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Samsung Galaxy S II (T-Mobile) review: Samsung Galaxy S II (T-Mobile)

Samsung Galaxy S II (T-Mobile)

Bonnie Cha
Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
8 min read

Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluations of the other Samsung Galaxy S II models. Additionally, due to changes in the competitive marketplace, we've lowered the overall rating of this product from 8.7 to 8.3.


Samsung Galaxy S II (T-Mobile)

The Good

The <b>Samsung Galaxy S II</b> supports T-Mobile's faster HSPA+ network and has a dual-core 1.5GHz processor and an NFC chip. The Android Gingerbread smartphone also has a spacious and vibrant Super AMOLED Plus touch screen, 16GB of internal memory, and great camera performance.

The Bad

The smartphone is high-priced and on the larger side, and you can't remove bloatware.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung Galaxy S II ranks as one of T-Mobile's most powerful and feature-rich Android smartphones, but it's somewhat pricey.

Just like Sprint and AT&T customers, T-Mobile customers now have the opportunity to pick up the popular Samsung Galaxy S II. T-Mobile's model of the Android Gingerbread smartphone is slightly different from the other versions in that it features a different dual-core processor, an NFC chip, and support for the carrier's faster HSPA+ 42 network. It's also slightly more expensive at $229.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate, but if you're looking for high-end features and performance, the Galaxy S II is pretty hard to beat.

The T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S II is the fourth iteration of the Android smartphone we've seen to date, and in terms of build quality, it's the best one yet. This is largely due to the soft-touch finish on the battery door that adds a leatherlike texture. It's a small detail that makes a huge difference in making the Galaxy S II feel like the premium handset that it is, instead of a cheaper phone.

Like the Epic 4G Touch, the T-Mobile Galaxy S II has a large screen, so it's a bigger-than-average device at 5.11 inches tall by 2.71 inches wide by 0.37 inch thick. The width makes the handset slightly awkward to hold during a call, and it's not the most pocket-friendly. That said, the phone is relatively thin and lightweight at 4.77 ounces, so it's not horribly cumbersome.

The T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S II features a spacious 4.52-inch display. As a result, the phone is a bit large.

The Super AMOLED Plus touch screen measures 4.52 inches diagonally with a resolution of 800x480 pixels. There are higher-resolution screens on the market, but the Galaxy S II's display is still sharp and shows off vibrant colors. The spaciousness of the screen also makes it great for viewing Web pages and multimedia.

The touch screen is responsive. The smartphone offers both Swype and Samsung's own virtual keyboard. It registered all our taps, and we were able to easily navigate through the menus. In addition to using the standard touch interface, you can also use motion gestures. 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. We can't really foresee using motion gestures all that often, but more useful is the Vlingo-powered Voice Talk app that allows you to compose and send messages, call contacts, launch the music player, and perform other actions using voice command.

The soft-touch finish on the back gives the Galaxy S II a more luxurious feel.

Though most of your interaction with the smartphone will be through the touch screen, there are various controls on the handset to make some tasks easier. For quick access to the home, menu, back, and search functions, you have four touch-sensitive buttons below the display. On the left spine, you'll find a volume rocker, and there is a power/lock button on the right side. A Micro-USB port sits on the bottom of the device, and there's a 3.5mm headphone jack on top. On the front in the upper left-hand corner is a 2-megapixel camera for video calls and self-portraits. Meanwhile the main 8-megapixel camera is on back, along with an LED flash.

T-Mobile packages the Galaxy S II with an AC adapter, a USB cable, and reference material.

User interface
The Samsung Galaxy S II runs Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread along with Samsung's latest TouchWiz 4.0 user interface. We're often less than enthusiastic about custom interfaces--they sometimes add unwanted complexity, and are usually slower to update to new OS versions. However, TouchWiz 4.0 has things going for it, some being carryovers from previous versions of TouchWiz. There are seven home screens, for example, and the notification pull-down menu has icons for easily turning on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, silent mode, and autorotation.

Customizing the home screens is made easier, 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. You can also now resize Samsung Live Panel widgets and there's a more fluid motion when scrolling through widgets lists and home pages.

Some of the changes are purely cosmetic, but they certainly add some polish to the UI. There are also some useful additions, such as an integrated task manager that displays all your active applications, downloaded apps with the option to uninstall, RAM status, and system storage. Also new and great: the ability to capture screenshots by simply pressing the power button and home key simultaneously.

The Samsung Galaxy S II offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, video calling via Qik, and text and multimedia messaging. The Galaxy S II also happens to be one of T-Mobile's first smartphones to support its faster HSPA+ 42Mbps network, meaning the smartphone can reach theoretical download speeds of 42Mbps--double those of its HSPA+ 21 network. Currently, this network is available in more than 150 markets, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay area, and covers 170 million Americans.

T-Mobile reports that in testing it has seen average speeds of 8Mbps, with peaks up to 22.7Mbps in solid 4G areas. Here in San Francisco we didn't hit such high numbers, but we were still impressed by the data speeds. Using Ookla's Speedtest.net, we averaged a download speed of 6.49Mbps, peaking at 9.61Mbps, and upload speed of 0.76Mbps, peaking at 1.59Mbps. Your speeds will vary depending on where you live, time of day, and other variables.

The Galaxy S II also features Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), and GPS, as well as NFC support. With the embedded NFC chip and the preinstalled Tags app, you can use the smartphone to scan, read, and share RFID (radio frequency identification) tags. In the future, once Google Wallet support is expanded beyond the Nexus 4G, you will be able to use the Galaxy S II to make mobile payments.

As we noted earlier, the Samsung Galaxy S II is running Gingerbread and all of Google's services are accounted for: Gmail, Google 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 T-Mobile have preloaded the phone with a number of extras, including the Quickoffice suite, Kies Air (a Wi-Fi-based PC-to-phone sync manager), T-Mobile TV, Netflix, and TeleNav Navigator. Unfortunately, unlike the other carriers, T-Mobile does not let you uninstall any of the preloaded apps.

There is no shortage of entertainment options on the Galaxy S II. In addition to the built-in music and video player, the smartphone offers Samsung's Media Hub, from which you can download movies and TV shows to rent or own. You can also shoot your own videos and photos with the handset's 8-megapixel camera, which is capable of 1080p HD video capture. The camera app has plenty of tools, such as effects, white-balance controls, and ISO settings. Samsung also throws in a photo and video editor, which we appreciate. The video editor is particularly great, since it makes it easy to piece together clips with different effects and music, right on your phone.

The 8-megapixel camera performed well, even in dim rooms.

Picture quality was excellent. Even under low-light conditions, images came out sharp with rich colors. Videos also looked great, with very little blurring or pixelation. Once you're done capturing media, you can store files in the Galaxy S II's 16GB of internal memory or on an SD card (the expansion slot accepts up to 32GB). You can also share via the usual social network channels or on your HDTV using DLNA or with an HDMI adapter.

We tested the quad-band Samsung Galaxy S II in San Francisco using T-Mobile service, and call quality was mostly good. The audio was very clear, as we didn't detect any background noise, but voices could sound a bit muffled at times. Several friends also made the same comment, but it was never bad enough that we couldn't understand each other or had to terminate a call.

Samsung Galaxy S II call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone quality is pretty decent. There's a slight tinniness to the voice quality, but it's still clear and understandable. There's enough volume to hear callers in a noisier environment. We paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones and had no problems making calls or listening to music.

We were able to get 4G coverage in most areas of San Francisco, though there were parts of the city where the signal dropped to one or two bars. CNET's full site loaded in 20 seconds, while the mobile sites for CNN and ESPN came up in 6 seconds and 9 seconds respectively. High-quality YouTube clips loaded within several seconds and playback was continuous and smooth. We also streamed content from Netflix, but videos looked somewhat choppy.

Unlike the Sprint, AT&T, and unlocked versions of the Galaxy S II, the T-Mobile model is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon S3 1.5GHz dual-core processor instead of Samsung's Exynos 1.2GHz dual-core processor. This is because the Qualcomm chipset can support T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 radio. Though Qualcomm's chip has a slightly faster CPU, we didn't notice a huge difference in speed in everyday use, and in fact the AT&T and Sprint models felt just a touch more responsive. Still, the T-Mobile Galaxy S II is a fast phone, as we were able to launch and switch between apps and tasks easily.

The T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S II ships with a 1,850mAh lithium ion battery with a rated time of 7 hours and up to 7 days of standby time. The Galaxy S II met the rated talk time in our battery drain tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the smartphone has a SAR rating of 0.35W/kg and a Hearing Aid Compatibility Rating of M3/T3.

Though some T-Mobile customers might have felt left out of the iPhone party, there's no reason to be sad. The carrier offers one of the best selections of Android devices, and you can now add the powerful Samsung Galaxy S II to the list. With its gorgeous display, smooth performance, and support for faster data speeds, it's one of the top smartphones in T-Mobile's lineup. It's also one of the pricier ones, so budget-conscious customers might want to take a look at alternatives like the HTC Sensation 4G. However, if money is no object and you're looking for a top-of-the-line smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S II certainly fits the bill.


Samsung Galaxy S II (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9
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