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

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MSRP: $369.99

The Good The Samsung Galaxy S II 4G sports a large and vivid 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus display. Powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, the phone also runs Android 4.0 and is 4G-capable. Camera quality is also excellent.

The Bad Call quality could be better. The device is large and has a plasticky build.

The Bottom Line Despite its age, the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G offers solid performance, a vibrant screen, and a great multimedia experience, which makes it the top dog on Boost Mobile.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the Samsung Epic 4G Touch, since that device and the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G for Boost Mobile are almost identical.

Older smartphones, especially ones sporting legendary brands or from very successful product lines often find new life on prepaid, budget, and regional wireless carriers. The $369.99 Samsung Galaxy II 4G is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Similar to action-movie characters who have lived through countless sequels, the Galaxy S II doesn’t move quite as fast as it once did. Even so, armed with all the tools that made the phone great in its heyday, such as fast dual-core processing, a lovely high-contrast AMOLED screen, and 4G data, the Galaxy S II 4G can still throw a mean punch. That’s especially true now that the gadget runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It may be pricey and a year old, but it's a well-appointed package and money well spent on Boost Mobile.

If you’re familiar with the original Samsung Galaxy S II and its many flavors available on multiple carriers, this new Boost Mobile may strike you as a rerun. That’s because it’s essentially the Epic 4G Touch, Sprint’s branded version of the Galaxy S II. This model also sports an identical physical footprint, measuring 5.1 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide by 0.38 inch thick.

Samsung Galaxy S II 4G
On the top edge of the Samsung Galaxy SII 4G is its 3.5mm headphone jack. Sarah Tew/CNET

Sure, these dimensions mean the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G isn't small, but back when it first launched last year it looked positively humungous. Now its size seems average compared with the company’s new and even bigger products such as the Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note II, and Galaxy S3. Still, the Galaxy S II 4G’s width makes it tough to grip the phone one-handed, especially if you have smaller hands, and it's not a device that easily fits into tight pants pockets. At a light 4.6 ounces, however, the smartphone won’t weigh you down unduly.

The 4.52-inch, WVGA (800x480) Super AMOLED Plus touch screen you’ll find on the Galaxy S II 4G is certainly spacious. Its vibrant colors also make it an enjoyable way to view Web pages and multimedia. That said, the world has changed since this phone first hit the market, and there are certainly much sharper screens out there these days.

The AMOLED screen provides an engaging view. Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung’s own Galaxy S3 boasts an HD Super AMOLED screen with a finer 1,280x720-pixel resolution, which renders images and text more crisply. The same goes for the HTC Design 4G, that’s outfitted with a 4-inch qHD (960x540-pixel) resolution screen. Additionally, when placed side by side, the Galaxy S II’s display was dark compared with the brighter Design 4G and Galaxy S3 screens. Even so, I still found the Galaxy S II 4G’s high-contrast display very easy to read with deep blacks and very wide viewing angles.

For banging out messages, the smartphone offers both Swype and Samsung's virtual keyboards. With plenty of space between keys, I found that Samsung’s keyboard makes for quick typing but is pretty generic, doesn’t deviate much from the stock Android layout, and lacks many shortcuts for frequently used symbols.

Below the display are touch-sensitive buttons for the menu, home, back, and search functions. The left side features a volume rocker, while the right spine has a power/lock button. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack on top of the device and a Micro-USB port on the bottom. In the right-hand corner just above the display sits an LED notification light, while in the left-hand corner is a 2-megapixel camera for video calls. The back of the phone houses an 8-megapixel camera and an LED flash.

There is a microSD expansion slot behind the battery door. The latter has a textured surface, which provides a better grip, but like many Samsung smartphones (including the premium Galaxy S3), the Galaxy S II 4G has a plastic build that screams mass production. I personally appreciate the metallic unibody construction of HTC or even Apple handsets. I also like the quality polycarbonate designs showcased on Nokia and HTC’s new Windows Phone 8 devices.

A removable battery and microSD slot sit under the back cover.

Software and UI
While the original Samsung Epic 4G Touch on Sprint ran Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread, this new device ported to Boost Mobile boasts the more modern Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. It may not be Google’s most recent Android 4.1, aka Jelly Bean, but the software is recent and breathes new life into an otherwise aging handset.

Samsung has also plastered its TouchWiz 4.0 user interface on top of Android too which I’m sure ‘droid devotees dedicated to a pure Google experience won’t appreciate. I’m not a fan of custom interfaces, though HTC’s Sense 4 and Motorola’s latest Android tweaks have their moments. That’s because they often add unwanted complexity and unremovable bloatware, plus are usually slower to update to new OS versions.

TouchWiz does have some useful elements, such as the notification pull-down menu that has icons for easily toggling Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, 4G, and sound settings. Unlike the Galaxy S3, however, the Galaxy S II 4G offers five home screens to customize instead of seven.

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.

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