Samsung Galaxy S2: The Best Smartphone on Budget!

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The holiday season is in full effect and lots of people are expecting to receive the gadget of their dreams this year. This might be the sophisticated iPhone 5 or the stylish Galaxy S3. If the newer models are too big for your budget, consider going with an older model like Virgin Mobile’s Galaxy S2. You’ll be surprised at how well it compares to the competition.

Design

The design of the Galaxy S2 and S3 are similar: beautiful, white and boxy with 3 dots (front camera, two sensors) just above the earpiece. The Galaxy S3 is obviously sexier and thinner, but the Galaxy S2 is no ugly step-sister.

S3 and S2

It’s extremely light and sports a slightly smaller 4.52-inch display that doesn’t support HD video. Fortunately, the lack of HD support won’t spoil your media viewing experience. All ports and buttons (power, microUSB, volume rocker) are in the same place on both devices (right side). Instead of a dedicated home button like the S3, the S2 has a row of touchkeys.

Ice Cream Sandwich VS Jelly Bean

The Galaxy S2 runs on Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), while most Galaxy S3′s have moved on to Jelly Bean (JB). Neither phone has the latest version of Android (4.2), but there are a few new features that give JB an edge over ICS including:

  • Project Butter
  • Google Now
  • Enhanced Notifications
  • Automatic widget resizing
  • Face unlock

If you don’t see yourself using Google Now or care about enhanced notifications, then Ice Cream Sandwich on the S2 isn’t deal-breaker. It will more than likely get a Jelly Bean upgrade in 2013 if you don’t mind having a little patience.

In fact, you can root your S2 and get most of the JB features through a ROM. However, if rooting is not your thing, only two of these features can be unlocked through a separate app in the Google Play store, but they’re not as good as the native features.

Screen

Newer devices blow right past the Galaxy S2′s screen, except where brightness is concerned. Low display brightness is something that plagues my Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy S3. They’re difficult to look at in direct sunlight. Not so with the S2. The screen is much brighter and I had no problems viewing it in direct sunlight.

Text aren’t as smooth and clear when zoomed out in a webpage. Still, there’s a lot of vibrance in the S2′s screen. My only pet peeve is that blacks appeared washed out unlike the deep saturated blacks of the S3. Both are highly annoying to me. Choose wisely.

Brightness Test

Despite the shorter screen and resolution, you can still get the same number of rows and columns of icons as the S3. Virgin Mobile’s launcher replaces one row of icons with a persistent dock. If you don’t want this, head to Settings > Applications and follow these steps:

  • Hit the all tab (in Applications) and scroll down until you see TwLauncher.
  • Tap TwLauncher and scroll down to the “launch by default” section.
  • Tap “clear defaults” then hit the home touch key
  • You’ll see two options. Select “Launcher”.
  • Hit the option that explicitly states “Launcher.”

This will give you the stock Launcher and an extra row of icons in the app drawer. There’s always Nova Launcher or SSlauncher if you’re looking for something completely different.

Camera

The Galaxy S2 has a 8MP camera like the S3 and records 1080p video. A 2MP front camera is also available, but it’s not going to blow your mind. The rear camera does a great job of taking pictures and you won’t see much of a  difference between images (first two images from  S2, last two images from S3).

Galaxy S2 Shot (2) Galaxy S2 Shot (1)

Welcome to the Jungle Called Brooklyn Road to Manhattan

The camera app’s design is same as the Galaxy S3′s along with most of the features. Shooting modes for the Galaxy S2 include: smile shot, panorama, action shot, and cartoon. It’s missing lowlight, burst shot, and HDR  and face detection is a focus mode. Most of the scene modes in the S3 are available on the S2, though the number of effects available is smaller.

A shutter sound option is also missing from the S2. That’s right, no sneaking pics of your friends and family while they’re sleeping.

Memory and Connectivity

The Galaxy S2 includes 16GBs of internal memory and 2GBs of RAM. It only supports microSD cards up to 32GB compared to the Galaxy S3′s 64GB support. However, this is far from a deal-breaker.

My Galaxy S3 is on AT&T’s 4G network, while Virgin Mobile’s Samsung Galaxy S2 runs on Sprint’s 4G network. AT&T gets better coverage but, Virgin Mobile’s plans are cheaper. If Sprint’s 4G network covers your location, the S2 gets great connection speeds. I was able to get between 7 – 12Mbps in NYC. These are decent speeds for using the S2′s mobile hotspot feature.

Surprisingly, there’s a 4G toggle on the S2, something I dream of having on my Galaxy S3. It allows you to quickly turn 4G service off or on. It’s the biggest battery saving feature you could ask for on any 4G phone, but many don’t include this.

Unfortunately, there’s no NFC or S-Beam, but you do get wifi-direct and VPN options.

Conclusion: A Worthy Alternative

No matter what you think, the Galaxy S2 is still a hot phone. It’s goes toe-to-toe with the Galaxy S3, and only manages to get a handful of bruises from its old brother. Unless you’re really into the technical aspects of a phone, the Galaxy S2 would make a great Christmas gift for students, teens, young adults, and even young parents. Performance is solid across the board, the design is simple, and it’s running Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0).

Virgin Mobile is selling the Galaxy S2 for $329.99 (no contract) and has plans as low as $35 a month. I’d recommend the $55 unlimited everything plan and the $15 mobile hotspot option. You come out cheaper than what I pay AT&T for a plan that’s not unlimited.

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  • http://monterey-chiropractic.com/blog.html Monterey Chiropractor

    Wow the s2 looks really good. But what about apps and features? Is it at the same level as Iphone?

  • lillianextra@comcast.com

    Same level as the iphon??? That’s hilarious. This phone totally desroys all and any iphone crap around. You i- people kill me, still holding on to antique dreams with ur toy phones and outdated tablets.

  • http://shegeeks.net/ Corvida Raven

    One could argue that it has more features than the iPhone. Google’s Play store has just as many apps as the App Store so apps are on par.

    Here’s a look at Android 4.0 (Ice cream sandwich), which is what the S2 is running on: http://www.android.com/about/ice-cream-sandwich/

    Rumor has it the S2 might be getting Jellybean next month: http://asia.cnet.com/samsung-galaxy-s2-to-get-jelly-bean-update-next-month-62220138.htm

  • http://shegeeks.net/ Corvida Raven

    I actually switched from an iPhone to an Android device before writing this post. So, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I also have a Galaxy Note 10.1 courtesy of Samsung.

  • Rico

    Can anyone please help me sort out some confusions regarding the latest Jelly Bean upgrade 4.1.2 for the SG sII ? Is the Jelly Bean upgrade officially available for the Virgen Mobile Samsung Galaxy sII 4g LTE alowing the phone to have NFC, Beaming, and FM Radio ? Some one knowledgeable please help?

  • Becky

    I must say that you have definitely convinced me into getting the S2. Especially when it’s only $280 right now! Loved this comparison!

  • http://shegeeks.net/ Corvida Raven

    The features you’re referring to are not OS features, they’re hardware specific. The GS2 on Virgin Mobile is not NFC capable. So those features will not come with the upgrade.

  • Aus_Roh

    “display that doesn’t support HD video”
    Well, this is expressed incorrectly. Yeah the screen is not full HD, but you can watch full HD on the screen, its just scaled down, and on a screen this size I doubt there would be any visible difference for video. But the SII can output full HD video to a TV via a HDMI adapter (The home screen etc will be the same resolution as on the phone on the TV though).

    People should note this phone is not for people who love music in quality audio. The Yamaha audio chip is rather crappy. The Galaxy S1 has a brilliant audio chip, and I believe the SIII should be good too (They have Wolfson chips.) WRT to the 32 Mb storage, a Sandisk 64 Gb memory card can be used, just Google it. I think the only problem is the camera won’t show how many more photos can be taken.

    I would state the SIII looks more feminine (like a makeup accessory) and the SII more masculine/business-like, but who cares.

    S2 (from April 2013) now has Jelly Bean 4.1.2, with face unlock, widget resizing, camera panorama etc., plus more bugs.

    Great phone except for the Audio Chip (Why Samsung!). It’s tough too, and plenty of accessories on Ebay.

  • Aus_Roh

    As of April 2013 yes it has 4.1.2 via Virgin Mobile. I think the ICS just before it was more bug free. No NFC & Beaming (The chips were not used when the S2 came out!). The SII always had an FM radio. Its great and more sensitive & faster then my dedicated HiFi tuner. The 4.1.2 FM radio now also has record (thanks Samsung, just like your older budget phones). But it has a minor bug too — you can now store four more station shortcuts, but the station name doesn’t show. If you can’t find the FM radio on your phone, maybe your S2 is from America or somewhere. In some markets, an FM radio is not included in the Galaxy S or Note products — don’t ask me why?

  • Aus_Roh

    Look at this way: If you buy any Apps or media (like Kindle books) for your S2 from your Google account, you will still be able to use & keep what you paid for when you upgrade to a new phone from a very wide selection from Samsung or other manufacturers (or even your own if you manufacture a phone). Welcome to the concept of a *platform*. With Apple, you’re stuck to whatever over-priced (40% profit margin compared to Samsung’s 20%) single (or dual) model piece of trash they put out. Far more Android phones are now sold than Apple (because Android is a ‘friendly’ open platform). In not much time, Android will clearly have the better and more numerous Apps. Currently, it’s now about even. Two years ago Apple was in front, but that’s not going to happen again. The Apple II was the most numerous computer, but that didn’t last for long, because a *platform* for the people came out. Apple is the darkside, always has been. You’re interested in a premium product? (which IPhone sells itself as?) Get the latest Galaxy Note. There is nothing like it. But every Galaxy S that has come out is easily better in hardware than the iPhone that followed it six months later!

  • Evan

    It doesn’t as far as I know except the upgrade is definitely worth it