Samsung Galaxy S II for AT&T review: A legend reborn

Stefan Vazharov, 2 October 2011.

The 8MP camera doesn’t disappoint

The Samsung Galaxy S II for AT&T comes with an 8MP auto-focus camera for photos of up to 3264 x 2448 pixel resolution. It comes with an LED flash but nothing in the way of lens protection or physical shutter key.

The interface looks pretty familiar with two shortcut bars on each side of the viewfinder. On the right you get the still camera / camcorder switch, virtual shutter key and the gallery shortcut (which is a thumbnail of the last photo taken).

On the left you get several controls by default but the good news is that you can pick four shortcuts to put there – commonly used features need to be one tap away.

Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T
Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T
The camera interface can be tweaked to fit your needs

In terms of features, the Samsung Galaxy S II offers pretty much everything – touch focus, scene modes, face/blink/smile detection, effects, geotagging, digital image stabilization and manual controls for ISO, metering mode and so on. There are other features too; we’re only listing the most interesting ones.

The images captured with the 8MP camera of the Galaxy S II are very good – low noise, plenty of fine detail and the color and contrast are good too. Colors are a smidge oversaturated but that’s how we like them. Keep in mind that the camera has a wide-angle lens – our measurements suggest a focal length of about 30mm in 35mm equivalent.

Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T
Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T

For comparison photos between the Galaxy S II, Sony Ericsson Arc and LG Optimus 2X you can check out our recent Head-to-head article.

FullHD video camera is up to all tasks

The video camera interface is identical to the still camera one. You get the same customizable panel on the left for four shortcuts. The video camera can record video using the front facing camera too (resolution is limited to VGA).

Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T
Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T
The video camera interface

The Full HD videos are top-notch, full of detail, low in noise and generally, nice and smooth. There’s plenty of information (bitrate is over 17Mbps) and the only drawback you might consider is the mono audio recording.

One annoying thing we noticed about the video camera is that it starts to focus only after it has started recording – that means the first second of every clip is out of focus. We really hope that would be fixed in a future software update.

A peculiarity is that when shooting Full HD videos you have a narrower field of view than that of the still camera. Perhaps Samsung are using the same trick as Apple in the iPhone 4: the camcorder uses only the center of the 8MP sensor instead of shooting with the whole surface and having to scale it down to 1080p putting extra strain on the CPU. In 720p video capture mode however Samsung are making use of the whole sensor and as a result you have the same wide field of view as the still camera (about 30mm).

What this means for the occasional videographer is 720p videos might turn out the better option in low light as the process of pixel binning used for downsizing the information captured from the 8 megapixel sensor down to 720p actually benefits the suppression of digital noise too.

The longer focal range in 1080p mode also makes for a shakier video so you might want to look for a support for your hand while recording to get the best out of the Samsung Galaxy S FullHD camcorder.

The camcorder features continuous autofocus, which is smooth though a bit slow at times.

Other than those peculiarities, the video quality is very good at 1080p – the .MP4 files come with 17Mbps bitrate and have a lot of detail. The framerate is quite consistent – there are no dropped or duplicated frames. Keep in mind that Full HD videos gobble up a lot of storage – a minute of video will easily top 100MB of file size.

720p videos are nice and smooth too, but obviously short of the resolution.

Here are a few videos Samsung Galaxy S II for you to enjoy. The last one was shot in 720p resolution, while the first one is in 1080p (don’t forget to select 1080p mode when playing it and certainly open it full screen).

Connectivity will overwhelm you with options

The Samsung Galaxy S II for AT&T starts off with the basics – quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and quad-band 3G (T-Mobile’s AWS band is missing though). There’s HSPA+ with 21Mbps downlink and 5.76Mbps uplink too, which some carriers brand as “4G” even though it’s technically not.

Moving on, there’s Bluetooth 3.0 with High Speed, which promises transfer speeds up to 21Mbps. Wi-Fi Direct is a similar technology, which offers simple pairing of two devices but blazing speed.

The Wi-Fi support includes a/b/g/n versions, with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz band compatibility.

There’s also NFC support too. We have the strange suspicion that the NFC chip might be integrated into the battery as it carries the NFC sign.

Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T
The NFC chip might be hiding inside the battery

The AllShare app allows you to stream content to and from different kind of devices (TV or computer). We didn’t give it a proper run for its money, but we guess it works over DLNA.

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AllShare app

And finally, for wired connectivity we have the MHL port. By all appearances it is a normal microUSB port and works as one (a charger port as well). But the MHL port enables video output by using a MHL-to-HDMI dongle. There one is included in the retail box.

Samsung Galaxy S II ATT&T
The MHL to HDMI adapter

Once you plug the dongle into the phone you also need to plug a charger into the additional microUSB port on the dongle and the Galaxy S II screen will be mirrored on the TV.