It’s now been a year since I bought and reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S II. I’m the sort of person who sticks with a device for a long time, having had my previous phone, an iPhone 3GS, for 2.5 years before switching to the S II. I explore software, accessory, and tips and tricks about a device, rather than run after everything new that comes out. The Galaxy S II is still a very capable phone that’s still being sold, so I thought I would share my thoughts about it with a year-long perspective.
Even when I got the S II, it was steadily approaching the one year mark for its release. That makes this model nearly two years old now, which used to be a long time in the mobile tech world. Lately though, it’s become a lot harder to really see the difference between an old and a new model, especially since many old top of the line phones are still better than new mid-range devices.
Dying features live on!
The S II is in many ways a jack of all trades. This isn’t a Nexus 4, where you sacrifice battery life, expandable memory, USB host, and who knows what else in order to get…um…a fast device with an OK screen? Sorry, I really have absolutely no clue why people buy that thing. The S II has expandable memory, a replaceable battery, a good camera, decent chip, decent screen, USB host, HDMI-out, and so on. Compared to current top of the line models, it loses out in screen resolution and CPU/GPU capabilities, and it also lacks NFC, but that’s essentially it.
Everyone’s different, but to me, the features that the S II has that have been dropped from some more recent devices are not useless. I use an official 2000mAh extended battery in my S II, which means I never worry about battery life. I charge it at night, and then it lasts all day, no matter what I do. I always leave WiFi and 3G on, use Bluetooth and GPS without thinking about battery drain, leave the screen on if I need to monitor something, let apps run in the background, and generally just never even consider the impact anything has on battery life – because I don’t have to.
As for expandable memory, I use that too. I do to some extent agree that 16-32GB is enough internal memory for most people, but to me, having a microSD card slot is also about removable memory. You know, the kind of memory you can load without the phone being on, the kind of memory that will keep your backup files safe if you need to format the phone, the kind of memory that can be salvaged from a dead phone. You don’t need tons of storage to do those things, but you do need it to be removable. That’s not to say that I don’t also use my 32GB card for storing a lot of data, as photos and videos in particular take up a lot of space. I’ve taken a grand total of 2400 photos or screenshots over the last year, and that doesn’t include video. When you film in 1080p, you use up storage space. In a day and age where phones are cameras, it’s frankly beyond me how anyone could think of removing the one thing that has been so essential to digital cameras for over a decade: The memory card slot.
USB host is also a dying feature that the S II has, and one I’ve used quite a lot. USB host is the ability to connect USB devices to the phone, including mice, keyboards, USB storage devices, and so on. I guess it’s a feature that few people use since it’s now dying out, but I personally think it’s great. I always carry an adapter with me wherever I carry my iPad, thus allowing me to get any files off or onto USB storage devices via the phone. I’ve used this on several occasions, and it’s frankly a feature I don’t see myself living without.
Performance and software
Performance-wise, the S II was once considered a very fast phone. In my opinion, it still is. I keep a clean house with killing off background apps to free up RAM, which seems to be a bigger bottle neck than the CPU and GPU. I still run Gingerbread (Android 2.3) on my device because I think that the latest versions of Android are shit, but even with an “old and slow” OS version I can’t complain about the performance of it. I have no doubt that newer devices are faster and smoother, but it doesn’t bother me.
Part of the reason it doesn’t bother me is that I’ve started using the phone more and more over the last year, while also using it less and less. I started messing around with Tasker last spring, and taught myself to use it enough to write a guide about it. Tasker is an automation app, based on the principle of tying together events with actions. I won’t go into everything I’ve done with it here, as I’ve covered that in countless articles before, but my S II is a completely different phone now than it was a year ago, despite it being the same device with the same OS version.
The screen on the S II was once praised for being the best out there, but these days the 800 x 480 resolution means that it’s quite a bit behind newer devices, where 1280 x 720 is standard and 1920 x 1080 is coming. I still love the screen on the S II, however. It still looks great, and the AMOLED screen still makes both colors and blacks look stunning. Screen resolution is in my opinion not a critical feature once it gets above a certain level, at least not for my use. A higher resolution would obviously look better, but it wouldn’t change how I use my phone. Reading emails would be more enjoyable, but I would still read the same emails. Moreover, history has shown that what we consider “high resolution” changes as fast as higher resolutions come out, so I’m frankly not sure that having a higher resolution screen would result in a conscious awareness of the fact.
In terms of screen resolution, the phone upgrades I’ve made in the last decade have been from 96 x 65, to 128 x 160, to 176 x 220, to 240 x 320, to 320 x 480, to 480 x 800. Each time I’ve been amazed at the resolution of the new screen, and within a few weeks, I’ve gotten used to it. Chasing screen resolutions is just outright not a hobby for me.
As for problems with the device, I’ve had a few issues. It sometimes randomly reboots, which is something that just about every Android device suffers from. I stopped caring about it long ago, and now just log when it happened to a text file using Tasker, as well as run a Tasker task for making sure everything is running the way it should after the reboot.
I’ve also had a couple of major crashes, one related to the built-in Bluetooth software, and one related to a massive crash after taking a picture. I still don’t know exactly why either happened, but I managed to fix it relatively easily in both cases. My phone is rooted, so wherever I go, I can boot into recovery and fix most issues. I also use Titanium Backup, both for freezing bloatware apps that came with the phone, and for actually backing up my apps. This is part of what I was talking about with removable memory, and between various backups and automatic syncing of most files to Dropbox, my phone is as safe from massive failures as can be.
After a year of use, I still love the Galaxy S II. A lot of the reason for that is all the customization and self-made software I have on it, which aren’t exclusive to this device, but the device itself also plays a role in it. First and foremost, I like that it basically has everything. It has great battery life, removable memory, USB host, HDMI, a good camera, perfect screen size, good screen, and decent chip.
At this point in time it’s a jack of all trades, master of none, but I actually prefer that to a phone that masters a few things but falls flat on its ass with others. I wouldn’t trade my S II for a Nexus 4 if it was offered, and I would probably have to apologize to whoever did offer it for laughing in his face. That’s a subjective opinion, of course, but at the end of the day…well, at the end of the day, the S II still has some battery left.