We've been lucky enough to get hold of the hotly-anticipated Samsung Galaxy S II Android phone a week before its official launch in Australia. Widely regarded as the best Android phone yet by experts around the world, Samsung claims to have received three million pre-orders]] for the device. So, can the Galaxy S II live up to all the hype?
Samsung Galaxy S II: Display
The Samsung Galaxy S II has a number of attractive features, but without doubt one of the best is its 4.3in Super AMOLED Plus display. The good news is that we can say it's the best screen we've seen on a smartphone to date: colours are vivid and bright, text is crisp and clear, and viewing angles are superb. The screen displays the best blacks we've seen on a smartphone, and is also ridiculously bright. We've only played with the phone for a few hours, but have already noticed that sunlight legibility doesn't seem to be an issue, provided the brightness is up high enough.
Our only complaint so far is that some images do appear to look a little over-saturated, and text is sometimes hard to read if you aren't zoomed in enough. The latter is particularly evident in the Web browser. The Samsung Galaxy S II's screen has a resolution of 800x480, so it can't quite match the iPhone 4's 960x640 "retina" resolution, or the qHD resolution (540x960) of the Motorola Atrix and the upcoming HTC Sensation. That said, the resolution really isn't an issue worth complaining about when you consider the display's other redeeming features.
Samsung Galaxy S II: Design
The Samsung Galaxy S II Android phone is just 8.49mm thick, making it thinner than the iPhone 4 and likely the thinnest smartphone in the world. At just 116g, the phone is lightweight considering its size, and although it features an all-plastic design like its predecessor, the case does not feel flimsy or poorly constructed. We like the attractive carbon-like finish on the rear battery cover, though this part of the phone does feel a little flimsy, and was also difficult to remove.
The Samsung Galaxy S II has a physical home key, along with touch-sensitive back and menu buttons. The power/lock screen button is perfectly positioned on the right, making it easy to access single-handedly, while the same applies to the left-mounted volume controls. It's a shame there is no physical shutter button, as its hard to keep the Galaxy S II still when taking a photo with the on-screen shutter key.
Samsung Galaxy S II: Performance and software
The Samsung Galaxy S II is powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and this means one thing: it's fast. Very fast. This is most evident when browsing the Web: the Galaxy S II loads pages faster than the iPhone 4 side-by-side when connected to the same Wi-Fi network, and also breezes through most everyday tasks without a hint of slowdown. Further, unlike many other Android phones, the Galaxy S II seems to be very stable: we haven't experienced a single crash in our first few hours of use. Critically, it feels like a finished product: this is not a half-baked phone that was rushed to release.
Samsung has updated its TouchWIZ UI overlay on the Galaxy S II and from what we've seen so far, the changes are mostly positive. The default Samsung weather, clock widgets and power widgets are attractive and functional, you can easily customise the main menu by creating folders, and we keep discovering plenty of nifty touches the more we use the phone. As an example, you can swipe left on a contact in your phonebook to immediately call that person, or swipe right to message them. Following HTC's lead, you can also turn the Galaxy S II over on a desk or table to silence an incoming call.
There are a few niggling aspects about TouchWIZ that we don't like, but none of them are a deal breaker. The default lock screen is slow to slide and feels sluggish on such a top-end phone; the TouchWIZ home screens don't scroll as fast as we'd like, even if the overall experience is smooth, and the phone is sometimes slow to wake when unlocked — the latter should be fixed in a software update, we hope.
Keep in mind that our early review unit is an overseas import of the Galaxy S II available though online store MobiCity, and not the final Australian model that will be unveiled next week by Samsung. The Australian model is likely to feature various bundled telco apps, and may include extra, local software that is not pre-loaded on our imported review unit.