Samsung Galaxy S2 review - a worthwhile second-hand bargain?
Android 2.3, 4.3in 480x800 display
Samsung's Galaxy S2 sold by the bucketload and still remains a popular device on the second-hand market. However, technology has moved on in the last four years and while Samsung remains a trusted manufacturer in the world of smartphones, it's now questionable whether this particular model - still highly sought after by many - is still worth buying either second-hand, refurbished or new. Keep in mind that a used model will likely be using a rather worse-for-wear battery, too, so you'll need to budget at least £10 for a replacement. Below is our original review from 2011 followed by a round-up of some S2 alternatives.
Samsung continues to go from strength to strength with its first dual-core phone - the Android 2.3.3-equipped successor to last year’s Samsung Galaxy S. Its impressive specification includes a 4.3-inch 800 x 480 Super AMOLED plus display, 8-megapixel camera, a dual core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor, 1GB of RAM, 16 or 32GB of internal storage, microSD-support and Samsung’s updated TouchWiz 4.0 UI.
The Galaxy S2 is also one of the thinnest phones available at 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5 mm. It weighs just 116g and is perfectly proportioned with smooth rounded edges. It's a big phone, but, unlike HTC's Desire HD, it doesn't feel particularly large in your hand despite its huge 4.3-inch display.
Like its predecessor, the Galaxy S, the S2 is made almost entirely out of plastic, save for the Gorilla Glass front panel and metallic chrome edging. It still feels like a good-quality phone, though, and the plastic helps cut down on its weight.
There’s one physical Home button on the device, which is flanked by two touch buttons for Menu and Back. One aspect we particularly liked is that to wake the phone you simply press the Home key. There’s no fiddling around on top for an unlock button and this makes handling the phone single-handed much easier.
There's a microUSB port on the bottom for charging and syncing with your PC. In our video playback battery test, its 1,650mAh battery lasted an impressive nine hours and 43 minutes. This puts it on a par with similar phones, such as the Motorola RAZR
On top there's a 3.5mm jack plug which will work with any set of headphones. There’s no HDMI-out as on LG's Optimus 2X, unfortunately, so you'll have to make do with the Galaxy S2’s DLNA capabilities for sharing content wirelessly across a home network.
qHD resolution displays (Quarter-HD, or 960×540 pixels), are fast becoming the norm on high-end smartphones, but the S2's 800 x 480 Super AMOLED Plus screen is still impressive. Its colours are vivid and jump out of the screen, and blacks are deep. The screen also has extremely wide viewing angles and you can adjust colour saturation. We spent hours browsing the web, watching videos and playing games while testing the device and couldn't find any problems at all - this phone has one of the best displays we’ve ever tested, and is even better than the iPhone 4's. We did find the auto brightness feature slightly unpredictable, but it’s simple enough to turn this off.
The S2's touchscreen is highly responsive and the user interface runs beautifully. We didn’t experience a hint of lag during testing, even when pushing the phone hard. For instance, you can have a game open, numerous applications running in the background and be sending content over Wi-Fi without any slowdowns at all. In terms of general performance, the Galaxy S2 left the LG Optimus 2X, a similarly specified handset, for dead.
Samsung has also improved its TouchWiz user interface. TouchWiz 4.0 is impressive, both in the way it looks and in how easy and intuitive it is to use. We even preferred it to HTC’s excellent Sense UI. From the lock screen you can open messages, emails and missed calls, which show up in Windows Phone 7-like tiles. Holding down the Home button displays the last six apps you’ve used and has a direct link to the Galaxy S2’s extremely capable Task Killer application.
There are also a number of motion controls, such as tilt to zoom, motion-aided panning and tilt to silence, which are certainly interesting additions to the interface. We didn't use them particularly often, but were glad they were there.
TouchWiz 4.0 also has content 'Hubs', divided into Game, Music, Readers, and Social. The Hubs let you buy music, newpapers, magazines or games, or put all your social networking content in one place. We'd stick with separate apps, though. The setup process on Social, for instance, is arduous and the interface isn’t as good as that in the official Facebook and Twitter applications. Also, we’ve still yet to meet somebody that wants his or her entire social network feed on one page – it’s just too confusing and cluttered.
Samsung’s Kies Air app is amazing, though. Kies Air allows you to browse the contents of your Galaxy S2 handset on your PC. All you need to do is open the app, and type the address it gives you into your PC’s browser to browse the contents of your phone. From here you can view and manage photos, messages, bookmarks, call logs, video and music – in short, pretty much everything. Kies Air’s browser interface also looks great with useful features like a media player, image preview and easy to access categories for everything on your phone.
The Galaxy S2’s imaging facilities are also top-notch. Pictures taken with the 8-megapixel camera are detailed with very little noise – the S2 clearly has a decent sensor. There are also plenty of useful settings, such as resolution, scene and shooting modes, effects and white balance. Even the front-facing 2-megapixel camera takes good-quality pictures.
You can use the S2's camera to shoot 1080p video at 30fps and, although there’s very little in the way of image stabilisation, the resulting video is some of the best smartphone footage we’ve seen.
Samsung's Galaxy S2 has a beautiful screen, fast and slick interface and great camera. The plastic chassis sin't quite up to that of some of its competitors (such as the new Motorola RAZR) and some will bemoan the lack of an HDMI output. However, this is still a top-notch phone thanks to its fantastic display and so deserves a Best Buy award.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S2 ALTERNATIVES
Now four years old, the Samsung Galaxy S2 remains one of the most popular Android devices of its generation. However, it's now firmly stuck on Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich and can only be updated to Android 5 Lollipop using unofficial ROMs, and we'd only recommend doing this if you're very technically savvy as there's a risk of permanently breaking your handset if you get it wrong.
Buying a Samsung Galaxy S2 for more than £100 now would probably be a mistake as there are much more up-to-date handsets for the same money or less. Motorola's £109 Moto E and £150 4G-ready Moto G are our current budget favourites. If you want to stick with Samsung, the Galaxy Ace 3 4G/LTE edition is a worthwhile buy if you can find one for around £100.
For a full list of the best smartphones you can buy in 2015, check out our buying guide.
|Main display size||4.3in|
|CCD effective megapixels||8-megapixel|
|Video recording format||3GP|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB|
|Internal memory||16384 MB|
|Memory card support||microSDHC|
|Memory card included||0MB|
|Operating frequencies||GSM 850/900/1800/1900, 3G 850/900/1900/2100|
|Wireless data||EDGE, HSPA|
|Operating system||Android 2.3|
|Microsoft Office compatibility||Word/Excel/PowerPoint editors, PDF viewer|
|Audio format support||MP3, WAV, eAAC+, AC3, FLAC|
|Video playback formats||MPEG4, H263, H.264, DivX, XVid, WMV|
|Accessories||headphones, data cable, charger|
|Talk time||8.7 hours|
|Standby time||25.4 days|
|Tested battery life (MP3 playback)||17h 31m|
|Price on contract||£31-per-month, 18-month contract|