Samsung Galaxy S II review: Interface, hardware and operation

So we’ve already looked at the very nice HD camera Samsung has stuck in the Galaxy S II, now it’s time to prod and poke our way around the phone itself and show off a few of Samsung’s user interface tweaks.

Featuring Android 2.3.3 with Samsung’s light and simple Touchwiz interface over the top, the dual-core processor makes the Galaxy S II lightning fast throughout. The 4.3″ Super AMOLED Plus screen screen is dazzling. It feels like a genuine next-generation mobile phone that’s streets ahead of today’s competition.

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And it’s thin. Alarmingly thin. It feels like phones feel when they haven’t got their batteries in – even WITH THE BATTERY IN. In fact, it’s so thin it makes you worry it’s not strong enough, but it seems pretty tough once you’ve got over the shock of the lack of weight in something of this size.

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The back cover is also comically thin and flimsy. Putting it back on the phone is like trying to put the peel back on an orange. It doesn’t snap on, you sort of have to bend it around the compartment and hope the tiny plastic hooks don’t snap. It’s not something you want to do more than once.

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But the result is a phone that’s extremely thin. To be honest, we find Samsung’s black slab design to be a little dull. It is literally nothing more than a rectangle, and has an unsympathetic feel in the hand. A bit like Apple’s oddly aggressive iPhone 4, this has been designed to look nice in photographs rather than feel good in the hand like a nice, rubberised, curvaceous HTC phone.

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It’s also a little odd having capacitive Back and Menu buttons with a physical Home key in the middle. You have to learn which ones to press hard and which ones just need a gentle tickle. Plus the other physical buttons – the volume toggle and power key – are a bit on the small and cheap side.

Again, we miss HTC’s solid chrome-effect finishes.

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We’d have liked to see a bit more KERPOW and glamour in the hardware design, basically. Sure, it’s a big and impressive screen, but there’s nothing about the phone design that makes the Galaxy S II stand out. It is all about the screen.

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And when you turn it on, all negative thoughts disappear. The screen is sensational. Massive. Bright. Sharp. The dual-core processor never skips a beat, either. Apps install fast, the seven Home screens scroll without worry and we’ve not encountered the slightest wobble in operation in a solid six days of use.

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The Home screens can be customised, with Samsung’s Touchwiz interface letting you change the order in which they appear, resize many widgets and much more. The four shortcuts on the floating dock can be edited too, but it’s nice to remember that this is a telephone – so having shortcuts to the Phone, Contacts and Messaging apps along the bottom is quite useful.

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You can even edit the display fonts, if you want to make it all look weird and unsettling and turn your amazing new phone into something that looks like it belongs to a child.

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The app drawer scrolls sideways, one screen at a time, and automatically puts your installed apps on a separate screen. It’s totally editable, with Samsung’s Touchwiz interface letting users create new pages or store apps in tidy sub-folders.

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There are also some odd motion-based scrolling features in here, which use the phone’s accelerometer to handle page zooming and sorting. Onboard memory is more than adequate – we have 11.5GB of the phone’s internal storage space available, with nearly 2GB available for apps.

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The Notifications bar is relatively untouched, plus there’s a very advanced power-saving menu in here to help keep the phone alive.

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Swype is pre-loaded and works better than ever thanks to the phone’s massive screen and swift processor. And that’s the text messaging system on the left. Little cartoon speech bubbles. Lovely. It’s odd that there’s also a non-customisable Associated Press news widget on here, which pulls in nothing but seriously hardcore US news. Not very useful.

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So anyway, to recap thus far. Amazing screen and a blisteringly fast phone to use, while Samsung’s Touchwiz customisations are only very mild and inoffensive. Using the Galaxy S II is very nice indeed, as long as you don’t mind the phone’s absolutely enormous slab-like design.

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Having spent a bit of time with the similarly-sized Xperia Arc, we’d have to say that Sony Ericsson has done a better job of putting a huge screen into a stylish, ergonomic case. But that’s probably more of a personal preference than a criticism, so don’t get too upset.

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We’ll take a look at the Galaxy S II’s web performance and the pre-loaded apps later today, before giving it a number out of ten. We’re still undecided at time of writing.

16 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Richard Lazell

     /  May 11, 2011

    11.5GB future proofing? I do not think so! That limit means I could not copy over my itunes songs and have room for some apps! At least in my HTC I can put in a 32GB Micro SD card giving me a starting number of 33.2GB
    I will admit it looks good – got any benchmarks? linpack, smartbench, neocore, quadrant??

    Reply
    • Gary C

       /  May 11, 2011

      I was assuming the “USB storage” could also be used for apps, but I guess that’s a separate memory stash. In which case, you’re right, not so future proof. But still a luxury for an HTC Desire user!

      Reply
      • mintvilla

         /  May 11, 2011

        no android phone has more than 2gb of internal storage for apps. Its a limitation of the android market, messes up downloads if you have any bigger.
        Theres an sd card slot though as well, and also this phone comes in 16gb and 32gb versions, so even with the 16gb version, with the 12gb of media storage, you can add the 32gb and have 48gb of media storage for music and video.

        Reply
  2. Dave

     /  May 11, 2011

    You can edit the floating dock buttons at the bottom of the screen, from within the app drawer.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

     /  May 11, 2011

    If this is a review, the website better start doing something else. This feels like a Nokia 1100 review. If I have to judge the quality of review, it’s 1/5. Look how gsmarena, anandtech or nordichardware give their reviews. Pathetic to say the least

    Reply
    • Gary C

       /  May 11, 2011

      Another vote for pages and pages of benchmarks, then?

      :(

      Reply
      • mintvilla

         /  May 11, 2011

        god no. benchmarks prove nothing!!.

        I’l give a lovely example, i have the lg optimus 2x, the stock software that comes with it can achieve over 4000 on quadrant, 5000 with an overclock.

        yet its laggy as hell and is pretty much godawful.

        install cm7, you only get just over 2000, 2800 with overclocking.

        yet its smooth as butter!.

        These benchmarks are useless so continue not using them.

        Reply
      • k0zmic

         /  May 11, 2011

        Yeah forget the benchmarks. Maybe a video hands on or something so see the phone in operation.

        Reply
  4. Bradley

     /  May 11, 2011

    I’ve got this and I think the hardware is absolutely stunning. I don’t care if the back feels thin and plasticy when it’s taken off – it feels solid and keeps the phone thin when it’s on!

    Reply
  5. ibmonkey

     /  May 12, 2011

    also, just a quick addition. In the messaging app, I really like when your in landscape mode the way you can view the conversation list at the same time as viewing a selected conversation.

    Reply
  6. I am not sure if it is better than Iphone 4…

    Reply
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