Friday, July 8, 2011


Posted by Vishnureddy at 12:59 PM

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If you don't already know all, where have you been the past two months? The successor to one of the most popular Android handsets to date carries a burden of expectation almost as sizable as its 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen. It promises to be thinner, lighter, and faster than the Galaxy S that preceded it, while garnishing Android 2.3.3 with a set of TouchWiz customizations that might actually enhance, rather than hinder, the user experience. As such, the Galaxy S II earns Samsung full marks for ambition, but does this slinky new smartphone live up to its interstellar hype? The answer, as always, can be found after the break.


The Samsung Galaxy S II is 8.49mm (0.33 inches) thick. We whipped out a ruler and checked, it's true. Admittedly, that measurement expands a little at the handset's bottom, where a curvy bump houses its loudspeaker, and around the camera compartment, which protrudes ever so slightly from the rest of the body, but even at its thickest point, this phone doesn't allow itself to go beyond the 1cm mark. Given the veritable spec sheet overload that Samsung has included within the Galaxy S II, we consider its thin profile a stunning feat of engineering. In terms of the pursuit of the absolute slimmest device, NEC's is still the champ at 7.7mm, but global audiences should feel comfortable in replacing the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, which measures 8.7mm at its thinnest point, with the Galaxy S II for their benchmark slim device.

More importantly, Samsung's new 4.3-inch handset feels better in the hand than the Arc, thanks to its intelligently curved sides that provide a comfortable and assured grip. The textured rear cover also feels good to the touch, and should withstand nicks and scratches a lot better than the original Galaxy S' backplate, though don't expect its featherlight construction to contribute much to the phone's overall rigidity. That will be provided by the still-mostly-plastic frame surrounding the phone's screen. We found little cause to doubt the Galaxy S II's durability, though we certainly wouldn't go recommending it as the phone for the builder in your life. There's a minuscule crevice between the handset's frame and screen that looks prone to gathering dust if exposed to dirty environments, and in spite of the generally reassuring build quality, the Galaxy S II is still made out of plastic rather than something more robust like HTC or Nokia's all-aluminum cases.

Returning to the screen, it's fronted by one continuous sheet of glass, which protects a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display along with a batch of sensors and a front-facing camera at the top, and two capacitive Android keys at the bottom. The earpiece and Home button are the only disruptions to the sleek glass surface. Whatever coating Samsung has applied to the Galaxy S II's screen works very well, as it resists smudges and fingerprint marks much better than the average smartphone. A volume rocker and a power / lock key each take up one side of the GSII, with a 3.5mm headphone jack adorning its top and a micro-USB charging / data port at the bottom. That's it, no frills, no extras, and -- to the dismay of some -- no dedicated camera shutter button. At least the controls you do get all work very well. The side-mounted buttons do their job without fuss and touchscreen responsiveness is impeccable. The Menu and Back keys are purely capacitive, whereas the Home button is, well, an actual button -- it requires you to physically depress it in order to register input. That distinction may feel a bit awkward at first, but we rather enjoyed it. It meant accidental key taps were all but impossible to achieve and gave a more definitive nature to punching the Home key, which somehow felt appropriate given the fact it yanks you out of whatever you're doing and back to the homescreen.


The Galaxy S II's screen is nothing short of spectacular. Blacks are impenetrable, colors pop out at you, and viewing angles are supreme. This would usually be the part where we'd point out that qHD (960 x 540) resolution is fast becoming the norm among top-tier smartphones and that the GSII's 800 x 480 is therefore a bit behind the curve, but frankly, we don't care. With a screen as beautiful as this, such things pale into insignificance. And we use that verb advisedly -- whereas the majority of LCDs quickly lose their luster when you tilt them away from center, color saturation and vibrancy on the Galaxy S II remain undiminished. It is only at extreme angles that you'll notice some discoloration, but that's only if you're looking for it and takes nothing away from the awe-inspiring experience of simply using this device.

Whether you're pushing it to its limits with movie watching or just tamely browsing the web, the Super AMOLED Plus panel inside the Galaxy S II never fails to remind you that it's simply better than almost everything else that's out there. For an instructive example of the contrast on offer here, take a look at our recent post regarding the LG Optimus Big's upcoming launch in Korea. The pattern on that handset's white back was so subtle on our desktop monitor that we completely missed it, whereas when we looked at the same image on the GSII, it looked clear as day. Maybe that doesn't speak too highly of the monitors we're working with, but it underlines the supremacy of the display Samsung has squeezed into the Galaxy S II.

We'd even go so far as to say it's better than the iPhone 4's screen, purely because, at 4.3 inches, it gives us so much more room to work with. It's almost impossible to split the two up in terms of quality of output, they're both top notch. Notably, however, that was also true of Samsung's original Super AMOLED display, the one that graced the 4-inch Galaxy S, and by now you must be wondering if there's actually anything significant enough in the new S-AMOLED technology to justify appending that "Plus" to its name. The short answer is yes, and it's all in the pixels.

The one major downside to the original Super AMOLED panel was to be found in its PenTile matrix subpixel arrangement. It employed an RGBG pattern, wherein you got two green subpixels for every pair of red and blue ones, but the overall resolution was counted on the basis of green subpixels. Ergo, a PenTile 800 x 480 resolution wasn't as rich at the sub pixels level as your standard RGB screen (768,000 versus 1,152,000), which resulted in slightly grainier images than would otherwise have been the case. Well, that "otherwise" scenario is now with us, because Samsung has switched to a Real-Stripe RGB array in the 4.3-inch Galaxy S II, which means it packs the full 1.152 megapixel count and, as we've already noted, the display looks delectable for it. A lesser criticism of the original Galaxy S was that its colors were a little blown out and over saturated, but that's once again rendered moot on the successor device -- a software setting called Background effect allows you to tweak saturation, so if you're feeling a little melancholy, you can tone down the intensity of your handset's colors to match your ennui. Basically, if we haven't made it clear already, this is everything that Super AMOLED was, minus the bad parts and plus an extra .3 inches in real estate. A triumph.

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