The kind folks at T-Mobile gave me one of the new Samsung Galaxy SII cell phones (retail $599.99, or $229.99 with 2 year contract discounts) to evaluate, so I thought I’d share my findings here.
First blush: Inside the nifty, colorful box is the cell phone, a battery, a SIM card, a manual and various warranty/repair paperwork, and one of the new super-small AC Wall chargers (aka:wall-wart).
There is a big warning that tells you that you MUST use the SIM card provided. If you have a SIM card from an older phone, you can’t just pop it in this phone and expect it to work. That was a bit surprising.
The battery cover is a bit weird. If you lay the phone on it’s face, there is a small indent in the upper right corner. You put a fingernail or something fairly thin and sturdy in there and pry the cover off carefully. There are small plastic tabs all around the perimeter. I didn’t break any, but I can see that if you were not careful, it would probably be possible to damage it. I put the battery and the SIM in, and put it on charge.
The phone is really slim. Compared to a Droid-X, it’s the same thickness but the bulge at one end is much smaller than the Droid-X bulge, so it “seems” incredibly slim (0.37” – 9.4mm):
It’s height is 5.11” (129.8mm), width is 2.71” (68.8mm) and weight is a scant 4.77oz (135 grams). I had a couple of people ask if the battery was installed when I handed them the device, it’s that light. Continuing with the Droid-X comparison, it is a little wider (by 0.13”), and a little taller (by 0.09”).
The AC charger adapter is one of the new iPhone style jobbies – very small and cute, and won’t burn two AC sockets like the big traditional wall-warts. It’s hard to tell from the picture but it is about 1.12” square (2.7cm):
This is a 4G phone, and so if you are lucky enough to have a 4G cell near you, it’s really fast. If not, then you get acceptable 3G performance as a fallback. They quote up to 42Mbps download speed with 4G coverage. I wasn’t able to test that definitively, but it did seem plenty fast.
Inside is a Snapdragon S3 processor with a 1.5Ghz dual-core CPU, running Android 2.3.6 (Gingerbread). Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n are supported, as is Bluetooth 3.0
On powering it up, the first thing I (and others who have seen it) noticed is the gorgeous screen. This is a 4.52” Super AMOLED Plus screen with 800×480 pixels, and it’s incredibly contrasty and bright. The blacks are VERY black, and I got ooos and aaahs from everyone who fondled it. I evaluated a couple of phones last year with this type of screen, and their battery drain was horrible. This phone doesn’t seem to be quite as bad, though the factory defaults turn off the screen if you haven’t touched it in 15 seconds. I kicked that up to a minute. It’s really annoying when you are reading something on the display and it goes black on you. Still, if you charge it nightly and don’t waste your entire day playing “Angry Birds”, the battery seems to last.
The 8MP camera is quite nice, but nothing surprising compared to other Androids. This does have a second 2MB front-facing camera for video chat. There is an HDMI output, but that requires you to purchase a MHL adaptor, so I didn’t do that.
For about 15 bucks extra per month, you can enable hotspot tethering. This works well and supports up to 5 connections. However, when this is turned on, your phone loses it’s data connection. This means you won’t get emails or social media updates until you turn the hotspot off.
Speaking of Wi-Fi, one of the interesting features this phone has is Wi-Fi Calling. This can be very handy – let me give you an example. Let’s say you work in a large office building. In the middle of those buildings, there is typically very little (if any) cell coverage. If you set the phone up to attach to the company Wi-Fi, then when you walk in the door and are in range, the phone will activate Wi-Fi calling (you can turn it off if you want – no worries). Once it does this, any incoming our outgoing call will go over the Wi-Fi connection, and the internet connection behind it of course as a VOIP call. This seems to work really well. Last year, the units I tested were flaky at best. The only gotcha is if you are on a Wi-Fi call, and you walk outside and out of range, the call will drop. There is no mechanism to hand the call off to a cell tower.
For those of you who like to watch movies on your phone, Netflix, T-Mobile TV, and Samsung Media Hub are preloaded. While it works, and I guess a lot of people like doing this, I find it uncomfortable to be hunched over a cell phone for any period of time.
Double-tapping the top of the unit (there is no key there, you just bonk it) brings up the Samsung Voice Solution. This is pretty cool and lets you control a lot of things with voice commands. It seems to be pretty accurate, and so might be more usable than previous incarnations. Voice control is always iffy. My Toyota Prius theoretically has it. However, I’ve found that no matter what I say, or how I say it, it says “turning screen off”. Lovely. Also, one time I tried to get it to display gas station icons on the nav unit. I got Golf courses. I even tried speaking with a Japanese accent. No good – it’s just not usable. The Samsung implementation is much better.
Like most android implementations, Swype is supported. If you haven’t used Swype before, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. This is a REALLY great input system. In theory, you can “type” in a note up to 40wpm using Swype. I’m not nearly that fast, but it’s a lot faster than poking individual letters, and usually a LOT more accurate. The idea is that you don’t take your finger off the screen. You just cruise from letter to letter to make up your word (and you don’t have to be all THAT accurate in your motions either). It’s pretty wild, and very cool.
If you are in a meeting and don’t want to be embarrassed by your goofy ringtone, just turn the phone face-down on the table and it will automatically be muted.
One of the more unusual motion “gestures” I’ve seen is the “tilt zoom”. Once this is enabled, if you are viewing something (a web page or a picture) that supports pinch-zoom (touch the screen with 2 fingers and pinch them together), then you can use this new gesture. Touch the screen with 2 fingers (thumbs are convenient), then tilt the device back and forth. It will zoom in and out. It’s hard to control where on the screen it’s using as the center of the zoom, so I don’t know if this is really all that usable in the real world, but it will make your iPhone buddies envious just because it LOOKS cool.
This phone also has some features of particular interest to the Enterprise Corporate folks:
- Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync is built in, allowing real-time communications and sync with your email.
- Hardware based encryption: Sybase Afaria Mobile Device management can use this to encrypt all your data. I’d expect other MDM solutions to begin to support this soon.
- VPN – Virtual Private Network: Cisco’s AnyConnect is included.
- Cisco Webex is supported
To sync with your computer, Samsung has released the new Kies 2.0 (the old version was 1.5). You can also use Kies Air to wirelessly sync your data. This allows you to sync between your phone and computer wirelessly but only when they are both connected to the same wireless access point.