March 30, 2013

Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus preview: First look


Introduction

It's not the end of the road just yet for the Galaxy S III but it would do well to prepare to pass the torch on. Yet, while the current flagship is coming to terms with mortality, Samsung obviously believes there's still fight left in the old Galaxy S II. The company just unveiled a revamped version of its ex-Number One to take advantage of the software goodies introduced by the Galaxy S III.

Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus official images

The Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus has borrowed the finish of the Galaxy S III and is powered by a new chipset with a Broadcomm GPU. It's not a sea change by any means, but no wonders are expected of the Plus version really. All it tries to do is freshen up a proven formula and help Samsung tighten its grip on the midrange.

Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus at a glance

  • General: GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz, UMTS 850/900/1900/2100 MHz, HSDPA 21 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76 Mbps
  • Form factor: Touchscreen bar phone
  • Dimensions: 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5 mm, 121 g
  • Display: 4.3" 16M-color WVGA (480 x 800 pixels) Super AMOLED Plus capacitive touchscreen, Gorilla Glass,
  • CPU: Dual-core ARM Cortex A9 1.2 GHz processor
  • GPU: Broadcomm VideoCore IV
  • RAM: 1GB
  • OS: Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean)
  • Memory: 8GB storage, microSD card slot
  • Camera: 8 megapixel auto-focus camera with face detection, touch focus and image stabilization; Full HD (1080p) video recording at 30fps, LED flash, front facing camera, video-calls
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth 3.0+HS, MHL-enabled standard microUSB port, GPS receiver with A-GPS, 3.5mm audio jack, FM radio, USB-on-the-go, NFC (I9105P)
  • Misc: TouchWiz 5.0 Nature UX, DivX/XviD codec support, built-in accelerometer, multi-touch input, proximity sensor, gyroscope sensor
With FullHD screens popping left and right, and quad-core Cortex-A15's, a WVGA Super AMOLED Plus and the dual-core CPU are hardly a geek's wet dream. However, having run a leaked JB test ROM on the original Galaxy S II for a while now, we can confirm that it's a setup that works fine under Jelly Bean, delivering a pretty solid smartphone experience. Probably not one you will crave, but certainly one you wouldn't mind spending your money on.
What will be a bit harder for the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus is convince us that it's worth picking over the original. Perhaps the Koreans simply plan on finally retiring their 2011 flagship and replacing it with the new model, which is obviously in line with their new design language.
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The Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II at ours

Or perhaps the new chipset and finish have helped Samsung lower the production cost and price the Galaxy S II Plus more competitively than the original version.
Anyway, while the price tag is of utmost importance to users, these are just speculations at this point. So, let's try and focus on how well the changes work, and what kind of performance the Galaxy S II Plus can provide.


Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus 360-degree spin

The different build materials aside, the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus keeps the same dimensions as the original, including the assertively slim profile we're quite fond of. At 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5mm, it 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.
The problem is we were quite fond of the rough textured battery cover of the original and we still prefer it over the new thing. 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 worst signs of wear, particularly if you are not too careful with the handset.
Samsung, however, felt this is the only element worth keeping. It did change the color, so maybe its finish is more durable now, but only time will tell.

Display

The Samsung Galaxy S II Plus uses 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.
Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus
The Galaxy S II Plus display has pretty decent image quality

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


Controls and handling

The controls on the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus haven't been altered one bit. 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.
Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus
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 you can see the earpiece, a couple of sensors and the 2 megapixel front facing camera, which can do video-calls.
Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus
The usual array of sensors and the front-facing camera surround the earpiece

The top of the phone features the 3.5mm jack and a secondary microphone.
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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 you can see the microSD card slot, the SIM compartment and the 1650 mAh battery. It's the same battery that powered the original Galaxy S II, but we'll leave it to the complete review to see how well it actually does in Jelly Bean environment.
The microSD card is unfortunately not hot-swappable, as Galaxy SII owners should very well know.
Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus
Taking a peak under the hood

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 return for 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 in smaller form factor

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. Its user interface is basically identical to that of the Galaxy S III mini, which is hardly a surprise given that the two share Android versions 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 included 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 provided - motion, face and voice among them
There're three customizable lockscreen shortcuts (down from five on the big S III and Note II). Drag one up 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 full of shortcuts.
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
This being Jelly Bean, you get expandable notifications to get more info about them. You can expand and collapse them 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 - 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.
Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus
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. Swiping an app sideways removes it 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 its bigger brother. It's rare to see a midrange device having most of the flagship's bells and whistles.
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

One of the major differences between the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus and the classic Galaxy S II lies in the chipsets that power the two smartphones. While both feature dual-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A9 CPUs, the Plus version has a Broadcom GPU, whereas the regular Galaxy S II employs a Mali-400MP.
Different may not always mean better, but given that the Galaxy S II Plus comes with Android 4.1.2 out of box, it should have an edge in that department over the Galaxy S II, which hase yet to be upgraded to Jelly Bean.
The BenchmarkPi single-threaded CPU calculations test lands the Galaxy S II Plus towards the bottom of the pack, but that's expected against mostly higher clocked processors. Besides it does notably better than its predecessor, so it's a pretty solid performance indeed.

Benchmark Pi

Lower is better
  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • HTC One X (Snapdragon S4) 279
  • HTC One S 306
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3) 338
  • Samsung Galaxy S III 344
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus 408
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus 409
  • Samsung Galaxy S II 452
  • Sony Xperia S 536
Strangely, multi-core performance sees some altogether unimpressive results from the Galaxy S II chipset. It does markedly worse than the Exynos on the original Samsung Galaxy S II and leads us to suspect that the Linpack benchmark has its issues with 4.1.2 devices.

Linpack

Higher is better
  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • HTC One S 210.0
  • HTC One X (Snapdragon S4) 196.0
  • Samsung Galaxy S III 177.1
  • HTC One X (Tegra 3) 126.1
  • Sony Xperia S 86.4
  • Samsung Galaxy S II 77.6
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus 77.1
  • HTC Sensation XE 50.4
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus 41.8
Quadrant is an altogether different story, as the Galaxy S II Plus handily beats out the Galaxy S II, and falls in just behind the quad-core devices we have tested.

Quadrant

Higher is better
  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • 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
  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • 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 some great results. 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 Galaxy S II Plus once the imminent Jelly Bean update gets released.

SunSpider

Lower is better
  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • 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
  • Apple iPhone 4S 2217
  • Sony Xperia S 2587

BrowserMark 2

Higher is better
  • Sort by Label
  • Sort by Value
  • 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


Great gallery

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.
Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus
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).
Samsung I9105 Galaxy S II Plus
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.
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The music player has benefited 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.

Nice looking 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 Galaxy 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.
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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.
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The video player has a simple interface but is quite capable

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 I9105 Galaxy S II Plus
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.
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The FM radio app • Recording



Solid 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 - you can 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.
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The camera interface
The Galaxy 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 have good quality even if not quite the best we have seen from an 8MP snapper. Despite the unfavorable weather conditions around the office, the Galaxy S II Plus managed to produce photos with little noise and reasonable amount of resolved detail.
We found colors to be pretty accurate (though there's still some room for improvement) and the dynamic range decent.
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Samsung Galaxy S II Plus camera samples

Final words

Anyone after a reasonably priced and reasonably performing smartphone could do a lot worse than the Samsung Galaxy S II Plus but, to be honest, the plus in the phone's name isn't entirely convincing. Sure, there's Jelly Bean out of the box, but the screen resolution (and size) haven't improved one bit and the (still not officially named) chipset feels like a downgrade.
This is not to say the smartphone is pointless. It seems the Galaxy S II Plus isn't meant to coexist with the regular Galaxy S II - not in the same markets anyway. It's a replacement that looks to optimize manufacturing costs. The reduced storage and the outsourced chipset clearly point in that direction.
Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II
Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II
That way Samsung can afford to price the smartphone more competitively and target the lower midrange, while making resources and facilities available for the production of next-gen Exynos chipsets for the Galaxy S III and probably IV.
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III
Now, that's if you're more interested in the big picture. Upgraders, on the other hand, who need to urgently replace an ageing Samsung smartphone for a reasonable price, seem to have yet another option to consider.
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 Jelly Bean. It may not be stuff from your dreams, but it's shaping to be a reasonable package that can get a lot of work done.


 

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