericsson and LG have taken the Android platform and applied a lightweight custom user interface on top. Samsung goes much further, but with similarly pleasing results. This user interface is called TouchWiz 4.0 and while it integrates deeper into the Android system than others, the performance across the user experience is first rate.

The new TouchWiz design is full of noteworthy tweaks and shortcuts, too many to mention here. We love the fast, new navigation across the home screens and app drawer, for example. Simply slide your finger across the home screen panel numbers at the bottom of the screen and you'll zip to the screen you want without having to swipe across them all in order. There's also an array of quick settings toggles in the notifications panel, similar to the Galaxy Tab, and a collection of unique and useful Samsung-designed widgets.

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The new editing mode in the TouchWiz app drawer.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Camera

Not only is the GS2 faster and thinner than the original Galaxy S, we also think its camera stands head and shoulders over its predecessor. The 8-megapixel sensor performs well, even in low light, and the colour reproduction manages to be vibrant without seeming cartoon-like. The HD video recording is also a treat.

The camera handles a mixture of colour temperatures well.
(Credit: CBSi)

Low light photos look great with the Galaxy S II.
(Credit: CBSi)

We love the colour reproduction too, the way bright colours pop without looking cartoony.
(Credit: CBSi)

Bunch 'a hubs

One element present in the Galaxy S II that differentiates Samsung's Android offerings from the rest of the pack is the bonus content and services available through four pre-installed "hubs", particularly the Game Hub and the upcoming Music Hub. Game Hub is split into two sections "Social" and "Premium", and at launch includes 20 titles. The Social games are free to install and play, and include games in the vein of Zynga's FarmVille and Mafia Wars. The Premium titles are supplied by Gameloft, but are demos only. Still, this is a convenient way to try before you buy.

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Where to Buy

Samsung Galaxy S II

Part Number: CNETSamsung Galaxy S II

Typical Price: $899.00

See manufacturer website for availability.