Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Samsung Galaxy S II: Maybe the Best Android phone in World?

Phones seem to be raining in my lap lately, and this time I caught one in a nice slim form factor. Even its very plasticy all around, its Super AMOLED+ screen fails to leave me wanting more. The Samsung Galaxy S II seems to be aimed at the enthusiasts, while catoring some mass-market dumb-downs in terms of software. Overall I feel it lacks to premium feel a product of this price should have.

Samsung's Galaxy S I sold very well pretty much everywhere it was sold and perhaps launched Samsung into the top three smartphone manufacturers. It certainly crowned Samsung as the biggest Android manufacturer. Samsung is also slowly taking on an innovator's role in innovating new mobile technology. Samsung already marks the manufacturer with the best quality displays in their devices.

Weightless impressions

Samsung's legacy as a manufacturer with the greatest screens holds true when considering the Samsung Galaxy S II. It is equipped with a super AMOLED screen with a little "+" added to the name. I'm sure a Google search can tell you how AMOLED+ differs from just AMOLED, but I can tell you it looks good.

The Galaxy S II is incredibly thin and it sports a huge 4.3" screen. Otherwise this device would feel huge due to its screen, but its thinness of just about 0.9 cm really makes it dissappear into your pocket. At least it did in mine. The thinness is accompanied by an incredible weightlessness, which adds to the potential to losing this device in your pocket. This I believe is a good thing!

The thinness and lightness is probably what most enthusiasts are looking for in a "latest and greatest" smartphone, and here Sammy's GSII scores a perfect A I imagine. However, for me these factors diminshed how precious the device felt. With weight I associate value, and with the SGSII weighing this little, my impression is flimsy at best.

Mesmerised by the AMOle... woooooow
The huge Super AMOLED+ screen gave the device an initial impression of a mini-tablet of some sort. Gazing over it with a slight dribble of drool down the left side of my face I imagined all the things that would fit on the screen. I'm familiar with the DesireZ, where the screen is "only" 3.7" running at a resolution of 480x800. To much of my surprise, the GSII runs at the exact same resolution. With the added screen real-estate this resolution renders much of the operating system a bit funny looking. Huge fonts are found here and there and many colour gradients lose their effect. Samsung's custom UI utilises simplified boxes and fonts, maximizing approachability and clarity. At the same time it makes the interface quite ugly and oversimplified at times. Another oddity was the somewhat random automatic adjustment of the screen brightness.

Software and design

Note: my Sammy GS2 ran Gingerbread. Not unusual to Android, Samsung's device comes preloaded with a lot of bloatware. Especially bloated are the homescreens on first startup. 5 screens are filled to the brim with Samsung's widgets and shortcuts. Expect to spend the first 10mins of using this device just getting rid of everything. Another common thing to the Android experience is the constant overlapping of services and creation of new accounts for ambiguous benefits. I for one signed up for a "Samsung account" when prompted, but failed to find any place in the system where I could benefit from this. I suspect it demanded the creation to check for system updates. How rude.

Learning Android really requires you to understand which apps are part of core Android and which apps are just core apps customised by the manufacturer for hopes of bringing extra value to the device. This might lead to you enabling your Facebook account and contacts for the core Facebook app, your manufacturers Facebook app and a third app you got from the Market. Care to guess how many contact duplicates this creates in your addressbook? This combined with multiple notifications of the same event from many different programs can result in chaos. This issue is a general rant about Android, though, and is in no way only the SGSII's problem.

Not all customisations made by manufacturers are for the worse, however. For example I've always been a fan of Samsung's take on e-mail and the calendar. The e-mail app replaced my need for K9-mail all together. Well done, Sammy! I imagine business users might feel at home here thanks to not only Sammy's apps, but also thanks to the endless supply of apps available from the Android Market. Security might be another thing all together, though.


The Galaxy S II's huge screen makes typing on the landscape virtual keyboard almost as efficient as on a physical one. The portrait QWERTY also does the trick. I'm using the Samsung virtual keyboard. My positive experiences with the keyboard begged the question if this device for any good for creativity.

The Galaxy S II comes preinstalled with a full version of Polaris Office. Stylish and functional this program seems to cater to most desires you might have for mobile document creation. Sadly the virtualkeyboard in Android always ends up blocking over half of the screen making it hard to see what you type as well as hiding toolbars of Polar Office. Sigh. Thought I left all this behind when I switched over from Nokia's 5800XM in 2009.

Another odd snigglet on the SGII is the browser. For me the measure of a good smartphone is its browser, so you can imagine my amazement when I found out that the browser only supports mobile pages by default. I read around the web about this issue, and it seems that some versions of the SGSII comes with the option of setting the default view to 'Desktop'. In my SGSII this was nowhere to be found and I had to do a "about:useragent" in the address bar instead. Sadly the browser doesn't want to remember this setting, forcing me to get Dolphin Browser HD. To me this was a slap in the face for a device in this price range.


My understanding of the SGSII was that it was the absolute wet dream of the Android enthusiast, but I think it doesn't really answer that call to the fullest, except perhaps for its slimness and screen size. The physical design and look of the device is somehow deeply old-school of Samsung. I think they manufactured devices that looked like this about 5 yrs. ago. This didn't appeal to me at all and the SGSII is more an ugly slab to me than a premium product or flagship device. The processor power, display and memory might be impressive, but I can't really see it used in the system. Samsung's UI seems more fitting to a phone in a lower price point as it uses straight-forward fonts with no stylizing and no cream. It's really devoid of premium feel, but packed with functionality. Therefore this isn't only a criticism. The weightlessness and plastic feel don't make this device a bad phone, but just one not of this price range I feel.