Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 I8160 preview: First look
TouchWiz UX 4.0 up front
The Galaxy Ace 2 is running Gingerbread 2.3.6 and Samsung's custom TouchWiz 4.0 launcher. That's the latest version available for Gingerbread devices and offers a very flexible and visually pleasing Android experience.
Here's a demo of the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 doing its thing on camera.
The lockscreen of the Ace 2 has the usual integration of missed events but doesn't go any further. It's the "drag your finger outside of the circle" type of lockscreen but no shortcuts like Ice Cream Sandwich has or custom launchers like Sense.
The homescreen accommodates plenty of widgets with lots of functionality. You can have up to 7 homescreen panes. A pinch zoom brings you to an aggregate view of all homescreen panes, which can be rearranged, deleted or added.
Widgets, shortcuts or folders are pulled onto the homescreen from a drawer that appears at the bottom of the screen once you enter edit mode (press and hold on an empty spot or do Menu > Add).
In typical TouchWiz fashion, there are four shortcuts docked at the bottom of the screen that are visible both on the homescreen and in the app launcher. The first three are user configurable (Phone, Contacts, Messaging), the fourth one being locked. It's the app drawer/home shortcut so it makes sense to always keep it in the same place.
Adding widgets, shortcuts, folders or changing wallpapers is done by a context menu that pops up on demand at the bottom of the screen. The list of available widgets can be swipe-scrolled, enjoying a smooth animation throughout. You can also swipe each of the homescreen panes, which is a nice bonus functionality of TouchWiz 4.0.
The app drawer is very similar to the homescreen - you can create folders and pages by dragging them to the appropriate icon at the bottom of the screen. You can also rearrange pages from the same aggregate view as the homescreen.
List view can be enabled in the app drawer instead of the regular grid view. There's also a preview of all your app launcher screens for quicker browsing.
The notification area has toggles that give you easy access from anywhere in the interface to the following functions: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, silent mode and screen auto-rotation.
With the Galaxy Ace 2 you get a standard Android task switcher with the traditional Samsung modification - it has a button to launch a task manager.
The custom task manager offers a lot of functionality. It also comes with a handy widget, which shows you the number of active applications right on your homescreen.
Most of the time, Android does really well when it comes to managing apps by itself (in fact, some claim that using a task manager is detrimental to the performance of a phone), so you would only need the task manager to occasionally kill a buggy app.
We have a pre-release unit of the Galaxy Ace 2, so we'll hold off the benchmarking for now. The interface feels smooth, so the lower single-core performance (the CPU is clocked at 800MHz) doesn't seem to be a problem.
Video player handles 720p videos
The video player offers a simple list-based interface. It displays all video files stored on the phone and you can sort them by name, date, type or size. You can also use the My Files app if you organize your videos by folders.
The poor video codec support on the Galaxy Ace Plus was a disappointment, which the Ace 2 has sorted out. We tested it all sorts of videos and everything up to and including 720p worked just fine - 720p XviD, 720p MKV, 720p WMV, you name it.
1080p videos didn't play, but that's not a huge loss considering there's no TV Out. Samsung claims 1080p video playback is supported, so we'll give it another shot when we get a review unit.
The Galaxy Ace 2 couldn't decode AC3 or DTS sound, but that is a very common problem among mobile video players. There's 5.1 channel virtualization though (it only works with headphones).
Subtitles worked without a hitch, even non-Latin characters are supported. You can change font size and adjust subtitle sync (time them back or forth) but there's no option to manually load subtitles, they have to have the same filename as the video file to load.
The video player lets you choose between three crop modes for how the video fits the screen. The player also remembers the last viewed position of the video, so you can resume exactly where you left off.
Music player with DNSe
The Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 uses the standard TouchWiz music player. Samsung have enabled equalizer presets (including a custom one) along with the sound-enhancing DNSe technology and 5.1 channel virtualization.
By default, tracks are sorted into five categories - All, Playlists, Albums, Artists and Folders. From the settings, you can add or remove filters to set the music player up just the way you like it.
Album art has a central place in the Now Playing interface, but you can replace it with an equalizer or with song lyrics.
You can skip songs or FF/rewind by swiping the album art sideways. Another cool trick is to tap the track info above the album art - that gives you more detailed info on the song and an easy way to do a search in the music library, Google or YouTube. You can search the track title on YouTube to find the music video, search the library for more songs from the same album or lookup the artist in Google).
If you minimize the player you'll still get control over your music - it's displayed on the lockscreen and the notification area. It's a basic set of controls: play/pause and skip.
One cool thing about the Samsung music player is that it supports FLAC out of the box, which should please music buffs. Both 16-bit and 24-bit FLAC are supported and files with 44.1kHz sampling rate played okay, but higher sampling rates didn't work.
The Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 is also equipped with a stereo FM radio with RDS support. All it needs is a headset to be plugged in and you're good to go. Tuning into stations is easily done by two back and forth arrows. You can save frequencies, enable loudspeaker playback and more.