Samsung Galaxy S II 4G

The Galaxy S II 4G represents the best of last year's technology. It's fast, in more ways than one, and battery life is good. But when you're paying full price, don't you want the latest and greatest?


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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.

Design

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.
(Credit: CBSi)

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.
(Credit: CBSi)

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.

Compared to

Samsung Galaxy S II Samsung Galaxy S II 4G HTC One X Apple iPhone 4S
4.3-inch
800x480 pixels
Super AMOLED
4.3-inch
800x480 pixels
Super AMOLED Plus
4.7-inch
1280x720 pixels
Super LCD
3.5-inch
960x640 pixels
Retina Display
Dual-core
1.2GHz
1GB RAM
Dual-core
1.5GHz
1GB RAM
Quad-core
1.5GHz
1GB RAM
Dual-core
1GHz
512MB RAM
Android 2.3
Update to 4.0 now available
Android 2.3
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

Camera

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.

(Credit: CBSi)

(Credit: CBSi)

Features

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.

Overall

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.



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CliveW Facebook
4
Rating
 

"Very frustrating phone."

CliveW posted a review   

The Good:Great size screen and clarity

The Bad:Many (as above), great hand warmer in Winter

I am a solid user of the 'smart' more than the 'phone' and had it for ~8 months. The battery life is terrible and I need to charge constantly and have 3 chargers located at convenient spots for me. I can't find a larger capacity battery to fit the telstra version of this phone and if I could it would probably be very bulky.
The Camera is OK but has very few settings and the camera shortcuts can only use 4 at any time.
The Android updated recently and hasn't shown any improvement at all. If it installed silently I wouldn't have even known it had done it.
The display is hardly visible in daylight and if a slightly warm day it can't show the full brightness to 'prevent overheating' and it is an annoying and an uncomfortably hot phone in one's pocket.
Great size screen and the retina display is very good (as long as not in sunshine).
Power button and volume controls are difficult as they are recessed and with the cover almost impossible to access. The are on opposing sides so it is difficult not to push one without pushing the others.
Android has an annoying habit of varying the volumes despite the settings and often the volume (of one or many settings - media, phone, etc) is turned off, or flat out, when it shouldn't be.
The Micro B-usb is often difficult to plug in. It feels flimsy and fully expect it to break soon.
I need to reboot it about every two days or so and remove the battery for a minute or more to regain full bars (even though the towers are in eyesight).
Good and quick connections to wifi but need the proper app to control wifi/GPS/ etc else battery lasts ~1.5 hrs.
The touch screen has a mind of its own and often doesn't respond.
Android has a lot of issues to resolve on its own and I have reservations about it and simply can't rely on it - e.g. Calendar settings and alarms can be unreliable (also doesn't allow for daylight saving or ignores it). Android settings are all over the place and it can be difficult to track down. They seem to be like flying a helicopter - change one setting and it changes others (sometimes unrelated to the original).
I have minimal stuff in start-up and/or running. Apps start up at random and run in the background even when their settings are supposed to prevent it.
All-in-all a rather ordinary phone

sun_wukong86
5
Rating
 

"Decent phone but has issues with speaker phone"

sun_wukong86 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Has 4G, Battery life

The Bad:Calling in general eg speaker phone and regular calling, Alarm

So far I've had the phone for about 2 weeks and it seems decent. I've upgraded from a pre-paid Telstra T108 so it seems like a god send. But I have noticed some issues such as:
-calling in general seems a bit funny. I notice that when I call I can't hear people properly and seems as if the phone has bad reception but when I check the bars its full. I notice that it's significantly worser when I put it on speaker phone and just good when I use it without speaker phone.To be specific I checked the signal strength and at full bars it ranges from -71dBm to -91dBm. I will probably call Telstra just in case there is an issue with the phone.
-touch screen can be a little bit annoying as when I click something it clicks on somewhere totally different. Also you have to watch out to not hold the phone to close to your ear when your calling as you might hit one of the keys and hang up.
-the alarm doesn't work when turned off compared to my old phone.
-have just started noticing that the 4G capability sometimes doesn't show even when I'm pretty close to the exchange so I will probably contact Telstra.

Now for the good.
- When the 4G does work it is pretty fast.
-The battery life is pretty good and lasts pretty long even when I'm browsing the Internet with Wi-Fi.

Overall the phone is alright but there are some issues mainly calling but I will contact Telstra to see if there is anything wrong with my phone just in case.

evil_emma
10
Rating
 

"Great phone without stupid features no one uses!"

evil_emma posted a review   
Australia

The Good:4G, Battery Life, Camera, Screen Clarity

The Bad:Lack of accessories

I have always been skeptical of Samsung as earlier experiences with the brand haven't been good. Well I admit now that after buying a 3D TV last year and this phone last week I am really impressed.

Now more about the phone as I'm sure you want to hear all about it. I will compare my smartphone experience to my previous smartphone the HTC Desire.

First of all I'd like to mention the 4G network as that was a big decider in getting this phone. I'm all about the future as I'll have this phone for 2 years. Although I live in Country Victoria where we are still waiting for the upgrade I travel to Melbourne frequently and I have to say that I got to test out the speeds and WOW!! I downloaded a few games and apps and it was soooo quick!! Almost instanteous!

The screen quality even on the lowest setting is brilliant - makes my desire look blurry.

Userability as with most smartphones is straight forward and self explanitry. It took about an hour of use (if that) to get used to the layout and learn how to customize bits and pieces to my needs.

The Camera: I'm impressed. I only use the phone camera for times when I forget my proper camera but that may change. The quality of this camera is great, photos come out nice and bright/colourful unlike my desire where photos appeared washed out. I haven't tried the video recording yet but I'll make an update at a later stage.

Battery Life: As with any new phone, you kinda become obsessed with it for the first couple of weeks! This phone has lasted through heavy usage and I've had to charge it every night but aren't we all used to that? I have asked CNET where I can get a spare battery for the future as I like a backup and they are looking into it for me which is great but so far I haven't had a need for it.

Size: This is a good sized phone as I found towards the end my desire was slightly too small. Draw Something is playable on the Galaxy thankfully lol.

Accessories: My only gripe is the lack of acccessories as the 4G is a bit bigger then the standard Galaxy SII. I'm sure some more will come out in time. In saying that the local Telstra Shop has 2 silicon cases (black or purple) and a leather flip case (my preference) I just jazz that up with a couple of bling stickers off eBay to customize it a bit. Yes I'm a girly girl!

Wi-Fi Hotspot: I have been using this a fair bit and it is very reliable and you can set it to time out after a certain amount of time. Great for me as I sometimes walk away and forget it's still connected to my laptop!! It doesn't drain the battery much either.

Sorry if I waffled on a bit - just trying to get my point across that I love this phone and why!! As I come across new features I'll come back here and waffle away again

 

adsy11 posted a comment   
Australia

I have used all three big telcos in Australia over the last 5 years and to be honest they are all rubbish, the service we are expected to put up with is terrible because these people know we will just bounce around 2 of them maybe the 3rd if we are really upset. You can have the greatest, fasted most feature packed smartphone around but if like me you like 7kms from a city CBD and you get crap reception from all of them its useless.

 

Will1505 posted a reply   

Really? I have a galaxy Note, just got it this week. I get full bars even 150km out of the city. Ever since being with telstra, i have only dropped under 2 bars twice. One being in the middle on no where between melbourne and canberra. If you have had phones that don't run on 850mhz, i would understand though

 

EesK posted a reply   
Australia

As do I :)

 

Pining posted a comment   
Australia

It is great to see you mention price as a detriment to the purchase of a phone.

That is the single biggest reason I didn't purchase an iphone. I want a product that works, not a brand name.

Can you now do a review on the GS2 with ICS loaded?
I'd be interested in how it compares (including price) with today's competitors.

 

RegD posted a comment   

Bit puzzled why you omitted the HTC Velocity from your comparisons, seems obvious to referred to it also, as it is the most identical spec wise, also on Telstra, has 4G, yet has ICS that is sweet to use.

I have one, and except for a bit of battery management at times, (although just bought a larger battery to try out) it is a great replacement for my old HTC Desire which was really fabulous and still is for the person I gave it too!

I think the Velosity fell in the cracks a bit, but it seems from user reviews, most who took the challenge on are very happy.

In fact, I am not sure how smartphone can be improved on that much to be honest.

 

ChristopherM2 posted a comment   

Why is Telstra so pricey on everything they offer? I get that they tend to have the superior service but at their pricing, I'd assume the majority would settle for anyone else but they're still in business so they must be doing something right.

 

ChristopherM2 posted a reply   

I'd like to see some major changes when it comes to wireless networks, there's no reason why we're being charged as much as we are, I mean Woolworths is able to offer prepaid users 5GB of data for $29 with no commitments, why do we need to pay everyone else so much for a similar amount?

 

Will1505 posted a reply   

Woolworths is on the Optus network

To be honest, unless you have been with telstra you won't understand the price difference, once you have you will completely agree that its worth it.

 

ras0406 posted a reply   
Australia

I couldn't agree more. I was with Telstra for two years and have recently switched to iiNet (who use the Optus network) because of the savings. But, truth be told, I'm considering paying the extra money just to get back on Telstra's superior network. With iiNet, I routinely face dropped calls, no 3G coverage at various points between the CBD and Parramatta when going home on the train, text messages that fail to send, and the most annoying of all: network congestion.




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User Reviews / Comments  Samsung Galaxy S II 4G

  • CliveW

    CliveW

    Rating4

    "I am a solid user of the 'smart' more than the 'phone' and had it for ~8 months. The battery life is terrible and I need to charge constantly and have 3 chargers located at convenient spots for me...."

  • sun_wukong86

    sun_wukong86

    Rating5

    "So far I've had the phone for about 2 weeks and it seems decent. I've upgraded from a pre-paid Telstra T108 so it seems like a god send. But I have noticed some issues such as:
    -calling in ge..."

  • evil_emma

    evil_emma

    Rating10

    "I have always been skeptical of Samsung as earlier experiences with the brand haven't been good. Well I admit now that after buying a 3D TV last year and this phone last week I am really impressed...."

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