Dual-core smartphones are coming thick and fast now and one of the most lauded contenders is the Samsung Galaxy S2 (or Samsung Galaxy SII i9100 to give it its full name). Following in the footsteps of its exceedingly popular predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S, the new model packs in a whopping 4.3in AMOLED touchscreen, an 8-megapixel camera, and a super speedy dual-core Samsung CPU that runs at 1.2GHz!
Check out our video review of the Samsung Galaxy S2:
You wouldn't guess the Galaxy S2 was packing all this heat from looks alone. At just 8.5mm thick it's a true size zero of the smartphone world. That said, thickness is the only dimension where this phone does undercut the competition; when it comes to width and height, it's larger than most. Indeed the 66.1mm width and 125.3mm height make this phone feel just a little unwieldy - you have to grip it with your fingertips rather than it sitting comfortably in the palm of your hand. It's very much a personal preference thing but we did find this phone a little too big.
Samsung has thought about this usability issue though. Rather than making you stretch all the way to the top edge to lock and unlock the phone, you can unlock it using the central button on the front. Also, the power button is housed on the right edge where it falls more easily within reach – it is still a bit of a stretch though.
We have few complaints when it comes to styling, but here too are not particularly blown away. The front is clearly an homage to the iPhone 4 with a mostly seamless expanse of glass except for the earpiece grille and central button. It's classy and minimalist, though doesn't quite have the allure of the LG Optimus 2X, for instance, with its curved screen edges. Meanwhile the back is a mix of glossy black plastic and a finely chequered black plastic, which does a good job of hiding fingerprints and scratches but doesn't feel all that great in the hand. The latter finish adorns the battery cover, which prizes off via a thumbnail notch on the left edge, and is alarmingly thin and flimsy.
You don't notice this when the back's on, as the support plastic underneath keeps it held nice and firm, but take it off and it feels more like you're peeling the top off a yoghurt pot than opening the back of a £500 phone. Indeed, with its thin profile, the whole phone feels a little delicate compared to the robustness of something like the iPhone 4. Certainly we'd be particularly paranoid of this phone coming a cropper if you accidentally sat on it.
Otherwise, we're talking about a typically well equipped Android phone with a headphone jack on the top edge, a volume rocker on the left, microUSB on the bottom and microSD nestled next to the battery under its cover. You get 16GB or 32GB of storage onboard and can add up to 32GB via the memory slot. There is one further slip up, though. Quite simply, there's no HDMI port. It's not something that's particularly useful for everyday use but being able to plug your phone into a TV is a neat way to view pictures or video. With the help of an adapter you can use the microUSB port for this purpose but these currently aren't easily available.
Emerging from the blackness either side of the central Home button when the phone is activated are light-up touch sensitive controls for Back and Menu. They're responsive and fall within easy reach.
The particular version of Android on show here is Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread, which isn't quite the latest (2.3.4 adds video chat) but the Galaxy S2 suffers little because of this, and an update should come relatively soon. As usual, Samsung couldn't resist giving the interface a bit of a visual tweak.
The most obvious change is that the main desktop/homescreen (the one the home button takes you to) is the left most one (as opposed to the middle one) with six others available off to the right and none to the left. If you swipe as though to access a screen to the left of the homescreen, it just bounces off rather than looping through to the right-most one as you'd expect.
This is downright annoying as it means you can only access one other screen within one swipe of your finger, whereas if you're free to swipe to the left and right you can access two pages within one swipe. It may sound very picky, and indeed if you tap the tiny dots that run along the bottom of the screen you can access all the homescreens in one motion, but it's just such a silly little usability failure. And one can't help but think Samsung has done it simply to make the phone look/feel more like an iPhone, without thinking about the usability.
Another annoyance is the lock screen. Once you've activated the screen with the touch of the central home button or side power button you can unlock the phone by swiping the picture in whatever direction you want. Great! Except because there's no visual indicator to tell you how far you need to swipe, it can take several goes for it to successfully register that you're trying to unlock the screen, otherwise the picture simply snaps back into position.
From here on in, though, this phone is a breeze to navigate, and has a particularly good homescreen manager. Just as with other Android handsets, you can simply drag apps to and from the various homescreens or add folders of apps and widgets to them. However, Samsung has upped the usability by splitting the screen and having the homescreens presented as shrunken versions of themselves in a carousel arrangement at the top, making it easier to see where you want to place things. You can also resize widgets using a simple grab-the-corner-and-drag method. You can't start an app folder by simply dragging one app on top of another though, as on the iPhone and Sony Ericsson's latest Android phones.
This same visual style is also used to let you rearrange the apps in the main menu (App Launcher). While this customisation is welcome, it's rather annoying that you can't simply choose to have all your apps in alphabetical order, as most Android users have become used to. After all, with all those homescreens as well, having to organise the main menu just means you have two things to keep on top of.
Also of debatable benefit is the addition of 'tilt to zoom'. By holding two fingers on screen and tilting the phone back and forth you can zoom in an out of the usual selection of apps such as the picture viewer and web browser. If ever there was a feature to represent the word 'gimmick' in the OED, this could well be it. Thankfully you're under no obligation to use it.