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Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 review: Samsung Galaxy Ace 2

If you want a pay as you go phone for less than £200, the Galaxy Ace 2 is a great all-rounder. It's not so tasty SIM-free or on contract.

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Natasha Lomas
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Natasha Lomas

Mobile Phones Editor, CNET UK

Natasha Lomas is the Mobile Phones Editor for CNET UK, where she writes reviews, news and features. Previously she was Senior Reporter at Silicon.com, covering mobile technology in the business sphere. She's been covering tech online since 2005.

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If you cast your mind back to 2011, you may recall Samsung dropping a Galaxy smart phone for the budget-conscious -- the Galaxy Ace. Well, déjà vu lovers, ace news: Sammy has done it again with this souped-up sequel.

orig-samsung-galaxy-ace-2-main.jpg
7.5

Samsung Galaxy Ace 2

The Good

Dual-core chip; Takes good photos; MicroSD card slot.

The Bad

Android Gingerbread not Ice Cream Sandwich; Camera is slightly laggy.

The Bottom Line

For pay as you go budget buyers, the Galaxy Ace 2 is a great all-rounder, with a dual-core chip and an excellent camera. It's not so competitively priced SIM-free or on contract so its appeal is limited. Android enthusiasts may be disappointed to hear it runs on Gingerbread software, rather than the newer Ice Cream Sandwich.

If you're lusting after the super-powered Samsung Galaxy S3 but simply don't have half a grand to burn on a phone, point your peepers at the Ace 2 -- a device that promises to put a sprinkle of Samsung's galactic magic in your back pocket for a fraction of the S3's price.

The Galaxy Ace 2 is up for grabs for an affordable £180 on pay as you go, or a mid-range £240 SIM-free. It's also gratis on two-year contracts from around £18 a month.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 side
The Galaxy Ace 2 isn't a looker but it's a solid performer.

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2?

The Ace 2 is an excellent choice if you want a powerful but affordable pay as you go blower and don't have a small fortune to splash on it. It doesn't look especially dazzling, so design junkies may not want it near their fingers. Being bland is definitely its biggest let-down.

On contract, the Ace 2 isn't such a great buy. Shop around and you can pick up the excellent Samsung Galaxy S2 for under £20 a month so it's not worth bothering with the Ace 2. Its SIM-free price is also not that competitive -- effectively it's pay as you go or bust. 

Under the Ace 2's plasticky bonnet lurks a dual-core chip -- a welcome injection of oomph -- which has been paired with a clear, crisp display and topped off with decent audio.

One minor niggle is the software keyboard can feel cramped in portrait mode. If you're large of hand or fat fingered, you might prefer to poke and prod the slightly more premium Samsung Galaxy S Advance, which has a 4-inch screen.

Alternatives at this pay as you go price include the cute and colourful dual-core Sony Xperia U, the Intel-powered Orange San Diego or ZTE's Tegra-powered Grand X.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 angled
The Ace 2's dual-core chip produces some welcome poke for the price.

Processor and performance

Inside the Ace 2 is a dual-core 800MHz processor. That's not an especially quick clock, but having dual-core action helps to keep things smoother than you might expect.

I found speed and responsiveness to be pretty good, without being blisteringly quick. You'll certainly have to eyeball a few loading screens but, for most tasks, the Ace 2 doesn't keep you waiting around for long.

Web browsing is nippy. On some full-fat websites, you will have to wait a little for graphical elements to load as you scroll around. But the speed of populating pages is impressive. Lightweight apps download in seconds. You'll need to be more patient if you're installing a graphically rich 3D game like Blood & Glory -- then it's a matter of waiting minutes.

Overall, I found the phone was reliable but it did throw up the occasional digital gremlin. At one point it warned me that the battery level was critical and the phone needed charging, yet there was at least a third left in the tank. Another incident saw it claim an app wasn't installed on the phone when it very much was. Such behaviour was exceptional though, and in general, the Ace 2 was a solid performer.

The phone displayed its mid-range credentials in chip and graphics benchmark tests. Running Antutu's benchmark, it scored 4,616 -- just bested by the LG Optimus 2X. On Quadrant's test, it bagged 2,426 -- better than the HTC Desire HD but once again beaten by LG's dual-core blower. I also ran GL Benchmark's Standard Egypt test of 3D graphics and the Ace 2 totalled a middling 34 frames per second.

The handset managed a mid-table web browsing performance. On Vellamo's benchmark, it clocked up a score of 725 -- about the same as the Sony Xperia Play but worse than the Xperia Arc. It ran the SunSpider JavaScript test at 2,938.4ms (lower is better).

Call quality is excellent -- I had no trouble hearing or being heard when talking on the Ace 2's telephone. The rear speaker is also impressively loud and clear, even at the top of its range. If you want to impress your mates by blasting out tunes, the Ace 2 should do you proud.

There's 4GB of on-board storage, which you can easily increase by popping a microSD card in the handy slot on the side of the phone.

Battery life is average smart phone fare so you'll need to charge it up every night. Samsung reckons it's good for up to 7.5 hours of talk time over 3G or up to 3 hours of video chatting. Standby time is up to 640 hours. I found the phone happily lasted a day's modest use. If you're an especially heavy user, you may need to charge it up during the day.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 scale
The Ace 2 is graced with a 3.8-inch touchscreen.

Design

It's safe to say the Ace 2 won't be bagging any design awards. Indeed, it's more likely to invite lawyers' letters. From the front, the first Ace closely resembled Apple's iPhone 3GS. The Ace 2 continues this dubious tradition, sporting rounded corners and a band of curvy silver trim.

As smart phone designs go, it's dated to say the least. The best that can be said is it's fairly inoffensive -- at least when ogled from the front.

Turn it around and there's no escaping the plastic underbelly. Its lightly textured backplate makes a tacky squeal when you run your fingernails over it -- as pleasant as nails down a blackboard.

Below the thin silver band holding its face together, the Ace 2 has rounded plastic sides. At 10.5mm thick, it's not insubstantial and definitely has some heft to it, without being really chunky. This extra thickness makes it feel less classy than Samsung's other sleek blowers. If you want a super-slim phone, you'll need to save up for the Samsung Galaxy S2, which is about 8.5mm thick.

Despite looking very plasticky, the Ace 2 feels fairly substantial in the hand, weighing 122g. This isn't as heavy as Apple's iPhone 4S, which tips the scales at 140g, but it's not a featherlight creature either. Still, a touch of heft means the Ace 2 feels plenty solid and sturdy to hold.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 side
It's fatter than the likes of the slender Galaxy S2, but not so much as to cause an unsightly bulge in your pocket.

Screen and ports

The front of the phone is dominated by a 3.8-inch display -- a smidge more glass than was on the original Ace. This doesn't employ the luxurious AMOLED screen tech you'd find on higher-end Samsung smart phones, but it still looks bright, clear and colourful.

Even better news, Samsung's seen fit to bump up the resolution from a measly 320x480 pixels on the original Ace to a hale and hearty 480x800 pixels. That equates to 246 pixels per inch. As a result, on-screen text and icons look satisfyingly crisp. It's not as easy on the eye as the exceptionally hi-res S3 screen but it's perfectly respectable.

At the base of the touchscreen is Samsung's tablet-shaped physical home button, flanked by two touch keys -- menu and back. These light up when you tap them but are also marked on the plastic so you know which is which.

There are two other physical keys on the phone -- a power key at the top right-hand edge, and a volume rocker on the left-hand side. Both are responsive.

Ports wise, you get a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge of the phone. There's a micro-USB port on the bottom for charging and moving files back and forth from the phone to a PC. And the microSD card slot is on the left-hand side to expand storage space. The back of the phone comes off to reveal a SIM slot and a removeable 1,500mAh battery.

Android software and apps

Like Samsung's other smart phones, the Ace 2 runs Android, Google's mobile operating system. Android is great for low-cost phones because it gives you access to Google's Play store and the thousands of free apps that lie within -- letting you expand the Ace 2's usefulness far beyond the software that comes pre-installed.

Chuck Spotify, Facebook, iPlayer and a few games on there and watch your mobile blossom into a multimedia machine.

The bad news is the Ace 2 is only running the Gingerbread flavour of Android -- two versions behind the latest iteration, Jelly Bean.

Jelly Bean is currently only on Google Nexus devices as it's still very new, but Ice Cream Sandwich has been kicking around for much longer so it's a shame the Ace 2 doesn't come loaded with it. An update is possible but you shouldn't bank on getting one.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 camera
Samsung's TouchWiz software, which sits atop Android Gingerbread, will be familiar to owners of the original Galaxy Ace.

Gadgeteers hankering for bleeding-edge Android tech should save up cash to bag a handset with a more recent version of the operating system.

If you're not too fussed about having the latest and greatest software, you'll find Gingerbread is a perfectly decent version of Android. It just doesn't bring the new aesthetic and interface tweaks of ICS -- and you won't be able to get your mitts on Google's excellent Chrome for Android browser. But it's still easy to use and it gives you plenty of apps and nippy web browsing.

Like most Galaxy phones, the Ace 2 has a layer of Samsung software sitting on top of Android. This interface is called TouchWiz. If you've previously owned a Galaxy, you'll be retreading familiar ground.

The software serves up to seven home screens for you to trick out with apps and widgets. Tap on the 'applications' icon and you dive into the icons view, where all the apps live. The Ace 2 comes loaded with Samsung's Music Hub and Social Hub -- where you can browse and buy tunes, and view messages from various social networks.

As Android interfaces go, TouchWiz isn't the slickest around. But it's reasonably straightforward to use and, most importantly, doesn't weigh Android down with too many unnecessary bells and whistles.

I did find the software keyboard annoyingly cramped though, and the predictive text function isn't brilliant. Fortunately, Samsung has included a Swype option so you can switch to dragging your finger around to make words, rather than prodding each individual letter and hoping for the best.

Another irritation is that when composing a text or email with word prediction switched on, the screen jumps up and down as suggested words appear and disappear -- a jittery look which made me feel slightly sea sick. Turning off word prediction stops it jumping but it means your text will probably be typo prone.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 camera
There's a 5-megapixel snapper around the back, which can turn out some excellent shots.

Camera

The Ace 2 sports a 5-megapixel camera stuck square in the middle of its backplate. There's a teeny little LED flash nestled under the lens too. Plus you get a front-facing camera for video chats -- a welcome addition at this price. Sadly though, there's no dedicated physical camera key so you have to touch the virtual shutter button to snap.

The camera is slightly laggy -- it takes about two seconds to take a photo, which is considerably slower than some camera-phones. It's a shame Samsung hasn't been able to shave a second off this time.

At least photo quality is good. The level of detail in test shots I took was strong, and colours were pleasingly true to life, rather than over-saturated.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 camera
This snap shows the Ace 2 can capture bright colours without over-saturating them (click image to enlarge).

The Ace 2's lens will certainly double as a basic point and shoot when you're out and about.

Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 camera
The Ace 2's lens captures a decent amount of detail -- even on a dingy day in Southwark (click image to enlarge).

Video quality was also pretty good. You'll certainly be able to use it for making funny YouTube clips or uploading antics to Facebook.

Conclusion

If you're in the market for a new pay as you go blower, and have less than £200 to spend, the Ace 2 is an excellent all-rounder. It has a decent amount of power, a clear screen and audio that's easy on the ear. It's not a great looker but it's a solid performer, giving you a route to scores of apps on Google's Android platform.

Android enthusiasts won't like the fact the phone runs the Gingerbread version of the OS, which is long in the tooth now, but it's still powerful and capable enough for pay as you go buyers not to be disappointed. 

If you're buying SIM-free or on contract, there are more competitive choices out there, like the Sony Xperia U with the former or the Galaxy S2 with the latter, so the Ace 2 wouldn't be worth your while. 

Additional writing and reviewing by Luke Westaway.