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First look review: Samsung Galaxy S II phones are dazzling and responsive

Consumer Reports News: September 30, 2011 08:08 AM

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The Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch ($200 from Sprint with a two-year contract) and Samsung Galaxy S II (available on October 2 from AT&T for $200) are part of the second generation of Galaxy S smart phones, which are noted for their brilliant displays and consistent, well-rounded performance. (On Tuesday, T-Mobile announced that its own 2.52-inch Galaxy S II phone will be available on October 10 for $230 after rebates. It will be NFC-enabled, powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 Processor with 1.5GHz dual CPUs, and run on Android 2.3.5, known as Gingerbread.)

The Sprint Epic 4G, which looks nearly identical to the Samsung Infuse at AT&T, has a giant 4.5-inch AMOLED Plus touch-screen. The AT&T Galaxy S II's display is slightly smaller, measuring 4.3 inches. Both phones share a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video chats, an 8-megapixel camera that can record HD videos at 1080p, and Samsung’s TouchWiz interface (Version 3.0).

I've been using press samples of both phones for a few days, and I've found the displays on both phones highly responsive and dazzling, with excellent contrast and impressive visibility in sunlight. Here are more of my impressions:

The display. When it comes to color and contrast, few phone screens can match a Galaxy-class Super AMOLED display. Colors simply pop, and videos appear smooth and dazzling. But it doesn’t shine in all respects: Resolution is only 800 x 480, which may look amazing on displays smaller than 4 inches, but on these larger screens, particularly the Epic, it’s not quite enough. Letters in small type have a bit of a rough edge to them. Still, both phone touch screens were among the most responsive I’ve held in recent months. Most of the credit for screen responsiveness, of course, goes to the phones' fast 1.2GHz dual-core processors.

Size and feel. The Epic 4G Touch, despite its formidable height and width (5.1 inches x 2.7 inches), is a relatively thin 0.4 inches at its narrowest point, and it has a textured back cover that makes it easy to hold. Some colleagues have complained to me that the phone feels too "plasticky." My take: If that's what it takes to make a jumbo phone like this weigh only 4.6 ounces in my shirt pocket, that's fine with me. The AT&T Galaxy S II is just as pocket-friendly, measuring about 5 inches x 2.6 inches x 0.4 inches.

Interface. The TouchWiz interface (Version 3) supports up to seven home screens, which you quickly jump to by sliding your finger along the navigation bar that hovers above the Phone, Contacts, Messaging, and Applications icons at the bottom of the screen. One quibble: The home screen, while dominated by TouchWiz's oversized weather widget, lacks the icon for the Web browser—one of the most important apps of any smart phone.

The phones do have some notably unique abilities. For one, you can zoom in on a Web page by placing two fingers on the screen and tilting the phone forward, or zoom out by tilting the phone toward yourself. Another intriguing feature: If you tilt either phone on its side while viewing e-mails (wide-screen mode), TouchWiz opens up a preview window to the right of the e-mail list. Unfortunately, you can't adjust the size of the windows, nor can you view e-mails full-screen when in this mode, which can't be turned off.

Data entry. The large screen real estate of both phones makes entering text as easy as with a real keyboard. When the phones are on their sides for wide-screen mode, the keys are more than large enough to accommodate my large fingers. The phones also come with a Swype keyboard, which I find the most efficient and accurate way to type one-handed.

Bottom line: With their huge, brilliant displays, ultra-fast processors, and 4G network access, these new Galaxy S II phones are a great choice for multimedia addicts. Of course, the final word regarding performance will soon come from Consumer Reports engineers, who will be putting the retail models through their paces.

Mike Gikas

   

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