Samsung Galaxy S II 4G Review: Fast, But Is It Future-Proof?

Above all other phones, the Galaxy S II was the champion Android device of 2011. How well does it stack up in 2012 with the addition of 4G connectivity?

Why It Matters

When Telstra launched its 4G network late last year, it was only showing off one phone, which it didn't name at the time; that ended up being the HTC Velocity 4G locally. The Galaxy S II 4G expands Telstra's 4G offerings by giving consumers a choice within the 4G space; if HTC's Sense doesn't do it for you, then maybe TouchWiz will. It seems like a winner of an option, matching up last year's top smartphone with the fastest mobile network available today.

What I Liked

The Galaxy S II 4G isn't just a case of grabbing old Galaxy S II stock and soldering in some 4G chips; this is a slight evolution of the model that sold so well across all carriers. The processor's been bumped up to 1.5GHz compared to the original phone's 1.2GHz model. The display creeps up to 4.5 inches compared to the original model's 4.3 inches, although the resolution is stuck at 800x480 pixels. The battery has been pumped up to accommodate 4G capability, up to 1850mAh from the original model's 1650mAh.

All of this adds up to a phone that's a little faster and a little slicker than the original, although it's undoubtedly an evolution of the design, rather than something that's a truly "new" phone. Battery life was fair without being great; it's certainly possible to exhaust the Galaxy S II 4G with a day's usage.

4G is the calling card of the Galaxy S II 4G, and clearly it's the part of the phone that'll attract the most attention at this stage. Given Telstra's pricing for the Galaxy S II 4G, it's going to need to, as most competing carriers will let you get a 3G Galaxy S II for $29 a month, quite a bit cheaper than Telstra's entry level $59 Galaxy S II 4G pricing.

So in order to assess the Galaxy S II 4G's speed chops, I sent out Lifehacker's editor Angus Kidman to test the phone through Sydney's CBD 4G coverage zone. All the tests bar one were conducted as closely together as possible; two sets of the Town Hall testing were attempted, but the second set one hour after the first failed to get any kind of signal at all. That's no signal, as in not even 3G signal, for those keeping score.

Location Average Ping (ms) Average Download (Mbps) Average Upload (Mbps)
Town Hall 33.66 32.8 11.47
Martin Place 47 17.13 6.65
Circular Quay 32.33 20.4 7.01

So when it can connect, the Galaxy S II 4G can be exceptionally fast for data usage. As yet, 1800MHz has nothing to do with your phone's talk quality, so 4G is only about data.

What I Didn't Like

This is still just a Gingerbread phone in an increasingly Ice Cream Sandwich world. Telstra's promising that the Galaxy S II 4G should be upgradeable to Ice Cream Sandwich, but there's no official timeframe for that as yet.

The one thing that's been notably sacrificed in the name of 4G has been the Galaxy S II's slender profile; the 4G is thicker and heavier than the original phone was.

It is 4G, and as noted in the test results, that means there are times when it'll connect at great speed — and times when it won't. LTE 4G is still just a data rather than voice technology, and with that in mind, I tested the Galaxy S II 4G as a portable hotspot.

Hot being the operative word; while I was somewhat concerned by the temperature of the 4G WiFi Hotspot, it had nothing on the Galaxy S II 4G, which quickly reached high temperatures. It'd be feasible to use it as a hotspot, but you might want to make sure it's well ventilated when you do so.

Pricing is also problematic for the Galaxy S II 4G. It starts on a 24 month $59 cap, but the 3G Galaxy S II is considerably cheaper. The extra features do make the 4G version a little faster testing side by side, but not exceptionally so, which means you're paying a premium mostly for the promise of 4G.

Should You Buy One?

It's great that there's some choice in the 4G smartphone world, and our tests to date seem to indicate that the 4G phones have a slight edge when it comes to getting reliable 4G signal over 4G hotspots and USB modems. The Galaxy S II remains an excellent bit of design, and that makes this an excellent phone, but equally not one without a few niggling issues.

I'm not just thinking of the hotspot heat problem, but also the fact that the S II is still an older phone, and when you're outside the 4G zones, the benefits of its faster data melt away. At that point, a much cheaper Galaxy S II 3G would be much the same phone — but a lot cheaper. That's even without the looming spectre of the Galaxy S III, which may well be announced only a few hours from the time of writing; while the odds are low that it'll be natively 1800MHz LTE compatible, it's always possible.

Specifications

OS: Android 2.3.6 (upgradable to Android 4.0) Screen: 4.5 Inch (480x800) Super AMOLED Plus Processor / RAM: 1.5GHz dual-core / 1GB Storage: 16GB internal (up to 32GB microSD) Camera: 8MP rear (1080p HD video), 1.3MP front Weight: 132g Battery: 1850mAh Price: From $5 per month on $59 Freedom Connect Plan over 24 months


Comments

    Meh. While the SGSII is a great phone lets face it.. getting faux-4G isn't worth it in the current upgrade cycle, and anyone that buys this on their contract is both an idiot and a retard.

    I'm staggered by the amount of people who complain on the play.google.com app store, to app publishers, about the failure of apps on their Galaxy SII. It is so obvious a trend that I can't help but think the SII is in some way to blame. As a previous Samsung Wave owner (Bada OS) - I'll never buy another Samsung product again. Not a TV, not a tablet and certainly never a Smart Phone. Once bitten twice shy. Good luck shoppers.

      Not sure what the issue is. I've been running a Galaxy SII and absolutely loved it. I've never had an issue with apps not working, and I've never had an issue with any of my other Samsung products either (TV, Netbook, previous phone).

        how you were saying its slow, well i was looknig at mine and it doesnt have that delay. its fast reaction. maybe there has been an update or just a problem with the phone. its a great phone and if anybody is looknig in to buying it dont worry abou t that delay. it doesnt really happen.

      lawl wut? Maybe own a GS2 like most of us before you spout some more drivel.

      I have had my 3G Galaxy S2 for about five months and have never had a problem with apps not working, except in the instance of EA/Popcap games not being updated to use ICS.

      The Galaxy S2 is certainly one of the better handsets on the market (when compared to the likes of various HTC devices).

      But I agree with Blake's comment. Perhaps use one for an extended period instead of slagging it off.

    Why didn't Telstra choose the HD version? Would have given more value.
    http://www.gsmarena.com/samsung_galaxy_s_ii_hd_lte-4198.php

    It should probably be noted that Telstra doesn't sell the 3G S2 for anything approaching $29 and is in fact starting at $59 + $0 for the phone. With that in mind on the Telstra network $5 extra per month for the 4G version is not as much as a jump if you have/want to use Telstra.

    Disclosure: I am a Telstra retail store employee, these views are mine own personal ones and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.

      Totally fair point, but on a 24 month contract, you could outright buy a 3G S2 for less money and put it on a Telstra pre-paid contract. And Telstra does still have to compete with other carriers; I'm starting to hear more grumbles about Telstra's network every day...

        Yes, Telstra's network (for data) has been losing its edge in recently months. It is more often congested and unreliable. May have something to do with their closing the 3G 2100Hz network.

    Super AMOLED Plus LCD?

      You're right -- and I've amended it -- but that's taken straight from Telstra's own page on it: http://www.telstra.com.au/latest-offers/samsung-galaxy-sii-4g/

        yeah saw that when I went to check it out at the Telstra store, how hard can it be to label something correctly? -.-

    At this stage I would have thought an LTE Galaxy Note would have been a far more interesting proposition...

      I am also sort of anticipating to get a galaxy note 2 with LTE, which is rumoured to be released by samsung in October 2012.

    I really like the sII but seriously, why do people always rave about the screen? Am I the only one that can see that the colour temperature is always too blue? I've read there are ways to fix it but why does it come perfect?
    In the first pic you can see how blue it is, in the second pic it only looks white because the white balance is for the screen, making the background super orange :P

      Ive noticed the same thing. Everyone raves about the screen but colours are way off and the screen is just not as good as the iphone 4s

    Om nom nom, Telstra y u no have lumia 900??

    sall good this phone looks like a beast.

    Samsung Galaxy S II 4G. It's now June and the SIII is out and still no Icream Sandwich!!!!!!

      best place to check up on updates

      http://www.telstra.com.au/mobile-phones/mobile-phones/smartphones/

      best place to check up on updates , Samsung just sent them ( telstra) ICS for testing

    most of my friends with the I9100 with I.C.S have had nothing but problems , personally im happy with Telstra working the bugs out before making me update my S2 4G to sandwich

    Apart from anticipating the ICS update and reading about its problematic integration to the 3G model, I have encountered another issue regarding OTG functionality with a USB memory sick. Apparently it is not capable of reading USB sticks like its 3G counterpart.

    Hi ive only jus got my s2 4g 3 or so weeks ago its my first smartphone and ive tried 2 update it and it has restarted and ive lost apps that i downloaded and txt msgs can any1 tell me wots goin on??

    Hi ive had my s2 4g for a few weeks and ive tried to update it and it has restarted and wiped out my downloaded apps and txt msg conversations but works normally otherwise can someone explain y it does this nd if possible how to avoid it

    This phone will NOT work on my incar kit. Is there a trick to getting it working. Need help. Car and phone companies have been useless.

    I have just brought a samsung galaxy s24g, I love the phone, but I have had two phones both with battery problems. I have had to send both back. the battery just drains,in a couple of hours without me using it. has anyone else had this problem

      Yes my phone is doing exactly the same thing. Do you recommend sending it back?

    Hi guys anyone had problems with not being able to add more than one number to a contact? for e.g. when I put John Smith as a contact I'll add his home phone but I want to add his mobile number and can't so I have to make a second contact for his mobile. Any suggestions? Updates maby? Cheers.

      Hi Jarvis. Did you manage to sort this out. I too am annoyed that I have to enter a home phone/business phone and mobile separately in contacts. Just this phone? I know another popular phone has voice command but not on sII 4G.

    Initially was a great phone, fast, reliable, however battery life is non existent. Goes flat really quickly, sluggish, doesn't hold charge. Told by provider that it doesn't work well in cold environments. Certainly true in Canberra.

    YOUR ALL FOOLS, BY THE TIME 4G is up and running it will be two years anyway.Go 3G with Jelly Bean and you will be up to 4G speeds or close too anyway.Learn to Wait .....Telstra Tech.

    I am a solid user of the 'smart' more than the 'phone' and had it for abt 8 months. The battery life is terrible and I need to charge constantly and have 3 chargers located at convenient spots for me. I can't find a larger capacity battery to fit the telstra version of this phone and if I could it would probably be very bulky.
    The Camera is OK but has very few settings and the camera shortcuts can only use 4 at any time.
    The Android updated recently and hasn't shown any improvement at all. If it installed silently I wouldn't have even known it had done it.
    The display is hardly visible in daylight and if a slightly warm day it can't show the full brightness to 'prevent overheating' and it is an annoying and an uncomfortably hot phone in one's pocket.
    Great size screen and the retina display is very good (as long as not in sunshine).
    Power button and volume controls are difficult as they are recessed and with the cover almost impossible to access. The are on opposing sides so it is difficult not to push one without pushing the others.
    Android has an annoying habit of varying the volumes despite the settings and often the volume (of one or many settings - media, phone, etc) is turned off, or flat out, when it shouldn't be.
    The Micro B-usb is often difficult to plug in. It feels flimsy and fully expect it to break soon.
    I need to reboot it about every two days or so and remove the battery for a minute or more to regain full bars (even though the towers are in eyesight).
    Good and quick connections to wifi but need the proper app to control wifi/GPS/ etc else battery lasts ~1.5 hrs.
    The touch screen has a mind of its own and often doesn't respond.
    Android has a lot of issues to resolve on its own and I have reservations about it and simply can't rely on it - e.g. Calendar settings and alarms can be unreliable (also doesn't allow for daylight saving or ignores it). Android settings are all over the place and it can be difficult to track down. They seem to be like flying a helicopter - change one setting and it changes others (sometimes unrelated to the original).
    I have minimal stuff in start-up and/or running. Apps start up at random and run in the background even when their settings are supposed to prevent it.
    All-in-all a rather ordinary phone

    Hi I bought Samsung Galaxy SII 4G with Telsta Plan. Now the plan will be completed in next two months. I have tried to change my mobile network to Lyca. I have 500 MB data in Lyca but not able to connect data connection. Can anyone help me how to switch from telstra to Lyca

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