Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket Review


After about 4 years (and 3 generations) of Apple phones, I decided it is time for a change. Not because I don’t love my iPhone 4, but because I realize how much better I would like a larger screen. For some reason AT&T website showed us that we qualify for an early upgrade so I also talked with my wife and we decided to give it a try and to replace our iPhone 4 devices with a Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket for me, respectively a HTC Vivid for her. We had a couple of days to play with them and the first impressions (as well as the inevitable comparison with Apple iPhone 4) are detailed in this Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket Review.

A little bit of introduction is in order: Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket (code name SGH-i727) is one of the two LTE sets AT&T  just launched. LTE is the new 4G communication standard AT&T is upgrading its network to, it stands for Long Term Evolution. With the current technology LTE should achieve download speeds of 20+Mbs, enough for pretty much everything including 1080p streaming.

The other AT&T LTE set is built by HTC and called HTC Vision. Throughout this review we’ll compare Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket to HTC Vision, and to iPhone 4 as well to help you make an informed decision. We also reviewed it, so you can read our AT&T HTC Vivid Review for a comparison.

Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket Unpacking

The box containing Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket is heavily branded by AT&T and its size reduced to a minimum. Inside the box you will find the Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket phone itself, the SIM card, USB charger (a tiny cube similar to the iPhone charger, just black), the micro-USB cable, the battery, user manual and separately the back cover. A reasonably good looking and even sounding mini in ear headphones are available as well, together with the microphone and answering button.

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Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket Design

One of the most asked questions beside performance is about design. Design covering both the aspect and the ergonomics since a phone is one of those devices we tend to hold for a prolonged period of time, every day. Skyrocket is based mostly on its original Galaxy S2, with several notable differences: a larger (4.5 inches) 800 x 480 WVGA Super AMOLED Plus screen powered by a Snapdragon S3 APQ8060 Qualcomm dual core running at an impressive 1.5GHz. Digging deeper inside the hardware you’ll find out that the GPU is Adreno 220 capable of processing 88 million triangles per second. Skyrocket is also quite thin (significantly thinner that HTC Vivid – 9.49mm vs 11.2mm), and also significantly lighter (130g vs 176g). The weight factor was actually the main reason my wife returned the Vivid opting for a Skyrocket as well. More about this in the upcoming Vivid review.

Ergonomics wise, Skyrocket is very smooth and fits your hands perfectly. Lighter than an iPhone 4 and with a pronounced curvy shape, it is a pleasure to use. Just beware if you have sweaty hands, its back cover is rather slippery so you might need to buy a protective case.

The speaker is situated in the back, on the lower left side and is remarkably load considering its size. The microUSB slot is positioned on the bottom, which is certainly a better place than on the side which is HTC Vivid’s case. An interesting design decision is the lack of a sound/vibrate switch found in the iPhone devices, instead you can turn silent mode/vibrate on by decreasing the volume to 0.

Check the following section for technical specifications and overall dimensions.

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Technical Specifications

Operating System/CPU/GPU
OS Android OS v2.3.5 (Gingerbread)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 APQ8060 1.5 GHz Dual Core
Network
2G GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz
3G HSDPA 850 / 1900 MHz and LTE 700
Overall Dimensions
Dimension 129.8 x 68.8 x 9.49 mm
Weight 130 grams
Display
Size 4.5 inches
Type Super AMOLED Plus
Touchscreen (Capacitive/Resistive) Capacitive
Resolution WVGA , 480 x 800 pixels
Colors 16M colors
Features – Gorilla Glass display
- Accelerometer sensor for UI auto-rotate
- Multi-touch input method
- Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
- TouchWiz UI v4.0
- Touch-sensitive controls
- Gyroscope sensor
Memory
Internal 16 GB storage, 1 GB RAM
Expandable microSD, up to 32GB
Data and Connectivity
GPRS YES
EDGE YES
WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hotspot, DLNA
3G HSDPA 21 Mbps; HSUPA 5.76 Mbps, LTE
Bluetooth v3.0+HS
USB v2.0 microUSB
GPS Yes, with A-GPS support
Camera
Camera 8 MP
Camera Resolution 3264 x 2448 pixels
Camera Features Autofocus, LED Flash, Geo-tagging, Touch focus, Face detection, Smile detection, Image stabilization
Video Recording 1080p@30fps
Secondary Front Camera 2 MP
Audio and Video Codec support and hardware
Ringtones MP3, WAV
Vibration Yes
Loudspeaker Yes
3.5mm Audio Jack Yes
FM Stereo FM radio with RDS
Music Player (Supported Formats) MP3/WAV/eAAC+/AC3/FLAC
Video Player (Supported Formats) MP4/H.263/H.264/WMV/Xvid/DivX
Battery
Battery Standard Li-Ion 1850 mAh battery

Display

The display is a quite gorgeous capacitive touchscreen Super AMOLED Plus at WVGA , 480 x 800 pixels resolution. As with all the Super AMOLED Plus displays, the contrast is second to none and the colors extremely vivid, although a bit too saturated in my opinion. The size, 4.5 inches dwarfs the iPhone 4 display and, even with a lower DPI it still manages to display excellent images. During my tests, I put side by side the Skyrocket next to the HTV Vivid and while each display has its pros and cons, I found in the end that I prefer the lower resolution Super AMOLED Plus technology to the higher res Vivid display. I still wish for a display that would combine the contrast/colors from a Super AMOLED Plus and the sharpness of the Vivid display. Hopefully Galaxy Nexus Prime’s display will live to its name.

Performance Benchmark

Weirdly enough, every time I started Quadrant I got wildly varying results, anywhere between 2100 and 3000+ immediately after a hard reset. I’ll attach a quadrant screenshot for reference only, but in my experience the benchmarks don’t properly reflect the subjective experience. For many tasks Skyrocket is as fast or faster than iPhone 4 and definitely faster than HTC vivid, although not by a large margin. Boot time stands at about 26.3 seconds and AnTuTu Benchmark scored a significant 5823.

Camera

To be honest, the camera in iPhone 4 is quite crappy. I know the one in 4S is better than the one in  iPhone 4 but I don’t have a 4S to compare it with. The camera in Skyrocket is similar with the one from the original Galaxy S2 and in my opinion beats the camera in HTV Vivid hands down. All the photos in the gallery were taken on a very cloudy day, for the reference. What really impressed me is how so much better the indoor photos look like compared with let’s say iPhone 4.

Outdoor photo:

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Indoor photo:

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Software

Similar with the original Galaxy S2, Skyrocket is built around Gingerbread with a attractive custom TouchWiz UI v4.0 interface. Everything feels very responsive, the applications are quick to launch, the only exception is the Amazon Android market (once you get to install it) which for some reason feels much slower than the original Android marketplace. I attached several screenshots that will give you an idea about TouchWiz 4.0 UI design, you can find more in the gallery at the end of the review.

Note: if you need to take screenshots with the Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket, press the home button simultaneously with the power button. The timing is important, otherwise the Home button will perform its function and it will take you…home.

Note: There is an annoying bug in the Widget service that keeps shutting down. Not sure if it is due to one of my installed widgets, but the following message keeps popping up: Widget service shut down…Not sure what is going on, but I’ll investigate.

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Apps

I won’t go into too many details about applications availability for the Skyrocket because it pretty much supports all the applications available for Android Gingerbread. I want only to mention the reason I decided to switch at this point from iOS to Android: Finally all the apps I am interested to use are available on both platforms, so I won’t loose anything in the process. I mentioned the main reason for the switch to Android was the need for a larger screen and with the apps I use daily like Netflix/Hulu Plus/Sentinel 3 (tower defense game), Skype, Yahoo Messenger, the news suite (CNN, NYT, Pulse, BBC, USA Today, NPR, LA Times, AP, CNET and Engadget), media apps (Pandora, YouTube, Plex, WatchESPN, TuneIn Radio Pro) and most of the games available on both platforms, I was now free to decide based purely on the hardware specs.

Talking about apps, I need to mention two marketplace apps that is a good idea to install – Amazon App Store and GetJar App Store. You’ll need to enable side loading of apk files but that is a one time three clicks job (go to Settings->Applications->Unknown sources and enable it)

Notes: As of today (11/14/2011) Hulu Plus doesn’t work properly (doesn’t display video yet) on the Skyrocket, but it lets you manage the queue. Since both Galaxy S II and Galaxy S II Skyrocket are very popular phones, it is weird to see Hulu ignoring them for this long. Hopefully Hulu will release a Hulu Plus update compatible with Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket soon.

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Conclusion

Samsung Galaxy S2 Skyrocket is the best smartphone I have ever owned and tested. Plenty fast and responsive, excellent camera for both photos and videos, especially indoor, good sound and screen quality and above all, extremely thin and light considering the display size. The contrast is amazing but the colors are a bit over-saturated compared with the LCD technology. No review would be complete without battery life which in my case was about 8 hours of quite heavy use (including YouTube, surfing, talking, etc). If your usage is quite light, you can easily go through the entire day without needing to recharge it. If you are a road warrior, be thankful for the user replaceable battery and buy a spare.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to test LTE speeds since LTE is not available in the LA area yet. Reports all over the Internet place the download speed between 20 to more than 55 Mbs which is substantial. I actually asked the AT&T representative from the store about when the LTE will be available in the LA area and he said the target is end of this year / early 2012. Take this with a grain of salt, as with everything coming from a sales rep.

Last but not least, Skyrocket does have NFC integrated (Near Field Communication technology). There are two processes running with this name, one called NFC service and one called NFC test, both of them listed as using 0 bytes of memory. So, the hardware is there, but the software is probably not ready yet. Still, there is hope.

Note: I posted our tutorial in How to root Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket using one click only. (and a couple more to download the pre-requisites)

Pros

  • good battery life
  • gorgeous 4.5 Super AMOLED Plus display
  • excellent camera with settings for ISO, white balance, ISO, metering, exposure, focus and multiple shooting modes
  • thin and very light, less so than iPhone 4 and MUCH lighter than HTC Vivid

Cons

  • I would like to see a larger resolution display
  • colors a bit saturated, although some would see it as an advantage
  • lack of HDR photo mode

Gallery

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  • Anonymous

    Good review. I’m in basically the same position you’re in, moving from multiple generations of iPhones to the Skyrocket. I covet the larger display, and wanted higher speed data (I’m not in a current LTE market either). I’m typically getting 3-5 M download speeds over HPSA+ fauxG. But I think that’s pretty good considering I do fine at home with my 10M broadband. I find the the skyrocket very solid and responsive. Not ever using Android OS before I still have a bit of a learning curve ahead of me. The phone is definitely “big” in my hand, certainly by iPhone standards. But I’m getting used to it. I did find the keyboard on the Skyrocket more difficult to accurately type on than the iPhone, a bit counterintuitive since there is more real estate on the Skyrocket. But the Samsung has the advantage of alternative keyboards and Swype, which I’m quite impressed with.
    The big question mark for me is battery life. I down around 30% by mid afternoon with what I consider moderate use (a few phone calls, web browsing, emails and oh yea, tethering my iPad). So I am considering a second battery. I might point out though that the other night the battery was in the “yellow”. Not sure what that means percentage wise, but I decided to run it till it shut down to see what happens. I played a few games and then started reading on the kindle app. Two hours later the phone was still going pretty strong. I ended up going to bed before it died. Could be the power savings mode it automatically goes into. By the way, if you are not in an LTE market right now and want to save some battery you can turn the LTE radio off by going into test mode ( dial *#*#4636#*#* on the phone dialer). I don’t recommend doing this if you don’t understand the various settings, so proceed at your own risk.
    A couple of comments on the iOS/Android switch. Most of the major apps I use are available on both platforms. EverNote, Kindle, Flight Track, Radar Scope (maybe my favorite weather app). The quality of these apps are consistent with their iOS counterparts (actually, I think EverNote seems a bit better). But in general, I’d say if ind the majority of apps of lower quality than in iOS, especially games (where is Wurdle?). Not a big deal I guess, most apps are impulse buys that get used for a short time and then are never touched again.
    Not sure if I’ll keep this phone. I still have three weeks to return it and try the iPhone 4s or just keep my old 3GS limping along and hope Apple steps up next year with an LTE phone with a 4+” screen. But I do like the Skyrocket a lot, and would not be surprised if I end up keeping it.