Samsung's Galaxy S II 4G smartphone is a product that's clearly designed and developed to show the world what a manufacturer can achieve and at the same time leapfrog what competitors are bringing to market. With a 1.2GHz dual core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8 megapixel camera and a stunning 4.3" super AMOLED plus touch screen, the Galaxy S II is one of this year's most significant releases.
Samsung has been hounded of late. Allegations from Apple that it merely 'copies instead of innovates' have resulted in a lot of legal back and forth between the two companies. And as much as Apple can be credited with having 2010's major smartphone launch with the iPhone 4, the Galaxy S II 4G is clearly this year's frontrunner.
The Galaxy S II launch (comes to Bell Mobility in Canada on July 21st for $170 on a three year term) is just the opening salvo of an impressive line of smartphone and tablet launches for 2011 which is quickly turning out to be a marquee year for Samsung at least in the mobile space.
The Galaxy S II pivots away from the traditional rounded look and average size of the Galaxy S line and goes for a larger, thinner profile. The thinness of this device is something that must be felt to be appreciated, you will almost believe that there isn't a battery in there, but there is. Few smartphones today give a user a thoroughly unique tactile experience, the glass and steel iPhone 4 is one and so is the slate-like plastic Galaxy S II.
The earlier Galaxy S line looked plain and underwhelming in terms of design and yes there are notable resemblances between it and the iPhone 3GS which made it look even less exciting. The Galaxy S II shares a lot of its design with the tablet line and it is pretty much a rectangular slate without any unnecessary roundness, it is almost as if the ghost of Mies van der Rohe took the earlier Galaxy S sketch and said "cut here and here, remove this and that and make it flat...there, much better!"
We were a bit bothered that a flagship smartphone like this one was wrapped in plastic but then realized that it didn't feel weak or creaky despite our best efforts to squeeze the body.
The balance and light weight of the device is great but the danger with something this light is that it will easily slip out of your pants pocket or even worse, your shirt pocket as you bend down. The good news is that it is light enough that should users add a thin case, it wouldn't weight it down too much.
Minimalist and stark in the typical Samsung design-sense, the Galaxy S II may not feel as premium (or as heavy) as some metal clad unibody devices out there but this is quickly forgotten (and forgiven) one the device is fired up and that screen comes to life.
The screen on this device is superb. The larger 4.3" inch size makes it easier to type on the software keyboard, so much so that it seems our thumbs and brain had upgraded during the test period we had with this device. As a result we were dismayed to realize we were making more typing errors on our smaller smartphones once we got back to using them.
The screen size difference is significant. You load more information on a page, you spend less time pinching and zooming to make pages more legible and video playback is a definite treat. We watched the appalling Mean Girls 2 and the moderately amusing Date Night on the device and it worked like a dream. Our Tina Fey fixation notwithstanding, if we owned a Galaxy S II 4G we would probably watch a lot video on it whether streaming or running off a microSD card.
Taking pictures on the new 8 megapixel camera is impressive (sourced from Samsung's camera line) also adds better multimedia capabilities all around and looking at the saturated photos on the screen is great but borders on being a little unreal in terms of brightness. The Galaxy S II also has a front facing camera for video calling, which no one we know uses.
Speed and Browser tests
The Galaxy S II is the fasted smartphone we've tested to date. Anything that can make an iPhone 4 (running on iOS 5 Beta) feel tentative and make the Nexus S sweat is pretty impressive.
We tested the browsers on all three devices loading content heavy pages like bbc.co.uk, cnn.com, nba.com and maxim.com. The iPhone 4 naturally ignores Flash content and loads images or HTML5 when available but the Nexus S and the Galaxy S II are Flash compliant and will load videos and animations.
The Galaxy S II was markedly faster than both non dual core smartphones when loading complex websites on the same WiFi network. Despite having the biggest screen to render, the Galaxy S II was sometimes as much as one second faster than the iPhone 4 and the Nexus S.
Maybe it is the dual core processor or the 1 GB of RAM or the fast GPU but it is impressive to witness this thing perform, it basically has the guts of a tablet in the size of a smartphone. The kicker is this, most Android apps aren't even written to take advantage of the Samsung Exynos chipset featuring a dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU and Mali 400 GPU so when many of the apps catch up, performance should get even better.
As a phone, the Galaxy S II works as expected, dual microphones help boost voice loudness and can record video in stereo. We wish Samsung placed a dedicated camera button but since it is going for simplicity, we respect them maintaining the clean lines.
The rest of the software experience is Android on Samsung's TouchWiz overlay and Samsung does offer a steady array of proprietary software and applications mostly for media and content playback.
If we were hunting for a top tier Android smartphone today and were happy with Bell's service and coverage, then the choice would be obvious.
This is the fastest smartphone out there today on any platform. Pushing the boundaries in specs, size and design, Samsung has improved the Galaxy S smartphone line in almost every aspect and yet managed to squeeze everything into a thin and surprisingly lightweight device, we wish it were cheaper and readily available on more Canadian providers, but it is what it is.
The Samsung Galaxy S II has already sold 3 million units in 55 days overseas and it should prove successful in North America, Canadians get a rare release ahead of our US neighbours and this was credited to Bell and Samsung working closely together.
We like the aesthetics, the blazing performance, impressive camera and the great call quality and handling of this smartphone and hope that it will continue to receive software updates when Google releases Ice Cream Sandwich whenever that version ships.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5