Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II review: Brightest star

GSMArena team, 13 May 2011.

Unboxing: a few more accessories would have made a good box perfect

Samsung has managed to fit the I9100 Galaxy S II in a pretty compact box. To an extent that you’ll be unprepared for the actual size of the phone inside.

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The Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II retail package

The bundle includes a charger, a one-piece headset, a microUSB cable and a quick start guide. That’s all the basics covered, considering that the device offers ample storage out of the box. However, Samsung will still ship its flagship with an 8GB card in some markets taking the initial storage to either 24GB or 40GB. Not bad.

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Unfortunately, the USB host adapter and the MHL adapter are purchased separately

The bad news is that the MHL adapter required for HD TV-out and the USB adapter enabling the USB host functionality aren’t included. It’s a real pity – both work pretty well but many users will probably not bother purchasing them and won’t get a chance to try them.

Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II 360-degree spin

At 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5 mm, the Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II is a phone to be taken seriously. A massive screen in a body so slim, the new Galaxy beats the predecessor on every count: bigger, slimmer, sharper. And the handling is even better, despite gaining 0.3” in display diagonal.

Design and display

With a hint of a chin at the back, and a hardware menu key flanked by a couple of touch-sensitive buttons the Galaxy S II does bear resemblance to its predecessor. However the slimmer bezel around an even more impressive screen does take looks a level up.

The weight is also kept impressively low – at the mere 116g, the Galaxy S II is 3 grams lighter than the original Galaxy S.

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The Galaxy S II sized up against the original Galaxy S and the iPhone 4

The back has also been improved with the glossy blue-dotted plastic replaced by the finely textured surface we’ve come to know from the Samsung S5830 Galaxy Ace. This particular finish is practically immune to fingerprints and quite pleasant – and secure – to hold.

Some metal on the body might’ve suited the flagship but, since it would’ve upped the weight, we are willing to live with the second best option.

Besides, no matter what finish the design team would have come up with, all eyes would always be focused on the 4.3” Super AMOLED Plus screen anyway. It retains the WVGA resolution of its predecessor, but uses a conventional matrix with three-subpixels per pixel instead of the PenTile matrix of the first-gen Super AMOLED displays.

PenTile screens were often criticized for lacking in sharpness, due to the lower number of total subpixels, but the truth is that the change is hard to notice. Of course, if you look close enough you’d be able to tell the two apart, but in everyday usage the difference is subtle at best.

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Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II screen compared to the Galaxy S display

However the added screen estate does make a big difference: an already impressive display has become superb. Just place the two Galaxy phones side by side and you will clearly see what you are gaining with the new one.

You can now enjoy the deepest blacks on the market on a surface over 15% larger. Contrary to Samsung claims though, the brightness doesn’t seem to have improved – an observation that our display test confirmed.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
LG Optimus Black P970 0.27 332 1228 0.65 749 1161
LG Optimus 2X 0.23 228 982 0.35 347 1001
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc 0.03 34 1078 0.33 394 1207
Samsung I9000 Galaxy S 0 263 0 395
Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II 0 231 0 362
HTC Incredible S 0.18 162 908 0.31 275 880
Apple iPhone 4 0.14 189 1341 0.39 483 1242
Motorola Atrix 4G 0.48 314 652 0.60 598 991

It doesn’t matter all that much though – the Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II screen remains perfectly visible in all lighting conditions. Bright sun or not – you will always be able to read the display without losing too much color either.

The AMOLED screens are known for wide viewing angles with no loss of contrast or color distortion well into near extremes. There isn’t much to say about screen sensitivity either – Samsung sure knows how to make a good capacitive unit.

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Samsung I9000 Galaxy S (left), LG Optimus Black P970 (middle) and Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II (right) screens side-by-side

We are pleased to report that the green tint that was a common complaint on the original Galaxy S is gone in its successor. Now colors still aren’t perfectly accurate, but are more than good enough for most practical purposes.

Another criticism against the first Super AMOLED screens was color saturation. There didn’t seem to be a general consensus on that matter – some loved it while others thought it was too much. Well, Samsung obviously paid attention and did the best that could be done in the situation – they gave users a choice.

The Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II has a new screen setting called Background Effect. It lets you adjust saturation with three available modes: dynamic, standard and movie in descending order of color intensity.

The final key asset of the Super AMOLED Plus display is its power efficiency. Being able to turn individual pixels off, those screens don’t need all the backlighting all the time and thus consume less energy, especially when darker themes are used.

All in all, Super AMOLED Plus screens and mobile phones are really meant for each other. It’s a perfect match that reveals all the strengths (unrivaled image quality, perfect viewing angles, energy efficiency and great sunlight legibility), without suffering the traditional OLED weaknesses (higher production costs for larger units and shorter life).

We really can’t see any other screen on the market that could come close to the brilliance of the Galaxy S II unit, save for Samsung’s own Infuse 4G, which packs an even larger (4.5”) Super AMOLED Plus screen.

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