Samsung Galaxy S II 4G (Boost Mobile) review: Prepaid Galaxy packs good features, great camera

Adapting the home screens is easy, with a carousel-like setup that lets you move through the various panels to add and remove shortcuts and widgets at the same time. Previously, you had to do a long-press on one screen to change it and then repeat the process if you wanted to change another page. There are also some other useful additions as well, such as an integrated task manager that displays all your active applications, downloaded apps with the option to uninstall, RAM status, and system storage details.

In addition to using the standard touch interface, you can also use the same motion gestures found on the Epic 4G Touch. With the settings turned on, you can flip the phone to mute it. Using two fingers placed on the screen, you can tilt to zoom in and out in the Gallery and browser. Flicking your wrist left or right (panning) can move a home screen icon when you're holding it. Double-tapping the top of the phone prepares the Vlingo-powered Voice Talk app for voice commands while you're driving. However, panning and zooming weren't very responsive, and double-tap failed to work entirely. Aside from perhaps an initial gee-whiz reaction, I seriously doubt many will use these motion controls in daily life.

Features and apps
The Samsung Galaxy S II 4G offers all the smartphone staples, including a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, video calling, plus text and multimedia messaging. In addition to Bluetooth connectivity, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n/a), and GPS, the Galaxy S II 4G is (as you may have guessed) 4G-capable and connects to Sprint’s old WiMax network.

The updated Android 4.0 OS in onboard.

As we noted earlier, the phone runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich, and all of Google's services are accounted for: e-mail, Maps, voice navigation, search, chat, Places, Latitude, and YouTube, plus basic tools like a calendar, a calculator, an alarm clock, a world clock, a stopwatch, and a timer. In addition, Samsung and Boost Mobile have preloaded the phone with a number of extras, including Polaris Office, and Kies Air (a Wi-Fi-based PC-to-phone sync manager). A voice mail app stands ready to sign you up for access Boost's paid visual voice mail service, and BoostZone is designed to provide account information and the location of the closest retail store. Targeting Boost Mobile's younger demographic, the Galaxy S II 4G also has shortcuts to mobile sites for MTV.com, E!, and BET. Unlike other versions of the Galaxy S II, Samsung’s Media Hub digital entertainment storefront for downloading movies and TV shows is absent.

Camera
One of the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G’s strong suits back when it first launched was its excellent 8-megapixel camera. I’m happy to say that despite being a last-generation device, the phone’s camera still holds its own. It's nimble, capturing pictures in a second or less, and the camera app has plenty of tools, such as effects, white-balance controls, ISO settings, and more. Samsung also throws in a photo and video editor, too, which I do appreciate. The video editor is particularly great, since it makes it easy to piece together clips with different effects and music, all from right on your phone.

Still-life shots indoors were clear and sharp. Brian Bennett/CNET

The quality of images I shot was excellent. Indoor shots, including those of my still-life, were sharp with bright, vivid colors and lots of detail, even under low-light conditions. It's able to capture 1080p movies; video quality was also pleasing. Overall, clips looked clear and without any artifacts or color noise. Of course the image can stutter a bit if you're panning from one point to another.

Colors of fruit shot outside were bright. Brian Bennett/CNET

Low-light shots indoors were also well exposed. Brian Bennett/CNET

In strong sunlight, details could be seen in shadows. Brian Bennett/CNET

Performance
I tested the dual-band Samsung Galaxy S II 4G in New York using Boost Mobile service, which links to Sprint’s CDMA network; call quality was acceptable but not outstanding. Voices on my end came through the earpiece loud and clear, but callers reported that I sounded muffled and tinny. Even so, they didn’t detect any background distortions such as hiss or static.

Speakerphone quality was typical of the smartphones I’ve used with voices on both sides of the call sounding far away and a bit muted. The handset’s speaker had enough volume for me to hear callers in a quiet conference room without straining. Don’t expect to rattle any windows, though, since even with the volume turned all the way up, the speakerphone lacked much punch or loudness.

The Samsung Galaxy S II 4G is the latest repurposed handset that can connect to Boost Mobile’s WiMax data network. Though billed as 4G, WiMax technology is really outdated cellular infrastructure that Sprint offloaded to Boost in favor of more advanced LTE hardware. As a result, the Galaxy S II’s data throughput won’t break any speed records. Using Ookla's Speedtest.net app, I logged low average download speeds of 5Mbps and pokey upload speeds of 0.28Mbps.

You can connect to 4G but it isn't LTE fast. Brian Bennett/CNET

Powering the Galaxy S II 4G is Samsung's 1.2GHz Exynos dual-core processor, which until the new Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chips came out, were cutting-edge silicon. Its Linpack score of 64 MFLOPs (multithread) is low. For example, HTC’s superphone, the Evo 4G LTE (Sprint) managed a high 198.4 MFLOPs on the same test. That said, apps launched without delay, and the phone didn’t falter or stutter whether it was playing games, streaming video, or viewing Web sites.

The Samsung Galaxy S II 4G relies on a 1,800mAh lithium ion battery that Samsung says will power the device for a rated talk time of 9 hours and for up to 9 days in standby mode. During anecdotal testing, the Galaxy S II hit this promised longevity right on the mark. It played an HD video continuously for a full 9 hours and 6 minutes before shutting down.

Conclusion
You might think the $369.99 Samsung Galaxy S II 4G is merely a repackaged relic offloaded to Boost Mobile by its Sprint overlords. And you’d be right, at least in part, but that’s not the whole story. Sure, the Galaxy S II is by no means a spring chicken, but this gray-haired device still boasts the enviable abilities that helped it achieve legendary status among Android phones. Of course you can opt for the $299.99 HTC Evo Design 4G, which offers Android 4.0 and 4G data for less. I wouldn’t recommend doing so, though, since the Galaxy S II 4G features the same Android software, 4G, a much better camera and display, plus faster performance for $60 more. Despite its age, there are plenty of reasons why it’s Boost Mobile’s flagship smartphone and currently the most capable phone the carrier sells.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Samsung Galaxy S II 4G (Boost Mobile)

Part Number: GALAXYSII4GBOOST

MSRP: $369.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Service Provider Boost Mobile
  • Diagonal Size 4.52 in
About The Author

Brian Bennett is senior editor for mobile phones at CNET and reviews a wide range of mobile communication products. These include smartphones and their myriad accessories. He has more than 12 years of experience in technology journalism and has put practically anything fun with a micro chip through its paces at some point.