Samsung Galaxy S2 $400

14th Aug 2012 | 16:11

Samsung Galaxy S2

Dual-core power, beautiful screen - the Galaxy S II is the kind of sequel we like

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

We have to drop the score of this phone as it's simply ageing now and is bettered by the S3 - but rest assured, with ICS it's still a stunning phone.

Like:

Super-fast reaction times; Slim design; Ridiculously clear screen; Clear call quality; 1080p video recording;

Dislike:

Flimsy back cover; Poor keyboard layout; Samsung Apps portal

Introduction

Update: We've updated our review to reflect the software update on the Samsung Galaxy S2 to Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich - and to include the changes found in the recent 4.0.4 update as well.

The Samsung Galaxy S2 - or Samsung Galaxy S II, as it's also known - is the phone the Korean firm deems the successor to its best smartphone so far. And with a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, super-slim chassis and feather-light innards, it's easy to see why.

The dual-core smartphone race is packed, with Samsung's own Galaxy Ace 2, the Huawei Ascend P1, Sony Xperia Go, iPhone 4S and many more handsets all boasting the fast processors, although bigger brother the Samsung Galaxy S3, LG Optimus 4X HD and a growing number of others run with quad-core CPUs.

Coming in at around £18 a month and £390-odd ($529) SIM-free, the Samsung Galaxy S2 has dropped in price since its launch and is now an attractively affordable high-end smartphone.

You can check out our Samsung Galaxy S2 video:

The Samsung Galaxy S2 is almost impossibly thin when you pick it up – dimensions of 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5mm mean it's one of the thinnest smartphones on the market, rivalling the likes of the iPhone 4S and Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, but falling behind the tiny 7.69mm-thick Huawei Ascend P1.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

It's crazy-light too – when we show you what tech is rammed under the hood, you'll be amazed that it all fits into a handset that weighs only a shade over 100g (116g, to be precise).

Samsung clearly traded the premium feel that an all-metal chassis might have brought for keeping the grams off the Galaxy S2 – pop the battery cover off and you'll find you're holding a piece of pretty flimsy plastic.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

However, most of the time you won't be removing this, and it fits nicely into the contoured chassis – the mesh feel on the rear also helps keep your hand from getting warm during extended holding.

The other thing you'll notice when you first pick up the Samsung Galaxy S2 is the screen – at 4.3 inches it's hard to miss, and when you turn it on the Super AMOLED Plus technology hits you square in the eyeballs (once it's got through the toughened Gorilla Glass).

It's not quite in the same league as the Samsung Galaxy S3; while some will argue the pixel quality is higher on the S2 thanks to a different sub-pixel arrangement, it's still markedly lower-res than the S3.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

We called the Samsung Galaxy S "the best phone on the market for media" when we reviewed it, thanks to its first-gen Super AMOLED screen. Now the Galaxy S2 has definitely improved on that, with a superbly crisp and vibrant screen - although again, it's been bested by the S3.

In the hand, the Galaxy S2 sits much better than we'd have expected, given the whopping screen on offer, and that's mostly down to its slim depth.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

The front of the phone is pretty sparse, with the home key the only piece of furniture on offer. This rectangular button flanks two touch-sensitive buttons – Menu and Back – so there's no room for contextual search here, although this is called up by long-pressing the Menu key.

The volume keys are located on the left-hand side, and the power/lock key is on the opposite flank; both are easy enough to hit without error, and crucially the travel on the power key is softer so that it's much easier to hit when you're juggling it in the palm – compare that to its predecessor, where you could accidentally drop it trying to shut off the screen.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

The 3.5mm headphone jack lives on the top of the phone, bucking the lower placement on other 4.3-inch screen phones, and the micro USB slot (which also doubles as an HDMI out port) lives on the bottom.

The only other element of note is the 8.1MP camera with single LED flash on the rear – it's slightly raised, but not so much that it disrupts the Samsung Galaxy S2 when you're placing it on a table, thanks to a rear lip to help you hold the phone.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

We actually (foolishly, in hindsight) unboxed the phone while bouncing about on a powerboat on the Thames – and luckily, there was a camera rolling the whole time. (Note - we're well aware of the stupid spec mistakes we made while on the boat. Some were down to information given to us by Samsung that changed, and some due to sheer confusion at being thrown 10 feet in the air and having our spine crushed.)

Interface

Samsung realised the importance of keeping its phones up to date, initally shipping the Galaxy S2 with Android 2.3.3, although the Ice Cream Sandwich update arrived six months after it was released by Google. It's also packing TouchWiz 4.0, the latest version from the Korean firm, and it's a real upgrade.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Before we dive into the new features, we'll deal with the most important point: how it feels under the finger. And we're pleased to say it's the best out there in our opinion. Using dual 1.2GHz Samsung Orion CPUs means the Galaxy S2 can keep up with whatever you throw at it without a hint of slowdown.

And then we get onto the 4.0.4 upgrade:the S2 was clearly built for Gingerbread (Android 2.3).

It felt natural to use, where as ICS felt a little disjointed from the hardware. 4.0.4 feels more fluid and natural, much smoother, like it was really intended for the phone, rather than just being software pushed to keep consumers happy

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Be it pinching the screen to call up the exploded view of all your home screens, pulling up an application or simply scrolling through reams of photos, the Galaxy S2 is capable of matching it all. We're not usually blown away by a phone's response, but we couldn't beat the S2, even after we opened all the applications on the menu.

The large screen may make reaching all areas of the display slightly tricky in one hand, especially for those with small palms, but that's a rarity, and a secondary hand can easily be called in.

The TouchWiz interface is overhauled again, and to good effect in our eyes. The Samsung Galaxy S2 has a WVGA screen, which is now markedly lower-res than the likes of the HTC One X and Galaxy S3 with their HD screens, but it can still pack a load of widgets all over the place.

The same Android system is in place on the S2, but there are loads more widgets on offer to chuck around the home screen, and like the Motorola Defy, these are all easy to resize by dragging the corner to increase the functionality.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

We're fans of the way Samsung has split the screen for customising the home screens, enabling users to sweep across the options at the bottom while seeing what space is left on the display, and easy resizing makes the interface as clean as you want it to be.

Dragging down the notifications bar from the top of the screen usually just gives info on emails and messages, but Samsung also enables users to turn on Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and more, plus set the sound options on the phone with a simple tap.

The Music player is also controllable from here, meaning you don't have to constantly move in and out of the player to change tracks.

The Samsung Galaxy S2 also features a folder system, much like Apple, except it's a little more convoluted to use that the iOS version.

You have to enter the editing mode (by pressing the menu key or long-pressing on the screen) and create a new folder. Then you can drag icons into it, and confirm it's ready - then tapping the name (properly) in edit mode enables you to change the name easily.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

We like being able to organise our apps, but we're sure there's an easier way. If only we could just, we don't know, drag them onto one another and have the folders auto-create?

This is a feature now embedded in vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich, so it's irritating to not have the option here.

With Ice Cream Sandwich comes a new multitasking menu. Hold down on the physical button to bring up the menu and you're greeted by a column of thumbnail images of apps you currently have running.

Swiping left or right over an app will close it and remove it from the list - a really quick and easy way to keep on top of the apps you have running and to switch between them.

You're also spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing an unlock method for your Galaxy S2. Head over to Settings > Security and you have the choice from the zero-secure 'slide to unlock' option, novelty, low-security face unlock, pattern, pin and top brass password.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

One new novelty idea, the two finger accelerometer zooming, was pretty cool but a little pointless. The idea is you hold two fingers on the screen for an internet page or photo (basically anywhere you might pinch to zoom) and tilt the phone backwards and forwards to zoom in and out.

It's cool and fun to show your friends, but ultimately a little pointless when pinching to zoom works so much better.

Another addition that comes in with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is the ability to restart the Samsung Galaxy S2, instead of having to turn the handset off and then on again.

This is useful if you quickly want to wipe the RAM or if a software update or app install requires a reboot. Just hold down the power/lock key on the right-hand side of the Samsung Galaxy S2 to bring up the Phone options menu.

The interface on the Samsung Galaxy S2 might seem a little complex to an iPhone user, since it's chock-full of contextual menus, pinches, zooms, scrolls and dragging. But spend just a few minutes familiarising yourself and you'll find a phone that refuses to give in under the finger, and is full to bursting with functionality.

Calling and contacts

While the Samsung Galaxy S2 has a relatively large screen and seems to be all about movies and the internet, it's important to remember that under the hood it's still a phone.

And the phoning capabilities of the device are perfectly sound, and the contacts management system is as deeply integrated as anything we've seen.

Contacts

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Samsung has always favoured the set up of tweaking the standard Android contacts management system, where tapping a person's profile picture from anywhere will call up options to phone, message, email and more.

The Ice Cream Sandwich update has removed the ability to jump to Contacts from the Phone app and vice-versa, which may confuse Galaxy S2 users who are used to the Android Gingerbread layout.

It's still easy to call or message someone from the contact list, with a right to left swipe over the person calling them and left to right opening up the messaging screen.

This is done by synchronising as many accounts as you can from the outset – once you've downloaded the official Facebook and Google+ applications, this functionality is added in too - with high-res pictures coming across from the Google+ account.

However, Twitter has inexplicably been removed, so no longer can you have your friends linked into their 140-character long missives. This is still compatible with ICS, as the HTC One X still allows it, but Samsung has called time on the option. Annoying.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

A word of caution if you're upgrading from another Android phone: if you've been chucking Google contacts in left, right and centre previously, you might find loads of duplicates when you first set up your Samsung Galaxy S2.

We'd advise you to head into the Google Mail site on your computer and have a look at the contacts on there. A simple Find and Merge Duplicates search will work wonders.

Once you've called in all your contacts, it's a simple (yet slightly time consuming) process of joining them all up. On some Android phones this is a real pain, asking you to click Edit, then Join Contacts then go to find the person in question.

On the Galaxy S2 it's a little simpler – hit the Joined Contacts section in your contact's profile and you'll be given a list of suggestions to tie in with.

However, it's not overly intuitive – there were plenty of occasions when we had to manually search for someone when they had the same first name on Facebook and should have been automatically suggested.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

When you compare this to the likes of the HTC One X, with its almost eerie recognition of the person you're after (plus a list of names it thinks you should join up to speed things up) it's not in the same league.

One cool option is the ability to set default options for everything – be it profile picture, email address or phone number for messaging or calling. This means you can have a buddy's Facebook picture as their default icon, but use another account for emailing and such.

Like HTC's Sense UI, Samsung enables you to see ways in which you've interacted with the contact, a list of their recent status updates and access to online albums. However, if you want to actually see their pics, you'll need to jump out to the Facebook site, so no native support here, unlike the HTC Incredible S, for instance.

Scrolling through the contacts is once again a dream – either search using the keypad, slide down the side to the desired letter or just scroll down – there's no hint of slowdown here.

Smart dialling is also included, enabling users to type in a number using predictive text on the dial pad and have the relevant number come up. Pretty slick and helpful when in a hurry.

Calling

The call quality on the Samsung Galaxy S2 is excellent too – be it noise reduction control or a loud speaker and earpiece, we couldn't fault the phone for its calling abilities.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Video calling is also firmly integrated, thanks to the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android, and is a simple option on the bottom of each contact profile. We tried this out a few times with some random friends, but we reckon you'll struggle to find many out there at the moment who can accept your video chat request. Not that or our friends don't want to look at us. Actually....

The noise reduction control is cool – turning it on and off led to a marked difference in call quality. We're not sure why you would want to turn it on and off as it's a very good way to be, you know, heard, but it's there if you want it and want to prove how snazzy your phone is.

Another option we like is that when you hang up a call you get options to call or message the person. If you've forgotten to say something, or need to tell them something in private, it's a real time saver.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

One gripe and one we've bleated about before is that in the call log list, the default option is to have everything listed at once – including incoming and outgoing messages.

Samsung has listened to its fans with the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update, providing a toggle option in the logs feature so you can select the information which displays there. Our preference was "All Calls" - getting rid of those pesky message logs, but there are a number of options to please your taste.

And with 4.0.4 you now get access to contacts on the dialler screen, which improves things immensely too.

Signal quality was well within acceptable parameters: when in our favourite low-signal hotspot (the middle toilet cubicle on the 3rd floor) we dropped to the normal one bar, but the HSDPA signal held on for grim life, keeping the internet connected at all times - and we didn't experience one dropped call through our tests.

Messaging

With a dual-core phone, you'd expect a plethora of messaging options, and once again we're not disappointed with the Samsung Galaxy S2.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

We'll list the options we've got just to show you: POP/IMAP email, Gmail, Exchange, Google Talk, MSN Messenger, SMS, Text, Twitter and Facebook. OK, so the last two are only available by adding the apps, but still – it's an easy step to get them on there.

The reason we've included them on there is that Samsung's Social Hub gives you access to all the above. Should you receive a message from any of the listed options, it will appear in this application with a little notification icon, making it very easy to respond and keep up to date.

We've always shied away from the poor integration of Samsung's Social Hub in the past, as it's often been just a place to send Facebook and Twitter updates – but this one is actually useful and really works as an integrated hub.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

You can still use it as a place to see your integrated Facebook and Twitter feeds, but it's so messy in terms of interface that unless you only have a few friends and people you follow, it's not much use.

The email client is much improved over the previous iteration of the Galaxy S2 - with Android 4.0 ICS comes greater power. This means no more terrible updating of the messages when you need them, and push options now come through on time.

Also, there's now an easy way to select multiple messages thanks to selectable boxes next to each email, meaning you can manage your messages with much greater aplomb. Well done, Samsung.

On both the text and email clients, we're treated to a dual window view when holding the Galaxy S2 in landscape – it works very well if you're searching for a message and is really cool to show off, but probably more use in email than text messaging.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

The keyboard on the Samsung Galaxy S2 is a middling effort – we're not talking in terms of accuracy, as it's actually pretty good on that front, but in terms of actual use it's slightly frustrating.

Thankfully, Samsung has removed the voice input key, which did lie to just to the left of the keyboard, as part of the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update, but we would have liked to see it replaced with a comma button, which is clearly going to be used far more.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

The keyboard is also rather poorly spaced – we can't count the amount of times we accidentally hit the full stop key instead, and the autocorrect can be a little schizophrenic at times when deciding what word you're actually after.

Swype is included by default though, enabling those who like it to slide around the keyboard writing letters. Swype has divided opinion here at Casa del TechRadar, as some people feel it really adds speed, and others think it is just too inaccurate. If you're into it, the large keys make it a joy to use.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

If you really can't stand the Samsung keyboard, and don't fancy voice or Sywpe, then head on over to Google Play.

There are a number of different keyboards on offer - so free, others paid - with our personal favourite being Swiftkey X.

The keyboard in landscape is nice to use too, with the slimmer chassis making it easy to hit all the keys. If you've got word suggestions running it can be a problem though, as the suggested options will mask the text, which seems like something of a design oversight.

Again, we're giving the Samsung Galaxy S2 a big tick for its messaging capabilities – there's a plethora of options here, and it's very easy indeed to stay connected through pretty much any method you can think of.

Internet

The internet browser on the Samsung Galaxy S2 isn't too different from the stock Android offering, with the obvious difference of being so fast at times it may make your socks fall off.

The Galaxy S2 can handle download speeds of up to 21Mbps on HSPA+ – so it's heavily future-proofed there (although won't be able to get to the dizzying speeds of DCHSPA coming later this summer), and the ability to use Wi-Fi over 802.11n means speeds are at a maximum throughout the internet browser.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

The WVGA screen looks pin sharp when zoomed out on a whole web page, and you can double tap to speedily get to a legible level of text, no matter where you are on the page.

Android 4.0.4 has seen the addition of a refresh button in the URL bar, allowing you to quickly and easily re-load the page you are viewing, without having to pop open the menu and select it from there.

One gripe we do have is the text reflow, as it doesn't do it automatically – you have to dive into the browser settings and select 'Auto-fit pages', which gives the less than perfect result you can see.

It squashes the text to the left, which means you can zoom in more without losing text off the side, but if you want to get up close and personal with each word, expect to slide sideways - a lot.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

But on the plus side is the Flash video support – it's now much easier to turn this on and off in the browser settings than before too, should you not want it all the time.

Oddly the Flash experience seems even better than on some quad core phones, with the screen providing flawless video a lot of the time.

Thumbnailed bookmarks are, as ever, a nice touch, and with the history and most visited sections also on offer it's very easy to see what bookmarks you should be putting into the main section - and you can now access your saved bookmarks from your Google account in the browser thanks to the Android 4.0.4 update.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

When you have a page you want to share with the world, the Android internet browser is a great way to do so – simply click the correct option in the settings menu and you'll be able to pump it out to Twitter, Facebook, Messaging, Email or even via Wi-Fi or through RSS.

The discovery of new RSS feeds doesn't go anywhere natively on the phone but to the Google Reader – thankfully this is as easy as tapping the icon in the address bar and you'll have it synched up in no time (or you can copy the URL into another app if you so wish).

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

However now the Samsung Galaxy S2 runs Ice Cream Sandwich you can download the Google Chrome Beta browser, to give you a different surfing experience.

The easy to use tabbed browsing option makes it simple to work with multiple windows, and because of Google's fancy integration skills you can sync the browser with your PC - meaning you can continue browsing when you leave the office and head home.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

There are numerous other browsers also available in Google Play, such as Opera and Dolphin, if you fancy something a bit different.

The Samsung Galaxy S2 also offers you the option to save web pages for offline reading, which is a nice touch, and the ability to print the page or the text – although this only works on a wireless Samsung printer, but is a nifty notion if you're set up already.

Camera

The Samsung Galaxy S2 has an 8MP sensor with single LED flash and a multitude of shooting options.

We're used to a heritage from Samsung phones in the photography department – remember the ill-fated Pixon 12, anyone? – and this has filtered down 'normal' phones to offer a stable and impressive camera experience.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

We're not talking anything near the quality levels offered by the massive 41MP Nokia N808 PureView, HTC One X or iPhone 4S – some of the best camera phones on the market at the moment – but it's not bad, and now comes complete with panorama mode with Ice Cream Sandwich.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

What we like here is the way that Samsung has nailed down the features users actually want from their camera phone – a device that enables you to take a photo every once in a while, and make it a decent one when you do.

We've knocked together some spiffing camera tips in a little video for you here, so see what you think:

The camera application fires up in just over a second (sadly there's no physical shutter button, so we recommend putting the application on your home screen) and is ready to take pictures instantly.

Shutter speed is now slow compared to the competition (amazing to think it was super speedy a year ago), with around three to four seconds between shots at maximum resolution if you're taking a few in quick succession. This has nothing to do with picture size, as the processor can handle all of them easily; it's the autofocus that's a little tardy.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

There's no option to turn it off either, so something like the Sony Xperia S is a much better option if you're after a snappy shutter.

However, the shutter speed will be adequate for most, and the range of shooting modes on offer will make up for it too.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Outdoor visibility mode is a godsend – basically it's Samsung turning up the contrast to silly levels on your screen so it can burn through direct sunlight. The quality is much poorer, but at least you can see what you're snapping, and it's a real boon for outdoor shots.

The shooting modes are a mixed bag – action mode doesn't do what you think it will, instead creating a collage of lots of frames from a moving scene. Beauty and Panorama mode are OK too, but the options to Cartoon-ify a scene seem a bit pointless indeed.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Of more use are the macro modes, exposure alteration and the automatic metering, which help actually make the photo look better by bringing up the correct colours and brightness.

Blink detection and smile shot both work well though, with the former picking up a couple of family portraits where people ruined them with shut eyes and the latter firing when a smile was seen – although most of the time you'll be able to see that and push the shutter yourself.

If there are certain modes and features you regularly use, you can pin these to the left hand bar on the camera app, with the Galaxy S2 allowing you to add 4 of your favourite options. Just hold down on an icon, or in a blank space - and a menu will pop up allowing you to drag and drop the features you want.

A word of warning: if you turn on the anti-shake capabilities of the Samsung Galaxy S2, then be prepared for a few attempts at getting it to focus. Your pictures might be less blurry, but will take longer to shoot in some cases.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

A normal, well-lit scene picks out nearly all the detail at a quick shutter speed.

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Samsung galaxy s2 review

Dark scenes with no flash suffer quite badly.

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Samsung galaxy s2 review

This Harry Potter-loving fool is well captured with the flash, however, and from quite a distance.

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Samsung galaxy s2 review

Long shots manage to maintain detail well.

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Samsung galaxy s2 review

The 4x zoom does get a bit noisy, but the pictures are still perfectly usable.

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Samsung galaxy s2 review

We can confirm that none of these are mobile phone unicorns.

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Samsung galaxy s2 review

The macro mode is impressive, with the user having to get very close indeed for the auto focus not to work.

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Video

The Samsung Galaxy S2 has the all-important 30fps 1080p Full HD video recording at its heart, and it works jolly well indeed.

The range of options is less extensive than the standard camera, but nonetheless it's more than enough.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Exposure and white balance can all be calibrated manually to ensure you're getting the best resolution, and touch to focus will also alter the brightness of the scene, although this will revert back once you've let go.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

A video light is also included for darker scenes, which is a godsend for when you're trying to get the Galaxy S2 to actually work out what's going on for an...er, art movie.

As you can see below, fast moving scenes hurt things a little bit when it came to autofocus – it could have been a lot smoother and sharper at times in our view.

LG optimus 2x

Media

Asking whether media is important to the Samsung Galaxy S2 is like asking rhubarb whether it's into custard – the two are meant to be together.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

What's impressive is the phone is still a very, very capable media player for its new low cost, with a still-great screen and a video player that's impossible to fault.

From the huge screen that's perfect for watching movies to the sheer range of getting stuff onto your handset (check out the Connectivity section of this review to find out all about the different version of Kies) we were blown away by what we think is the erstwhile king of media phones.

The Samsung Galaxy S2 is also adept at Bluetooth streaming – using our Jabra Clipper accessory we were able to easily go wire-free when out and about, and there was no hint of judder in the audio, thanks to Bluetooth 3.0.

There's 12GB of internal memory for media supplied, and the microSD cards in the box appear to start at 4GB, but that will vary by network or supplier of the phone.

Music

The music player on the Samsung Galaxy range has always been pretty impressive, with 5.1 virtual surround sound making it easy to improve the quality of the tunes you're listening to.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

The quality is above average sonically, and you'll find a number of reasons to like the music player here. The simple ability of having a music control widget in the notification bar means you can easily switch between tracks no matter where you are in the phone.

An equaliser is offered from within the application too, and this can be used with a number of presets or a custom setup instead. We particularly liked the Auto setting here, as it actually did improve the quality of a tune when turned off and on.

Smart Playlists are also on offer here, enabling users to see the songs they've just added or listen to the most – come back to this function after a few days of listening and you'll be happy to see all your old favourites in one place.

MP3, WAV, WMA, Flac and eAAC+ files are all supported here, so there's not going to be much you can chuck at the phone that won't come screaming into your ears.

Video

The video player on the Samsung Galaxy S2 gets its own little application this time around, and it's an easy to use system indeed. The screen is so clear it feels like it could cut your eyeballs, and though some movies came out a little orange, it's easy to tweak such problems in the settings menu.

Watching video on the Samsung Galaxy S2 is a decent experience thanks to the larger screen and lighter frame – it's easy to hold in the hand and offers great viewing angles thanks to that Super AMOLED plus screen.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

If you're into watching videos in the bright sunshine, Samsung has thought of that on the Galaxy S2 as well. Simply turn on the outdoor brightness and the screen will lower the quality but increase the contrast so you can see what's going on. It won't look as pretty, but you'll at least be able to see the action.

The range of file types supported is impressive too: MP4, M4V, Xvid, DivX, AVI, 3GP – in fact, not once did we get the dreaded 'file type not supported' error message. You can even choose the video aspect ratio, which is a key ingredient if you're using different types of file, as too often we were forced to watch widescreen movies in 4:3 ratio when we shouldn't have had to on other phones.

FM Radio

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

The FM radio is worth noting, as it's highly sensitive and works pretty well in normal use – which is more than we can say for most FM radios on handsets.

It supports RDS so you can see which station you're listening to, but we could only make this feature fire when we tuned into BBC stations or Smooth FM – and if Smooth can't do it, then we don't want it as a feature.

The UI is cool too, with the large central knob making it easy to jump from frequency to frequency – the only downside is we were unable to record radio from within the application, something Samsung usually loves to be able to do on its phones.

AllShare

AllShare is Samsung's DLNA client that lets you stream media from your phone to a PC or TV (or vice versa if you want).

We've tried this before on the Samsung Wave, but this time things are different – you can browse your PC's hard drive and simply select a film or music file to listen to. If you're on your way out, simply download it over the Wi-Fi connection and you'll be able to take it with you in a few seconds.

The fact this now works is a real boon, and something you should definitely check out if you're just thinking about throwing files from a computer to the Galaxy S2.

Battery life and connectivity

The Samsung Galaxy S2 may be the most well-connected phone we've ever seen – there's pretty much nothing we can think of that's available on a smartphone that isn't somehow crammed in here. Well, maybe infrared, but that's possibly pushing it a little bit.

But the more important question is: does all that connecting and suchlike affect the performance of the battery? It's all very well being light and thin, but if it won't work, it's pretty pointless.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

Battery life

It's usually pretty easy to state battery life on a smartphone – 90% of them will last a day, perhaps a day and bit. Either way, it's a nightly charge if you don't want to end up with a dead device.

With the Galaxy S2, it's a little more difficult to state the battery life, as we were so busy playing with it all the time we never could get an accurate read out. However, we eventually stood firm in the face of temptation, and it's good (ish) news.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

The not-so-good news is that if you're playing with the Samsung Galaxy S2 all the time as we were (and we mean listening to Spotify, browsing the web via 3G, watching videos frequently, whacking out some maps here and there with GPS, reading books, using Push email and playing games) then you'll be lucky to get 10 hours of battery out of it – and that's with the enhanced 1650mAh battery wedged on board.

Then again, the fact that using a device a lot makes the battery run down quickly shouldn't be a shock to any human being – it just seems that a lot of people expect a phone to be able to do it all and then fight a Duracell bunny at midnight too.

In real terms (ie four months in when you're used to having all the functions and don't feel the need to play with the S2 every seven seconds) you'll be laughing, as we actually managed to eke out nearly two days' use, even with accounts syncing in the background.

Either it's the dual cores or Android 4.0 making things more efficient, but if you're away for the weekend and forget your charger, you can definitely use the Galaxy S2 as a calling and texting tool the entire time you're away without worry.

However, we'd estimate that you'll probably still be charging every day under normal conditions. We just had to say it – a review doesn't feel right without it. But at least the Samsung Galaxy S2 won't run down in six hours regularly.

Connectivity

Here's where it gets tricky – Samsung has decided to throw in so much new tech that we may have to spend some time explaining it.

The main connections are already present and correct: Wi-Fi to b/g/n standard (although it's not the strongest – even next to the router it will only display two bars of signal, but it holds connection fine enough) Bluetooth

Wi-Fi Direct

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

This is a relatively new one to us, but thankfully it's not too hard to explain – think Bluetooth but using Wi-Fi, and running faster.

It's set up in the same way as Bluetooth – search for devices transmitting, link up with a confirmation box, and away you go. We could only test this on our PC, but the setup was simply one click, and exchanging large files was much faster than over Bluetooth.

You're also able to do the same with printers, but currently only Samsung ones. This will likely change in the future though.

Kies

Kies is Samsung's proprietary PC software, and it's pretty comprehensive. From media management to application adding, it's the best way to interact with your phone.

It does take a while to load though – and be prepared for it to be a bit unstable on start-up at times. However, after that it's one of the better platforms for getting media onto a phone, with simple dragging and dropping with search thrown in making it easy to find what you want.

And if the heady list of media playback options isn't good enough for your video collection, the Kies software will re-encode them for you too.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

Backing up the phone is also possible here, making it a good idea to plug in and save your files once in a while, given that it's a relatively painless experience to do so.

The only downside is that it will install apps for you, but only the Samsung ones, which we're still perplexed about. Why have them at all? Is Samsung paying an engineer to come up with these? More on that later.

Kies Air

You might think, like we did, that this is the wireless version of Kies. It's not... it's much better than that.

Simply type the IP address of the phone into any internet-connected browser (although it has to be on the same network) and the phone will start a potted down version of Kies in the window.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

Using this interface you can add bookmarks, browse messages and contacts, download media – it basically cranks open your phone and lets you delve inside from the comfort of an internet browser.

You can upload new content from your PC here, although it's a little slow and if you've not got the correct Java platform enabled, you won't be able to upload multiple files.

AllShare

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

We've already covered this to some degree in the media section, but it's worth running through the highlights again.

AllShare is the DLNA client that enables you to connect to a PS3, internet-enabled TV, smartphone or PC wirelessly.

Its main functions in normal use are to enable you to browse the content of your Windows 7 PC's shared folders and download music and video (and this time it works – none of the terrible performance of the Samsung Wave here) and to send content to your TV.

We found the latter to be a little quicker than usual – even the 1080p video we'd recorded that day came out OK and needed minimal buffering, although it often needed to pause in the middle of playback at Full HD level.

USB on the go, NFC and HDMI mirroring

The finaly connectivity elements on the S2 are impressive: NFC on certain models, USB On The Go to allow the phone to connect to hard drives or USB keys and HDMI-mirroring if you own a MHL lead.

That's the issue: making sure you own cables for the latter two. They don't come in the box, and you'll have to scrounge around on eBay to find them.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

The NFC capability is one we are looking forward to testing out (despite there not being much infrastructure in the UK, yet) but there has yet to be a model that's capable of being used as a payment machine in the UK.

HDMI mirroring is also available through the micro USB port – some TVs are also able to support charging using this method, and you can see exactly what's happening on the phone's screen on a big TV. It's a great way to play some gyroscope-enabled games – less fun to just see a pixellated version of Angry Birds.

Hubs

We've decided to dedicate a section of this review to the Samsung Galaxy S2's Hubs, since they're a real upgrade on what we've seen before from Samsung.

We're omitting the Social Hub as it's already been covered in the Messaging section of this review, but the rest of them are a little more complex and worthy of a little more delving.

Gaming Hub

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

We were hoping Samsung would bestow us with something like this when we first saw the Galaxy S2, and the brand has delivered.

The Gaming Hub is the easiest place to get the titles you want to expand the graphical capabilities of your new S2, and it offers them in, if not spades, trowels.

The Hub is split into two sections – free mess-about games and Premium offerings. The former is pretty good for many titles – we liked Air Hockey as it could be played with two people on that large screen, and was easy enough to waste time with on a commute.

The Premium section isn't too full at the moment – NOVA 2 with the gyroscope sensor was the best we could find when jumping in – and the games aren't too expensive at £3 a pop (charged to your phone bill... dangerous).

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

However, with free trials we can see this taking off if users really test out the power of their device, and the gyroscope worked like a dream – way better than the iPhone 4, in our opinion.

The graphics are still a little underpowered, so we're waiting to see what titles really test that Adreno 205 GPU.

One annoying point (although understandable) is that you have to download most games over Wi-Fi rather than 3G, because they're pretty huge in terms of file sizes.

It's 200MB for the NOVA game, for instance, so be ready to cue it all up before you leave the house.

Reader Hub

The Reader Hub is an odd little application when you first open it, as it presents you with three bookshelves which aren't actually interactive – they're just gateways to newspapers, magazines or books.

We were a little sceptical about the functionality of all of these items at first, especially as Samsung has ditched the excellent Aldiko e-book reader from the Galaxy S in favour of Kobo.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

But a little exploration combined with the power of the 4.3-inch Super AMOLED plus screen meant that we were soon using our Galaxy S2 to read all manner of content any time we had a few spare seconds on our hands.

The newspapers section has grown rapidly since launching last year, and now it's actually worth trolling through to find a title that interests you.

What's annoying about this is the sky high price of the digital editions – not so much if you use one of the paid-for titles, like the Observer, but given the Evening Standard is free already, we baulk at paying for it just so we don't have to throw it down on our train seat later on.

There are seven free issues to get you started on the newspaper section – we advise you don't use all seven on one paper as you'll likely be hooked after that. The papers will download every day with a little notification, and once opened you can browse page overviews, tables of contents or read each article in text form to make it easier on the eyes.

The latter function falls apart over double page spreads, with the article simply cutting off in these scenarios, but overall we're impressed and will likely be signing up just to read the sports section with ease. Wait, hang on, we can do the same thing for free on the internet. Forget that.

Samsung galaxy s2 review

The Kobo book reader, as we mentioned, isn't as good as Aldiko in our opinion – both offer the same functionality, but Aldiko has a greater range of free classics, a slider to adjust brightness and enables users to hit the volume key to turn pages. It's free on the Android Market and we suggest you download it instead... the Hub will survive.

The final option is magazines from Zinio – again, like newspapers, available on a subscription-based model and like the newspapers, very cool to use and browse through. We still think that mags are better suited to tablets, but they're perfectly legible on the Galaxy S2, and if you're after some time savings from trekking to the newsagents, they're a decent alternative.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Music Hub

The Music Hub is the Galaxy S2's version of iTunes – it's the same price at 99p per track for the most part, but is powered by 7digital.

We were initially a little unsure about this portal, as searching for some artists yielded little of what we were searching for – some artists were only listed under poor acts covering them. However, they were in there – we stumbled across them under Associated Artists later on, so we're not sure what's happening with that.

If you're after an easy way to search for and download music, this is an excellent option – however Amazon MP3 is a cheaper alternative and offers the same functionality with some better special offers.

Apps and maps

Maps

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

We're glad Samsung has continued to see sense and get rid of its own brand of mapping software on the Google-powered phones – Google Maps is excellent and doesn't need a competitor on these sorts of devices.

The new 6.5 Google Maps application runs faster than a chocolate-covered pig through GreaseTown on the Samsung Galaxy S2, with elements like vector-based graphics zooming in and out with no hint of slowdown, and the 3D models of certain cities jumping out without a hitch.

The sat nav functionality was equally impressive – no need to download the voice software to make this one work for once, and we were off and running with a simple click of the icon – the Galaxy S2 managed to lock our GPS in less than five seconds, and we were away in no time at all.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

The voice search in these conditions works very well too, with the Galaxy S2 using Vlingo technology to understand your words and learn as you use it more often – we're not sure if it's used in the Google Navigation application, but the accuracy certainly seemed improved.

Another point we were happy with – the compass on the Samsung Galaxy S2 was more accurate than anything we've seen recently on smartphones, and actually pointed in the right direction most of the time. We know, startling, eh?

Apps

The Samsung Galaxy S2 is metaphorically bursting at the seams with pre-installed applications, from the decent BBC iPlayer to the standard Android calendar (with support for Exchange too).

Here's the apps we think you'll be impressed with when you first fire up the phone – and we love how many of them there are.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Polaris Office

A fully functional document suite, with support for both viewing and editing documents. An Astro-like file manager enables you to view all your folders in the phone, and a search function makes it easy to find the elements you were looking for.

My Files

We mentioned the Astro File Manager earlier, and Samsung has placed its own version of the app on the Samsung Galaxy S2, making it easy to find the files you've lost.

The only problem is you can't search through these files as you might on Astro – we recommend you still download the free application instead.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Voice Talk

Samsung has placed a Google Voice rival on the Galaxy S2, enabling users to tap a big blue button and speak to open contacts, mail, music, navigation and more.

It's powered by Vlingo and promises to get more attuned to your voice as time goes on; we found that this was somewhat true, but overall we tried to speak precisely and clearly anyway.

This application is accessed by double tapping the home button as well, meaning you're only ever two clicks away from issuing commands to your phone using the power of your voice.

Photo/Video editor

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

The appearance of iMovie on the iPhone got companies all hot under the collar – having jettisoned their rubbish movie-making applications they seem to be, like video calling, back with a semi-pointless vengeance.

You can slice up a video and add a theme and photos and transitions and music and blah blah blah, but it's still relatively boring in the end when you get a pre-made theme of your time at the beach.

Now Photo Editor we're bigger fans of, as you can crop, flip, colour fix and even smart select objects within the photo – all of which make it easy to improve the quality of your snaps.

The smart selection tool is a little weird, as it can be hard to accurately make it choose the right area – but overall, a neat little app.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Task Manager

A simple application that makes it easy to uninstall applications, shut down the ones you're no longer using and clear the phone out completely and reboot the amount of RAM available to you.

The latter can be a tricky one, as it basically shuts down everything that's not doing something critically important at that time. This means all your widgets will reboot and the Samsung Galaxy S2 will stutter as it scrambles to reload everything – you have been warned.

Data usage

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

We're all consuming more and more data on our phones and it's easy to go over your monthly allowance and rack up a huge bill. Luckily the data usage app, which comes as standard with Ice Cream Sandwich, is here to help.

It keeps track of how much mobile data (so not Wi-Fi usage) you use and you can easily set an alert and limit, to prevent you from getting a shock at the end of the month in your bill.

Mini diary

We've seen this on multiple Samsung smartphones before, and we've never been sure of its purpose. Basically you take a photo, put it in the diary, write where you were (or use GPS to do it for you) and say something funny about it.

AccuWeather then provides details of the current conditions and... well... that's it. No uploading, no saving them somewhere else, just a list of photos and places you've been. It's a cute application, sure, but useful? We're not convinced.

Samsung Galaxy S2 review

Samsung Apps

Of course, there's also a whole galaxy (arf) of other applications available on Google Play – which makes Samsung's decision to implement its own app store all the more perplexing.

It's got around 30 applications in there such as Movies and Road SMS (which enables you to type text messages over the camera screen so you don't walk into things. However, this is only useful if you type with the phone right in front of your eyes, which nobody does).

It's a pointless hub, but Samsung loves it and once you turn off the updates to let you know when there are more apps available for download, you can ignore it happily for the rest of your life.

Benchmarks

tablet benchmarks

Samsung Galaxy S2

How it rates against the rest - higher is better

S2

How we test

TechRadar aims to produce the most helpful phone reviews on the web, so you're able to make a more informed buying decision.

Part of this testing process includes benchmarking. It's a good way of measuring the overall performance of a product's internal hardware components.

We use Antutu System Benchmark to test tablets. It's a comprehensive Android benchmarking app and produces consistent results.

Antutu measures an Android device's CPU performance, 2D and 3D graphics performance, memory speed and internal and external storage read/write speeds. It combines the results for each test and gives the device a final score.

We test each device three times and take an average.

Hands on gallery

Samsung galaxy s2 review

Samsung galaxy s2 review

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Samsung galaxy s2 review

Samsung galaxy s2 review

Samsung galaxy s2 review

Samsung galaxy s2 review

Samsung galaxy s2 review

Official gallery

Samsung galaxy s2 review

Samsung galaxy s2 review

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Samsung galaxy s2 review

Samsung galaxy s2

Verdict

And so we come to the end of our epic Samsung Galaxy S2 review – and we know some of you might have jumped straight here to see what we think.

However, if you're considering purchasing this phone, we recommend you take a look through our review, as there's a lot to cover in the new phone and we wouldn't want you to miss anything now, would we?

But if you're after a one-word summary of the Samsung Galaxy S2: awesome. We've were waiting for a phone to set a benchmark among the dual-core breed, and we found it in the Samsung Galaxy S2.

We liked

*Clears throat* We liked nigh-on EVERYTHING on the Samsung Galaxy S2. It's rare we get to evangelise a handset so much – in fact we haven't managed to do so since we opened the box on the HTC Desire and realised a slick experience could live outside the iPhone.

But with the Samsung Galaxy S2, things have been ratcheted up a notch. The Super AMOLED plus screen, with improved sub-pixel density, is a joy to behold, and the 4.3-inch screen size is made palatable for smaller hands thanks to the ridiculously thin dimensions.

The lightning fast reaction time of the phone was amazing too – of course, it falls behind the likes of the S3 and LG Optimus 4X with their fancy-pants quad-core processors, but it's not leagues behind - think Bowser vs Toad trying to accelerate in Mario Kart and you get the picture. Unless you've never played Mario Kart. In which case: it's a little bit slower.

The pre-loaded applications, including the task manager and Polaris Office Suite, are for the most part excellent additions, and the sheer range of connectivity made the Galaxy S2 a fully-fledged phone out of the box.

Kies Air, Wi-Fi Direct, USB on the go – this phone is indeed future proofed, and while we couldn't tax the handset with any properly hardcore games, everything we threw at it worked like a charm.

In short, simply being able to open Google Maps and have your location in under a second is the kind of thing we love to be able to do, and the Samsung Galaxy S2 is the only handset we know that does it this well.

While it's not an out and out positive point, the battery power of the Galaxy S2 was more than useful in every day use. It's not going to blow your mind, but smartphones today have to be very careful they don't drain before you get home, and provided you don't spend most of your waking hours playing with the phone, it will do just fine.

We disliked

There's not much we didn't like if we're honest, which is testament to the constant evolution of Samsung's phones.

The keyboard is a little ropey, and the unlocking mechanism (swiping the screen to move it out of the way) looked a little cheap and nasty at times.

The plastic construction might reduce the weight, but it still feels a bit inexpensive when people will be looking for the ultimate phone design for the price.

The video recording can be a little patchy at Full HD, with the focus going in and out a bit at times.

We're still perplexed about why Samsung Apps is still an option here – avoid it and go to Google Play instead.

Final verdict

You only need to look at the disparity between the things we liked and things we didn't to see what this phone is all about – and if we're honest, some of those dislikes wouldn't have made it into most phone reviews, but we didn't want it to look ridiculous.

The Samsung Galaxy S2 is a phone we're excited to whip out in a pub and show off to our friends – it's the ultimate media mobile, the next generation in web browsing thanks to slick Flash integration, a very good replacement for a pocket camcorder and, goshdarnit, it makes calls pretty well too.

If you're at the higher end of phone contracts already, we insist you must check this phone out. If you're more of a budget user, you might want to get the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 (which is essentially an S2 Mini) but steer clear of any friends who have the full S2 – you'll be green with envy in no time.

The Samsung Galaxy S2 not only set a new bar for smartphones; it smashed the bar, recreated it in its own image and put it out of reach of the competition. It's not the best phone on the market any more, but it's still gosh-darned good.

Samsung Galaxy S2 Android 2.3 Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread dual-core
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