October 18, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
The Samsung Galaxy S II debuted at Mobile World Congress 2011, and I called it “sweet,” which proved to be an understatement. The hardware was wonderful, the software was a promising upgrade from the mistakes of Touchwiz UI, and things just flat-out worked.
At the time, we felt it could be the most impressive Android phone. Engadget took it a step further to call the best phone available when the device was released in Europe. However, it took several months for the Galaxy S II to invade America, opening the door for serious competition and burnt-out stalkers. Now we’re forced to wonder if this device was worth the wait or forgotten like so many devices before it.
Hardware: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
As it predecessor did in 2010, the Galaxy S II is more a family of phones than a single device. Samsung customized the form factor for each carrier, but the T-Mobile version has many of the features that made us fall in love with the European model. The Galaxy S II forgoes the predominantly plastic build of the Vibrant, opting instead for a hard metallic sides with a soft, rubber back. The sense of weight that users expect from HTC and LG devices is ditched for the sake of being lighter than a phone of this proportion has any business being (4.77 ounces).
There’s also a 4.52 inch Super AMOLED Plus screen that is a beautiful as it big. Colors always look bright without looking over-saturated, and there’s never a dull shade or tint to the screen. I’m not as enthusiastic about the excellent display having a WVGA resolution. While the large screen lends itself to watching YouTube videos and reading, the resolution sacrifices the amount of pixels it can squeeze into the display area. Images and videos will still be very clear for the vast majority of users, but the handful of people who crave pixel density will be able to nitpick.
Performance and Battery Life: I Won’t Last A Day Without You
If one were to think of the Galaxy S II line as brothers, the T-Mobile variant would be the one that the others tease for being adopted. Not because the eldest GSM version got all the resources, and the American brothers seem a bit fresher, but because the T-Mo GS II is not as familiar to the others. It has edges with more prominent curves than the rectangular slabs of other Galaxy phones. It also has near-field communication capabilities, which are at the moment is practically worthless until payment options are added or NFC tags become widely-adopted.
More noticeable, it has a different processor. T-Mobile has never explained why it opted to go with a Qualcomm S3 processor instead of the Exynos found in other Galaxy S II phones, but it’s widely theorized that this move was done in order to access the 42 Mbps top speeds of HSPA+, something Exynos doesn’t yet support. Whatever the reason, the dual-core processor that helps keep its brothers running efficiently and faster for longer is absent.
On the most basic level, the Qualcomm S3 performance in this device is excellent for running the software, powering the games, and responding quickly to commands. Benchmarks be damned, my daily experience with the phone never produced a moment where I thought this 1.5 GHz dual-core processor was any less exceptional than the 1.2 GHz of Exynos. At night, however, the difference was clear. T-Mobile passed the test of getting through a day on a single charge using my combination of social networking, reading, streaming music for an hour, playing Age of Conquest, and enabling auto-sync. However, these activities took down the battery faster than I’ve seen the Epic Touch lose its juice.
The GS II makes good use of its 1850 mAh battery, but users may wonder if the top speeds of T-Mobile’s 4G HSPA+ network were worth sacrificing the extra hour or two another chipset might have offered. Maybe T-Mobile’s network set-up would have drained Exynos just as quickly, but it’s something to think about. In the end, I suspect people who are in an area where T-Mobile offers speeds twice as fast as their home Internet provider may view this as a trade worth making.