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Which Galaxy S II is better? T-Mobile’s vs. AT&T’s

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Customers on U.S. GSM networks have two similar Samsung Galaxy S II smartphones to choose from: one for AT&T(s t) and one for T-Mobile. While both are essentially the same phone, there are some subtle differences in both the internals and outside appearances. I have a review unit from both carriers, and while both are generally outstanding Google Android (s goog) handsets, customers deciding between the two should understand the key differences.

I’ve only just received the T-Mobile version over the weekend, while I’ve had the AT&T model for two weeks. So far, these are the differences I’ve spotted, outside of the actual dimensions of the handsets; you can see the size differences in the below image gallery.

What do these hardware and software differences mean in terms of real world use? So far, I don’t see much difference in the overall performance of these phones, even though they have different processors. Benchmark programs have yielded varying results, but what matters is how the phones work. They’re very comparable for browsing, navigating and running apps. The AT&T version actually feels slightly faster, but the variance is barely detectable, and most consumers wouldn’t likely see it. Besides, both run faster than most Android phones on the market today.

The wireless connectivity is a big variable, however. AT&T not only has a slower radio in its model, it has fewer coverage areas that support such speeds. My speed tests show the T-Mobile version is much faster where I live, and that’s only in a 21 Mbps area: 9 Mbps down on T-Mobile compared to 4 Mbps on AT&T. My podcast co-host Matt Miller tested the Galaxy S II in a 42 Mbps T-Mobile coverage area and found the phone to rival or exceed speeds provided by Verizon’s (s vz) LTE network.

Displays on the two phones use the same 800×480 resolution and Super AMOLED Plus technology. The main variance is the size, and to my eye, the AT&T display looks better. Because it’s slightly smaller, it has slightly more pixels per inch. And even when setting both displays at the same 50-percent brightness, the colors look better on the AT&T model: more vivid and less washed out. In my image gallery, you can determine which is better to you. Note in particular a picture I took in San Francisco. There appears to be less contrast on the T-Mobile version.

Both handsets are generally lasting a full day, so I don’t see much difference in the battery capabilities. I do like how you can swap microSD cards in the T-Mobile version without turning the phone off, although most people probably won’t care about that feature. Far more important to me though is the lack of Google Talk video support on T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II. The carrier opted to pull support in lieu of Qik’s video chat service, which is pre-installed. AT&T’s phone supports Google Talk video chat and my tests have proved it to work extremely well.

All in all, both phones are superb; the best Android devices I’ve used yet. But due to subtle differences, local coverage areas and your own personal preferences, one Galaxy S II might be better for you over the other. Bear in mind that there’s also a slight difference in the pricing: AT&T’s version is $199 with contract, while T-Mobile is initially selling its Galaxy S II for $30 more.

27 Responses to “Which Galaxy S II is better? T-Mobile’s vs. AT&T’s”

  1. Actually to me the t-mobile galaxy s2 looks clearer and more vivid, for example the picture with the boat and bridge looks clearer on t-mobile version and the red on the boat pops out more to me than the at&t version. Just my opinion though.

    • For an unlocked AT&T phone to work on T-Mobile’s mobile broadband network, the phone must support the 1700 MHz frequency. You can check on the box to see if the phone does. Unfortunately, if you bought the phone from AT&T, it’s highly unlikely this frequency is supported. In the case of the Galaxy S II, the model sold overseas — in Europe, for example — would work on T-Mobile.

      • Haven’t gotten back to it so I don’t know about the exact frequencies–but it must have 1700, bc/ I am able to make calls from it on Tmobile. Also, data works, with “E” (which I understand is EDGE) on statusbar.
        Question is– why not 4G?

        • Unlocked AT&T phones will work on T-Mobile for voice because the two carriers generally use the same GSM frequencies for voice. But for high speed data, they use different frequencies. Without 1700 MHz support in the phone, you’ll be stuck on EDGE speeds with a T-Mobile SIM. People who buy unlocked iPhones — or buy an AT&T iPhone and then unlock or jailbreak it — have the same experience: voice is fine, but data is EDGE only because of no 1700 MHz support.

    • linuxfreak

      Yes it will, I have a att gs2 and works fine. Btw the att version of the Samsung gs2 running exynos cortex a9 beats Tmo’s Qualcomms version, of course both run on the ARM-7 architecture. And both beat the Apples iDont 3-4s as it is a Samsung ARM7 processor underclocked to 800MHZ! Why?. I run the At&t ver. rooted,running Cyanogen 7 on Tmo.

  2. Kenneth Cheung

    The strangest thing is that the Canadian Version of the GSII actually looks the best in design, because they have a single home button, and the form factor is like the ATT version. I was in the US last week, and people were commenting. Must be the lawsuits.

  3. Scardal Xedcba

    Hope that t-mobile will release the samsung galaxy s2 (today) with more passion. The release at at&t was horrible and people still waiting to get the phone there. But you see already a difference between t-mobile and at&t, because t-mobile presents the galaxy s2 and the whole android thing very well. And it is a great chance for t-mobile at the right moment to sell the galaxy s2 when the iphone 4s (instead of a iphone 5) disappointed everywhere and the galaxy s2 is still the best smartphone on earth. T-mobile: Take your chance and push android in the us even further:-)

  4. A man who tells it like he ‘sees’ it and shares examples. Well done. Altho I’m not sure my old eyes would register the difference, I appreciate the observations. Thanks

    • Robert Schneidenberger

      I think most people could live without Apple Fans hyping their iphone and posting that on a site that reviews an android phone. :rolleyes
      I had an iphone for 3 years, the first one, the 3g and the 3gs. I love the iphone and I think the 4 and 4s is the sexiest and most beautiful phone ever made! Yet I prefer android and I love my 4G speeds and I personally would not want to go back to an iphone or 3G speeds.
      But that’s just me.

      • Linh Ngüyen

        Strange. I’ve used the 3G, 3GS and 4 and I must say the 4/4s have the worst design coming from the 3GS. No longer curvaceous and comfortable to hold. Now you have square edges that dig into your fingers after long periods of time. I’m looking forward to the Nokia Lumia 800 coming to the US (hopefully as a newer better model by then).

  5. Robert Schneidenberger

    I don’t understand why a company (Samsung) makes three different phones! One for AT&T and one for T-Mobile and one for Sprint and all are slightly different. Is that even feasible?
    From the pictures and the design, I prefer the AT&T Version, but I am with T-Mobile, so………….

  6. I don’t understand why a company (Samsung) makes 3 different phones!? One for AT&T, one for T-Mobile and one for Sprint and they all are slightly different. Is that even feasible?
    From the pictures and the design, I prefer the AT&T Version, but I am with T-Mobile. So…..

    • R.J.McReady

      It’s not Samsung, it’s the carriers, they told saumsung what they want, but with apple, it’s the other way around, they tell the carriers and YOU what you can have. That’s one of the reason why I have android, and maybe wp8 later, once microsoft app store catches up.

    • Ekta Gupta

      i think these differences must a carrier choice – so that they can make themselves different than other. Which make little sense to me as a carrier but as a customer it equally frustrates me.Please dont put tough choices before us carriers…..

  7. Lolo Brigita

    huh? each carrier has a different version of the model? that’s the problem. make 2-3 models and give them to all carriers. you’ll have less headaches in the long run.

    Please make a small/medium/large series.

    I like the small ones. That’s why I don’t have a smart phone yet.