The praiseworthy experience we had using the camera in the I9100 and Epic 4G Touch was, to no surprise of ours, exactly matched on the AT&T Galaxy S II. Using the same 8 megapixel rear camera sensor and 2MP front-facing cam, it continues to leave us in awe no matter how many times we use it. As of this writing, the only phone available in the US with a better camera is the 12 megapixel Nokia N8, which is easy enough to find -- at a significantly higher cost upfront. In other words, the Epic 4G Touch and Galaxy S II for AT&T (and, presumably, the T-Mobile variant) are the absolute top of the line on their respective carriers. Simply put, Samsung continues to produce phones with camera sensors that have a seemingly higher quality than their megapixel count implies, which unfortunately is something that can't be said about many other OEMs.
We're impressed by the buffet-style spread of various camera settings that give the phone even more of a point-and-shoot feel: ISO, metering, focus modes, scene modes, anti-shake and exposure adjustments aplenty are found embedded within the UI itself. The left side of the camera app has slots for five icons; the fifth slot is always reserved for the settings menu, but the other four squares are completely customizable shortcuts that let you choose which settings you'd like to quick-jump into.
Our images turned out as beautiful as they did on the other two phones. The colors seem to pop out in all the right places, the macro focus mode did well capturing close-ups in wondrous depth and we were able to capture important moments instantaneously, thanks to the camera's ability to first lock in focus and exposure before we're ready to actually take the picture. In essence, it functions the same way a double-detent button normally would on a standard digital cam, and is the next best thing to actually having a dedicated button on the right side of the phone -- a feature left out of every Galaxy S II so far.
The LED flash, while not a subject of great emphasis on any handset, is worth a mention here because it's bright -- really bright. When taking pictures around our backyard in the dark, the flash captured far more depth and color than we've previously seen on a phone. But where most devices use the flash like it's going out of style, the Galaxy S II is wise enough to know how and when it should be employed; it was smart enough to tell when flash was needed for actually taking the picture and when it was only necessary to help focus on an object.
Again, as we expected, the Galaxy S II for AT&T has the same concern with the narrow dynamic range. In short, this causes a sharp contrast between dark and well-lit areas, which can create deeper shadows and blown-out highlights, depending on where you're attempting to focus. But this was the only nitpick we had with any element of the camera's performance on the Galaxy S II, and otherwise was an absolutely thrilling contribution to the phone's appeal.
Samsung offers 1080p HD for video capture, but just make sure you have the camcorder turned to the correct setting if you want to bump it up to the max, since it keeps the default at 720p. If you want to zoom in, the higher resolution isn't going to do it for you -- every lower-res setting will give you the chance to zoom up to 4x, if it so fits your fancy. In general, the vids turned out great and were able to capture motion without trying to refocus on moving objects. The only shaky movements that could be seen in the videos were due to our admittedly shaky hands.
And much like its counterparts, the AT&T version of the Galaxy S II also comes with a homegrown Photo Editor, which takes the images you've so carefully taken with your camera and gives you the chance to screw around with them. It's not as elaborate as you'd see in any professional photo editing software, of course, but it still gives options to touch up your pics by adjusting brightness and saturation, adding blurs, cropping, resizing and more.
Performance and battery life
We're pretty hefty multitaskers on our phones. We normally have our email and social networking syncing 24 hours a day, and we're constantly texting, checking news sites, playing games, and trying to keep our lives organized in the process (emphasis on "trying"). As a result, we're consistently pushing our phones to the limit, demanding more out of them than anyone should. We still couldn't get a flutter, flicker, or any other sign of weakness to come out of the Galaxy S II. It's tough to beat Samsung's proprietary Exynos CPU, a 1.2GHz dual-core darling that translates into top-tier phone performance in almost every area of the device. We witnessed very little lag -- and when we did, it was negligible -- and the device didn't crash once. Not to say it won't ever crash, but we could definitely tell that the Galaxy S II doesn't skip a beat.
In our standard benchmarks
, Quadrant performed as expected, typically hovering between 3,200 and 3,300. Neocore and Nenamark nearly hit the max framerate by scoring 59.8, and we saw Linpack give results that were much the same as the Epic 4G Touch, typically producing 55 MFLOPS for single threads and 81 MFLOPS for multi. AT&T's browser performance also matched wits with Sprint's version, notching a top score of 3,369ms.
When it comes to the call quality and speaker volume, we'd be happy campers if every single phone could perform as well as the Galaxy S II. We found ourselves having to turn the volume down in order to converse with friends and family comfortably, and the speakerphone was no weakling either. The reception was also on par with other AT&T devices we've reviewed.
Without a doubt, the Galaxy S II series has made a name for itself by providing some of the best battery life we've seen from any Android device; even the multitaskers should be getting at least a full day of use out of it, and resigning yourself to moderate usage will likely extend the life of your phone an extra half-day. What we were curious about was the difference between the AT&T model, packing a 1,650mAh juice pack like the global version, and Sprint's, which comes in at a healthy 1,800. Surprisingly, AT&T lasted longer in a direct side-by-side video test, which consists of playing a full-length movie on an endless cycle until the phone keels over and begs to be recharged. Here's the big surprise: while the Epic 4G Touch lasted 8.5 hours this time around (which was interesting by itself, because it lasted 5 hours when we initially did the review), the AT&T Galaxy S II kept cranking out the moving pictures for 9.5 hours before giving up the electronic ghost. Needless to say, we were quite stunned by the revelation.
We'd like to think that selling ten million units in the space of nearly five months means the Galaxy S II is a top-notch device, and being available on three of the four major US players won't hurt its numbers one iota, either. The AT&T version of Sammy's flagship is no less praiseworthy than any of the others that came under our microscope before it. Anyone who gave the international version a second look, which normally sells for $600-700 in the US as an unlocked and unsubsidized device, should give even more consideration to this one now that it's available for $200 -- provided you don't mind getting locked into a two-year commitment, that is.
Once T-Mobile launches its variant of the Galaxy S II, we'll have four different tantalizing options to choose from, each with their own set of pros and cons. Is there a clear winner between the Epic 4G Touch and the AT&T version? Not really -- it all comes down to personal preference. The AT&T version is ideal for anyone who likes the features of the I9100 but doesn't want to take out a second mortgage to get one; when factoring in support for international roaming, an HSPA+ radio and a 4.3-inch display that's slightly smaller than Sprint and T-Mobile's namesakes, this unit inherited a heavy amount of charm from its mobile precursor.