Samsung Galaxy S II :: First Impressions

What, you thought this blog would be french-only? Think again!


As you might all know, I am a relatively… enthusiastic Android user, developer, and all-around geek on the platform. It is then probably not a surprise for you to learn I traded my Samsung/Google Nexus S for a shiny new i9100m, Canada’s Bell Mobility variant of a certain phone more commonly known as the Samsung Galaxy S II. The upgrade cost a pretty penny, I will admit… but it’s worth every quack* of it. Since you came here, let me give you my first impressions of the device.

Outwards appearance

A Samsung phone will eternally be a Samsung phone. While I cannot explain to myself why they have such a hard-on for plastic, I have to appreciate the fact that they know what they’re doing with that oil-based compound. This all-plastic phone, while outwardly looking a bit cheap, is actually very well-built, and the impression of cheap quickly fades away when you get it in your hands. The build and overall assembly precision are at the very least pretty impressive for a Samsung, though, to be honest, this quality of build is what I would require from a high-end phone this pricy. Another feature of the phone that’s worth mentionning is its slim-as-hell line. Overall a bit less slim than the Sony-Ericsson Xperia Arc, its line is more regular instead of SE’s approach, and has a « bump » at the lower end of the phone. In my mind, this approach is better for holding the device, and gives a physical guide of sorts for your fingers, so you know where it is on your hand unconsciously. Laugh at my observations, but I like that approach.

Last but not least, the outwards appearance is, let’s be honest, reminescent of a certain other device. I like it because I can go to an iBeliever and say « ooooh I have a home button too! », but your mileage may vary. Honestly though, Samsung doing that is just poking at the fire with a stick made of pure flammable material.

Hardware-based features

From my point of view, we are just beginning to see why Google chose to partner themselves with Samsung. The Galaxy S II is nothing short of impressive just from the specs list.

  • Dual-Core 1.2gHz Cortex-A9 Samsung Exynos 4210 CPU
  • 1gb of RAM (on a flippin’ mobile phone! that’s enormous!)
  • 16gb of internal flash with a microSD slot for up-to-32gb microSDHC cards
  • The awesomely beautiful SuperAMOLED+ screen that got people to buy the phone after looking at it
  • Proximty, Light, Magneto, Gyro and Acceleration meters
  • 8mpix main camera [with a flash] and a 2mpix FFC
    • 2mpix! the Nexus S only has a VGA FFC! FFS!
    • Should I mention the back camera can record 1080p video?
  • Eurozone (900/2100) and AT&T (850/1900) 3G bands. Quadband!

And I’m not even talking about the connectivity.

Like I mentionned, the screen. Oh, the SCREEN. This screen. It’s beautiful. Colors are rendered awesomely, darks are well-rendered, blacks are, well, black and nothing else. And when the situation is good enough, you don’t see the delimitation between the bezel and the actual screen. It’s that awesome. The device’s responsiveness benefits greatly from the Exynos CPU – pretty snappy and fast, operating with the occasional hiccup, but nonetheless too fast most of the time. For example, the CPU and GPU are so flippin’ fast that the Gallery app from Google just zips too damned fast in its menu. It’s that crazy.

Then there is the beautiful image circuitry. The 8mpix back camera is, for a mobile camera, pretty damned decent for those situations that require a quick still image without the dSLR quality. Clear, sharp, well-defined and with a good autofocus, it does its job. Add to that that you have a complete 2.0 front-facing camera to boot, it’s awesome. I mean, 2.0mpix. You don’t need that! And yet you have it!

Software

Ok, now I will throw bad in the pond: I don’t like. TouchWIZ is AWESOME, don’t get me wrong. It’s a pervasive modification, but it works well (or at least damned better than before, and it’s LIGHTyears beyond anything Motorola could manage to code), and is complete enough to differenciate itself from stock Android pretty decently. It’s every bit as OS-modified as Sense, and the mods are good. And they threw in advanced features that Google doesn’t even BEGIN to see as intelligent to implement, because they don’t even KNOW that it’s doable, let alone that it’s an existing, if unused, standard. Samsung is awesome like that.

But I’m missing core features. They removed the SIPstack, for christ’s sake. You don’t touch my SIPstack. EVER. Also, some features are hidden or less modifiable. And I’m missing stock widgets – I want my 2×2 calendar widget BACK!

Aside from that, as stated, TouchWIZ is, this time, awesome. Might be due to the fact that I’m running it on a dual-core, 1gbRam device, but it doesn’t (or rarely) lag, the user experience got updated to differentiate itself from other market products, and they researched on the matter – it’s not a weird, ass-backwards reimplementation of simple things. They improved the UX well and deserve to be recognized for this. Though Samsung Apps is a bit silly. We already have a complete market. Unless there’s some kind of awesome exclusivity or something available for free for Samsung clients, I don’t give a damn.

Hacking

OH. My. GOD. OH my FLIPPING GODS. This is a carrier-modified but totally-unlocked phone. And it’s open as -f-. It’s like if Samsung is saying « HAVE FUN WITH OUR SHIT ». I mean, they got it right with the NS with the fastboot tool (they wouldn’t have gotten it as wrong as HTC even if they had wanted to), but… Oh god. The Samsung proprietary equivalent of fastboot, Odin, got modded… and totally reminds me of the Fastboot menu on the Nexus S. It’s different, d’uh. But the way they modified it is too damned cute. AND Odin isn’t locked, so the « bootloader lock » stuff is non-existing in the Samsung world.

Rooting is also flippin’ easy. Just Odin a modified kernel package into your phone and it’ll automatically root your phone. I did that, and with the tools set up, I was rooted and ready to mod in less than 10 minutes.

Network unlocking is also a pretty awesome point. For lack of a better term, IT’S FREE (jaws back where they should, please). Of course, the Bell version got updated to not be compatible with unlock code generation. But there is an app, available freely on the market (……ok, i gave you enough time to grab your jaws back from the ground), that simply unlocks the sh*t out of the radio in two steps and a reboot. I’m on Telus, I did that procedure, and sure enough, I’m tethered to my device as I type this report.

I also feel the innate need to shout that 4 lucky douches got the device for free with the only requirement being of getting a certain community distribution of Android to run on the device. And run it does. Yes, Samsung themselves took the initiative of sending 4 GalaxyS II’s, free of charge, to the CyanogenMOD GalaxyS team. That action itself basically gave Samsung a community geek visibility other companies can probably only DREAM of getting and are kicking themselves in their collective balls saying « why the HELL didn’t we think of that? »

Wrap-up

Should I have done the upgrade? Even my wallet is saying « … okay, fine, it’s worth its price ». That’s how good the device feels after 24h of posession and use.

As of now, the SGS2 is, bar none, the best existing device on the market. Some features are not THE ULTIMATE best [for example, the LG NOVA screen is one badass display], but the device hoards too much awesomeness for itself and compensates for non-ultimate-awesome level on specifics by having a very-high-awesome general level to everything. The sum of its parts is this: if you’re on the market right now for a badass phone and you have cash to spare [and don't need NFC**], this is one of « the ones to get absolute-flippin’-ly ». And if you wait a couple of months (and are on Bell), with price drops, this gold bar of a phone will be even more awesome.

 

*: Canada’s 1$ coin has a loonie on it.

**: I’m not even sure this phone will never, ever have NFC. The circuitry is absent from the phone, but I can’t shake the feeling that the USB-OnTheGo feature could, in time, enable users to plug a NFC circuit to USB-OTG-supporting devices such as this one.

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