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Samsung Galaxy S II review: An iPhone owner’s tale of betrayal

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A new iPhone(s aapl) still hasn’t been officially announced, and while my iPhone 4 still mostly satisfies my needs, I have to confess: For the past two weeks, I haven’t been exactly faithful. Samsung Canada let me test out a Samsung Galaxy S II, the latest smartphone from the hardware company that stands as the biggest challenger to Apple. Here’s how I feel about my decision to step out on iOS.

Hardware look and feel

The Samsung Galaxy S II, which is reported to be coming to the U.S. later this month, is a good-looking device. Measuring one-third of an inch thick, weighing a little over four ounces, and with a beautiful 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen, it’s a slender beast that won’t take up too much room in your pocket or weigh you down, despite being slightly broader and longer in shape than the iPhone 4.

But the weight and materials of the GS2 actually mean that the Samsung phone feels cheaper than its Apple rival, which is made of glass and stainless steel. The materials in the GS2, especially the flimsy plastic battery cover, may not meet the iPhone’s standards, but the patterned back does provide some appreciated extra grip when holding the phone.

Build and materials aren’t everything. The GS2 has done fine with being unceremoniously tossed in a backpack/pocket for two weeks, and the lightness and thinness of the hardware does make it pleasant to hold and to carry.

Basic functions

Calling, texting, emailing and otherwise going about your cell phone business are all handled well on the Galaxy S II. Calls I made using both Skype (s msft) and regular cellular service over the Bell network here in Canada worked well, and some of the people I called even noticed a bit of improvement over call quality on my iPhone 4. That could come down to network differences, however, so I’m wary of ascribing it to the hardware.

Text messaging worked fine, but I still prefer the iPhone’s messaging interface, even above preferred third-party options for Android like Handcent SMS. The iOS version looks much cleaner, and features a user interface that’s more friendly to people who might be new or unused to texting. If you’re a Gmail user (s goog) , the Android app is great, and the built-in Samsung email app also works very well, though again, I prefer the iOS variety, which is more polished and works more easily with a greater range of services, like Microsoft Exchange addresses and MobileMe.


This is where the Galaxy S II really shines. I’ve had the opportunity to use only a few Android devices in my time, but I have spent a lot of time with the Nexus S, 2010’s Android reference phone built by Samsung. The GS2 makes Android feel almost like a more advanced version of the Android operating system compared to the same version running on the older Nexus S. Animations are smooth, loading is snappier for apps and all elements, and there are just generally fewer hiccups and less choppiness when it comes to video and music playback.

This is the device that comes closest to creating a mobile experience as smooth as Apple’s. Still, it doesn’t quite match it. The bizarre throwaway lock screen element proved confusing, and the degree of choice and depth of settings, while an aspect that appeals to many Android fans, might not sit well with veteran iOS users. Likewise, navigating the web using any Android mobile browser (no matter which) isn’t quite as intuitive on the GS2 as it is on the iPhone. My girlfriend tends to avoid computers outside of work when at all possible, and she found the interface aggravating, eventually flat-out refusing to use the phone for tasks like browsing the web. Quirks like Skype dropping calls when you sleep the display using the power button added to the frustration.

For me, a more experienced user who grew up fiddling with DOS and then Windows computers, the phone provided an experience that I could easily see myself using on a daily basis, and there are some long-promised elements of Android that the GS2 finally delivers on. The most significant was the ability to play Flash(s adbe) video and audio streams without issue. I could watch full episodes of TV shows from my local networks on their general, non-mobile sites with the latest version of Flash installed from the Android Market, and video quality was excellent. There were no stutters, which is more than I can say for Flash playback on any mobile device I’ve yet used. And while the Galaxy S II’s speaker isn’t the greatest, it was more than adequate for watching media without headphones.

Having mobile access to full Flash streaming content after so many years of being barred from it on the iPhone is actually incredibly enjoyable. I’d convinced myself that it wasn’t a big deal, but the GS2 proved that, especially now that I’ve ditched the cable subscription, it is most definitely a big deal. Being able to watch Flash video on a device with such a gorgeous screen that’s also easily pocketable feels like something that’s long overdue.


Let’s face it: iOS still has a huge advantage in the number and quality of apps available over Android. But not everyone needs more apps. Android has the basics covered, thanks to the support of big companies like Facebook, Skype, Twitter and of course Google. There are also plenty of great apps from smaller developers that match their iOS counterparts in terms of features and function, like Plex, TuneIn Radio and Shazam.

Android does have a great advantage over iOS with apps: You can set virtually any task to be completed with virtually any app. I can set calls to be made with Skype, or music to play with doubleTwist, or Handcent SMS to handle text messaging. That’s a great deal of freedom for someone crossing over from iOS, and so long as you’re fine with getting your hands dirty and doing a little fiddling, plus dealing with pop-ups continually presenting you with these options instead of just having the OS make your decisions for you, it’s a big plus for the GS2.


The GS2 features an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera capable of shooting 1080p HD video, and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video calls. The camera is very capable, and should satisfy iPhone 4 owners looking to switch. Plus, the camera app on the GS2 offers more features and customizability than the iPhone version, including face and smile detection, various shooting modes and exposure choices. Plus, paired with Google+, you can instantly upload your GS2 photos to the web for storage and sharing. The iPhone will get a similar feature when iOS 5 is released this fall, but it’s not here yet.


The GS2 has pretty good battery life, especially when compared to the Nexus S, and generally lasts a full day on a single charge. But it still doesn’t match my iPhone 4, which can often last two days on one charge. That said, its battery is also accessible to users for replacement, unlike on the iPhone, and performs better than most other Android phones, for which battery life is a known flaw. So if you’re thinking about switching, this is the device that’s the best with battery life you can get outside of Apple’s playground.


I’ve rarely had reason to look around at the competition since getting my first iPhone, but the Samsung Galaxy S II does a very good job of turning my head. It’s a phone I could easily see myself using on a daily basis without complaint, and in fact, with great pleasure. That said, I’ll probably wait until I see what Apple unveils this fall before making a drastic change like actually purchasing one.

The bottom line is that if you’re looking for a smartphone right now that brings top-of-the-line performance as well as access to web-based Flash content, and you also aren’t afraid to put up with some quirks in exchange for customizability, the Samsung Galaxy S II is a great choice, even for Apple lovers who just aren’t the patient type, and feel like October might be too long to wait.

48 Responses to “Samsung Galaxy S II review: An iPhone owner’s tale of betrayal”

  1. Christopher Sim

    It’s a shame the author even has this article about the Galaxy SII published. He is clearly blinded by Apple (as with most iPhone owners).
    I must admit I do not own any iPhone before. I have handled a few owned by friends. Some of the things I don’t like about iPhone:
    1) SMS keyboard does not display whether Caps is on or not. On Android the whole keyboard switches between Caps or not.
    2) Need to bloody connect to the computer to delete a song from the playlist???!!!
    3) Apple apparently planted a software that tracks the location of the owner without prior disclosure. And iSheeps are even saying that’s a good feature of iPhone!
    There are good and bad for both Android and iOS. Yes, I am sure there are things about Android that is not perfect. I just cannot stand the iSheeps senseless defence of the ‘best-est’ phone in the world ever…!

  2. Charlie Rockitt

    android is for those that want the same apps and dont like to pay for them. Also the android platform will sync flawlessly with any exchange server quicker then iOS. Also you didnt mention the fact that you can customize the entire gui of an android device, not just move some apps around.

  3. Robert Norris Hills

    While I refute allot of your posts (seriously exchange is 10000000000000000000000x easier with any android device then it is with an ios device) it seemed fairly balanced.

    I however feel that my GS2 is much better than my IP4….I gave my iphone to my mother to enjoy. Ifan convert here. GS2 is heaven in a plastic shell.

  4. Art Thresher

    for cool stuff for your Samsung Galaxy S II, from live wallpapers, games to benchmark test and video qually test visit and view your way threw the playlists.
    For download links visit the blog channel mentioned in the YT channel if the videos don’t include an QRcode or if you don’t have a QRscanner

  5. Art Thresher

    for cool stuff for your Samsung Galaxy S II, from live wallpapers, games to benchmark test and video qually test visi and view your way threw the playlists.
    For download links visit the blog channel mentioned in the YT channel if the videos don’t include an QRcode or if you don’t have a QRscanner

  6. Darling679

    My husband got the HTC Eris when it came out and has never changed a thing. In fact he didn’t even know he could go to the market and download apps until I showed him and he was always happy with his phone…it’s a phone after all. Now I on the other hand, love, love, love to tinker with my phone. Root the phone, install ROMs, test it just because I can. I always have a backup phone (just in case). My husband would do just fine with an iphone but I want to play! It depends on what you want to do with a phone. Android and ios are both great for different people that wat different things. I still don’t understand why people argue over what’s better? Thta would be like argueing over whether tuna or bologna tastes better…depends on your tastebuds

  7. I’ve been using an unlocked, unbranded S2 for over a month. Great phone. But you didn’t mention USB OTG that allows a flash drive or USB keyboard to be attached via the micro USB port. Great additional function.

  8. I’ve been using an unlocked, unbranded S2 for over a month, after using the original GS from T-Mobile. You didn’t mention the fantastic USB OTG function that allows a cable hook-up to a flash drive or USB keyboard. And, the FM radio is something I use quite a bit when walking. It’s a stellar piece of hardware and has everything I could want.

  9. Michael

    I know this is really off topic. But where did you get that Sackboy from? I would really like to know :)

    I have an iPhone 4 and my guitar player has a SGS2. We both tested each others devices and we both agree that they are good to use for all average users. I think it just depends on the OS which fits you most. Mine definitely is iOS.

    • mike dvorkin

      It takes more than just futzing around for a bit. When I switched to android, my initial reaction was panic and overall WTF. It lasted less than an hour — I was sort of prepared and knew what I would have to install and what would need to be configured.

  10. I have an iPhone and a Thunderbolt. There is no comparison, I always reach for the Thunderbolt. Some of the iOS drawbacks will be addressed with iOS5, but I can’t live without Flash. Navigation and general Google integration is far superior on Android, along with notifications and customization without any rooting. And Jobs was right, I also love the larger screen. I only miss the much larger range of accessories that the iPhone has. Also, jailbreaking is much simpler than on some Android phones which is why my TB is not rooted. Last, although I don’t use it, there are lots of custom ROM’s available vs none for iPhone. Overall, I rate the app store slightly better than the Market, but all my needs are covered. Battery life is about the same. I prefer the combo battery/case for the iPhone – no such animal for my TB which means I must carry a spare battery separate from the case. No Flash = no iPhone, bottom line.

  11. Terence

    There are a few things I dislike about it:
    1. Malware.
    2. Difficulties of combining customizations in the same place. Typically customizing Android to adopt something you like in one versions of Android requires you to give up what you like in another version. In contrast to jailbroken iPhone where such limitations do not exist.
    3. Multilanguage support. I can combine any languages in iPhone. Not so with Android where a separate firmware is issued for each region.
    4. Inconsistent UI. The copy and paste of SGS 2 in the browser and that in the other places are designed differently. If you install third party software such as and skyfire you see different design again.
    5. KIES. This is a terrible piece of unreliable software.
    6. Pink patche on photos taken which are very obvious on while background.

    • 1. Malware is a choice. Kind of like Windows.
      2. jailbreak -> root
      3. Multilanguage is fully supported on Android.
      4. They are all the same if the phone is untouched… of course 3rd party app would alter them.
      5. Kies, unlike iTunes, is completely optional.
      6. Fixed with an update.

      You still won’t like it because it’s not Apple made.

  12. mike dvorkin

    I don’t understand what the big deal about iPhone is. I left iPhone for HTC EVO 4G, and never looked back. Yes, out of the box, Android was a bit bland and uninteresting, but after 30 minutes of tinkering I managed to turn it into a device that iPhone will never touch. (No, I did not have to root to make it useful.) iPhone now feels like a very inconvenient device where everything requires a bunch of unnecessary clicks. Now, if chose to be adventurous and play with alternative ROMs s.a. MIUI, the possibilities and choices are truly limitless.

  13. good review. I have to chuckle at the “fiddling with DOS” reference, and the fact that your GF for some reason can’t surf the web on the Samsung..? Android phones are really not any more difficult at all to use than IOS devices. Surfing the internet consists of pressing the button and surfing as normal…but to each their own i suppose.

  14. No real beef with this review; though the reviewer makes it clear that he prefers complexity in his computing. I do wonder about the Flash experience. Been using Flash on a mobile since the N95 (4yrs), why is this a revelation to “mobile experts?” Especially when Flash actually worked well despite what some might want you to believe?

    • buxz777

      flash on symbian is only flash lite , it is not as advanced as full flash and is very limiting as to what you can do with it , the web browser is also a bit clunky compared to androids browser which makes using flash lite a nightmare . The sgs2 offers full flash support and coming from symbian myself i am blown away by it , it is so much better then symbians flash support literally any flash site works its awesome

  15. Peter Deep

    Nice review, enjoyable to read, well balanced and written, except shouldn’t it be titled, “Samsung Galaxy S II review: An iPhone owner’s tale of infidelity?”

  16. Ridiculous review IMO….which heavily squeals of apple fanboy. But carry on…apple cant even launch a phone a year and their becoming stale. They can’t possibly hope to compete anymore. I Switched from iOS before iPhone 4 and don’t regret it at all. My experience of android has been nothing short of brilliant and the advancements over the last year in particular have really bridged any gap that apple fanboys used to shout about.

    • My experience with Android gradually went down south from last year ago when I got HTC Incredible. After a year of owning a phone I’ve experienced so many technical issues (Out of Space error which stops text messages, Java erros, randowm locks, etc) that I can’t take it anymore. Verizon can’t offer any help besides hard reset of the phone. I am forced to clean the CACHE on my phone and uninstall apps even though I got 12GB of free space on my menmory card. Apparently because of the bug in the phone (not sure if people experienced the same issue with other HTC phones) the application space is limited by the size of partition on the phone itself and this is a know issue with no existing fix. If you read any app review on Google’s app store you will see many coments like ‘Not working on this phone’ and ‘Crashing on that phone’ because of different version of Android running on different carrier’s phones.
      If you are willing to deal with these never ending issues than Android is for you, otherwise iPhone is clearly a better choice at this point. Just take a look how iPhone 4 release on Verizon affected Droid sales. Android’s position will be even further pushed once iPhone 5 will come out.

      • You can’t save apps to the memory card without rooting the phone, or downloading a 3rd party app. You can find that out in about 2 seconds using the magic of google.

      • Synacks

        It’s interesting that all the people that talk crap about Android bought the mid-range or low-end Android devices. If you are going to spend a premium to get an iPhone you might as well spend that premium and test out a high-end Android device first. Then you will see why Android is quickly becoming #1. Just like the article writer in this situation did.

  17. Victor Lucas Martino

    This is the only review I’ve seen that’s not made from a fanboy (both android and apple). You did a good job pointing out the pros and cons of the device.
    I’m a loyal iPhone user, but I have to admit this is a great device. Android is not for me, though, I really don’t like the way it works. I hope apple can catch up with samsung with the iphone 5