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Samsung Galaxy S II

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating starrating star
Carrier: AT&T
Manufacturer: Samsung
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Editor's Choice award

What's hot: Extremely fast CPU, HSPA+ 4G, super-vivid Super AMOLED Plus display.

What's not: We wish it had a qHD resolution display, average looks.


Reviewed September 30, 2011 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

The Samsung Galaxy S II hardly needs an introduction; Samsung has sold 10 million of them in four months, and the phone wasn't even available in the US. Now Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile have their versions of one of the hottest Android phones of 2011. The S II is the follow up to the very successful Samsung Galaxy line of Android phones, and it features a Super AMOLED Plus display for vibrant colors, a very fast dual core CPU and one of the better 8 megapixel cameras on the US market. AT&T stays true to the European and Asian versions, retaining the 1.2 GHz Samsung Exynos CPU and 4.3" display (Sprint and T-Mobile upped it to 4.52" without increasing resolution). Sounds like a nice high end phone, right? But there's something about the Galaxy S II that's like a pleasantly addictive drug: the more you use it, the more you like it and want to use it more. Fortunately, you won't get busted for toting an S II, and you won't (err, we don't think) need a 12 step program.

Samsung Galaxy S II

What makes it so addictive? The speed of both the HSPA+ 4G (or faux 4G, depending on opinion) and the CPU. Web pages load faster than on other phones, thanks to a fast data connection and a CPU that can render complex desktop sites relatively quickly. The camera is fast, even when working with 8MP images and 1080p video; the usual stop and waits just aren't there. 3D games run very smoothly and Adobe Flash 10.3 is more manageable than usual. If you're upgrading from a Samsung Captivate, AT&T's version of the original Galaxy S, the S II is a big step up in performance and camera quality. The phone runs Android OS 2.3.4 Gingerbread with Samsung TouchWiz software.

Samsung Galaxy S II

Design and Ergonomics

If you've seen the Euro import Galaxy S II, this phone is almost identical. It's extremely thin at 0.35", and light at 4.3 ounces, but it's a big phone nonetheless. Surprisingly, it's not much smaller than Sprint's 4.5" version. Samsung still loves plastics, but they've moved away from the gloss black fingerprint magnets to a textured matte plastic back that doesn't exactly scream chic and expensive from the back. But the front looks like a decent quality piece, with Samsung's signature squared off sides, black face and four capacitive buttons. To be honest, the phone's looks don't do anything for me; it's a fairly generic looking large footprint Android phone. It gains points for extreme thinness and lightness, but lacks the curves of the HTC Sensation 4G for hand comfort, and it doesn't use metal or high end materials like some HTC and Motorola Android phones.

Samsung Galaxy S II

The headphone jack is up top and the power button is on the upper right side directly across from the volume controls. That continues to drive us crazy because it's too easy to hit the buttons when pulling the phone out of a pocket or purse, and it's also easy to squeeze both volume and power at the same time. The micro USB port is on the bottom and the speaker fires out the back under a grille on the gloss strip. There are mics on the top and bottom edges for noise cancelling (Sprint's lacks the dual mics).

If you want to connect the phone to an HD TV or monitor to mirror the phone's display, you'll need to purchase an MHL adapter that converts the micro USB port to an HDMI port. We're seeing this arrangement more often on smartphones these days, and it's a minor inconvenience but as a consolation the adapter sells for less than $20 and has a charging port so your phone won't die half way through your favorite flick.


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Performance and Benchmarks

The Samsung Galaxy S II on AT&T runs on Samsung's extremely impressive Exynos 1.2 GHZ dual core CPU. It's really, really fast folks. Nothing we did could slow this phone down. It scored up to 3375 on the Quadrant benchmark, and that's totally stock with no tweaks or overclocking. In a world where 2,000 scores are the norm for dual core Android smartphones, the Exynos is in a different class. As a refresher, most single core 1GHz Android phones score 900-1,300 in Quadrant.

In browser-based testing, the Galaxy S II scored extremely well in Browsermark and in the Sunspider JavaScript test. It beat the fastest phones currently on the market, and far exceeds last year's models.

Browsermark (higher numbers are better)
Samsung Galaxy S II: 61,601
HTC Sensation 4G: 49,440
Motorola Droid Bionic: 46,245
iPhone 4: 35,901

Sunspider (lower numbers are better):

Samsung Galaxy S II: 3353
HTC Sensation 4G: 3578
Motorola Droid Bionic: 4029
Nexus S: 5901
iPhone 4: 4015

The Galaxy S II has 16 gigs of internal storage and a microSD card slot under the back cover. You'll need to pull the battery to swap a microSD card, but not the SIM card (strange). The Samsung supports both MTP file transfer protocol and USB mass storage mode (you'll have to go into settings to activate mass storage mode since MTP is the default). The phone has a gig of RAM, which is standard on Honeycomb tablets and very generous by phone standards.

Samsung Galaxy S II

Samsung Galaxy S II on AT&T Video Review



If you've read our review of the Samsung Epic 4G Touch, Sprint's version of this phone, you know we really like the Galaxy S II's 8 megapixel camera. It takes some of the best shots and video you'll get on a US camera phone. Colors are saturated and accurate, and there's plenty of contrast (no haze here). The camera can sometimes blow out highlights, but overall, it handles them better than most camera phones. 1080p videos aren't a waste of pixels: there's plenty of detail with the same good color saturation and contrast, though there's some motion blockiness in our 30fps clips.

The camera application has a wealth of features to suit shutterbugs, and the LED flash is very bright and effective in dark rooms. Our indoor shots in low light were more colorful than average, and the flash didn't white out subjects. The camera manages to focus quickly, even in low light.

Here are three sample photos. Click on a photo to see a larger version:

sample photo sample photo sample photo

Calling and Data

The Galaxy S II has very good voice quality for both incoming and outgoing voice. We heard no background hiss or noise, and voices were clear and full. The dual mic setup helps reduce outgoing ambient noise and it was decently effective in our tests, but not wildly impressive. When we placed the phone in the center console of our admittedly sporty coupe (bumps are us), the Samsung picked up chassis vibration and transmitted it as noise, while our HTC Sensation did not.

The speakerphone is fairly loud, and there's enough volume to cut through a noisy room or throaty exhaust if in a sports car, but it's not hugely full sounding and has some buzz at max volume. We didn't hear that same buzz when playing multimedia files, so it's likely the relatively poor audio quality used for cell voice calls that's the culprit.

The phone has 3G and 4G HSPA+ for data on AT&T's 850/1900MHz bands and 2100MHz for overseas. We averaged 3.8 Mbps down and 1Mbps up according to Ookla's app. That's decent but not among the top speeds we've seen on AT&T's HSPA+ 21Mpbs network. Given how impressively fast Samsung's Hummingbird CPU and chipset was in last year's Galaxy I phones, we'd hoped to see some special sauce here, but the Sammy doesn't outshine other AT&T HSPA+ phones.

Want to make Skype voice and video calls? No problem. We tested the latest version of Skype and made several video calls to other Skype-enabled Android phones, the iPhone 4 and a desktop. Video quality was better than the included Qik Lite on both ends, and voice volume and clarity were fine even when we didn't use a headset. Since the phone runs Gingerbread 2.3.4 it also supports video calling in Google Talk, which worked well in our tests.


TouchWiz is here, and it's improved over last year's version on the Captivate. The icon backgrounds are gone, the look is no longer cartoon-ish. There are new features like motion control too. You can use motion to move icons from one screen to another on the home screen, and you can turn the phone over on its face to silence the ringer or media player (similar to HTC and Nokia phones). You can also use motion to zoom in web pages, though we didn't find that terribly useful, and you can double-tap to initiate voice commands when in the Voice Talk app by Vlingo.

Samsung's usual collection of apps and software are here: Media Hub, Social Hub (Twitter, Facebook and email integration), Mini Diary, Memo, My Files, AllShare DLNA, Kies Air, a photo editor and video editor, a voice recorder and Voice Talk voice command. There's a full version of Quickoffice for viewing, editing and creating MS Office documents with cloud storage support, Qik Lite and the usual collection of Google Android core apps like YouTube, Talk with video chat, Maps, Navigation, Email, Gmail and the web browser with Adobe Flash. AT&T has pre-installed AT&T Navigator, Yellow Page Mobile, AT&T bar code scanner, AT&T Family Maps, Live TV (MobiTV for $9.99/month), Movies (a video rental service powered by mSpot) and Featured Apps. We're glad you can remove some of these apps, but alas not all are uninstallable.

Battery Life

A smartphone with a dual core fast CPU, a large display and a full compliment of wireless radios? That usually adds up to battery woes, but the Samsung Galaxy S II managed good runtimes with its standard 1650mAh Lithium Ion battery. That's 150 mAh less than the Sprint version, but the Epic 4G Touch has WiMAX 4G, a notorious battery hog. HSPA+ is easier on battery life, and we had no trouble making it through a full day with moderate use that included push Gmail, 30 minute scheduled IMAP email checks, playing a few YouTube videos, talking on the phone for 30 minutes and using the web browser several times throughout the day. The Super AMOLED display is power-efficient, and it helped the S II make it through 3 feature length movies stored in internal memory. Streaming will use more battery power, as does the GPS, so your mileage may vary.


The Samsung Galaxy S II on AT&T has earned our Editor's Choice thanks to its combo of a large and beautiful Super AMOLED Plus display, the fastest CPU in a smartphone and snappy HSPA+ 4G data speeds with wide coverage over the US. Though we like Sprint's version quite a bit, we give AT&T the edge for their wider 4G HSPA+ coverage vs. the somewhat spotty WiMAX. HSPA+ is also much easier on the battery than WiMAX. We suspect the AT&T version will also beat the T-Mobile version for performance since T-Mobile went with a dual core Snapdragon CPU rather than the fire-breathing Exynos.

The Galaxy S II is a top pick for shutterbugs thanks to a sharp 8 megapixel camera that can handle 1080p video recording, and it has plenty of recording options. The Galaxy S II's same-old design and plastic back don't quite live up to the features inside in our minds, but it's neither a cheesy or unattractive phone. It makes loud and clear voice calls, and is light in the pocket, though be warned, this is a not a small phone. The Samsung Galaxy S II is AT&T's top Android smartphone.


Price: $199 with 2 year contract



Samsung Galaxy S II


Samsung Galaxy S II




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Display: 4.3" Super AMOLED Plus capacitive multi-touch display. Resolution: 800 x 480, supports both portrait and landscape modes. Has accelerometer, ambient light sensor and gyro sensor.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1650 mAh.

Performance: 1.2GHz Samsung Exynos processor. 1 gig of RAM and 16 gigs of internal storage.

Size: 4.96 x 2.6 x 0.35 inches. Weight: 4.3 ounces.

Phone: GSM quad band world phone with 3G and 4G HSPA+ on the 850/1900/2100MHz bands.

Camera: 2MP front camera and rear 8MP camera with LED flash that can shoot 1080p video.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth.

Software: Android OS 2.3.4 Gingerbread with Samsung TouchWiz software. Standard Google Android apps including Maps, Navigation, web browser, email, Gmail, Gtalk, YouTube and Books. Adobe Flash, Kindle, Quickoffice, Qik Lite, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Code Scanner, YP Mobile, Movies (mSpot video rentals), Samsung Media Hub, Samsung Social Hub, Photo Editor, Video Maker, Kies Air, My Files, Mini Diary, Memo and more are included.

Expansion: 1 SDHC microSD card slot.


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