With the emergence of 4G technology in Australia, expect to see a number of upcoming devices coming in two flavours: with and without. The Galaxy S II (GSII) 4G is, for all intents and purposes, a rebuild of last year's hugely successful GSII, but there are a number of tweaks and unique inclusions worth paying attention to.
In Thailand, they have a phrase, "same, same but different". They also have shopping centres and outdoor markets dedicated to selling fake versions of popular tech and fashion, which is probably where the saying comes from. Compared with the old GSII, this phrase best describes the new, 4G version. From a distance, old and new look much the same, but, on closer inspection, you'll notice the newer 4G model is larger, a little thicker and has a slightly bigger screen.
How much bigger? It really isn't much; up to 4.5 inches from the 4.3-inch display on last year's phone. More importantly, though, the screen resolution remains the same as last year and so you get less pixels-per-inch across the larger display, which is something you will notice if you were to compare the GSII 4G to newer phones that have been released this year. Its WVGA resolution (800x480 pixels) is notably duller than the crispness of the 1280x720 pixels you'll find on the HTC One X, for example. Samsung opts for the same Super AMOLED Plus display we saw on the Galaxy Note, and this technology helps the screen appear bright and vibrant, but without the pixels, some images (and some widgets, in particular) appear soft, as though slightly out of focus.
The screen on the 4G model is slightly larger, but with a lower pixel density, compared to last year's model.
Much of the rest of the original GSII, that we know and love, remains in place. The 4G has the same central Home key below the screen, a micro-USB port on the base, an 8-megapixel camera and flash on the back, plus a microSD card slot placed below the battery cover. In the hand, you can feel the subtle differences; but the extra size and weight certainly impact on the usability of this phone, in any way.
User experience and performance
If the subtle changes in its physical design didn't interest you, we're not sure there is much on-screen to pique your attention, either. With the phone switched on, the GSII 4G is like a blast from the past. Samsung's TouchWiz UI is here, sitting on top of Android Gingerbread (2.3.6), and with a smattering of Telstra colour to boot.
In fact, the Gingerbread build of Android is one of the few noteworthy elements of the user experience, but mostly for the wrong reasons. Gingerbread is last year's Android, and it is most certainly on its way out. It's been superseded by Ice Cream Sandwich, and though a software update is possible, it could be a while before Telstra customers see it. On the telco's Software Update page, it lists the update as being "delivered for testing in June", suggesting six weeks or more, after the delivery, before the update is made publicly available. And that's only if testing goes smoothly.
Many will be disappointed that Telstra and Samsung are lagging behind in this update schedule; after all, the Galaxy S II was updated several weeks ago. This is both a blessing and a curse, however. There are a handful of neat Ice Cream Sandwich features missing — Face Unlock, Android Beam, etc — but this is also a highly refined version of last year's Android. This system has been impeccably stable during our review, and comparably speedy. Matched with a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor, the GSII 4G offers performance on par with the few Android 4.0 devices we've seen, so far, this year.
Obviously, 4G is the major selling point here, and, so far, we haven't been disappointed when connected to the 4G network. Downloading packages of data, like apps from the Market, are the best way to see the new 4G network in action; files of 20MB, or more, are ready to install in a matter of moments. But if you are choosing this phone for its 4G capabilities, be sure to check Telstra's coverage map, as you'll likely be out of the 4G availability zones often, if you don't live and work in one of Australia's CBDs.
The results of several 4G speed tests on the Galaxy S II 4G.
If you're looking for a better reason to choose the GSII 4G over the older model, or some of its closest competitors, you'll find that in the handset's battery life. Samsung has wisely increased the battery capacity in the 4G, up to a sizeable 1850mAh capacity. It seems to have refined the way the phone uses battery too, addressing some of our battery woes during our review of the original GSII. The 4G pulled an impressive 8 hours of 720p video playback in the labs, and 6.5 hours of Wi-Fi web browsing. In everyday use, we've noticed that the phone tends to chew through about 10 per cent capacity every three hours while connected to the data network. You'll still need to charge this phone at the end of each day, but heavy users should find that they can comfortably make it back to the charger, before they run out of juice.
|Samsung Galaxy S II||Samsung Galaxy S II 4G||HTC One X||Apple iPhone 4S|
Super AMOLED Plus
Update to 4.0 now available
Update to 4.0 available soon
|Android 4.0||iOS 5.1|
|16GB storage plus microSD expansion||16GB storage plus microSD expansion||32GB storage||16GB, 32GB and 64GB storage options|
Photo-lovers will be pleased to learn that the excellent Samsung smartphone camera on the GSII is definitely here in the 4G model. We've found it very difficult to spot the differences in the quality of photos between the older and newer cameras, with both taking class-leading photos. The camera in the 4G is fast and colour-accurate, with an LED flash for low-light situations.
Beyond the numerous physical changes listed above, the GSII 4G features the same suite of apps and tools that are found on the standard non-4G version. Samsung includes the 2012 Good Food Guide as a download through the Samsung app store; there's also the Navigon navigation tool, if you don't like the free Google Maps navigation. The standard Samsung media player is here too, so you can watch DivX, XviD, H.264 and WMV video files and listen to music in MP3, AAC, WAV or FLAC formats. There's no FM radio though, so lovers of talk-back jockeys and live sports broadcasts will need a different phone or an app that streams radio over the web.
There is near-field communication (NFC) on-board though, which is a boon if you know how to use it, and a good feature to have in preparation of new apps and tools that will be coming over the next couple of years. For example, when Samsung updates the GSII 4G to Ice Cream Sandwich, the NFC hardware will let users share files with other ICS phones, using Google's Android Beam software. Sony will soon have SmartTags in store, as an optional accessory for its new Xperia range, and these tags will be compatible with the GSII 4G, as well.
I argued recently that where there is money to save, last year's best phones are worth your consideration. The Galaxy S II 4G is one of last year's best phones, but sold this year and priced like a newer model. As with all phones at Telstra, there is no budget-friendly price range, with the starting price for this phone (at the time of writing) is AU$64 per month on a 24-month plan. For this money, you can have your pick of any of the big releases, including Samsung's own Galaxy S III when it's released in just a month's time.
The Galaxy S II 4G is by no means a bad phone. It's fast, both in the user experience and its network capabilities, and we've found it stable during our review. It also has great battery life. But this is let down, somewhat, by its lower-resolution display and its older version of the Android OS. All up, an excellent device, but there is plenty of competition to consider, at this price point.