Samsung Galaxy S2

Review: Samsung Galaxy S2 -- Great All-Around Phone

4 stars
Fast hardware and smooth software makes it the Android phone to beat.

480 x 800 px, 16,700,000 colors
Super AMOLED Plus (Gyroscope / Accelerometer / Compass / Proximity Sensor / Ambient Light Sensor)
8.0 MP / LED Flash / Zoom / Auto-Focus / HD Video Recorder / 2.0 MP / Video Calling

1.2 GHz (Samsung Exynos)
16.0 GB

Block / Google Android OS v2.3
125 x 66 x 8 mm
116 g
1650 mAh Li-Ion
Talk Time:
8 hours
Standby Time:
16.7 days

Samsung hit a home run the Galaxy S2 -- it's a solid follow-up to the original. If you want a top-shelf Android device, the S2 earns its place as a flagship phone with stellar multimedia, a knockout camera and a vibrant display.

Don't buy it if you want a small phone, though -- it won't win any awards for being petite. Standing at 5.1-by-2.7-by-0.3-inches, despite the generous size, it's surprisingly light, and remarkably thin. It won't win any awards for design, though, but the curved form makes it easy to hold. To keep that weight down, Samsung used a plastic material instead of aluminum.

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I didn't like it -- it mars the aesthetic, and the iPhone is a much better-looking device.

As for layout, it's very sensibly designed. Everything is within easy reach of the finger. There's a single simple home key below the display. And the rest of the capacitive controls are wonderfully responsive. You don't get a camera key, but the on-screen controls make up for it.

Photo 1

Durable, smudge-resistance glass protects the 4.3-inch screen, and the beautiful display is worth shielding from greasy fingerprints. Even though the 800-by-480 pixel resolution isn't cutting-edge, I enjoyed watching movies on the Super AMOLED screen. Colors pop and images are sharp from different angles. You won't have to look straight-on to get the best view. Everything is crystal clear.

The 8-megapixel camera, with LED flash, takes detailed photos. Unfortunately, the shutter is a bit slow, and takes around three seconds to reload between shots. If you're trigger-happy and like to blast away and keep the best shots, you'll have to take a more sniper approach here. The auto-focus needs time to lock in. I found the outdoor shots tilted a bit to the overexposed side, especially in direct sunlight. The best shots came out under cloudy days, or well-lit indoor settings. Either way, the contrast and clarity is pretty good, a step down from the highest-end devices like the iPhone.

You get a few shooting modes to choose from. I was tricked by action mode. Rather than capturing clearer action shots, it basically strings together a series of photos. There's also Beauty mode, which I didn't find make me any more beautiful, and Panorama for wider scenic shots. Cartoon-ify is a silly, but useless, filter. I found Blink and Smile Detection surprisingly useful. It's really great for group shots when someone inadvertently has their eyes closed. You can also switch between photo and video modes with a tap -- that's a nice convenience for impromptu moments.

I recorded a few 1080p clips, you'll have fewer options to choose from, but the video was nonetheless top-notch with great audio. Overall, it's a great package, but the focus lag is the biggest issue.

The S2 ships with Gingerbread, but you can upgrade to ICS, which you should. It offers a smoother experience with better overall improvements. Who doesn't like updates? Samsung, meanwhile, added its own TouchWiz interface. It's not awful, but it's not really necessary either. You'll get a useful notification bar, which you can use to control music without launching the player, but there's little else besides design tweaks. Basically, it manages to make things worse. The keyboard, for example, isn't as good as the one offered by Android -- even on the generous screen, it's a little cramped, and although Swype works well, I mistyped several words.

Photo 3

The voice input key also replaced the more-useful comma button. You can download a better keyboard from the app store, but it's these small changes that are maddening. Frankly, I'd have preferred Samsung left out TouchWiz, and gave me the extra memory to store more photos. Quick note: if you want an old-school experience on a new-school device, download the FM radio app. I really enjoyed it and was grooving on it like it was 1999.

Samsung's Social Hub organizes everything into "hubs." It's convenient. For instance, the Messaging hub pulls all your messages, e-mails, chats and social media into one place. An icon will let you know if you have any messages, so it's simple to keep everything organized. The Gaming Hub is a fun place to test out and buy games, but the Reader Hub is a little underwhelming, since the digital editions of magazines and newspapers for sale are pretty pricy. It's not worth it. None of the hubs are really necessary, but if you like to organize items into categories, you'll appreciate them. It's better than earlier versions of Hubs.

On the flipside, I liked the motion sensor. For instance, you can mute sounds by a simple flip of the phone. That comes in handy if you're playing the Macarena and your boss walks in. HTC has a similar feature but it's not as consistent.

Samsung has a few other motion functions. You can tip the phone to enlarge what you're looking at -- it's an interesting alternative to the pinch-to-zoom on the iPhone, likely because Samsung is being suited by Apple for it. In addition, you can scroll through home screens automatically -- the accelerometer will recognize when you're rearranging widgets and begin to scroll until you select the right screen. These small bells and whistles are neat, I suppose, but completely unnecessary if you ask me.

Photo 4

I was impressed by the 1,650 mAh battery -- I lasted a smidge over a day of use on one charge. I thought the large screen would sap the power in a matter of hours, but Samsung's technology only illuminates the pixels when need. That means if don't use the screen much, it'll last awhile. But if you say, reading e-books or watch movies, it'll drain quickly and go dark shortly after the workday. You can also squeeze another hour or so by customizing the settings. Lower the brightness, for example, or use darker wallpapers to conserve energy. Turning off 3G when you don't need it also works wonders. It comes with a paltry 12-gigabytes of storage, so you'll want to buy a microSD card.

Overall, the Galaxy S2 is great choice with superior hardware and rock-solid software. It's easy to see why this is the iPhone's closest competitor. If you're looking for a flagship Android, this is one of the best ones yet.

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User Reviews

Fantastic Screen, Great OS, The Complete Package

Rating: 5 of 5 | James Cobb on September 11, 2011

1. Fantastic display -- I have to say, the 4.3-inch screen is as good as it gets for me. It's not too big, or too small. And the colors really pop, and they're sharp -- blacks are black, and you can see everything, even outdoors in direct sunlight! While the 800 by 480 res display is a bit worse than the iPhone's, I don't have a complaint while watching videos or reading on it. I can't really overemphasize how great the screen is. This is probably the best part of the S2.

2. It's thin. Like really thin. With the screen being so large, you don't expect it to be so light by looking at pictures, but it's really lightweight. Don't worry, it doesn't feel cheap. I think it's around 9-millimeters...

3. Android 2.3 is awesome. Samsung's new 1.2-gigzhertz chip runs the platform without any stalls or hiccups. The S2 can match the iPhone in terms of smoothness and performance.

4. Apps. Aside from being able to download all the Android apps, my S3 came with Polaris Office, which allows me to view and edit documents, charts and presentations. It's like having a PC in your hand.

5. The 8-megapixel camera is nice. I don't think any camera phone will ever replace a standalone digicam, but this one comes close. Still, it's good enough for Facebook, which is what I end up uploading to anyways. There's a photo editor app on the S2 that'll let you make simple adjustments to your photos. One drawback is the flash, which is strong, maybe a little too strong, so everyone's skin tone gets bleached. Also the 1080p videos this smartphone records are amazing!

1. Power usage. The S3 is a battery hog. For me, it barely lasts a day, maybe a day and a half. So don't forget to charge it at night, otherwise you'll be screwed the next day...

2. It runs on HSPA-plus, which is technically 3.5G, rather than 4G LTE. Wish it were faster. But I guess you can't have it all, right?

3. Heat. It runs hot -- a lot hotter than the iPhone. I suppose the dual-core chip is running overtime. But when it's in use the S2 can get pretty toasty! I guess the slim design doesn't help. It's not a big deal, I suppose. But it's something you might want to take note of.

4. I came from an HTC smartphone, so it took some adjusting to Samsung's UI. Unlike a vanilla Android, Samsung adds TouchWiz to the S2, similar to HTC's Sense interface. Some of the changes make the device easier to navigate around, but it's still something to keep aware of for non-Samsung users.

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Better Than I Could Have Hoped For

Rating: 5 of 5 | J. Carpenter on October 18, 2011

Where do I even start? The screen is AWESOME! Some people throw that word around, but I really mean it. Just breathtakingly gorgeous. Sure, you read about it, but I didn't really appreciate it until I saw it with my own eyes!

My girlfriend has an iPhone 3GS, and the S2's display blows it out of the water. It's not even close.

Let's see... in terms of the specs, the S2 is a huge upgrade over the any other Android device -- including some of the tablets. I also have a Galaxy Tab, the first generation one, and the S2 kills it in smoothness and speed.

The 8MP camera is nice, so is the HSPA and the apps. Did I mention it's fast?

I'm sure you have heard about the good reviews of the Samsung galaxy S2 and Guess what? They are all right. On AT&T, I get a little over 6 MBPs -- good enough to stream videos on YouTube without problems.

Calls come in crystal clear, and the battery is so-so... around two days between charges. It's without a doubt, the best phone I've ever used.

The thing is also so light and thin that I don't even know I'm carrying it. Sometimes I have to check to make sure I didn't forget it somewhere!

You can't go wrong with the S2! Trust me.

It's too bad the app selection isn't like Apple's App Store. I mean, Android isn't bad, but there's some apps that I wish I could download.

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A few gripes

Rating: 4 of 5 | Will Myers on January 08, 2012

I just didn't bother listing the great qualities because you probably know them all. But just be aware of the few flaws. I'd still buy it.

First off, I need to say this phone is amazing. I love it. But it's not perfect. So rather than rant about the benefits, which you can read from the others, I'll just list some of my gripes:

1. The size of the screen is a bit too large for me. At 4.3-inches, it's not that comfortable to grip. Don't get me wrong, the resolution is fantastic and the colors "pop," but I would have preferred if it was 4.0-inches. I constantly feel like I'm one bump away from dropping it.

2. It's too thin. This bugs me more than anyone else, probably. I know thin is in, but this is too much. The other reviewer was right. When it's in my pocket, I'm always checking to see if it's there, or if I've dropped it. Some heft wouldn't be so bad. I added a case just so I can get some peace of mind. Too bad it's ugly now.

3. A lot of people have mentioned the short battery issue. And while I don't have to charge it mid-day, I can't go through an entire day without having to refill. I leave the screen on full, which probably drains the heck out of it, but why would you get such a nice display to dim the screen? Doesn't make sense to me. I guess if all you do is text and talk, you won't have that problem, but I'm usually downloading, reading and browsing. I'm spoiled by the notion of a "good" battery on my iPad.

Mind you, these are gripes, but the pros vastly outweigh the cons.

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Rating: 2 of 5 | David on April 01, 2013

The phone is thin, easy to use. Nice size screen makes it easy to surf the web.

The phone lasts about 7 months and the charging system breaks down. All kinds of electrical problems with this phone. I had the same problem with the replacement phone that was sent to me and am now waiting on the my third phone on a two year contract.

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Mostly love it, but watch out for....

Rating: 4 of 5 | Doug Levinson on July 13, 2012

The phone is absolutely great. Screen size is fantastic (would never go back to a smaller screen), keyboard with Swype is great, phone is fast, call quality is very good, all features work. Samsung's KIES backup software is great because is backs up memos along with other Outlook information, which most backup utilities do not. I use T-Mobile and Wi-Fi calling works well (after getting it enabled by submitting a 911 location).

The phone is absolutely great. The screen size is fantastic -- I would never go back to a smaller screen -- keyboard with Swype is great, phone is fast, call quality is very good, all features work. Samsung's KIES backup software is great because is backs up memos along with other Outlook information, which most backup utilities do not. I use T-Mobile and Wi-Fi calling works well -- after getting it enabled by submitting a 911 location.

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Worst Phone I've Ever Had in My Entire Life

Rating: 1 of 5 | Robert Vega on August 09, 2012

The only thing I could possibly love about this phone is the hope of one day being able to throw it off a ten story building and watch it smash to bits on the pavement below.

The reception is horrible. The Internet, you tube, and anything else that you would want to do is very slow. Then you can't forget the fact when you're on the phone talking to someone, and you receive a text message, the ringtone plays through the ear speaker so you have to wait till the ring tone stops before you can continue your conversation. Trust me don't buy this phone. My wife has the same one and she hates it as much as I do.

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