Monday, October 10, 2011

Samsung Galaxy S II

I'm going to air on the side of "nerdy" by saying this, but here goes: the Samsung Galaxy S II really is one phone to rule them all... or at least, that's what it was forged made to be. With very powerful insides, sleek-looking outsides, and a 4.3" screen while still coming in at a very slim 8.89 millimeters thin, it can hold its own against even the newest offering from Apple, the iPhone 4S. In theory, it should be able to put any other smartphone to shame. Does it live up to its name? That's the question I've been trying to answer over the last week by putting this bad boy to the test. Find out what it is, along with my full review, after the break.

Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) operating system, now upgradable to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
8 MP back camera with LED flash that can record 1080 P HD video
2 MP front-facing camera
1.2 GHz Dual Core processor (Samsung Exnyos C210)
4.3" Super AMOLED Plus Screen
Up to 8 hours of talk time
16 GB internal storage (expandable to 32 GB more with Micro SD card)
4G HSPA+ Enabled
Optional Swype keyboard

-Super fast processor means quicker multi-tasking and faster internet speeds
-Very slim profile means it fits better in your pocket.
-Large internal memory means that you can load tons of apps on the phone without having to worry about "Low Internal Memory" messages
-Brilliant, colorful display
-Very long battery life
-Rob's "Best Camera on a Phone" award (de-throning the Samsung Infuse 4G)
-Thinnest 4G smartphone on the market (again, de-throning the Samsung Infuse 4G)

-Can sometimes get very hot (more on that later)
-Currently, there is a security hole that allows anyone to get into the phone even when it is password protected.

"It's finally in my hands!!!"
I'll be honest, I've been waiting for the Galaxy S II to come out in the United States ever since it was released and received amazing reviews in Asia and Europe. This, of course, was before I even knew that we'd be getting one in the United States. The international version has been received very well and has been received equally well in the United States. Combining the sales of all units branded as "Galaxy S II's," Samsung has sold over 10 million unites world-wide. This is an amazing feat, considering that lots of phone manufacturers offer their own Android-powered hardware and Sammy's Galaxy S II is in direct competition from other Android fans as well as phones with other operating systems.

The Samsung Galaxy S II is available in different models in the U.S. The model I'll be reviewing here is the one available on AT&T (for obvious reasons) but there is also currently a Sprint model and there is a T-Mobile model that will be available. The AT&T model is the one that stays most true to the international model, keeping the 4.3" screen rather than opting for a 4.5" one as well as staying the most true to the form/shape. The main difference between the two is that the US variants have a "Search" button that the international versions of Android phones often leave out and the "Home" button is a physical button on the international version whereas the US versions are all soft keys.

Now, before I get into my experience with the phone, I must post a message that one of my co-workers and friend sent to me about the Galaxy S II he's been using:
Last night I was texting my friend, and playing a video game at the same time. I sent a text, and then I just quickly put the phone in sleep mode and set it down prior to the message actually, "sending." It was at about 50% battery when I sent the last text, and tossed the phone aside. About 10 minutes later, the battery alarm went off. I was like "huh?" I picked up the phone and it was HHHHHH--OOOOOOOO-TTTTTTT! To the point that I couldn't even hold it. The battery was at less than 5%. I thought "How can this be?!" When I finally got into the phone, I noticed that all the messages I sent were listed at a different time than when I actually sent them, and it was trying to send that last message the entire time... it said "Sending" with the progress bar about ¼ full. So far this has happened 3 times since last night. It only happens when I hit send, and immediately put the phone in sleep mode. NOT COOL!!!
Update: As of 10/14/2011, Tony stopped having this problem with his phone. He did a factory data reset on the device he was using it this fixed the problem. Thanks for the info Tony! Also, as of 12/6/2011, I haven't heard any more reports of this happening to any other Galaxy S II's so it seems to be an isolated incident. I've had three different Galaxys S II's myself and never experienced this problem.

That message was sent to me from Tony Campo (who's iPhone 4 review will be posted along side the inevitable 4S review on this website). He said that the only way to get the phone to stop overheating was to yank the battery out and restart it.

Bottom of the phone, showing the microphone and the Micro-
USB charging port.
This is not the first time we've seen this problem in a phone. In fact, when the original Galaxy S was released in the US, there were some of those phones that had this same problem. It was a select few and it didn't happen to most people. I suspect/hope that Tony's phone is a rare exception that merely needs to be warrantied out for a new one. The last thing we need is a repeat of the Samsung Craptivate Captivate/Fascinate. I will keep you updated with this problem if it persists in other phones.

Just to get the bad things out of the way I am going to continue on with the bad and the ugly. There is a security flaw in the AT&T Galaxy S II that allows anyone access to the phone even if it is locked. By pressing the lock/unlock key on the right side of the phone, turning the phone's screen on to the password screen, you can then let the screen "time-out." Then, when you press the unlock key again the password is no longer showing and you can simply slide the screen sideways as normal to unlock the phone. This security flaw doesn't affect people like me who never put a password on their phone anyway. However, for people who feel they need to lock up the contents of their phone or for people who keep sensitive information on their phones and actually need to keep it locked, this is not the phone for you at this point. Although there will surely be a software upgrade that will fix this flaw, there is no word on it yet. To view a video of this security flaw in action, watch the video in this link.

Update: On 1/10/2012 I received a notification on my Samsung Galaxy S II that there was an update for my phone available through AT&T. The update requires a Wi-Fi connection to download (as always) and only took a couple of minutes to download and another couple of minutes to install. The only noticeable change I've been able to pick out is that the security bypass flaw has been fixed, although I'm sure there's a few more smaller tweeks that Sammy's thrown in there to fix minor flaws.

Left side, showing the volume rocker.
All things bad aside, I've been using the phone now for a while and it has performed wonderfully for me. No overheating, no password lock to worry about, and the speed is incredible! I am able to load videos and web pages faster than before, despite the internet connection being just as fast as it always was. The phones dual-core processor is to thank for that, of course, and also thanks to that processor is the fact that I've NEVER experienced a lag on my phone while switching between apps, windows, calls, you name it. Other phones could easily be overloaded by my usage and I would constantly need to close applications in the background in order to prevent that lag. In this phones case, I could have numerous games and applications open in the background and taking up memory and still easily play a video while talking on the phone. It was amazing! The speed of this phone is able to keep up with me!

All this is not to say that I couldn't easily monitor and close out of programs. The Task Manager application that Samsung includes on their smartphones is even more incredible than it ever was on Gingerbread. It allows you to easily see what applications are open and see how much memory they're using and then completely exit out of them. Because having these applications open doesn't slow down the phone at all, the only reason for me closing them is to save on battery live, which brings me to my next section... the battery.

The phone disassembled, showing the battery, batter cover, and
the guts of the phone.
Although the battery is 1,650mAh and Sprint's Galaxy S II is 1,800mAh, AT&T's lasted an hour longer than Sprint's in a side-by-side video test (this was also in the Engadget review of AT&T's Samsung Galaxy S II and though I usually don't consider Engadget a reliable source for anything, it is the only website that reviewed the battery life of these phones next to one another). In my experience with the phone, it is even better than that of the Samsung Infuse. I was easily able to get through the day with one charge even when I used it heavily for gaming or watching shows. On a medium use day like today, for example, it is the end of the day and the phone is still at 58%. Absolutely incredible! I even spent the better part of five hours listening to music on it and it barely drained the battery! Not only does this prove that Samsung does a great job on the hardware of their phones, it proves that they know how to properly manage their software. It is impressive, to say the least.

Right side of the phone, showing the lock/unlock/on/off button.
Speaking of the hardware, it is very attractive. This is the first time since I was using the HTC HD7S that I've received compliments on how good a phone that I am using looks. At first glance it looks exactly like the Samsung Infuse in every single way. When examined closer, there are a few differences that I appreciate very much. First, instead of the chrome around the edges and the bottom around the speaker, Samsung has replaced it with a shiny black. There is still a thin dark chrome around the screen as an accent. The battery cover is also pitch black instead of the graphite cover of the Infuse and on the battery cover the Galaxy S II logo is emblazoned across the back in silver. The back camera is similar to the Infuse only "8.0 mega" is printed next to the camera and under the flash and the flash itself is located to the right of the camera instead of underneath it. Also, the phone is slightly thinner and slightly smaller. The front is exactly the same and unless the two are next to each other it is nearly impossible to tell the difference from the front.

Battery. I'll leave the "Near Field Communication" part to you.
Try "Googling" it.
The feel of the phone is solid too. The Samsung Focus (Windows 7 phone) and even the Samsung Infuse can feel slightly cheap in your hand because of the plastic hardware. This phone, even though it is so close to the Infuse, feels nice and solid as well as expensive. At the same time it's so thin and light I often forget it's in my pocket.

I've been playing around with the cameras and the back camera is amazing. There is a native photo editor app that, although hard to use at times, is better than no photo editor. It was fun to play with and could work if you're bored or in a pinch, but I'd much rather edit pictures on a computer with a mouse. The camera takes excellent pictures on its own and it actually managed to steal the "Best Camera award" from the Infuse. The options on it are amazing with just as many as before. The shortcuts on the camera are able to be edited so whatever is most important to you is most accessible. With this phone I took some time to take some pictures with the front-facing picture as well. The reason I did this was because most of the time the front-facing camera on phones is merely a VGA camera. This is true on the iPhone 4 and 4S as well as on most other Android smartphones that have a front-facing camera. The Infuse had the best one I'd experienced until now at 1.3 MP. The front-facing camera took great pictures (for a front-facing camera) and this is great news for those of you who like to take drunken fun pictures of yourself and your friends as well as people that use video chat often.

Inside of the phone, showing the SIM card slot and the Micro SD
card slot. Also, the camera.
Call quality is great also. I could clearly hear the person I was talking to and they could clearly hear me. No static, no "tin-can" sounds. Nothing to complain about as far as sound goes. There is a VERY slight lag between pulling the phone away from my face after the call is over to get the screen to light up so I can hit the "End Call" button, but not enough to annoy me and definitely not even close to as long as it takes the LG Thrill to respond.

Now the internal storage in the Galaxy S series of phones has always been incredible and the Galaxy S II is no different. Even on the Infuse, I would get the "Low Storage" warning and would be unable to download applications because of it. With the Galaxy S II, I have loaded twice the amount of apps (in MB's) as other phones just to see how it performs and if it can handle it, and it shows no signs of either slowing down or running out of memory. This is HUGE for me because it was actually a deal-breaker for me with the HTC Status.

This picture was taken with my Galaxy S II.
I added it on here to show you the amazing
camera on the phone, and to show you the
awesome fish I caught.
In the Samsung Infuse, I was a bit frustrated with the lack of a native dialing application. I did load one that I found in the marketplace onto the phone, and that worked decently well, but I like when a voice dialer is integrated into the phone because it tends to work much better. The Galaxy S II doesn't fail to disappoint in this area. They have actually included Vlingo Virtual Assistant "powering" the native dialing app, but unlike the Motorola Atrix which just has Vlingo pre-loaded on the phone, the Galaxy S II integrates it fully into their system. It is labeled as Samsung Voice Control that is "powered by Vlingo," but the user interface is exactly the same for those of you who have ever used the Vlingo application. This is their answer to the Siri virtual assistant that will run on the iPhone 4S (see the chart posted on this link for evidence of this). It is not just voice-dialing, it is appointment making, music, playing, e-mail sending, text messaging, searching, navigating, social networking, app opening, memo-making, alarm setting, notification reading machine and it is does all of the above with accuracy beyond what I've seen in other smartphones. After getting used to the commands needed (it took me a few days) I can now successfully look like the biggest dork ever do everything on my phone by voice command.

Personally, there was not a thing I found wrong with my phone. I tried to find something to complain about, but in what I use it for there is no flaws. I haven't had mine get extremely hot, despite actually trying with two different handsets, and I don't use a password. If you're anything like me this phone is your dream-come-true. If you're not like me, the Samsung Infuse is (at the time of this writing) half the price of the Galaxy S II ($99) and it doesn't have the security flaw the S II. Paired together, they will be a force to recon with on Android's side this Holiday season. When considering what else is coming, Android is going to need it, too.
The lake I went fishing on that day was very beautiful, but very windy. I used
the stabilization option to take this picture.

Overall, the phone makes me happy. I think it is well-suited for anyone's use because there is no way to max out the phone's capabilities. The internal memory is the biggest I've seen in quite some time and is expandable to an impressive 48 GBs. It functions very well as a video player, a camera, a video camera, a music player, and a portable game consol. It is friendly to use, great on battery life, and amazing at everything it does. I've been using the HTC Inspire as my main phone for quite a long time and I said in the review of that phone that it would take a lot to make me switch to anything else. Well, this is the phone that has made me switch. The one I ordered is currently sitting next to me providing the wireless hotspot for me to post this review.

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