Other Samsung additions include the hubs, of which there are four: Music, Game, Readers, and Social. Music provides access to a music download service provided by 7Digital. The interface is simple but effective – so long as you know what artist you're searching for – and the selection is extensive. Prices also seem reasonable. Most albums sell for £7.99 and tracks £0.99.
Game Hub provides access to social games powered by Mobage and not one of them even remotely captured our imagination or interest, while Premium Games can also be downloaded. These are provided by Gameloft – one of the big names in mobile gaming at the moment – with titles such as Real Football 2011, GT Racing, and Avatar. All are graphically quite impressive, though we're yet to find one of these more ambitious 3D titles that really provides as much fun as the simpler physics-based games you'll find in abundance on the Android Marketplace.
Readers Hub brings together books, magazines and newspapers via the Kobo, Zinio, and PressDisplay services. Each requires its own account but once signed up you get extensive selections of all the above and they all provide reasonably easy interfaces for finding the content you want.
Turning to our standard tests, managing contacts and making calls on this phone is a cinch. Sign into your Gmail, Facebook and Twitter accounts and you'll find your contacts populated with all the information therein, making it a breeze to get your phone fully synced-up with your social life. However, when it comes to calling this phone is frankly disappointing. The earpiece is too quiet, it rattles slightly when pushed to maximum volume and the speaker is also rather weedy. You get by in normal environments but a phone for all situations this is not.
Start tapping out an email or message and the excellent keyboard – helped immensely by the extra space provided by the wider screen – soon allows you to bash words out at a good pace. We did find one issue, however. When adding special characters – numbers, symbols and the like – it breaks the convention of defaulting to the number screen when you press the '?123' button. Instead it remembers the last one of the three special character screens you last used. This regularly caught us out and would make us want to install an alternative keyboard.
Otherwise, emailing and messaging is as excellently handled as we'd ever expect of an Android phone.
Browsing the web is a superb experience thanks to the sheer speed of the device. There are no particularly clever features, except when doubling tapping the screen to zoom in – it zooms to the size of the element you double tapped rather than a standard easy-to-read distance. This is borrowed from the iPhone. You of course get Flash support and this is one area where the extra speed of that processor really comes to the fore with videos playing back flawlessly and not bringing the handset to a standstill.
Multimedia support is also excellent with DivX, Xvid and mkv all ready to roll straight away. 720p video plays back flawlessly as well and looks simply glorious on the large screen.
Also impressive is the camera, which can shoot 8 megapixel stills and 1080p video. The app itself is easy to use with key niceties like touch-to-focus and plenty of scene modes included. Results are noticeably better than your average 5 megapixel camera phone though as ever are still some way of dedicated compact camera quality. Nonetheless, comparing to the similarly specified LG Optimus 2X, the Samsung comes out on top. Detail in good lighting has them looking fairly even but the Samsung did a much better job of producing an evenly lit, wobble free shot with the flash and a brighter more detailed dark shot without the flash.
1080p footage is nice to have but you're probably better off dialling it back to 720p for better performance and smaller file sizes - the lens/sensor simply aren't good enough for the difference to be worthwhile and the higher framerate at lower resolutions makes for nicer viewing anyway. Unfortunately we kept the wrong file for our sample to upload to youtube so you're only seeing the camera work at 480p but even here you come out with a clip that's nice to watch with a smooth natural looking picture.
With all that power under the hood it's no surprise that battery life isn't this phone's strong suit, though it doesn't fare any worse than its high-end smartphone competition. Intensive use will kill it in a day easily but keep everything turned down to minimum and it'll stretch for four days without too much problem. Essentially it comes down to the rule that you'll need to charge it every other night for normal use.
The Samsung Galaxy S2 (Samsung Galaxy SII i9100) is clearly the smartphone of choice for those who simply want the most power. Its 1.2GHz dual core processor and bold-and-brash 4.3in screen really combine well to create a truly captivating, fast and eye-popping smartphone experience, especially if you like watching video on the move. It's not perfect. with call quality being particularly poor - and we prefer our phones a bit smaller and more ruggedly built, but nonetheless its strengths are so compelling as to still earn a firm recommendation.