Samsung Galaxy S II Smartphone Review

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Android 2.3 + TouchWiz 4.0 User Interface

Largely, Android 2.3 is just like Android 2.2 There are a few minor performance tweaks here and there, but if you've read our in-depth review of Froyo, you'll largely know what to expect here. Because this is an unlocked phone, you'll have no problems sideloading APKs and applications, and the Mobile Hotspot feature is enabled without any extra plans necessary from your carrier. Be careful how much you use it, though.

We won't bother recovering what you've come to know and expect from Android itself, but suffice it to say, the Galaxy S II's hardware runs Gingerbread like a champ. The 1.2GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM and spacious screen allow for a truly exceptional experience, and if you've used Android on anything else a year ago, you'll feel as if you've found smartphone heaven here. We can only compare this experience to iOS on a blistering A5 processor over on the Apple side. It's buttery smooth, and regardless of how hard you tax it, you'll find a pleasurable overall experience in this device.

     
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As with Motorola (BLUR) and HTC (Sense), Samsung has thrown their own overlay over Android. It's called TouchWiz 4.0, and it's the most subtle of the major overlays. We tend to think that Sense and BLUR distort the overall Android experience in a way that makes things more cluttered than they need to be. TouchWiz, however, is subtle enough to let Google's design choices shine through, and for the most part, TouchWiz only stands to enhance things and make using the OS easier.

Here's an example: the Contact list looks largely the same as on the stock Nexus S, but a simple swipe to the left will call a contact, while a swipe to the right will allow you to message them. It's simple, but effective. Also, one of the widgets we have loved in Android 2.x is the "Settings" widget, where you have one-tap access to activating or deactivating Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, etc. Samsung makes it even easier to access by placing it in the pulldown notification bar; just drag that down and it's there. Easy as pie.

     
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Moreover, users are able to mute a ringer by simply turning the face of the phone toward the ground (great for quickly squelching that incoming call during a meeting), and there are even a few unique multi-touch features that you won't find on just any build of Android. Rather than using pinching actions to make a webpage larger and easier to read, you can simply hold two fingertips on the screen and tilt the entire phone forward or back; it'll zoom in and out, respectively. You can disable any of these special zoom features if you so choose, but in practice, we found them to be very useful.

There's also seven home panes to choose from, and you can easily access them by either pinching inward on any screen (for an Expose-like view of all seven) or by holding down along the dots signifying which pane you're on and then scrolling left or right. Our only complaint? You cannot swipe from pane seven to pane one -- it simply doesn't loop around. You have to swipe back through panes 2-6 in order to reach #1 again.

  
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Samsung also includes an App Store of their own, which is largely like the stock Android Market, albeit with a collated collection of apps that Samsung themselves would recommend for use. If you're a bit worried about downloading something that'll negatively impact the performance of your phone, shop here and you'll have nothing to worry over. Think of it as an app shop with an extra level of checking completed before anything is allowed in.

Samsung also includes four "Hubs" that act to bring together subsets of content that usually reside in different places. There's the Social Hub (which integrates feeds from various social networks into one place), the Music Hub, the Games Hub and the Readers Hub. All of these serve their purpose, but none of them struck us as being particularly amazing. We still found ourselves reverting to the real Facebook app, the real TweetDeck app, Amazon's reader app, etc. If you really have a problem handling multiple apps, though, these do bring various things together nicely -- it's just not for everyone.

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