What a difference a few years makes. The first iPhone was introduced less than five years ago and ushered in the new era of mobile communications. Since then, dozens (if not hundreds) of other smartphones have followed in the iPhone's wake, resulting in the situation we find ourselves in today: Apple's iPhone and devices powered by Google's Android are the dominant smartphone options, with Research in Motion's BlackBerry and Microsoft's Windows Phone platforms vying for third place.

Entering the fray is the Samsung Galaxy S II, a phone that was available in most of the world in mid-2011 and arrived on US shores in the fall of 2011. My review unit arrived running on T-Mobile's speedy 4G network, which happened to provide a good coverage area around the Windows IT Pro editorial offices in Fort Collins, Colorado. I use an iPhone 4S as my daily work phone, and I tested the Galaxy S II by using many of the same tasks I use my iPhone for.

Galaxy S II Has Bright, Clear 4.3" Display

The first thing I noticed about the Galaxy S II was its bright and clear 4.3″ Super Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode (AMOLED) display. The Galaxy S II is a noticeably bigger phone than the iPhone 4S-which only has a 3.5″ screen-and the display takes up much more of the surface of the phone than the iPhone's display does. Despite being a larger phone with a bigger screen, the Galaxy S II weighs less, at only 116 grams (4.6 oz). By comparison, the iPhone 4S feels denser and more solid, weighing in at 140 grams (4.9 oz). I preferred the more solid feel of the iPhone but liked the larger screen size of the Galaxy S II.

 Figure 1: Samsung Galaxy S II crystal-clear 4.3" AMOLED display
Figure 1: Samsung Galaxy S II has a crystal-clear 4.3" AMOLED display

The Galaxy S II offers more potential storage space by virtue of accepting up to a 32GB microSD card. The review unit came with 16GB of hardwired flash memory, so the ability to accept more storage in addition to that is a definite point in Samsung's favor. This particular Galaxy was also running Google's Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread OS.

All that extra storage can come in handy when you take advantage of the included 8 megapixel camera, which also offers an LED flash, autofocus, and the ability to record video in full 1080p HD resolution. I took several dozen photos and several minutes of HD video for testing purposes. The camera performed well in both low-light and overexposed lighting conditions. The more advanced optics in the iPhone 4S might give it a slight edge here, but the Galaxy S II is clearly no slouch in the video department. The Galaxy S II also offers a forward-facing 2 megapixel front camera for making video chats and self-portraits.

Applications Open Quickly, Games Run Smoothly

All of this capability is powered by a Qualcomm 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 processor, which helps make the Galaxy S II one of the speedier Android phones I've tested. Applications open quickly, games run smoothly, and performance is generally comparable to other leading Android phones. As with all smartphones, using your device to play games and watch video can drain the battery quickly. After using the Galaxy S II for several weeks, I found that it held a charge longer than my iPhone 4S using similar apps and roughly comparable use cases. Comparing battery life between two different phones that sport different processors, screen configurations, and other internal differences is never an exact science, but in my daily, non-scientific use I found that the Galaxy S II ended most days with more juice remaining. Call quality was generally as good as my iPhone 4S (which runs on Verizon), but web browsing and app downloads were much faster when I was away from a Wi-Fi network, thanks to T-Mobile's speedy 4G network.

With most IT organizations now supporting smartphones from multiple manufacturers, it's often helpful to know what software and services each phone provides to employees. Many carriers place their own mix of apps and software on the devices on their networks, and the T-Mobile Galaxy S II is no different. It's not entirely fair to single out T-Mobile for this practice of installing their own assortment of bloatware on a device, but I found that the included T-Mobile bonus apps mainly cluttered up my display. It was simple enough to remove them, but are Android phones the new bloatware vehicle of choice? I sincerely hope not.

After spending a few weeks with the Galaxy S II, I'd definitely recommend it as a leading Android smartphone. It can hold its head high in the company of other Android standouts like the Motorola Droid Razr and Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Although I'm not ready to ditch my iPhone 4S, the Galaxy S II did exceed the iPhone in several areas, including its 4G speed, larger screen, lighter weight, and longer battery life. If you're in the market for a good Android-powered smartphone, you can't go wrong with the Galaxy S II.

Samsung Galaxy S II
PROS: Large 4.3" screen size; lightweight; long battery life; good overall performance; one of the top Android smartphones available
CONS: Saddled with a fair amount of semi-useful apps and bloatware
RATING: 4.5 out of 5
PRICE: $229.99 (price doesn't include cost of wireless service)
RECOMMENDATION: Samsung has emerged as one of the leading Android smartphone manufacturers, and the Galaxy S II is one of the best smartphones available. The AMOLED screen is clear and bright, the build quality is first-rate, and the dual-core processor is up to any task you can throw at it.
CONTACT: Samsung • 800-726-7864 • www.samsung.com