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Samsung S2 LTE review

As you may have noticed on the blog, I tend to migrate towards devices with keyboards. The last touch screen only device I owned with was an iPhone. I eventually got use to the on screen but found myself waiting to get back to my desk to send emails etc to avoid the frustration of using the on screen. That said, the iPhone is still one of the best on screen keyboards I’ve used. Now I bought Swiftkey for Android a while back and it does a stellar job of predicting your next words based on your style as well as an ok job of auto correcting. The built in Samsung onscreen keyboard is confusing. They hide auto correct behind XT9 settings. That confused me for a bit.

Samsung are doing some fabulous work in Android right now. They have an absolutely dizzying array of product offerings in all shapes and sizes. One of the areas I hate is there naming convention. The long name of this Phone is a Samsung Galaxy S2 LTE. Now under the name S2 there are NUMEROUS models. S2, LTE, HD LTE etc. It becomes confusing even to a technocrat like me let alone the masses.

This particular phone came to my attention because a colleague of mine, Sean has one. So I got a number of questions answered before I bought it. I am coming from a Samsung Captivate Glide as a point of reference. And as phones go the Captivate glide has been a good one. Unfortunately Samsung have been VERY slow to release an ICS upgrade for it so it’s stuck at 2.3.5. My tablet is on ICS so I would prefer to have them on the same version. As keyboards go, the one on the Glide is terrible. Poor feel, poor layout. It was a step backwards from the Motorola XT860.

Let’s start with physicals on the S2. This is a very nice looking device. Fairly thin 9.39mm (almost the same as the iPhone 4S), clean front face (no iPhone imitating single button), and well implemented soft buttons on the front of the device. As has become common place there are very few physical buttons. Just a volume up, volume down and power. No camera button. I wish they’d add the camera button back. Also no notification LED. I really hate this. I miss it so much. It’s such a small thing, but I miss it. I use a program called No LED to make up for it.

The screen on this device is nice and big at 4.5″. Now one of the things I like is the low pixel size of this screen. Now one would think high pixel density is a good thing. It gives you a higher resolution display. But with Android there is a trade off. Font size is still even under 4.04 not something a user can change. And to make matters worse some programs hard code there own fonts, Facebook for example. So higher pixel density means one thing. Smaller fonts. Now I am personally on the verge of needing glasses. It’s only vanity that keeps me from giving in and accepting this. So having uber small fonts is a problem for me. So this screen is a low 480×800 yielding larger fonts! The screen is bright and vivid.

Battery bay door as usual is a flimsy piece of plastic but at least it is recessed. On the Glide it was right at the edge of the phone which means it is easily broken. Under the door is the SIM, uSD slot (the card can be changed without powering off the phone) and the battery itself. So the user can change the battery and carry extras. Batteries and external charges are readily available and inexpensive on ebay. I love the option of carrying a spare battery for times I am away from a charger for a longer period of time.

That’s about it for the physicals. From a spec point of view this phone has a dual core 1.5G processor. One of the fastest on the market today. And this yields a smooth user experience. Samsung/Google have done a stellar job of turning off the second CPU as well as throttling the CPUs every chance they get to save precious battery life. There’s a neat app called 2nd core that shows exactly how this is being done.

The phone also has 2G of memory for apps and 12G internal storage. I love this trend of adding internal storage. This allows programs to run off faster always available storage rather than clutter up the SD card with tons of directories. It does have a downside though. When you change devices you need to manually copy this space off and back on. But it also makes it easier to remove the SD card and still use the phone.

The phone like all the Samsung’s properly support a class 10 uSD card, something that was an issue on numerous Motorola devices.

On my friend Sean’s S2 LTE from Rogers when I put my Fido SIM in it, the phone wouldn’t do it saying it needed to be network unlocked. On this one however it did not. Now there are cheap unlock codes on ebay so not a big deal but it is odd that this was different on the two phones.

Being on ICS there are a number of nice improvements. You can delete the primary google account so you won’t run into a problem if you change your google password. A previous issue I had. Bluetooth tethering is back and actually works! The only issue I had is it seemed to time out frequently. I like this feature for using with my tablet. It’s nice to not have to touch the phone to get tethering started and draws less power than AP tethering. It does have a cost though. Bluetooth max speed is not great so slows the internet conenction. I got about 1.5Mb/s down and 1Mb/s up, limited by bluetooth speeds. Vs 7.4Mb/s down and 1.058 Mbps up (on 4G). Rogers seems to be upgrading there network by the way making 4G available in more places.

The music player is very basic. No enhanced features (like lyrics, internet radio, song identification, cover flow nada). Contacts ap integrates nicely with Google Talk and even supports multiple accounts. Nice! Calendar ap is fine, again basic.


LTE network

First off let’s talk about network modes and speed. There are a variety of network modes on the Fido/Rogers network. Controlling your network mode can help you dramatically cut battery consumption at the cost of network speed. If all your phone is doing is receiving emails then you really don’t care how fast it is. One unfortunate thing is that to change your network mode you phones radio has to cycle (power off/on). I haven’t found aps that automatically change the network mode. Top of the list is newest/fastest, bottom oldest/slowest.
LTE theoretical 75 Mb/s actual 21-55 from what I have heard/seen
4G/3G also called UTMS theoretical 21 Mb/s actual 3-7 Mb/s from what I have seen/heard
GSM also called Edge or 2G theoretical 220 Kb/s actual around 56-100K

I was anxious to try LTE. Max theoretical speed is 75Mbps which is earth shattering. I generally get about 3 to 5 on 3G/4G. Actual speeds are more like 21 or so. I called Fido and they confirmed that all data plans are allowed to use LTE. You do need an LTE SIM however. Same thing on Bell and Rogers. Interestingly enough I went to two different Fido stores both said there were no full size LTE SIM cards available yet. The Fido agent online however had them and shipped one out to me. A waste of my time unfortunately. I got mine in the mail, and was able to activate it online. Then I discovered the next glitch. The data connection would not work on LTE. Calls were working fine on LTE but no data. A call to Fido said it was a snafu on the back end that would take them 24 hours to resolve. In the mean time I had to change the phone over to anything other than LTE mode and manually put the 3G APN back in. 24 hours later I called back because it still wasn’t working. They eventually gave up and said I had to factory reset the phone. So I did and it didn’t change anything. That wasted 2 hours to reinstall and reconfigure the aps. So Fido eventually gave up and said it was a problem with my phone. I asked if they have another LTE phone I could put my SIM into and they told me no. They have no other LTE phones that take a full size SIM. Wow. Unbelievable. On my own I eventually figured out the issue. It turns out that the default ROM had settings for Rogers. The APN for data is the same for Rogers and Fido but the MMS settings are not. So the APN was being marked invalid because they failed trying to get to the Rogers MMS. I manually created an APN with (from a Fido support page)
APN: LTEMOBILE.APN
MMS (Picture & Video Messaging Settings):
MMSC: http://mms.fido.ca
MMS Proxy: 205.151.11.13
MMS Port: 80
Once configured I got 21Mb/s down and 14Mbps up in downtown Toronto! It took many hours to solve but in the end was worth it.
With the correct APN settings one set of settings works for all networks.

HDMI output works well and is more reliable than on the Glide. The Glide would from time to time take a reboot to get HDMI working. Of course no positive would be complete without a negative. There is no way to lock the device into landscape mode (I use to just open the keyboard) as you need for using HDMI. It worked fine for video out but keep reverting back to portrait. I found an ap called Orientation control that worked to lock the screen in the rotation you wanted and is easy to turn auto rotation on as well. I even find this helpful on the go since typing in landscape is much better anyway. I use to get the Samsung Glide constantly go into overheat on the Glide and shut down charging. No such issues on the S2 LTE. Yay!

Bluetooth Keyboard and mouse do not work as well as on the Glide. The keyboard seems to repeat sporadically. Gladly pressing escape on the keyboard still wakes the phone up. Sadly right click on a mouse is the same as left click making it a one button mouse. Pooh. On the glide right mouse click was like a back button which was quite convenient. The mouse point is a little small and the color of it is not easy to see.

Movie playback is smooth and elegant as it has been on all recent devices. The videos ap has added back the ability to delete files once watched. A welcome return.

USB is back to the old style (which I prefer) which is drive mounting instead of MTP. Yay!

Samsung have done a nice job of implementing WIFI direct allowing files to quickly transfer files between devices on the Go (without an access point). Files transferred quickly and smoothly. I got about 3.6MB/s. Not bad, but not stunning either. No idea what is limiting this. Coincidentally I get about the same speed off of FTP.

The phone supports NFC (near field communication) but I have not found a use for it. Google Wallet is not supported in Canada. There are NFC tags you can buy and while a neat idea it seems more uber geek than uber useful. There’s a video from Sony how this could be used. I did find you can buy NFC tags on ebay pretty cheap might be neat to play.

USB OTG is well supported as it has been on previous Samsung devices. It’s a standard micro USB cable readily available cheap on ebay. USB Flash drives and USB mouse worked perfectly. Always a nice option, but frankly I’ve not used it much.

Movies can be shot in full 1080p HD! Samsung even allow you to flip the camera between the front and back lense. Nice.

So all in all this is a terrific phone with lots of nice improvements over the already good Samsung Glide. And the LTE network is a major step forward.

Ok, one last uber nit pick. I wish Samsung would decide to put the Samsung label on the top or the bottom and keep it that way. It’s so confusing. When you have a device with no buttons on the front the Samsung name can be the only thing that tells you which way is up. And them changing it is irritating. I did say it was a nit pick 🙂

Update Nov 15th 2012
I’ve been using this phone now for a couple of weeks. Battery life is not great. Probably one of the worst I’ve seen to date. Especially with LTE on. A future article will explore this. I bought a car dock for an S2 LTE HD and it fits ok for this phone. Properly slips into phone mode when docked and is very convenient compared to the generic holders for getting the phone in and out. I also mistakenly bought a S2 LTE HD rubber case only to fine it didn’t fit. This goes to the point that Samsung’s confusing blur of many phones under similar names is a pain.

The most nagging problem I have, and it’s a killer is the bluetooth stack is buggy. And bluetooth for me is critical. Bluetooth keyboard and mice work fine, probably one of the better ones minus the right mouse button problem. My Zephyr Bluetooth heart rate monitor is hit or miss. Sometimes it connects, other times it asks for the passcode again. Most problematic is bluetooth audio connections. I have a Samsung HS3000, Pioneer car stereo, Jabra BT320, and Ford Sync, all are buggy. Sometimes they connect, sometimes not. Sometimes phone, sometimes media, sometime both, sometimes neither. And sometimes it even drops. So all in all a real problem. Searching around there are others with similar issues. No idea if Samsung have any intention of fixing this. If I don’t find a solution this will be the end of this phone for me. Sadly.

Checkout my blog on Power consumption on this phone.

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October 30, 2012 - Posted by | Android

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