AT&T Samsung Galaxy S II Review [Video]

September 27, 2011
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Welcome back to one of the quickest and highest selling Android-based smartphone series in the Google-based mobil OS' history, here representing with the AT&T version of the Samsung Galaxy S II. This device is the third smartphone to be released with the Galaxy S II name attached, and it's certainly not the last, having been preceded by the original international edition Galaxy S II and the largest display-having version yet in the Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, followed here in the states by the T-Mobile version (also titled Galaxy S II), it having the same large display as the Epic 4G Touch at 4.5-inches but with a different processor than all released versions at this time. This 4.32-inch Super AMOLED Plus display-having dual-core chip toting handset is under the magnifying glass today here by yours truly at Android Community.

Before we go anywhere, have a look here at our unboxing and hands-on video with this device so that you've got an alright idea of what you're getting into. Then head down for a relatively large amount of videos and photos and words galore composed to make you understand the device at hand.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy S II Unboxing and Hands-on

Hardware

We've had some time now with the other two versions of this device that've been released now, noting here that the AT&T version is thus far the closest version we've seen to the original SGSII release, it having the same display size and type, the same processor - the Samsung-made Exynos dual-core SoC clocked at 1.2GHz. [Note here that the next version of this device, the T-Mobile SGSII, will feature a processor created by an entirely different manufacturer.] The version of the Exynos SoC we've got here is one of the top two if not THE top dual-core processor we've come in contact with thus far for Android devices as evidenced by a collection of benchmark tests we performed back a couple of months ago. As you'll see in the Performance section of this review, this remains true today here in the AT&T version of the SGSII.

The chassis on this device, though not absolutely precisely as thin as the original, are still the thinnest on a dual-core device on AT&T - this is also true of each of the other versions of the SGSII for each of their carriers smartphone collections. This phone is also amongst the lightest if not the lightest dual-core device on any carrier, this due in part to the fact that the majority of the device is made of light plastic. This plastic is not light in a way that makes it feel cheap, however, this entire device feeling rather classy and high-quality whilst making a call or tapping away at the web.

You'll find a standard headphone jack at the top aside one of two noise-canceling microphone holes, the other at the bottom of the device aside a microUSB port - this USB port is also MHL enabled, this meaning that you've only to grab your Samsung MHL converter cable to run full-sized HDMI out (at 1080p, no less). At the back of the device on the opposite side of the mic is a speaker grill, this grill sitting inside the smooth part of the plastic which wraps around all parts of the device that aren't the display glass or the battery cover. This battery cover features the GALAXY S II logo in the center in raised matte silver lettering while the bulk of the cover is comprised of a teeny-tiny pebble pattern which makes for a lovely feeling in the hand.

The back-facing camera appears very similar to the original SGSII's composition, it having a silver ring, circular ribs for the cover, and lens aside single-LED flash horizontally - below the flash is 8.0 MEGA to remind you of the rating for the camera's photo-taking abilities, while you must remember 1080p for video on your own. More on this in the Camera section below.

On the right of the device is a single power/lock button, on the right is your volume knob, and on the front you'll find your classic light-up haptic-feedback set of Android menu buttons below a tiny silvery SAMSUNG logo. This is below your 4.32-inch Super AMOLED display, above which the AT&T logo sits at the same scale as the logo below, a speaker grill above this. Your front-facing camera sits to the left aside light and proximity sensors, while your notification light sits hidden on the opposite side of the speaker grill.

You'll find the display to be as bright as you've ever seen a display be and the pixels as dense as you've likely ever seen them, this device amongst the highest definition smartphones on the market today. Though the other two SGSII devices have a slightly larger 4.5-inch display, your humble narrator has found that when faced with a Samsung device at that size or this size, this size feels more like the sweet spot. This is after having used the Samsung Infuse 4G (also 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus) for several weeks and the SGSII Epic 4G Touch for a couple weeks. To see both Super AMOLED Plus displays side by side, simply head to your AT&T store and ask to hold the Infuse 4G next to this SGSII.

One thing I'd like to see samsung push for, and I've noted this before, is more metal. No matter how nice the device feels with this plastic molded in such a precise way that it looks like metal, it simply cannot feel like metal, and at the moment it is metal, more than almost anything else, that makes a smartphone instantly seem high-quality to yours truly. That and curved glass, but that's a story for a different day. Meanwhile this is the most solidly designed smartphone Samsung has on the market today (with perhaps the exception of the international edition with its lovely central button on the front).

Have a look at this hands-on video from when we got to check this device out for the first time at the launch event in New York City:

AT&T Samsung Galaxy S II pre-release hands-on

Then check out our brief encounter with the upcoming accessories for the device as well:

Samsung Galaxy S II accessories eyes-on video

Software

There's a slew of new apps here on the Samsung Galaxy S II with AT&T, many of them exclusive to this line of devices, straight outta Samsung. Aside from your Google apps like Gmail, Music, and the Android Market, you've got such helpful apps as Kies air (see below) and Media Hub (which allows you to view movie trailers, and rent or download both movies and TV shows.) Samsung also adds Social Hub (for Facebook, Twitter, and the like -- Samsung! Where is Google+?), and a rather well-marketed and well-working voice command system powered by Vlingo.

There's a lovely app by the name of Featured Apps on this version of the Galaxy S II that's presented by AT&T and aimed at this phone specifically. Inside you'll find lovely apps galore, each of them quite well suited to this SGSII environment.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy S II Featured Apps app hands-on

Your user interface is the same (or essentially the same from what I can see here) as what we've seen on the Epic 4G Touch, this including your ability to resize widgets for a fit that's what Samsung calls their magazine-style on your homescreens and a rather impressive set of ways to edit both your homescreens and your apps drawer in various ways. Have a look at the following two videos and see what you've got in store. Note that the first shows Philip Berne showing off the Epic 4G Touch, but that the features he's showing off in TouchWiz are the same as what you get here in the AT&T SGSII:

Philip Berne hands-on with TouchWiz 2.3 for USA launch of SGSII

Then watch as we get our first look at all the added features in this version of TouchWiz again courtesy of Samsung's Vice President of Consumer & Enterprise Services Gavin Kim at the SGSII USA launch event as well, all of this taking place in NYC.

Gavin Kim presents USA added TouchWiz 3.4 features rundown

In particular, again, be sure to check out Kies Air when and if you get this device in your hands - it's slick - one button and you've got the entire contents of your smartphone available from any browser on any device inside the same wireless network:

You're running on the Exynos 1.2GHz dual-core processor here, so you're going to be zipping along as fast as your fingers can carry you. You can play any app that isn't specific to a different processor (there's a collection that only works on NVIDIA, for example) or to a different version of Android (the only example being Honeycomb at the moment as it's specifically tablet-sized), with everything you can play or work with here working at its peak performance. This combined with the rather well-working AT&T HSPA+ 4G network here on this device AND the fact that you can take a screenshot simply by holding the Home button and tapping the Power button made the review process for this device a real breeze. Have a look here first at some speed benchmarks and marvel at how well the AT&T HSPA+ appears to be working:

Then witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station with some SGSII benchmarks of all kinds, including AnTuTu, Quadrant (standard and advanced), Linpack (not pro because it rarely works on any device we test it on), CF-Bench, Smartbench (2011 and 2010), and Vellamo.

Remember also that the kernel source for this device is already released, this meaning that not only are new ROMs and other hacks galore on their way, the original Galaxy S II creations on the underground circuit are sure to make their way over to this version soon too!

Camera and Battery

The battery time on this device isn't quite the magical multi-day no-charge masterpiece that its predecessor, the original Galaxy S II, was. Instead you've got a device that, with a few minutes charge here and there (as evidenced in the following image), you'll get days of work without a problem. This isn't the massive battery drainer you're used to with other dual-core, 4G, bright-screen-having devices. Instead Samsung has come one step closer to making the outdated science of regular rechargeable batteries a non-issue.

The camera you've got here is top class for USA-based devices and certainly high up there for the rest of the world as well. The only reason I'd say this isn't the top camera on a smartphone in the world right at this moment is, for example, the Nokia N8 has a 12 megapixel camera - but then again, it can only record video in 720p. The Samsung Galaxy S II records video in 1080p and takes photos at 8 megapixels, and the camera app isn't half bad, having a customizable interface and many different shooting modes and sizes galore.

Have a look at some photo examples and a video example below to see the full fury:

Wrap-Up

What you've got here is the most high-quality smartphone to have been released by Samsung here in the United States thus far. I'd even go so far as to choose this version over the original Galaxy S II because of its improved user interface, (candy de-rezzed, icons clean, and all the rest), and of course, the price (2-year contract notwithstanding). You can grab this phone from AT&T on the 2nd of October, 2011, for $199.99, and believe you me, it's worth every penny.

Samsung has optimized the Samsung Galaxy S II to be the best Android smartphone on the planet, and if you ask me, that's exactly what it is. For now. It's got the most advanced version of Samsung's vision for an ideal device, and here they are to be trusted. Samsung is, on the other hand, creating more versions of the Galaxy S II every day, and until we've got them all in our hands, and until Android ceases to be an operating system, there will be no best device.

At the moment though, this is certainly one of the best. Texas Instruments OMAP4 is ramping up to be a magical dual-core processor in some fantastic future devices and NVIDIA still holds their ground on both the smartphone AND tablet front with their seemingly omnipotent Tegra 2 processor, but as you well know, Samsung has brought it's A-game and it's jamming on all opponents.

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  • Anonymous

    so this ATT version has the other lockscreens? like the puzzle piece?

  • Myblacfriend01

    yeah, i still say my g2x has a better 1080p recording camera. Check it out.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OBW9AVxAAs