March 6, 2013

Samsung Galaxy S II Plus review: Golden oldie

 
 Samsung has been steadily setting the bar ever higher with each flagship released, and the massive success of the Samsung Galaxy S III and its predecessor, the S II, have catapulted it to the top of the smartphone food chain. And, as is expected in the aftermath of such success, the Koreans are looking to capitalize on the name put up by their top models. Enter the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus.

Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus official images
A quick glance at the spec sheet may leave you scratching your head, especially if you're looking at the original S II and the sequel side-by-side. The Plus version got the same dimensions, display, camera, RAM and battery, and the processor is still a 1.2 GHz dual-core. It even has less internal storage than the original. So how, if at all, is it better? Before we get into what sets the S II Plus apart, let's take a quick look at the pros and cons:

Key features

  • Quad-band GSM and quad-band 3G support
  • 21.1 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA support
  • 4.3" 16M-color Super AMOLED Plus capacitive touchscreen of WVGA (480 x 800 pixel) resolution
  • Android OS 4.1.2 Jelly Bean with Nature UX
  • 1.2 GHz dual-core Broadcom BC28155 CPU, VideoCore IV GPU, 1GB of RAM
  • 8 MP autofocus camera with LED flash, face and smile detection, image stabilization
  • 2MP secondary camera
  • 1080p HD video recording at 30fps
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n support; DLNA and Wi-Fi hotspot
  • GPS with A-GPS connectivity and GLONASS; digital compass
  • 8GB of inbuilt storage, microSD slot
  • Accelerometer, gyroscope and proximity sensor
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • microUSB v2.0 port with MHL
  • Stereo Bluetooth v3.0
  • FM radio with RDS
  • Great video codec support
  • Solid 1080p video recording

Main disadvantages

  • No dedicated camera key
  • Almost identical to its predecessor
  • Below average loudspeaker performance
  • Pricey at launch
The spec sheet is a far cry from what we've been treated to lately - there're no 1080p displays or quad-core CPUs here. Seeing almost no effort to build on the last generations' flagship, it becomes clear that the idea behind the Galaxy S II Plus is not to impress you with hardware, but instead the software that runs on it.
Samsung has arguably been able to implement the most feature-rich iteration of Jelly Bean so far, and with the official Jelly Bean release for the original Galaxy S II still available in very few markets, the Galaxy S II Plus aims to give you what's probably the most compelling smartphone experience in the midrange.
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The I9105 Galaxy S II Plus
All that being said, not everything under the hood is the same. The new Broadcom chip inside will undoubtedly put up some different benchmark figures, and may even help lower production costs so Samsung might even deliver the Galaxy S II Plus at a lower cost than the original.
On the following page, we'll begin with our usual hardware tour of the Galaxy S II Plus, including the new finish.

The usual accessory pack

Samsung hasn't outdone itself when it comes to the accessories of the Galaxy S II Plus, including the usual set of accessories. The retail package includes the standard microUSB cable, the AC charger (with its own cable, which we find handy), and a pair of stereo headphones.
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The basic retail package of the Galaxy S II Plus

Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus 360-degree spin

Basically, the Galaxy S II Plus has a new coat of paint on what's virtually the same body as the original, including the assertively slim profile we're quite fond of. Measuring 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5mm, the Plus doesn't have the smallest footprint in the 4.3" league, but it's a slim handset that's pretty comfortable to handle and easy to pocket. The NFC version is a tad thicker at 8.9mm, but it's still perfectly manageable.
Going Plus has caused the Galaxy S II to gain some weight though. The I9105 tips the scales at 121g, compared to 116g for the classic I9100 version, but that kind of difference is nearly impossible to feel even if you have both in hand.

Design and build quality

The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus design is a pretty strong reference to its standing in the pecking order. You get the Galaxy S II design with the Galaxy S III finish and the result is surprisingly good. Yet, we were quite fond of the rough textured battery cover of the original. And while looks are strictly a matter of personal preference, the grip and the fingerprint-resistance are not.
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The Galaxy S II Plus next to the Galaxy S II and the Galaxy S III
The Galaxy S II Plus back gets covered in smudges head-to-toe in no time and feels pretty slippery, compared to the grippy and fingerprint-proof back of the I9100. In fact, if we were to redesign the Galaxy S II, we'd only replace the silver frame around the screen, which is showing the worst signs of wear, particularly if you are not too careful with the handset.
Samsung, however, felt this is the only element worth keeping. The color is new, so let's hope the finish is more durable now too.

Controls and handling

The controls on the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus haven't been altered at all. Below the screen we find the same three keys as on the original Galaxy S II - the capacitive Menu and Back buttons either side of a hardware Home key.
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The three-button combo below the screen
The keys are well sized and spaced to allow comfortable use and the capacitive touch technology makes sure the transition between them and the screen is seamless.
Above the display we have the earpiece, as well as the proximity sensor. There's an ambient light sensor too to control automatic brightness. There's a 2 megapixel front facing camera as well, which can do video-calls.
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The usual array of sensors and the front-facing camera surround the earpiece
The 3.5mm headphone jack is at the top of the phone. Next to it, a secondary microphone enables active noise cancellation and stereo recording in videos.
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The top is where the secondary microphone and the audio jack are located
At the bottom are the microUSB port and the mouthpiece. The microUSB port supports MHL, enabling HD video out (up to 1080p) and multi-channel audio output.
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The primary microphone keeps the MHL-enabled microUSB port company
On the left side of the Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus we find the volume rocker and the lanyard eyelet, while the power/lock key is symmetrically placed across on the right. There's no dedicated shutter key though.
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The power key is on the right, while the volume rocker is on the left
The 8 megapixel camera lens and the single LED flash share a metal-framed plate at the back. The loudspeaker grille is the other thing of note here, in the bottom left corner.
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The 8 megapixel camera is the star backstage
Due to the new finish, the battery cover is a hair thicker this time. It covers almost the entire phone's back and is a bit hard to remove but the flipside is it fits tightly in place, no squeaks and wobble.
Underneath the battery cover we find the microSD card slot, the SIM compartment and the 1650 mAh battery. It's the same unit powering the original Galaxy S II. The microSD card is unfortunately non hot-swappable, as Galaxy SII owners should very well know.
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Taking a peak under the hood
As we mentioned, the Galaxy S II Plus comes with the very same battery as its older brother. However, with a more power-efficient processor and a more recent build of Android, the Galaxy S II Plus managed to score the impressive endurance rating of 50 hours. Find out more details on how we test the phone's battery life over here.
Samsung Galaxy S II Plus battery life test results
 

Display

The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus employs the same 4.3" SuperAMOLED Plus screen as the original Galaxy S II. This means you can count on excellent viewing angles, sky-high contrast and reasonable brightness levels.
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The Galaxy S II Plus display has pretty decent image quality
Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Samsung Galaxy S II Plus 0 206 0 358
LG Optimus L9 0.13 128 981 0.47 477 1019
Samsung Galaxy S III mini 0 221 0 385
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III 0 174 0 330
Samsung I9070 Galaxy S Advance 0 185 0326
Samsung I9103 Galaxy R 0.51 407 806 0.92785 858
Sony Xperia J 0.22 289 1290 0.41 562 1359
HTC Desire X 0.18 226 1273 0.33 421 1275
HTC Desire V 0.33 340 1027 0.48 506 1054
Sony Xperia tipo - - - 0.75 561 751
HTC Desire C 0.23 186 814 0.5 360 723
HTC One X 0.15 200 1375 0.39 550 1410
Sony Xperia U 0.35 287 831 0.55 515 930
Samsung S7500 Galaxy Ace Plus 0.27 239 873 0.6 528 888
Samsung I9001 Galaxy S Plus 0 251 0 408

The WVGA resolution is stretched a bit thin on the 4.3" display, making for a pixel density of just 217ppi, but it's by no means too bad to look at. Of course, those 720p and 1080p monsters of a screen look way sharper, but this one is pretty crisp, too. And because it uses a traditional RGB matrix instead of PenTile, there's no need to worry about the crosshatch pattern either.
Sunlight legibility is nothing short of great, too. Check out how the Galaxy S II Plus did in our dedicated test.

Contrast ratio

  • Nokia 808 PureView 4.698
  • Samsung Galaxy S 3.155
  • Nokia N9 3.069
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 2.970
  • HTC One S 2.901
  • Samsung Galaxy S II 2.832
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus 2.801
  • Huawei Ascend P1 2.655
  • Nokia Lumia 900 2.562
  • Samsung Galaxy S III mini 2.422
  • Motorola RAZR i 2.366
  • Apple iPhone 4S 2.269
  • Samsung Galaxy mini 2 1.114
You can find more information on our display test here.
We also put the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus screen under our microscope to show you its display matrix.

Overall, the display is good, though nowhere near as impressive as it was when the Galaxy S II launched.

Handling

Overall, the Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus is a phone of commendable ergonomics. Slim and lightweight, it's pretty easy to handle and slips comfortably into pockets. The grip has been somewhat compromised compared to the original, in favor of the arguably more up-to-date styling of the current Galaxy generation.
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Despite the downgraded grip, the Galaxy S II Plus still handles nicely
 

Nature UX ready to impress

The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean out of the box, skinned with the latest TouchWiz launcher, dubbed Nature UX. The user interface is basically identical to that of the Galaxy S III mini: the two phones have the same Android version and screen resolution.
Beyond the obvious benefits to the user experience compared to stock Android, a clearly midrange handset takes advantage of the same premium combination that powers the Galaxy S III and the Galaxy Note II.
We've shot a brief video showing off the user interface here.
The lockscreen is a standard "tap and drag in any direction to unlock" affair and there're ripples accompanied by water-drop sound as you drag your finger. There are a number unlock routines to choose from: motion, face and voice among others.
There're three customizable lockscreen shortcuts (down from five on the big S III and Note II), and you can drag one to activate the corresponding app.
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The lockscreen
The dock at the bottom of the homescreen fits five custom shortcuts or folders. The rightmost one always opens the app drawer, but the other four can be set to any shortcut or even a folder.
As usual, you can pinch to zoom out and manage homescreen panes - add, delete or just reorder them. You can have 7 panes at most, which are enough to fit plenty of content even if you use widgets that cover an entire pane.
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The Galaxy S II Plus homescreen
The notification area is quite feature-rich and offers quick toggles for Wi-Fi, GPS, Silent mode, Screen rotation, Bluetooth. You can swipe to the side to get even more: Mobile data, Blocking mode, Power saving and Sync.
Below the toggles is the brightness slider (there's no automatic brightness toggle here though). There are also a couple of other useful things like the Settings shortcut in the upper right corner, the time/date to its left and the carrier name at the bottom.
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Notification area
In Jelly Bean, you get expandable notifications to get more info about them. They can be expanded and collapsed with a two-finger swipe and the top one is expanded by default (if the app that put up the notification supports it, of course).
The app drawer accommodates both app shortcuts and widgets. Unlike stock Android, you cannot move between tabs by swipes - you have to explicitly hit the widget tab. Some will find this more logical (scrolling past the available apps to find yourself in the widgets takes some getting used to).
Using pinch-to-zoom reveals an overview of the pages and lets you rearrange them, but you can't create new ones. Hitting the menu key reveals some more options, including hiding apps or enabling tap-to-uninstall mode.
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The app drawer
The app drawer has three view modes: a Customizable grid (where you can freely rearrange icons), Alphabetical grid and Alphabetical list (this one makes shortcuts easy to hit, but isn't very space efficient). You can also view just the downloaded apps by hitting the Downloaded apps icon.
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The widget list
Jelly Bean comes with a selection of widgets, with some custom additions by Samsung. Some widgets are resizable too - a feature we've seen in some custom UIs is available natively in Jelly Bean. Widgets automatically move out of the way when you're reorganizing the homescreen.
Once you get several apps running, you can use the task switcher to go back and forth between them. It's a Jelly Bean-style vertical list with a screenshot and a name for each app. A sideways swipe removes the app from the list.
There are three buttons at the bottom of the list - one to bring out Samsung's home-brewed task manager, one to launch Google Now and a 'Kill all apps' button.
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App switcher • Task manager
Overall, the Nature UX on top of Android 4.1 looks great and the Galaxy S II Plus does pack most of the cool software tricks of the flagship.
And despite the lack of a quad-core chipset, the Galaxy S II Plus handles the heavy Samsung skin equally well. It wouldn't choke on heavy live wallpaper either.

Synthetic benchmarks

Unlike its predecessor, the Galaxy S II, the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus is based on a Broadcom chipset, but it uses the same 1.2GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU and 1GB of RAM. However, the Android release and the GPU are different , so we expect the results to vary slightly.
BenchmarkPi sees the S II Plus land towards the bottom of the pack in terms of single-threaded CPU performance, but that's expected against mostly higher clocked processors and ones with newer-gen architectures.

Benchmark Pi

Lower is better
  • HTC One X (Snapdragon S4) 279
  • HTC One S 306
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3) 338
  • Samsung Galaxy S III 344
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 351
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus 408
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus 409
  • Samsung Galaxy S II 452
  • Sony Xperia S 536
Quadrant is an altogether different story, as the Galaxy S II Plus handily beats out the ICS-powered Galaxy S II, and slots in just behind the quad-core devices in our test.

Quadrant

Higher is better
  • Samsung Galaxy S III 5365
  • HTC One X (Snapdragon S4) 5146
  • HTC One S 5047
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3) 4842
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus 3542
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3531
  • Sony Xperia S 3173
  • Samsung Galaxy S II 3053
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus 2316
GLBenchmark runs offscreen at 1080p resolution - putting all our tested devices on equal footing. The Broadcom VideoCore IV HW GPU failed to beat the Mali-400MP inside the Galaxy S II, but stayed pretty close to it, nonetheless.

GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better
  • LG Optimus G 29
  • Apple iPhone 5 27
  • Nexus 4 26
  • Samsung Galaxy Note II 17
  • Samsung Galaxy S III 15
  • Samsung Galaxy S II 13
  • HTC One X+ 12
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus 11
  • HTC One X 9
Finally, the SunSpider and Browsermark benchmarks gave us more reasons to cheer. Given all the recent Jelly Bean optimizations to the web browser this was almost expected, and we suspect the Galaxy S II will jump up closer to the S II Plus once the imminent Jelly Bean update starts hitting.

SunSpider

Lower is better
  • Samsung Galaxy S III 1447
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus 1460
  • HTC One S 1708
  • New Apple iPad 1722
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3) 1757
  • HTC One X (Snapdragon S4) 1834
  • Samsung Galaxy S II 1849
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus 1863
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 1891
  • Apple iPhone 4S 2217
  • Sony Xperia S 2587

BrowserMark 2

Higher is better
  • LG Optimus G 2555
  • Acer CloudMobile S500 1877
  • Nokia Lumia 820 1760
  • Samsung Omnia W 1632
  • Samsung Galaxy S III (JB) 1247
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus 1079
  • Samsung Galaxy S III mini 714
  • Sony Xperia J 587
  • Phonebook has room for everything

    The phonebook packs an incredibly wide range of features and virtually unlimited storage capacity. There are four tabs on top accommodating the Phone app, Groups, Favorites and Contacts.
    As usual, there are various options to filter contacts by phone numbers, groups and multiple sorting. You can import/export contacts to/from the SIM card but you can't display them alongside the phone memory entries.
    Samsung has kept the swipes in the phonebook, enabling quick dialing (right swipe) or sending a text (left swipe). The Quick contacts feature is there too, displaying, upon a tap of the contact picture, a pop up menu with shortcuts to call, text, email or Google Talk.
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    The Galaxy S II Plus phonebook • Quick contacts
    Tapping on a contact reveals all available details, and now shows two tabs instead of four. The first one is the About tab, with the person's photo on top. If configured, the right tab displays their latest updates from social networks or Google Talk.
    Information is perfectly organized into different sections for phone, email, etc. If the phonebook finds duplicate contact entries, it'll prompt joining them. Furthermore, there're a plethora of options once you hit the Menu button. You can view the call history, as well as join, unjoin and share contacts.
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    Detailed contact view
    Samsung has even added a built-in reject list. A new feature lets you choose a specific vibration pattern as an incoming call alert, just like you would a ringtone. A set of predefined patterns is offered, but you can make your own too.
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    Adding a contact to reject list • Vibration patterns can be assigned to each contact
    There's plenty of contact information you can assign to each contact and it still remains neatly organized. You have all the types listed (numbers, email addresses, etc.) and, just like in the previous version of TouchWiz UI 4.0, there's a plus sign on the right - tapping it adds another item of that type. Pressing the minus sign under it deletes any unneeded field.
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    Editing contact details
    Of course, the real flexibility of the phonebook becomes apparent when you sign into your social networks. After syncing, the phonebook will automatically merge contacts (you can do it manually too), so that the contact details are pulled from those sources as well.

    Telephony with smart dialing, voice commands

    The in-call quality of the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus is really good with crisp and loud sound. Reception was also problem-free and we didn't suffer dropped calls though in areas of very poor coverage the sound would occasionally break up.
    Smart Dial is available and works as advertised - it searches names and numbers simultaneously. Only one contact is shown (with contact photo) and you can tap the down arrow to view the rest (the number above the arrow indicates how many contacts have matched your query).
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    Smart dial works like a charm
    Another cool feature that the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus offers is Direct Call, which lets you dial a number by lifting the phone up to your ear while browsing contacts or reading/composing a message. Smart alert will vibrate the phone when you pick it up, if there are any missed calls or messages. You can, of course, use the old flip to mute gesture too.
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    Direct call and smart alert
    Voice dialing is available too and taken care of by S Voice, which activates on a double tap of the home button.
    The dialer also offers quick shortcuts for making a video call or sending a message instead.
    Thanks to the proximity sensor, your screen will automatically turn off during a call. The available options during a call include using the keypad, muting, holding the call or adding another call to this conversation.
    The call log is the tab next to the dial pad. It displays all the dialed, received and missed calls in one list sorting your call history by contacts.
    We also ran our traditional loudspeaker test on the Premier. It managed a Below Average mark, which is surprising considering its predecessor scored Good. More about our loudspeaker test as well as other results can be found here.
    Speakerphone testVoice, dBPink noise/ Music, dBRinging phone, dBOveral score
    Apple iPhone 566.866.167.7Below Average
    Samsung Galaxy Nexus66.2 60.569.0Below Average
    HTC Desire X63.6 61.669.6Below Average
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus65.7 61.566.6Below Average
    Apple iPhone 4S65.8 64.574.6Average
    Samsung Galaxy S III mini66.5 63.076.0Average
    Sony Xperia S72.7 61.869.6Average
    HTC One S65.1 64.676.7Average
    Samsung Galaxy S II70.0 66.675.7Good
    LG Optimus L766.7 66.675.6Good
    Motorola RAZR XT91074.766.682.1Very Good
    HTC Desire76.675.784.6Excellent

    Messaging

    The messaging department is quite straightforward: there are no folders here, just a new message button. Under that button is a list of all your messages organized into threads.
    Swiping on a message header will do exactly the same as in the phonebook - a left swipe starts a new message, while swiping to the right will start a call. There's application-specific search that lets you quickly find a given message among all your stored SMS and MMS.
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    The Galaxy S II Plus messaging center with swipe functions
    One thing we really appreciate is that the tap to compose box grows as much as it needs to - it can fill the entire screen (above the on-screen keyboard that is), growing to 10 lines.
    Adding multimedia content to the message automatically turns into an MMS. You can either quickly add a photo or an audio file to go with the text or compose an MMS using all the available features (like multiple slides, slide timing, layout, etc.). The multiple slides are all shown inside the compose box.
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    Responding to a message • Attaching a file • Message options • Scheduling a message
    You can schedule a message to be sent automatically at a later point in time. There's a list of all scheduled messages in case you need to cancel or send a message ahead of time manually. You can also mark certain numbers as "spam", in case some automatic promo texts get pushy, and lock messages to prevent their deletion.
    Moving on to email, the Gmail app supports batch operations, which allow multiple emails to be archived, labeled or deleted. The default app supports multiple Gmail accounts, but there's no unified inbox. Another cool feature in Gmail is that you can swipe left or right to move between messages in your inbox.
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    The Gmail app should be pretty familiar to everyone by now
    There is also a generic email app for all your other email accounts and it can handle multiple POP or IMAP inboxes. You have access to the messages in the original folders that are created online and messages are displayed as usual, or you can switch to a Gmail-like conversation view.
    The Galaxy S II Plus also features a combined inbox, which brings together all your mail in a single folder. This can be quite handy if you have lots of accounts and you just want to check if there is a new message needing your attention.
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    The standard email app also does a good job • The combined inbox
    For each email account, the app gives you security options (e.g. encrypting outgoing email and signing it with a private key) and a sync schedule, which can be set to check for new mail more often during "peak schedule" (you can pick the days of the week and start and end times when "peak schedule" is active).
    Google Talk handles the Instant Messaging department. The G-Talk network is compatible with a variety of popular clients like Pidgin, Kopete, iChat and Ovi Contacts. There's also Samsung's own ChatOn service.

    Text input - keyboard, gesture and voice

    The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus comes with several text input options. You have the traditional QWERTY keyboard in portrait mode (which is a little cramped) and landscape mode.
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    Portrait and landscape QWERTY keyboards
    There are a handful of clever tricks that this keyboard can offer. You can swipe left and right to switch between letters and symbols or you can enable "Continuous input", which lets you input words by swiping over the keyboard (yes, like Swype).
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    Continuous input • using the clipboard option
    If you like swiping your finger around but Continuous input isn't your thing, you can try using the handwriting recognition. It's quite accurate too.
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    Handwriting recognition
    The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus has very advanced text prediction features to minimize typos. If you allow it, it will scan through your emails, Facebook posts and Twitter posts and learn how you write (which words you use more often and so on).
    Another option shows you a list of all recent items in the clipboard (both text and images) that you can quickly paste. This is great as it lets you juggle multiple copied items.
    You can, of course, use voice input and, since the S II Plus is running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, this will work even if the phone is offline as long as you have downloaded the required language package.
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    Voice input

    Stock gallery with a pinch of TouchWiz

    The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus comes with the default Jelly Bean Gallery which, as you'd imagine, has been treated to some TouchWiz flavor. It opens up in Album view, which is what we're used to seeing. Rather than the familiar stacks, the app uses a grid of photos, two on a line.
    Besides Album view, photos can also be sorted by Location, Time, Person (photos with tagged faces) and Group.
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    The Gallery app
    Getting inside an album displays all the photos in a rectangular grid, which is horizontally scrollable. When you try to scroll past the end, the photo thumbnails will tilt to remind you you're at the bottom of the list.
    When viewing a single photo, you'll find several sharing shortcuts and a delete button above the photo, while below is a line of small thumbnails of all other photos in the album. You can tap those small thumbnails to move to other images or you can just swipe sideways.
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    Viewing a single photo • Simple editing options
    The Gallery also supports highly customizable slideshows with several effects to choose from, as well as customizable music and speed. You can also highlight specific images to be included in the slideshow.
    When viewing a photo with people's faces in it, the Galaxy S II Plus will try to detect them automatically (and you can manually highlight faces where it fails). Buddy photo share will use your contacts' profiles to try and recognize people automatically.
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    Putting a name to the face • Manually marking a face
    Social tag makes sure that whenever a face is recognized in the photo, their status message appears and you can easily call or message that contact.

    Music player with SoundAlive

    The Galaxy S II Plus employs the same TouchWiz-ed music player as the Galaxy S III. Samsung has enabled equalizer presets (including a custom one) along with the sound-enhancing SoundAlive technology, which features 7.1 channel virtualization. The company also uses SoundAlive in some of their MP3 and Android-powered media players.
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    SoundAlive offers an extensive list of presets • creating a custom preset
    The music is sorted into various categories and one of the options, called Music square, is quite similar to the SensMe feature of Sony Ericsson phones. It automatically rates a song as exciting or calm, passionate or joyful and places those tracks on a square (hence the name).
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    Music square creates automatic playlists based on your mood
    From here, you can highlight an area of the square and the phone will automatically build a playlist of songs that matches your selection.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    The music player benefits greatly from the TouchWiz UI
    You can swipe the album art left and right to skip songs. You can also put the phone face down to mute the sound or place your palm over the screen to pause playback.
    The Galaxy S II Plus player is DLNA-enabled, so you're not limited to tracks on your handset - songs on devices connected to your Wi-Fi network are as easy to get to as locally stored songs.
    If you've enabled the Motion gestures, you can mute and pause a track by placing the phone face down.

    Very capable video player

    Samsung has put what is easily the best default video player on the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus. It offers several view modes - grid, list, folders and nearby devices (which accesses DLNA devices).
    The grid view shows static video thumbnails (unlike the handset's more powerful siblings, which animate the thumbnails).
    The video player on the S II Plus does feature Pop up play - it moves the video in a small floating window and you can use other apps on the phone with the video on. You can pinch-zoom the video window to adjust its size.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Browsing the video gallery • The pop up play can be resized
    The video player lets you choose between three view modes for how the video fits the screen (fit to screen, fill screen, 100% resolution). The SoundAlive audio-enhancing technology is available here too.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    The video player has a simple interface but is quite capable
    Samsung's video player has extensive codec support, and played almost everything we threw at it. It can play AVI (DivX and XviD), MP4 and WMV files up to 1080p resolution. The only thing we couldn't get to work was MOV files, but most devices don't come with MOV support out of box, so it's nothing major.
    The video player lets you squeeze the best viewing experience out of the screen - you can adjust video brightness, Auto play next, play speed, SoundAlive and enable subtitles.
    The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus made a good impression when it offered us a list of subtitles and let us pick. It scans for all subtitles, so the file doesn't have to have the same name as the video file.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Tweaking the video playback

    FM Radio with RDS, broadcast recording

    The Galaxy S II Plus is equipped with an FM radio with RDS too. The interface is simple - there's a tuning dial and you can save as many as 12 stations as favorites. You can also play on the loudspeaker, but the headset is still needed as it acts as the antenna. You can record radio broadcasts as well.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    The FM radio app

    Good audio quality

    The chipset switch has affected the Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus audio output slighlty, btu the result is still very good.
    When connected to active external amplifier the Galaxy S II Plus managed very good scores all over the field, with the only average volume levels the only thing that might make you frown.
    There was some degradation when we plugged in a pair of headphones, but nothing too bad. Some distortion crept in and the stereo crosstalk worsened, but none of those will be easy to detect with the naked ear. The volume levels remained only average though, so while it's a solid overall performance it's not the best we have seen.
    TestFrequency responseNoise levelDynamic rangeTHDIMD + NoiseStereo crosstalk
    Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus+0.08, -0.03-83.384.00.011 0.026-82.7
    Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus (headphones attached)+0.36, -0.09-81.082.10.0250.220-59.3
    Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II+0.04, -0.09-91.491.90.0042 0.066-89.7
    Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II (headphones attached)+1.05, -0.22-90.090.20.013 0.647-49.4
    Samsung Galaxy S III mini+0.03, -0.04-82.182.00.012 0.024-80.7
    Samsung Galaxy S III mini (headphones attached)+0.19, -0.13-82.582.40.444 0.305-53.4
    Samsung I9070 Galaxy S Advance+0.03, -0.03-88.687.60.0086 0.018-88.0
    Samsung I9070 Galaxy S Advance (headphones attached)+0.39, -0.09-88.687.70.025 0.240-42.3
    Samsung Galaxy Nexus+0.11, -0.69-90.690.60.0085 0.014-91.8
    Samsung Galaxy Nexus (headphones attached)+0.41, -0.61-89.589.50.097 0.267-63.5
    LG Optimus L9+0.06, -0.32-82.682.50.0063 0.019-81.5
    LG Optimus L9 (headphones attached)+0.44, -0.12-82.382.30.018 0.293-54.5

    Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus frequency response
    Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus frequency response
    You can learn more about the whole testing process here.

     

    Great 8MP camera

    The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus comes with the same 8MP camera as the Galaxy S II and is able to capture photos at a maximum resolution of 3264 x 2448 pixels. It has an LED flash to assist it in low lighting conditions.
    The interface is virtually the same as on the Galaxy S III. On the right there's the still camera / camcorder switch, a virtual shutter key and the gallery shortcut (which is a thumbnail of the last photo taken).
    On the left, you get several controls and the good news is that you can pick any four shortcuts to put there - its let you easily have all frequently used features just a tap away.
    The fifth shortcut always points to Settings. You can also move the icons around to your liking.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    The camera interface
    The Galxy S II Plus has an extensive set of features: touch focus, smile shot, continuous shot, panorama mode and can snap photos during video recording (but at only 720p resolution, basically a frame from the video). What's missing is HDR.
    The actual images are among the nicer we've seen from 8MP snappers. The noise reduction isn't too aggressive and the fine detail is mostly intact. Colors are very accurate (with just a hint of oversaturation) and the dynamic range is good.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus camera samples

    Photo quality comparison

    The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus has plenty of 8MP shooters to compete with in our Photo compare tool. The tools page gives you info on what to look out for.
    Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus in our Photo compare tool

    1080p video recording is one of the best around

    The camcorder interface of the Galaxy S II Plus is almost the same as the still camera's - you get the same customizable panel on the left with five shortcuts.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Camcorder interface
    The image quality is very pleasant, with no noise or compression artifacts. There are some jaggies on diagonal lines and oversharpening halos (which you can see most clearly in our ISO chart below), the color reproduction is top notch, and the videos are smooth and better than most other 1080p-capable midrangers we've seen.
    1080p videos are shot @ 30fps and are stored in MP4 files with 17Mbps overall bitrate and mono sound at 128Kbps / 48kHz. Because the camera uses the center of the sensor for 1080p recording, there is a slight zoom applied that may take some getting used to. There's also no zoom capability available in 1080p mode.
    720p recording does not suffer the same zoom limitations as 1080p mode.
    Here are both 1080p (0:16s, 33.0MB) and 720p (0:16s, 23.5MB) video samples taken directly from the Galaxy S II Plus.

    Video quality comparison

    The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus enters the video quality comparison tool as an HD-capable contender.
    Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool Video Compare Tool
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus in our Video quality comparison tool

    Well connected

    The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus has a long list of connectivity features. Let's start off with the basics - quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and quad-band 3G (AWS is missing though). The 3G connectivity is backed by HSPA (21.1Mbps downlink, 5.76Mbps uplink).
    The Wi-Fi support covers a/b/g/n, with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz band compatibility, with Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA also part of the package.
    There's also Bluetooth 4.0 LE, which builds on Bluetooth 3.0 with the efficient Low Energy mode.
    In some regions, the S II Plus has NFC connectivity. It lets you share all sorts of media via NFC by simply touching the devices back-to-back. You'd need two S Beam-enabled devices to get this to work - while not many models support it, there are plenty of later generation Galaxy's around.
    You can share with other NFC devices as well, but the functionality is limited to what is provided by Android Beam - Android's stock NFC tool.
    And finally, for wired connectivity we have the MHL port. By all appearances it is a normal microUSB port and works as one (a charger port as well). But the MHL port enables video output by using a MHL-to-HDMI dongle. Sadly, there isn't one included in the retail box.

    Tweaked Jelly Bean browser

    The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus has a tweaked version of the Jelly Bean Android browser, but Chrome also comes pre-installed, if that's what you prefer.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    The Android browser
    Anyway, the default browser supports both double tap and pinch zooming along with the two-finger tilt zoom. There are niceties such as multiple tabs, text reflow, find on page and so on. A neat trick is to pinch zoom out beyond the minimum - that opens up the tabs view.
    The Web browser comes with Incognito mode, which lets you surf the web without the browser keeping track of your history or storing cookies. You can also switch to a more minimalist UI, which currently is in a Lab stage. It disables most of the browser's user interface and gives you a quick five-button layout to access the basics.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Tabs view • Incognito mode • Quick controls
     

    Organizer and apps

    The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus comes with a number of cool apps preinstalled. The one glaring omission is an Office document editor - perhaps Samsung finally came to terms with the sheer amount of free office editors available on the Play Store.
    The S Planner is a skinned calendar that is easy to use with your fingers. The tabbed interface lets you easily toggle between year, month, week, day list and task views.
    The S Planner app can sync with multiple calendars and you can switch off individual ones to reduce the clutter.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    S Planner
    Samsung has enabled itsr new S Cloud service on the Galaxy SII Plus. It can sync contacts, calendar and S memos and back up logs, messages (SMS and MMS) and the wallpaper. You can choose not to back up some of those things and you can set up automatic backups.
    The clock app features is laid out across five tabs, each with a different function. The first tab lets you create multiple alarms (each with a distinct repeat time and ring tone), then there are the World clock, stopwatch, timer and desk clock tabs.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    The Clock app handles many extras
    The Calculator features big buttons, but you can enable one-handed operation to make things more manageable. The text size is adjustable and if you flip the phone horizontally, you get some advanced math functions too.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Calculator has adjustable font size and advanced math functions
    The My Files app lets you browse all the files in your phones' memory or on an attached microSD card. The app is launched automatically when you hook up a USB mass storage device (a USB drive, another phone, an SD card etc), which we find to be a nice touch.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    The My files app

    Google Maps with offline caching

    The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus comes with a GPS receiver, which took about a minute to get satellite lock upon a cold start (it supports GLONASS for faster, more accurate locks too). You can use the A-GPS functionality to get near instantaneous locks. Alternatively, network positioning will also do if you only need an estimate of your location.
    Google Maps is a standard part of the Android package and we've covered it many times before. It offers voice-guided navigation in certain countries and falls back to a list of instructions elsewhere.
    3D buildings are shown for some of the bigger cities and you can use two-finger camera tilt and rotate to get a better view of the area.
    You can also plan routes, search for nearby POI and go into the always cool Street View. The app will reroute you if you get off course, even without a data connection.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Google Maps • Street view
    Google Maps uses vector maps, which are very data efficient. The latest version has an easy to use interface for caching maps - you just choose "Make available offline" from the menu and pan/zoom around until the desired area is in view (there's an indicator showing how much storage caching that area will take). You can later view cached areas and delete ones you no longer need.
    Note that there's a limit to the size of the area you can cache - you can't just make all of Europe available offline, not even a whole country. We managed to cache London and some surrounding regions before Maps told us the area is too big. Also, there's no address search in the cached maps and you can only cache map data in supported regions of the world.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Making all of London available offline

    Play Store

    Running on Android Jelly Bean, the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus has access to the latest apps and the available microSD slot guarantees you won't have trouble with space. Keep in mind though that some apps might have issues with JB at first, but those should be ironed out soon enough.
    The Store is organized in a few scrollable tabs - categories, featured, top paid, top free, top grossing, top new paid, top new free and trending. The in-app section is untouched though and it's very informative - a description, latest changes, number of downloads and comments with rating. There is usually a demo video and several screenshots for most apps too.
    Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P Samsung Galaxy S II Plus I9105P
    Google Play Store
      

    Final words

    We mentioned at the start that it's the software where the S II Plus will make the most sense over the original Galaxy S II, due in large part to the near-identical hardware of the two devices. However, with Jelly Bean for the Galaxy S II already available in some markets and probably in many more soon, even that advantage goes away.
    One theory on what exactly Samsung was thinking when it released this device is the phasing out of the old flagship with a newer (and cheaper to manufacture) model. Scaling the onboard storage to 8 GB aligns to this, as flash storage is one of the most expensive components found in a smartphone. Also, by outsourcing to Broadcom for the chip manufacture process, Samsung would be able to free up its own factories for making more Galaxy S III and Note II SoC's. But what does all this mean to the consumer?
    First off, while the Broadcom chip may not be offering a performance advantage over the the Exynos found in the Galaxy S II, it delivers anything but a bad midrange experience for the Galaxy S II Plus, particularly under Jelly bean. Looking forward, the potential cost reduction of the Galaxy S II Plus could make it quite enticing indeed, particularly if the Galaxy S II was to no longer be available.
    With both devices still on the market and currently priced the same, however, you'd be crazy not to go with the original Galaxy S II. The formula that worked for Samsung two years ago still works today, and Jelly Bean has brought some extra value to the experience. You get the better-performing Exynos chipset and double the flash memory for the same price (there's a 32GB model available as well).
    Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II
    Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II
    If you prefer a larger screen, another fresh Samsung release in the midrange is the Samsung Galaxy Grand. It features a 5" capacitive touchscreen, though not of the Super AMOLED variety, which features the same WVGA resolution, leading to an even lower pixel density. Otherwise you get an identical camera, storage space, RAM, and Android version, and while you lose the NFC support, the Grand has a dual-SIM variant, as well.
    Samsung Galaxy Grand I9082
    Samsung Galaxy Grand I9082
    Sony also has a very solid midrange offering in the Xperia S. It features a robust 4.3" 720p display, and beats out the S II Plus with a 12 MP camera, 32GB of storage, and larger battery. The dual-core 1.5GHz Scorpion processor with Adreno 220 graphics can match the Galaxy S II Plus (and original Galaxy S II) in terms of performance, too. What's not so good about the Xperia S is a non-removable battery, no microSD slot, and older software - the Android 4.1 update is still in the works.
    Sony Xperia S
    Sony Xperia S
    Finally, the HTC One S should also deliver great performance at the midrange price point. Its dual Krait cores are one of the fastest performers around (in the dual-core league), and while you're again giving up NFC and expandable storage, the released Android 4.1 update and higher-resolution screen make for a very solid buy.
    HTC One S
    HTC One S
    The Galaxy S II Plus is a solid, if not spectacular, smartphone. Its dual-core chipset is good enough for the WVGA screen, while the latest version of TouchWiz adds plenty of cool tricks to the already feature-rich Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean.
    Unfortunately, there are just too many offerings at its initial price point to make it a worthwhile buy, particularly while the Galaxy S II is still around. Given time and the right price, however, it may turn out to be worthy of its Plus moniker.

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