Let's start this review by getting one thing out of the way first: the Samsung Galaxy S II is the best Android phone in the market, by far. It may also be the best smartphone in the market, period; even if we think this ultimately comes down to personal preference. The Galaxy S II combines one of the biggest and best screens on the market, with blazing performance, functional, stable software and decent battery life.
Let's start this review by getting one thing out of the way first: the Samsung Galaxy S II is the best Android phone on the market, by far.
Samsung Galaxy S II: Design and display
The Samsung Galaxy S II is constructed largely from plastic, but we don't think this detracts from its overall appeal. In fact, we think it actually enhances it purely for the fact that the Galaxy S II is just 8.49mm thick. This makes it thinner than the iPhone 4 and likely the thinnest smartphone in the world.
The plastic construction means the Galaxy S II weighs a very light 116g, but its sheer size makes it comfortable to hold, and easy to slip into your pocket. The design does not feel flimsy or poorly constructed, and we like the attractive carbon-like finish on the rear battery cover. Although this part of the phone is thin, difficult to remove and does initially feel a little flimsy, it doesn't rattle or creak once clicked into place. The Samsung Galaxy S II's design may not evoke the same plaudits as competitors like the HTC Desire HD — which is constructed from a single block of aluminum — but Samsung seems to have struck a near-perfect balance with size, weight and aesthetic appeal.
The Samsung Galaxy S II has a physical (tactile) home key, along with touch-sensitive back and menu buttons. The power/lock screen button is perfectly positioned on the right, making it easy to access single-handedly, while the same applies to the left-mounted volume controls. The only missing features are a notification LED, and a physical camera shutter key — it's hard to keep the Galaxy S II still when taking a photo with the on-screen shutter button.
The killer feature of the Samsung Galaxy S II is its 4.3-in Super AMOLED Plus display. It's one of the best screens we've seen on a smartphone to date, producing vivid colors, superb viewing angles and rich brightness. Sunlight legibility is also superb; on full brightness, the Galaxy S II's screen can easily be seen in strong direct sunlight. These attributes combined with the large 4.3-in size mean the Galaxy S II is the perfect smartphone for video playback. The iPhone 4's 3.5-in screen looks almost tiny in comparison, and the extra screen real estate really makes a difference in day-to-day use — particularly given Android's widget-focused home screens.
Two minor sour points concerning the display are the fact that some images do appear to look a little oversaturated, and that text is sometimes hard to read, especially when zoomed out. The latter is particularly evident in the Web browser; small fonts seem to look worse than other Android phones with the same resolution. The Samsung Galaxy S II's WVGA resolution of 800x480 can't quite match the iPhone 4's "retina" resolution (960x640) but the resolution itself doesn't seem to be the cause — we feel this might be a rendering issue.