AT&T's Samsung Galaxy S II: The verdict is in

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Samsung's Galaxy S II phones are everywhere you look right now. Sprint's Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch entered the world just days ago -- and this weekend, AT&T's GSII will follow suit.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy S II

The AT&T Galaxy S II -- which, unlike Sprint's phone, sticks with the simple "Galaxy S II" moniker -- launches this Sunday, October 2. It'll cost 200 bucks with a new two-year contract.

I've been using the phone for the past week (yes, it's been a month of nonstop Galaxy madness for me). It's a bit of déjà vu, really: AT&T's Galaxy S II is incredibly similar to Sprint's version. And in this case, that's a good thing.

Sprint's Galaxy S II was hands-down one of the nicest, fastest phones I've tested, and AT&T's edition is just as impressive. The phones share the same basic specs -- a Samsung Exynos 1.2GHz dual-core processor with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage -- and, consequently, are pretty well matched in terms of performance.

The two Galaxy S II phones are also almost identical on the software front. Both devices run Android 2.3.4, aka Gingerbread, along with Samsung's TouchWiz 4.0 skin.

There's really not much I can say about the AT&T phone's performance and OS that I didn't already say in my Sprint review, so I'm going to suggest you read that story for my basic Galaxy S II impressions. Here, I'll focus on what's different about the two devices and how AT&T's model stands out.

AT&T's Samsung Galaxy S II: Design Distinctions

The most noticeable contrast in the two Galaxy S II phones, as I mentioned last week, is size: AT&T's Galaxy S II sports a 4.3-inch screen compared with Sprint's 4.5-inch panel. On paper, 0.2 inches may not sound like much, but in your hand, it definitely makes a difference.

With its smaller screen, AT&T's Galaxy S II is less immediately striking than Sprint's phone -- the expanded screen on Sprint's handset really grabs you and draws you in -- but AT&T's device is certainly no less gorgeous. Images pop from the display with amazing clarity and brilliant colors. Quite frankly, my eyes are getting spoiled; switching from these devices to other Android phones is kind of like toggling from HD to regular mode while watching TV. Once you've seen the better version, it's tough to go back.

A smaller screen means a smaller profile for the AT&T Galaxy S II. The phone is noticeably more petite than Sprint's, at 4.96-by-2.60 inches compared to Sprint's 5.11-by-2.74-inch frame. It's light, too, at 4.3 oz. -- Sprint's edition is 4.6 oz. -- and ever so slightly thinner.

Size aside, the AT&T Galaxy S II has some design flourishes that set it apart from Sprint's model. The phone is generally more squared, with pronounced angles and a less rounded appearance. The back plate of the phone is textured like Sprint's, though with a different design (and without the carrier's name embossed along the bottom). The rear side of the phone also has a more pronounced lip at the bottom, where the body meets the removable back panel.

Samsung Galaxy S II AT&T - Sprint (back)

All in all, it's a sleek and attractive device. I found I liked the Sprint model a little better, both for its bigger screen and larger, more rounded body, which fit my hand more naturally -- but friends of mine who saw the phones side by side preferred AT&T's for the exact opposite reasons. Ultimately, it's all subjective, and any preference between the two is really just relative to your own personal taste.

AT&T's Samsung Galaxy S II: Hardware Notes

While the AT&T Galaxy S II has almost the same hardware as its Sprint sibling, there are a few small distinctions worth noting.

First, AT&T's phone comes with support for Near Field Communication, or NFC. This could eventually let you use Google Wallet and other contact-free systems; at the moment, though, the phone has no applications that can actually take advantage of the  technology, so the benefit is more theoretical than anything.

AT&T's Galaxy S II has its power button in a slightly different spot than Sprint's; it's along the right side of the phone, but in a lower relative position. No big deal, really; I didn't find it terribly difficult to get used to either placement.

The AT&T GSII has a smaller battery than Sprint's phone, which I had praised for its excellent battery life. Still, I had no trouble getting through an entire day of moderate usage on AT&T's phone without hitting empty; the smaller display likely pulls less power and offsets the difference.

Finally, AT&T's phone doesn't have an LED indicator along the front of its face. I really like the addition of this feature on Sprint's device -- it allows you to see your phone's activity at a glance, with flashing lights to indicate events like missed calls or new emails -- but most Samsung Galaxy handsets don't have it, so its omission from AT&T's model is no huge surprise.

AT&T's Samsung Galaxy S II: Software Tweaks

I spend a lot of time exploring the pros and cons of Samsung's new TouchWiz interface in my Sprint Galaxy S II review, but the AT&T device has a handful of unique customizations to the OS that are worth pointing out. The changes aren't dramatic, mind you, but they did catch my attention.

First up: Android bloatware. If you're annoyed by preinstalled crap on your phone -- and really, who isn't? -- get ready to be irked. AT&T's Galaxy S II comes with a good dozen superfluous programs loaded in the device's storage, ranging from AT&T Navigator to an AT&T "Featured Apps" showcase. There are a few potentially useful additions like Quickoffice, but most of it is pure rubbish. Just over half of the bloatware is uninstallable; the rest is irritatingly stuck onto the system with no way to remove it (short of hacking the device).

AT&T's Galaxy S II has some bloat baked into its widget selection, too, including home screen widgets for Yahoo Finance, AccuWeather, AP Mobile, and the aforementioned AT&T "Featured Apps" junkhouse. Some of the useful widgets included on Sprint's phone, like the expanded selection of calendar views, are not present on AT&T's.

The other differences are largely cosmetic: AT&T's GSII has a home screen slider with dots, while Sprint's has dots and numbers. AT&T's GSII calls the stock browser "Web," while Sprint's calls it "Internet." The preinstalled power widget in AT&T's notification panel has options for toggling flight mode and screen rotation; on Sprint's, those spots are used for sound and 4G toggles. And the default keyboard on AT&T's device is the regular Gingerbread keyboard; Swype is preinstalled as an option, but you have to manually activate it in order to use it.

Samsung Galaxy S II AT&T - Sprint (home screens)

AT&T did add one user-friendly touch: When one of the phone's home screens is blank, AT&T fills the space with a message instructing you to "press and hold this page to add content." Necessary for most advanced users? Nah. But helpful for newbies, and a harmless addition for the rest of us.

AT&T's Samsung Galaxy S II: Bottom Line



AT&T's Samsung Galaxy S II is a fantastic device that handily earns its spot in the Galaxy S II lineup. It's thin, light, and fast, with an attractive design and phenomenal display. 

If you're looking for a top-notch Android phone on AT&T and don't mind a nonstock UI experience, you really can't go wrong with this device.

SEE ALSO: Hands on: AT&T's Samsung Galaxy S II

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

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