Samsung Galaxy S II Smartphone Review

Design and Build Quality

Design wise, Samsung's Galaxy S II is amongst the most impressive handsets on the market. As was the case with the revamped Galaxy Tab 10.1, it's clear who Samsung is gunning for here. It's not the HTCs or Motorolas of the world, it's the smartphone maker with the biggest target on their back: Apple. At just four ounces, the Galaxy S II is 0.8 ounces lighter than the iPhone 4. And at 8.5mm thick, it's also thinner than the 9.3mm thick iPhone 4. We're sure Apple is none to happy about being trumped in those departments, and there's of course a chance that they'll retake the slim-and-light lead with the iPhone 5 (or whatever it'll be called).

But being slim and light is just part of the story. The phone itself is just beautiful to look at. It has a glossy black panel that does a fantastic job of rejecting fingerprints, and the rear has a black plastic cover that shields the battery and SIM card. There are two subtle bulges on the rear; one at the top and one on the bottom, both of which act to provide a very nice cradle area for grasping the phone to make a call or holding it while using the Web.

As we mentioned in the introduction, there's one thing in particular that separates the unlocked global unit from the subsidized versions that'll most likely hit the big 4 carriers in the fall. That's the physical Home button. It's likely that the carrier version Galaxy S II will just have three or four capacitive touch buttons, much like the Nexus S and Nexus One. So, why care? Because the physical Home button is superior in our estimation. Basically, it acts the same as the Home button on the iPhone. With most Android phones, there's only one way to activate the screen: hit the power button. But with this Home button, you can activate the screen with that as well. Furthermore, you can always tap it from within any application or pane and get back to the home pane. It's a little odd to applaud a design decision for near-perfectly imitating one of our favorite iOS features, but there it is.

Also, double-tapping the Home button pulls up a very intuitive voice recognition software panel, where you can say "Call Mom" and it'll dial up whoever is listed as "Mom" in your Contact list. You can even send text messages in this manner, and in our testing, the app worked incredibly well. We were simply impressed at how great the app recognized our voice. Most voice recognition programs that we've used in the past few years have been downright poor at understanding what we were saying, but not so here.

Like the original Galaxy S 4G, the Galaxy S II is one of the lighter phones we've reviewed. Here's how it stacks up:

Samsung Galaxy S II
4.0 ounces
Samsung Galaxy S 4G 4.2 ounces
Samsung Captivate
4.5 ounces
Nexus S
4.55 ounces
HTC Droid Incredible
4.6 ounces
Apple iPhone 4
4.8 ounces
Samsung Droid Charge 5.04 ounces
Motorola Droid X
5.47 ounces
Samsung Epic 4G
5.47 ounces
6 ounces
HTC EVO 3D 6 ounces
HTC Thunderbolt
6.23 ounces

The entire phone is incredibly clean. Beside the centered Home button along the bottom, you'll find a Menu capacitive touch button to its right and a similarly-styled Back button to its left. Since there's no Search button as there is on many Android phones, you can long-press the Menu button to pull up a search menu.  Along the right edge, you'll find the volume rocker. The top edge is home to the 3.5mm headphone jack, and the left edge has the (admittedly tiny) power button. The lower edge has a micro-USB 2.0 connector.

The WVGA Super AMOLED is, quite simply, world-class. The viewing angles are unlike anything we've ever seen. Even at the most extreme angles, you can see the screen perfectly clear, with no color bleed or fade to speak of. Yes, a qHD screen would've been preferred over the 800x480 that's here, but once you see how bright this thing is in sunlight, and how clear it is in any situation, you'll be won over as well. It's hands-down the best mobile display we've seen to date, all things considered.

The only other design aspects is the speakerphone output on the rear bump and the dual cameras (2MP front; 8MP rear with flash). Being as thin and light as it is, the Galaxy S II is just lovely to hold. It feels light but solid, and it exudes a premium feel that matches its high price tag. The fit and finish here is second only to the iPhone 4, and in some respects, what you get here feels even more premium perhaps.

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