Samsung Galaxy S II (unlocked) review: Samsung Galaxy S II (unlocked)

Unlike the standard Android music player, the Galaxy S II's player has more visual pizzazz and offers 5.1-channel surround sound.

The photo has a slightly coffee-colored cast in this studio shot, but most indoor photos were crisp and sharp, with natural colors.

High-megapixel cameras and actual photo quality don't always align, but in this case they do. The Galaxy S II took great photos that were sharp, clear, and natural-looking, even indoors and in less-than-ideal lighting. Outdoor photos, of course, remain the best. The standard Android camera software comes with the usual plethora of lighting, white-balance, and metering adjustments, as well as effects and a self-timer. An onscreen control lets you switch between the front-facing and rear-facing cameras and toggle video recording on and off. While most front-facing shooters produce grainy and imprecise images, the Galaxy S II brought out clear, sharp, and natural edges and hues on its lush screen. Photos looked pretty good when transferred to our computer and blown up, though professional photographers won't want to trade in their SLRs yet.

Video was equally sharp and smooth when capturing and playing back 1080p HD video. Quality was high in both filming and streaming video, with no breaks or jerks as long as Internet connectivity remained strong. The Galaxy S II has 1GB RAM and supports up to 32GB of external storage.

Motion gestures are a more unusual feature in the Galaxy S II. With the settings turned on, you can flip the phone to mute it. With two fingers 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 as responsive as we'd like. While most of the motion controls may not figure into your daily use, this type of gesture functionality adds welcome options in general.

We tested the unlocked, quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS 850/900/1900/2100) Samsung Galaxy S II in San Francisco using AT&T's network. Call quality was acceptable on our end, but not stellar. We didn't hear any background noise or crackles, and volume was good. However, voices did sound fuzzy and strained; we've heard clearer. On their end, callers said volume was a tad low. The line was also clear for them, but our sibilants sounded muffled.

Speakerphone was a different story. We heard our callers loudly, but definitely not clearly. Voices were hollow and echoey, and we heard a buzz whenever they spoke. Our callers also said we sounded echoey enough that they had to strain to hear us.

Samsung Galaxy S II call quality sample Listen now:

Performance was very good overall. The dual-core processors made actions zippy and responsive. There was very little lag in performing tasks, like opening and closing apps and processing photos.

Samsung claims that its Galaxy S II is capable of HSPA+ download speeds up to 21Mbps and HSUPA upload speeds of 5.76Mbps. We didn't come close to that here in San Francisco, but then again, the unlocked Galaxy S II isn't optimized for a U.S. network. At times we were able to achieve exceptionally fast speeds, and at other times we toggled between 3G and HSPA+ and couldn't get a firm fix. However, we'll continue testing the Galaxy S II throughout the city. Based on our fastest speeds loading the graphically rich CNET Web site and streaming YouTube videos, we've got high expectations of the handset's capabilities when it's optimized with a U.S. carrier.

Mobile hot-spot functionality worked well as long as data speeds were stable. We were able to surf multiple sites, open Web mail, and stream videos on a tablet connected to our Galaxy S II test unit. Keep in mind that hot-spot tethering will more quickly drain the battery, and that performance may decline as your hot spot supports more devices.

At just 0.3 inch thick, the Galaxy S II is one slim smartphone.

The Galaxy S II has a 1,650mAh lithium ion battery. Battery life seemed on par for a smartphone. We were able to go a full day with moderate-to-heavy use before needing a recharge. Our tests showed a talk time of 6 hours and 24 minutes.

It's one thing for a smartphone to parade a list of impressive specs and another to actually achieve them. With the Samsung Galaxy S II, Sammy hit the nail on the head. It's a large but light handset that's easy to carry around and never seemed to feel too oversize, even for our smaller hands. It sports an absolutely brilliant screen that produces lush colors and clarity, and two sharp, reliable cameras that take quality photos even indoors. With Android 2.3 Gingerbread, you can't find a more current operating system.

Call quality wasn't always a hit, and data could reach impressive speeds but couldn't always stay there. However, again, our global review unit wasn't optimized for U.S. consumption and networks, so we can't hold that against the phone itself. We will, however, be keeping a sharp eye on the Galaxy S II when it reaches a U.S. carrier. Until then, the Galaxy S II will remain one of the top smartphones to beat. There's no U.S. pricing and release information yet, but we did see the unlocked unit advertised for $700 to $800 online. We expect the price to significantly drop with a carrier agreement. When it does, the Galaxy S II will be an excellent high-end Android smartphone to own.

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