Up-to-date Review: I9100 Released in May 2011, Unsupported by December?
Will this phone even be updated and supported after the next two months? Android fragmentation and lack of updates and support plague many users and it's an absolute nightmare for developers. This issue can't be ignored in a review of this phone because it is probable that it will affect your experience, but maybe this issue won't affect you as much depending on your needs and technical ability. Feature phones and other smart phone ecosystems have suffered from fragmentation before(such as WinMo 5-6), and most users hardly noticed or cared for years as long the phone worked and its features were suited for task XYZ. Admittedly, I am speaking from the perspective as an avid technophile, early adopter, code tester/sometimes active mobile platform developer, but before I digress too much I'll speak mostly about this phone which I've been using nearly everyday for the past 2-3 months.
---edited: 10/27/2011(Day later)
---Update: 10/29/2011 (See below)
---Update: 11/15/2011 (See below)
---Update: 01/12/2012 Very important (Test Driven ICS - See below)
--- * Background * ---
I am no fanboy. I've owned a LOT of smartphones that ran different OS's with the exception being BlackBerry. Starting with Windows Mobile 6, to the original iPhone, Nokia N79, and working through to the iPhone 3GS, Motorola Cliq, G1, cherishing the Nexus One, maintaining an EVO 4G, using a Samsung Captivate, an iPhone 4, HTC HD7, Infuse 4G and I've used and sold a few others. This phone has been the most satisfied I'd been with a phone to date, so... with over a 100 reviews on Amazon alone and millions already owning this 5 month old phone here goes my 2 cents.
--- * Overall * ---
Overall, the phone itself is fantastic. As of today, this phone easily garners 4 out of 5 stars. I believe if you already have this phone or simply can not wait to upgrade from a feature phone or older smart phone that you would be satisfied with this phone. However, if you can afford to wait a couple months then I highly suggest you wait until the holiday season of 2011 or even into the first quarter of 2012.
--- * Hardware Pros * ---
- Form Factor: Simply put this device is the best device I've held in my held. It's deceivingly light and after using it everyday for the past few months picking up other phones feels weird. The "old lady" had been using the original EVO 4G and I almost felt sad for her that she was even carrying it around. It felt like a brick in comparison. This is at the borderline of the size range for what I'd want in a phone that works exceedingly well for both portrait and landscape. I don't have big or small hands, and I don't think I would want to do any prolonged typing/messaging on a virtual keyboard with s device that has dimensions any longer or wider.
- Screen: Mentioned many times that the screen is amazing. I wish the resolution was set higher using qHD or better.
- Dual Core Processor/16 GB Storage/SD Card: Compared to every other Android Device I've used this thing is a speed demon. It has 16GB of storage and an SD card slot. Check.
- 8MP Camera: I'll list this here. Megapixels don't mean everything. Samsung did a nice job with the optics and rendering on the camera app for this S2. 1080P video recording is okay. It's almost on par with a cheaper point and shoot camera I got almost two years ago that does 1080P. You might be fairly impressed recording video and with the quality of the pictures given good lighting and a steady hand. If you're trying to capture something more than 15-30 feet away depending on the lighting conditions or while you're moving and panning around or recording sporting events you'll still realize that it doesn't perform well enough to replace an HD camera or HD camcorder.
--- *Hardware Cons* ---
I don't like that the power button is opposite the volume buttons. It sometimes leads to accidental presses of the button on the opposite. There have been a few times when the phone was on silent/vibrate mode, I hear the phone vibrate, pressed the button to check the message, put the phone away, and then I hear the next message because I accidentally hit the volume up button. Also, it is true that the phone does get hot. It doesn't get so hot that it affects using the phone. I would say that it gets alarmingly warm. I only experience this if I'm using polling GPS while streaming data over 3G or using the Wifi Hotspot feature.
--- *Hardware Neutral* ---
- Home key/button is a physical button. This was definitely different than any other Android phone I've used that had capacitive buttons. I liked it for the convenience of not always having to press the power button to turn the display on. This was something I grew accustomed to doing by pressing the trackball on the Nexus One and the home button on the iPhone, but Samsung was definitely not helping their case in their disputes with Apple and I speculate it may partly be the reason the US versions all use the traditional capacitive buttons.
- Plastic material is fine for me. I've noticed some micro abrasions that occurred on the rear below the battery cover before I ordered and received my case. It's not noticeable. I just feel that there is always some sort of compromise between weight, scratch resistance, ruggedness, etc when OEMs use different materials.
- It lacks a search button. I sometimes miss the convenience of not having to press the menu button to search through Gmail and other applications. However, I understand it was sacrificed for the physical home button which makes the device more unique. Also, because this only has 3 hardware/capacitive buttons vs the more common 4 button configuration in most US Android devices I am not sure how this phone will incorporate some of the newer features of Android 4.0 such as application management. That is when/if this is updated to Android 4.0 (see gripe below)
- Well, this thing is a phone. Call quality is good for me using AT&T. It's not great. Reception is probably a 7 or 8 out of 10. The speakerphone is just okay. The sound seems thin to me. I never had any issues with bluetooth pairing/connections out of the box aside from using a couple headsets I later faulted after realizing they were crappy refurbishments. I also haven't any experienced any problems with data. My service won't come anywhere close to the theoretical speeds on the device(not its fault).
- Out of the box battery life is good enough to last you throughout the day. Evening/overnight charging is required like nearly every other smartphone used moderately throughout the day for phone calls, web surfing, checking email, apps, etc. Don't expect to be able to do substantial video playback/streaming or gps without access to a charger.
--- * OS / Firmware / Software Pros * ---
- Obviously, this phone being an international version means that it is unlocked. That is a big pro if you travel and means that it's one less phone call to your cell provider if they even support unlocking your device. Another obvious pro for me is that this runs a sanctioned version of Android 2.3.x which permits a lot of powerful customization and the typical Google services Android is known for out of the box. If you've never used a smartphone before you will be very impressed. If you're coming from another smartphone you will appreciate the customizability and the ability to quickly access certain features/settings via widgets, notification bar, or your own custom shortcuts. Some users can be overwhelmed, and a lot of times I've helped people with their Android phones only to hear them say, "Oh wow I didn't know I could even do that."
- Because this is the international version Wifi tethering is available for use out of the box. You can bypass paying your carrier extra for data you are already paying for when needed for the occasional Wifi hotspot. This is something that shouldn't be abused. You may feel guilty later if caught or when you receive your bill. There's no need to root/hack/jailbreak your device with this.
- Touchwiz: The newest version is a major improvement and has been noticeably lag free +99% of the time. Some of this is due to the dual core processor but much of it is likely due to the fact that this version of TouchWiz is partly hardware accelerated. Features like using the virtual keyboard within the Dialer / Phone App to type the name and quickly find a contact (a "feature" that should've already been part of vanilla versions of Android 2.3.x) and some other things are welcome additions that can eliminate the need for 3rd party software and just add a nice touch to the device.
--- * OS / Firmware / Software Cons * ---
- A big negative for me was finding out that you have to register for a Samsung account to get push notification updates for your phone. I barely tolerated this crap from Apple with them and iTunes, and I see no reason why Samsung feels that they are a distinct name-brand or deserve the trustworthiness of my user information (even if it's just an e-mail). I think the excuse may be due to OTA updates not being done via the cell carrier. You can still download and install the OS / Firmware updates from online or use Kies from your desktop, but I feel like I'm being strong-armed for information or into installing an application on my PC.
- Out of the box Vlingo is used as the default voice search and anytime you press the home button twice the app is launched. That can get annoying.
- I don't mind UI customizations. TouchWiz isn't bad like it was on the Captivate, but I don't like crapware installed on my phone. Samsung includes their apps for you to use like SocialHub, MediaHub and Kies which I detest because some are only useful when integrated with your Samsung account. There are apps available in the market that can do what Kies does but better and work on multiple platforms and devices. You don't have to use these things. You can use a custom launcher and hide these apps or simply ignore them.
--- * The real gripe * ---
Everything below knocks off a star from my perspective
Five months after its release this is still the best Android phone IMO. Yes, it would have been nice if the phone had a higher resolution at release, but the resolution is still adequate. My real gripe for any prospective buyer today is with the OEM and Google's treatment of the Android ecosystem. It's simply a mess. Almost three years ago to the date Android was introduced with the G1. A little over a year into its existence as a proud Nexus One owner I joined a growing enthusiastic Android user base with the original Droid owners (a Verizon marketing blitz that's still associated with all Android phones) and was excited by its features and potential. I remember the HTC EVO 4G being featured on Oprah before its release in mid 2010. There were probably a couple dozen Android phones then. There are over a 100 different Android phones/devices worldwide and despite user advocation about the "openness" of Android right now it can be a complete open mess. Fragmentation is absolutely horrendous and suppert, interoperability and compatibility varies wildly across devices. If you want to video chat someone using something popular like Skype then you need to know if your device and their device is supported. The EVO 4G has had a camera bug since its release. It's been poorly managed because of poor OEM support. You could use Google Talk if your OEM has released an update for your device. Sorry, EVO 4G you're not included even though you were the most popular smartphone on Sprint. There are a lot of new and very good games being released on the Android Market lately. Some of them are only compatible targeted at devices with Tegra 2 chipsets, so this device (Galaxy S II - I9100) is not supported. I played Madden 12 on the iPhone and saw it in the Android Market. I figured I'd try it out but the Galaxy S2 is not supported. Ironically, the Galaxy S Captivate is supported.
Google will patch some of these issues with the upcoming release of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) but after reviewing the software developers kit I can tell you that 90% of the problems concerning fragmentation will remain. Documentation, and compatibility testing tools still leave much to be desired. The kernel API's still does not unify support for the most popular modern and soon to be released chipsets which means availability from the more demanding games soon to be released will still vary wildly from device to device with varying chipsets. This will still be a nightmare for game developers. Google developers are encouraging developers to use unsigned API's to take advantage of features that may or may not work! As a contributor to various devices in the Android developer community It's as if Google is content with incrementally releasing (sometimes half-baked) new features to keep the community interested all the while knowing that much of their gains in market share of mobile advertisement is coming at the expense of feature phones being cannabalized by lower end Android sold for cheap. It creates multiple ecosystems. One for the lower end Android phones sold for cheap catering to the feature phone market, a market for the enthusiast wanting a premium device, and those who are casual buyers wanting a premium device. It is the latter group that gets screwed when their device is left unsupported roughly 6 months after its release. There is no focus on building a coherent Android ecosystem that addresses this issue that would satisfy expectations and the broader user experience (I'd go so far as to split it and improve the market so that app compatibility is further addressed). Nothing dampens an experience more than a new user who starts to research their new phone and its capabilities, hears about so-and-so app, realizes he can't find it in the Market and discovers his device isn't supported. It doesn't matter (help or hurt) that there are other marketplaces for apps. A year ago the ecosystem was wildly split between Android 1.x and Android 2.x devices. I see a complete repeat of this occurring again in the near future with Android 2.x devices and Android 4.x devices.
The OEMs are only concerned with increased hardware sales and are poorly trying to differentiate themselves with their custom UI's (e.g. TouchWiz) which creates a more fragmented user experience regardless of the adoption of Android 4.x and beyond. OEMs have a less vested interest in upgrading your current device versus luring you to upgrade/purchase a newer one. The S2 has been out for 5 months and the US versions have been out for less than a month and there has been no official statements that even hint that this device will be updated to Android 4.0 which has been in development now for over a year and the first device to be released with it is made by none other than Samsung themselves. Though, there is no roadmap for device updates that include a device that's not even 6 months old but they have a product release roadmap that includes an HD version of the Galaxy S2, the Galaxy Nexus, and the Galaxy S3. That's not very encouraging to a prospective buyer.The reason this long-winded gripe is included is because it is frustrating if you are a prospective buyer not knowing which camp will you fall into two+ months from now. That is roughly 7 months after the device was released.
I went through this before for almost two months after getting the Motorola Cliq shortly after its release. After being stuck on Android 1.6 searching the market for voice navigation apps and watching Google Maps Voice Navigation being shipped on a phone made by the same company called the Motorola Droid with Android 2.0 I got irritated, sold the phone, and upgrade to the Nexus One upon its release. It wasn't until many many months later after many devices were already updated to 2.2 that the Cliq was finally updated to Android 2.1 and I am glad that I made the decision to abandon it and got the Nexus One. I can only imagine the frustration for users who signed 2 year contracts to get that phone. I imagine my view on Android would be completely different if I were in a different situation.
Maybe you don't care about all of this. Maybe you just want a good phone for your personal use and you are satisfied with this feature set and you don't really care about app or game compatibility or for interoperability with other devices. This phone is sold without contract. Thankfully, if you make the decision to get this phone you won't be stuck into a two year contract but considering the price range this phone is being sold for right now you may just as well be stuck with buyers remorse another 2-3 months from now. I am speaking from experience.
Of course, there are those who would say that you could simply root the device. There are various ROMs available out there. Problem solved, right? They aren't living in reality and are completely ignoring that over 95% of phone buyers aren't enthusiasts, tech geeks, etc. Mostly everyone who uses a has a life that very likely includes an occupation, kids, other reason for lack of time or motivation/comfort to dedicate an entire evening downloading and installing Samsung Kies, USB Drivers, ODIN, ROMs, other root kits, etc on their computer, carefully following instructions in sequence while risking not being able to use their phone the next day.
Hopefully, this review helps you. It was written for potential buyers in mind. If something changes I will update this below. Thank you for reading.
Reports from Samsung Italy state that the Galaxy S2 will be updated to Android 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwhich). No release dates were given nor confirmation of which Galaxy S II variants/versions would be receiving the update. Let the OEM games begin. If you were interested in this phone today I want you to know I still believe that for a device being sold today with a dollar sign before a number north of 500 that you are better off waiting a few months if you can for the Galaxy Nexus(the Google supported device series) or the coming refresh of the Galaxy S series or something similar.
Starting today, Google will begin releasing the source code for Android 4.0.1 which will allow the OEM developers to update their devices. Still, there is no word whether the I9100 will be updated. The report from Samsung Italy has not changed but reports from carriers in Korea are stating that the Samsung Galaxy S II HD will be updated. The Galaxy Nexus is expected to launch in certain regions later this week with more carriers in other regions expecting to begin sales by 11/25/2011 which should mean that a lot of update and developer news should begin sometime next week. Side note: There is a security flaw in the I9100 that may affect some users using older firmware.
Hopefully, within a month you should see an ICS update for the I9100. I've been using/testing a couple Android 4.0.3 ROMs based off leaked builds by Samsung (CM9 the most) for the past few weeks. Let me tell you, ICS doesn't just breathe a breath of fresh air into the device it gives it a whole new life. I don't care for TouchWiz 4 being skinned on top. Touchwiz is far less meaningful now thanks numerous improvements, but I understand the OEM's need to keep familiarity for those less inclined to modify.
It's been dull. Development across the board from the major players has been slow and hard release times scarce the past few months. In the meantime, I've had the chance to play with Windows 8 and be one of the rare users of a jailbroken iPhone 4S. Let me tell you that Android 4.x is one of the most impressive OS's I've seen and CM9 is probably the most impressed I've ever been with any OS for any platform. Numerous small changes have resulted in a big leap for the Android platform. I didn't think a change in what font was used would be a big deal but the added clarity from the new font on the S2's beautiful AMOLED screen makes it that much more impressive. Even with its lesser resolution in a side-by-side comparison with a Galaxy Nexus the S2 still holds its own. One of my original concerns was task switching. Holding down the home button to bring up the new task switcher. The ease of use for swiping and navigating the notification tray and the task switcher make operating a small device that fits in your hand as easy as navigating your desktop. It's not as easy as the Galaxy Nexus virtual buttons, but this has been seamlessly addressed for the S2. Every single Android device with 1GB of RAM and a 1Ghz processor needs to be updated to Android 4.x
When a stable release of Android 4.x is finally released my chief complaint in this review may not be as valid, but my argument remains when it comes to value. I can't recommend a nearly one year old product being priced near the same price as when it was released. However, if you can afford to get it a discount go for it