The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean out of the box, skinned with the latest TouchWiz launcher, dubbed Nature UX. The user interface is basically identical to that of the Galaxy S III mini: the two phones have the same Android version and screen resolution.
Beyond the obvious benefits to the user experience compared to stock Android, a clearly midrange handset takes advantage of the same premium combination that powers the Galaxy S III and the Galaxy Note II.
We've shot a brief video showing off the user interface here.
The lockscreen is a standard "tap and drag in any direction to unlock" affair and there're ripples accompanied by water-drop sound as you drag your finger. There are a number unlock routines to choose from: motion, face and voice among others.
There're three customizable lockscreen shortcuts (down from five on the big S III and Note II), and you can drag one to activate the corresponding app.
The dock at the bottom of the homescreen fits five custom shortcuts or folders. The rightmost one always opens the app drawer, but the other four can be set to any shortcut or even a folder.
As usual, you can pinch to zoom out and manage homescreen panes - add, delete or just reorder them. You can have 7 panes at most, which are enough to fit plenty of content even if you use widgets that cover an entire pane.
The notification area is quite feature-rich and offers quick toggles for Wi-Fi, GPS, Silent mode, Screen rotation, Bluetooth. You can swipe to the side to get even more: Mobile data, Blocking mode, Power saving and Sync.
Below the toggles is the brightness slider (there's no automatic brightness toggle here though). There are also a couple of other useful things like the Settings shortcut in the upper right corner, the time/date to its left and the carrier name at the bottom.
In Jelly Bean, you get expandable notifications to get more info about them. They can be expanded and collapsed with a two-finger swipe and the top one is expanded by default (if the app that put up the notification supports it, of course).
The app drawer accommodates both app shortcuts and widgets. Unlike stock Android, you cannot move between tabs by swipes - you have to explicitly hit the widget tab. Some will find this more logical (scrolling past the available apps to find yourself in the widgets takes some getting used to).
Using pinch-to-zoom reveals an overview of the pages and lets you rearrange them, but you can't create new ones. Hitting the menu key reveals some more options, including hiding apps or enabling tap-to-uninstall mode.
The app drawer has three view modes: a Customizable grid (where you can freely rearrange icons), Alphabetical grid and Alphabetical list (this one makes shortcuts easy to hit, but isn't very space efficient). You can also view just the downloaded apps by hitting the Downloaded apps icon.
Jelly Bean comes with a selection of widgets, with some custom additions by Samsung. Some widgets are resizable too - a feature we've seen in some custom UIs is available natively in Jelly Bean. Widgets automatically move out of the way when you're reorganizing the homescreen.
Once you get several apps running, you can use the task switcher to go back and forth between them. It's a Jelly Bean-style vertical list with a screenshot and a name for each app. A sideways swipe removes the app from the list.
There are three buttons at the bottom of the list - one to bring out Samsung's home-brewed task manager, one to launch Google Now and a 'Kill all apps' button.
Overall, the Nature UX on top of Android 4.1 looks great and the Galaxy S II Plus does pack most of the cool software tricks of the flagship.
And despite the lack of a quad-core chipset, the Galaxy S II Plus handles the heavy Samsung skin equally well. It wouldn't choke on heavy live wallpaper either.
Unlike its predecessor, the Galaxy S II, the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus is based on a Broadcom chipset, but it uses the same 1.2GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU and 1GB of RAM. However, the Android release and the GPU are different , so we expect the results to vary slightly.
BenchmarkPi sees the S II Plus land towards the bottom of the pack in terms of single-threaded CPU performance, but that's expected against mostly higher clocked processors and ones with newer-gen architectures.
Lower is better
Quadrant is an altogether different story, as the Galaxy S II Plus handily beats out the ICS-powered Galaxy S II, and slots in just behind the quad-core devices in our test.
Higher is better
GLBenchmark runs offscreen at 1080p resolution - putting all our tested devices on equal footing. The Broadcom VideoCore IV HW GPU failed to beat the Mali-400MP inside the Galaxy S II, but stayed pretty close to it, nonetheless.
Higher is better
Finally, the SunSpider and Browsermark benchmarks gave us more reasons to cheer. Given all the recent Jelly Bean optimizations to the web browser this was almost expected, and we suspect the Galaxy S II will jump up closer to the S II Plus once the imminent Jelly Bean update starts hitting.
Lower is better
Higher is better