Wife Says I Need Surgery..
Feb 12, 2012 (Updated Aug 15, 2012)
Review by Stanley Goodner
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Powerful, versatile, gorgeous display, 8MP camera, thin & sleek, lightweight, large screen
Cons:Battery hog, slippery, addictive, large screen, did I mention battery hog?
The Bottom Line: This smartphone has replaced my need for a separate MP3 player, digital camera, and GPS! Who can say no to such hardware hiding behind a slim design and bright screen?
This phone has been owned since October 2011 and this review has been in draft mode since the month after. I originally planned to have the review completed by December, but a LOT of things got in the way of finishing and, of course, I kept adding more as time went on. I've had some complaints (e.g. it's attached to my hip) about my obsession with the Galaxy S II; I'll place the blame on Samsung for creating an awesome piece of technology.
Recommend this product?
::: DURABILITY & HANDLING :::
The Galaxy S II has a clean phone layout; power on the right, volume on the left, USB & input speaker on the bottom, headphone jack on the top, speaker on the rear, and the two cameras appropriately on the front and the back. The battery cover is very thin and easy to pop off by sliding a nail along the edge. I've never cared for phones that felt like you were prying open an oyster with your fingers just to get inside. I appreciate how Samsung did not bury the expansion slot under the battery. I can hot-swap Micro-SD cards without powering off or remembering where I set the battery down. This phone is not very pocket-friendly, unless we're talking about a coat or a jacket pocket. It dominates pants and shirt pockets, though that's recommended only if you like a little bit of wrestling or bulging attire. Adding a case will increase the effort. If I don't have a large pocket, I simply hold it.
Purchasing a case is a must for this phone! Just remember that when it's sitting there, looking shiny, sleek, and smooth, it's also very slippery. And because it's so light, it doesn't really have that heft to make you clench it for dear life. The battery cover is textured, but most people cradle the phone in their palm and grip the sides, which are not textured. I've dropped the phone three times so far (as of 2012.02.12), with and without a case (yes, all were unintentional drops). The first time was hip-high, but I was quick to catch it with my inner-thigh to break the fall and slide it down my leg. It landed screen-side down. Setting the phone on it's face is not an issue since the screen is recessed about a millimeter. But this was an uneven concrete driveway, and the Galaxy S II rattled to a stop. Two corners of the phone took in some small dents, reminding me that there are drawbacks to being thin & lightweight. Even though the screen is made with tough gorilla glass, it still suffered a few permanent nicks. You can see them if you catch the light right on the screen's mirror-like surface. The other drops were protected by a Case-Mate Tough Case (Model CM017002).
::: RECEPTION & DATA :::
I'm still on the Sprint network, and reception areas and signal strengths are pretty much what I've been accustomed to. I have a bar or two more than my wife's HTC EVO Shift 4G. Data streaming is fast, thanks to the Galaxy S II's 4G connection. I can run my Yelp application to check for local places to eat and look up a restaurant's menu in less than a minute. Many sites have a mobile version for faster phone browsing, and loading up full sites almost feels like I'm doing it on my home network so long as the connection is solid. Once in awhile I'll have to reload pages that are taking too long, but it's usually been in areas of weaker signals or when I'm in a vehicle passing through reception areas. I've watched videos on Colbertnation.com and streamed music through Pandora with infrequent pauses for buffering. So far I've been pretty pleased and impressed when I've had a decent connection. The dead-zones are still dead-zones, unfortunately. We took a road trip from Northern California all the way down to Temecula and Riverside with an almost-constant connection the entire time. Driving from Sacramento to Grass Valley or Yuba City has a mix of spotty and strong signals, making it difficult to maintain a Pandora stream while driving.
The wireless connectivity on the Galaxy S II is decent. The range is limited when compared to laptops and computer hardware. On my own home network, my laptop will get full signal strength while the phone will hover between zero to two bars. This is with the both of them sitting side-by-side. The phone's wireless signal strength and connection speed improves as I move closer to the router. The wireless connection is more consistent than the 4G and it also uses less battery power. It's handy to use when I'm in a coffee shop, but the lack of range makes it situational.
I've been told that my voice carries through crystal clear. There is no fuzziness or echoing. The phone can sit on my lap and pick up my voice without making me sound muffled or like I'm down a hall. Incoming voices are very good through the ear-speaker. The phone's volume is adjustable and can (thankfully) get loud enough to challenge noisy environments. Maximum volume through the rear (speakerphone) speaker can distort voices a bit, making it somewhat harder to make out conversations in cars or in those before-mentioned noisy environments. Using a blue-tooth earpiece is certainly easier, but I can still carry a hands-free conversation with the Galaxy S II on my lap, center console, passenger seat (with a slightly raised voice), etc.
::: SCREEN & INTERFACE/OS :::
I haven't really played around with other Android phones as much as the Galaxy S II and my wife's HTC EVO Shift 4G. All I can say is that I appreciate the Samsung Android interface over the HTC any day (sorry hun). It works very smart and clean. You can drag your finger down from the top to pull open the quickpanel; it not only shows current notifications but also gives you a fast way to switch on/off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Sound/Vibration, and 4G. I know how frustrating it can be to jump through multiple menus to turn commonly used features on or off, and the quickpanel lets me do it with one finger in two presses. There are lots of settings that can be configured to detail and customize the phone. At first it seems like a lot, but it's actually easy to navigate through them once you're familiar enough. The layout is very user-friendly with easy-to-view text and icons. Those who have been used to an obvious notification light are going to have to get used to a teeny-tiny one tucked away in the top right of the screen. It's a little bit smaller than a sesame seed and blinks red.
The screen is bright and adjustable depending on what you need! Check the specifications - that's what AMOLED is all about. With 100% brightness you can still be outside in broad daylight without having the screen washed out and unreadable. The colors are vibrant so it's really enjoyable to watch videos, play games, or simply surf the net. The screen is large yet not the full size of the phone. At first I almost felt the Galaxy S II was too big, but after a few hours of use it felt more like a small computer than a large phone. The screen is accurate, smooth, and very responsive to the touch. It's neither finicky nor frustrating, and the haptic feedback is adjustable and excellent for texting and typing. Widgets and programs/applications automatically snap to place within a 4x4 grid. A two-second hold on a icon under the applications list lets you drag and drop as desired. You can create up to 7 customized screens, but the great thing is that you don't have to keep more than you need.
There are a number of integrated features in the Galaxy S II that can be used (active by default). Some are more functional/useful than others:
Screen Shot: Hold the home key and press the power button and voila, screenshot.
Contact-swiping: I use this often. When you're scrolling down your list of contacts, you can swipe a name to the right to call them, or to the left to message them. Handy.
Turn Over: This I like. When the phone rings, I'll look at who is calling and if I don't want to answer I simply turn it face-down to silence the ringing and vibration. It doesn't matter if the phone is locked or not, which is fantastic because I don't have to fumble with buttons to make it quiet. Face down, done. Since the screen is recessed by only a millimeter or so, great care should be taken if the surface is not flat. I recommend to get a good case so you don't have to worry.
Tilt: I use it sometimes. Instead of having to "pinch" the screen to zoom in or out, simply hold your thumbs in [any] two fixed points on the screen and tilt to or fro. It can be useful, but I feel I can zoom the way I want faster and more accurately by pinching.
Panning: This only works when you're moving icons from one screen to another, so I only used this when I was initially setting up all my screens. It's a cute little thing that lets you move the phone a few inches to the left or right to pan the screen, instead of hovering the icon at the screen edge to move to the next. It works well. Sometimes it'll skip over a screen and go to the next, but all in all it saves only a few seconds really.
Voice Command/Talk & Double Tap: Very handy. The voice command lets you dictate instructions to the phone (e.g. call, text, find, play music, etc.). The double tap uses the internal sensors to tell when you've double tapped the top of the phone, which simply replaces the need to look down at the phone to press the "Tap & Speak" button. These features complement a bluetooth earpiece for when you're driving and need to make calls or get directions to a location. It makes it practically hands-free and I don't have to look at my phone.
Swype: This feature has been the best of the lot by far. When I first got the Galaxy S II and played around, it didn't work well at all. It was actually terrible, so I simply typed by poking letters like normal. What I didn't realize was that the phone had no dictionary list of my commonly used words. So after a few weeks of texting and typing I accidentally turned the Swype back on (this was before the recent update where they changed a few things on the virtual keyboard) and have been using it since! The concept is simple. Instead of poking at the keys you simply slide your finger around to hit the letters and type the word. But the beauty of it is that you don't need to be perfect as long as you're in the general area of the letter! I've actually typed out full sentences without looking down to see where my thumb went. Granted, the dictionary has to be familiar with your vocabulary in order to be accurate. And lots of times the swiped pattern will be similar to one of a different word, so you'll have to proofread too. Oftentimes the intended word is actually on the suggestion bar. As some words are used more than others, the suggestion bar will show them in the order that it believes is most accurate. But this feature is absolutely wonderful. You can adjust it for accuracy versus speed (I have it right down the middle and it works great), and my wife is so jealous that I can hold the phone in one hand and use my thumb to type and send text messages with ease. There are apps you can download which function like Swype, but I like having it integrated in the Galaxy S II.
I've also found the voice-to-text convenient to use as well. It takes a little bit of practice for the voice recognition to be accurate, and the software recognizes punctuation such as: comma, period, question mark, exclamation point, etc. I've been using Google as the voice-recognition. The other option is Vlingo, powered by Samsung. Each of them will gradually recognize speech patterns to accurately translate your voice. I've been using Google and it's done quite well - I've still to try out the Vlingo. Google does require an internet connection, so the voice-to-text won't work if you can't keep a data signal.
::: BATTERY LIFE & PERFORMANCE :::
This phone is a power-sink, mainly because of the bright, gorgeous, sultry, battery-sucking, juice-hogging screen. I didn't expect anything different - just saying. You can see the battery usage in the applications section of the settings, which resets every time the phone powers off/on. For my usage, the screen is first on the list followed by Android OS and Android System fighting for second place. If you're going to be using the Galaxy S II for games, movies, and/or anything that requires lots of data and fun on the screen, be prepared to hit the bottom of the battery-barrel by noon. If you're going to be using the Galaxy S II like a PDA for business activities (calendar scheduling, emails, GPS, texting, data input, cloud-access to stored files, etc.) be prepared to have to recharge your phone by mid-day. I actively manage my phone to have the least amount of drain as possible. My backgrounds are dark (I love live wallpaper, as it's my vice) to preserve battery. I have functions such as GPS and bluetooth turned off until I would be needing it, and I keep the screen brightness less than maximum unless I'm outside. I have Juice Defender installed and I don't leave applications running unless they're currently in use. Even with all of this, I'll still drop below 30% battery life by mid-afternoon if I'm using it. If I'm not really using my phone during the day, it'll still stay above 80% by the evening.
Heat hasn't been that much of an issue. The only times the phone gets warm is when I have it plugged in to charge while I'm watching a video or playing some games. Other than that, I can multi-task the heck out of it and most of the heat would be from my hand holding it.
In terms of performance, the Galaxy S II has been able handle practically everything I've thrown at it. It's a workhorse and only on rare occasion has it slowed down significantly. I use the included program monitor to switch between the active applications being used. It's probably the most useful widget there is, since it allows me to quickly uninstall programs, check my RAM status and storage, and clear inactive and background processes. I reboot the phone about once a week (sometimes more if I simply want to reset the uptime and energy monitor) and that always clears everything that the widget doesn't. When I first got the Galaxy S II, I was using about 318/836MB of RAM. I currently hover around 450/836MB, and there is a subtle difference in terms of discernible speed/performance. I do my best to keep my phone and the installed programs streamlined so it doesn't get bloated and bogged down.
As of today, my Galaxy S II has abruptly rebooted only four times. It's seemingly random without any indication leading up to it. Luckily, I wasn't in the middle of anything important for any of those times.
::: MUSIC & CAMERA :::
Invest in a decent pair of headphones and the Galaxy S II is pretty awesome for music. I dare say that the quality is better than that of my iPod Mini (which may or may not be saying much). The vocals are clear and songs with treble and mid-tones sound great and are free from hum. The bass lacks quality, which is not surprising. Heavy drums sound like toys or someone trying to beat-box with a mouthful of cotton. Despite the bass, my iPod has been effectively replaced. In the end it's still enjoyable to listen to music or videos with the Galaxy S II. While it's not going to knock your socks off, the music quality is perfect for being mobile or watching movies. Playing music is very battery-friendly, so the Galaxy S II can actually keep a good charge even if you're listening all day.
The Galaxy S II has also replaced my old camera. There are multiple shooting modes (single, action, panorama, etc.) and multiple scene modes (night, party, text, etc.) to choose from. I've used a few different ones, which have all looked great. The quality can go all the way up to 8MP for the rear camera. The front-facing, self-portrait camera disables all the modes and is limited to only 2MP. The flash is actually pretty powerful! I've been able to capture some night shots with the flash that I wouldn't have been able to do with my digital camera. The low-light performance isn't that bad or good, which is not too surprising. But since most of my photos are during times of ample light, it hasn't been an issue. Overall the photos are very sharp and the color is accurate. The contrast is also excellent. I've been using the phone as a portable document scanner (assisted by the application CamScanner), and the prints from it look as if they had come from a flatbed. The only drawback from using the phone, as opposed to a traditional scanner, is the inconsistency of lighting. However, I do really like how the shutter snaps quickly; you can rip off a picture every other second without the flash. With the flash it's about one every 4-5 seconds.
As of right now, there is no way to turn off the camera shutter sound without having to root your phone. I've considered rooting my phone, but I don't feel it's that necessary just yet (FYI footing is not recommended for novices). It's disappointing that there's no option to turn the sound off so I can take silent photos. You know that desire when you're out somewhere and see someone so ridiculous you have to document it but wish to do it without notice? Yeah, that.
The video-recording quality is pretty good. I haven't had much opportunity to evaluate videos, but the few I have taken were certainly keepers. At this point, I would rather have somewhat lesser video quality (compared to some high-quality video-camera) than not have anything spur-of-the-moment because I didn't bring a video-camera with me. The front-facing camera also takes video, but at a lower resolution. I've yet to actually record with the self-portrait camera, but I have used it to stream video with Skype on the phone. If you haven't Skype'd with your smartphone while enjoying wine in Calistoga, then you've never truly Skype'd (ok maybe maybe-not :P ).
::: MARKET & APPLICATIONS :::
The Galaxy S II comes installed with some very handy applications, and the vast Android market will provide almost anything else one might want/need. Kies Air (standard) lets me use the phone's wireless to connect to my laptop so I can manage or transfer files with a browser. I also use the TeleNav GPS Navigator (standard) all the time and it's acutally faster and more accurate than my Garmin (which has also been replaced). Sorting through applications on the Samsung Galaxy S II is easy and intuitive (I can't say the same for some other Android smartphones). Everything Google has been easy and seamless to sync, and setting up other accounts have been a piece of cake. The Voicemail (standard) application downloads my voicemails and has as easy-access individual entries that I can listen to or delete. The android application market is huge. I've literally spent hours and hours browsing through categories of applications to download, test out, or play with. I've downloaded some games but mostly must-have handy applications to make the Galaxy S II more useful and versatile beyond a typical smartphone.
::: SUMMARY :::
Any given day I'll be using my phone for a variety of uses. When it's not work-related, it's either flicking through Facebook posts, playing Texas Hold'em, or streaming music through Pandora. Even though my Galaxy S II has been loaded with song albums and more applications, it still runs smoothly to my liking and handles everything I need it to; the processing capabilities are matched only by the sleek design and gorgeous display. I love how I can "swype" faster than I can text and that I use my phone for more than crystal-clear calls. It's been easy to transform my phone into a mobile office and entertainment system. With the exception of the battery life, I don't feel that I've had any serious limitations with what a smartphone can deliver. I've owned a number of cellphones in the past, and this is the first time I can legitimately say I've been truly engaged and excited to own my phone. A Samsung Galaxy S II.
So I've been using the phone for a number of weeks now after Sprint's rollout of Android 4.0.4 or Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). I remember updating my phone close to midnight one night. When it finished I turned off my phone's volume and screen and left it unplugged on the dresser with 95% battery life. Imagine the surprise when I woke up 7 hours later and the battery had drained down to 12%! It was a shock to say the least, since I was accustomed to losing only 3-5% for all the months prior. I recharged it back up to full again and found that the battery drain was enormous. A couple hours and factory reset and reinstallation of all apps later, my phone's battery life was notably better.. but still worse than before the ICS update. Even with turning the screen down a LOT more, keeping GPS, bluetooth, and wifi off when not in use, and restricting data syncing and connections to manual, the battery life is still lacking compared to what it was before. Juice Defender Ultimate may be the best application investment for anyone also experiencing such battery drain problems with the Galaxy S II. I've also been using GSam Battery Monitor to account for where my battery power is going. Since adding those applications I've been able to better control and preserve battery longevity. But that aside..
ICS Pros (for me):
- Minor adjustments/improvements in the phone's settings options and layout.
- Addition of a built-in data-usage monitor (I had been using Onavo Data Count but this works very well, if not better, so it's one less app I need to have installed)
- Able to quickly switch between the multiple device inputs
- The Phone and Contacts buttons on the home screen now have separate functions (instead of the overlap/redundancy as before)
- GPS seems to work faster and more accurately
- Regarging seems to be faster as well
ICS Meh (for me):
- Factory reset cured initial, severe battery issues
- The dots for pattern lock/unlock are smaller
- Green colors are noticably more vivid
- Added sounds when the phone goes into or comes out of screen-off
- Can now show the battery % as a number on top of the green icon (but it's rather teeny-tiny and hard to read, especially with some fonts)
ICS Cons (for me):
- Battery life is worse than before, and still not as good as it was even with applications to help out
- Using the Program Manager (or sometimes a task-killing) to clear the programs in active memory will stop the Twlauncher, which requires a phone reset to get everything working again
- When I reset the phone (for any reason), the Twlauncher has force closed and basically requires holding the power button for 8 seconds to reset again so the phone works
- Sometimes when doing the beforementioned, the battery life will show a 30% drop in power, all from two consecutive phone resets
There's likely more, but these have been the most notable to me thus far.
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