T-Mobile's Samsung Galaxy S II: The weakest link in a strong lineup

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Slowly but surely, Samsung's Galaxy S II is invading America. Today, T-Mobile joins the club with its own GSII phone, the T-Mobile Galaxy S II. It's available now for $229 with a new two-year contract (and after a $50 mail-in rebate).

T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S II

Following in the footsteps of Sprint's Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, T-Mobile's GSII model takes a supersized approach. The phone boasts a beautiful 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen that's just as impressive as its sibling's. The handset has a similarly bulked up body, too, at 5.1 by 2.7 by .37 inches.

That's practically the same length and width as Sprint's phone and slightly thinner, by .01 inches. T-Mobile's Galaxy S II is also slightly heavier, though, coming in at 4.77 ounces compared to Sprint's 4.55-ounce weight.

The minutia of size aside, the two Galaxy S II phones are similar in many ways. As such, I'm going to refer you to my Sprint Galaxy S II review for my basic GSII impressions; here, I'll focus on what's different about the devices and how T-Mobile's version stands apart.

T-Mobile's Galaxy S II: Hardware Differences

Let's start with the guts: T-Mobile's Galaxy S II runs on a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 chip -- a noteworthy change from the Sprint and AT&T Galaxy S II devices, both of which use Samsung Exynos 1.2GHz dual-core processors.

Despite how that distinction looks on paper, in practice, it's somewhat paradoxical: The T-Mobile GSII phone actually feels less snappy than its 1.2GHz brothers. I noticed some occasional subtle stuttering when swiping between home screens, for example, and when opening and closing applications -- something I never experienced on the other GSII devices. Still, we're talking shades of speed here; for the most part, the T-Mobile phone is plenty fast, and its performance is generally quite good.

Like AT&T's Galaxy S II, T-Mobile's model offers support for Near Field Communication, or NFC. On T-Mobile's model, however, NFC actually works: A "Tags" app is included with the phone that lets you scan, read, and share tags. With Google's Google Wallet system currently limited to the Nexus S 4G device, the practical applications for this are still fairly limited at the moment -- but having this functionality at your fingertips could come in handy in the future.

In terms of battery life, the T-Mobile Galaxy S II is ready for battle. The phone's 1850 mAh battery is a step up from Sprint's 1800 mAh unit, which I found to be excellent in day-to-day use. Granted, the T-Mo phone's processor may drain slightly more power -- which could explain the need for a slightly stronger battery -- but what matters is that you should get great performance out of this thing.

The T-Mobile GSII does not have an LED indicator on its face. Of the three major U.S. carriers with Galaxy S II phones, Sprint is the only one that provides that feature.

T-Mobile's Galaxy S II: Software Shifts

T-Mobile's Galaxy S II runs Android 2.3.5, the latest version of Google's Gingerbread phone operating system. That's a tiny tick up from the 2.3.4 release used on the Sprint and AT&T models. It has the same Samsung TouchWiz 4.0 overlay as its siblings -- which, depending on your perspective, could be a good or a bad thing.

Speaking of software, T-Mobile's GSII is absolutely loaded down with bloatware. I counted a solid two dozen pieces of superfluous junk on the phone -- twice the amount I found on AT&T's model. Worse yet, T-Mobile committed the cardinal Android sin of setting practically every piece of bloatware as a system app. That means unless you hack the device, all that garbage is stuck on your phone forever, with no way to uninstall it.

There's some serious crap on there, too, ranging from "411 and More" to T-Mobile Mall, T-Mobile Name ID, Visual Voicemail, and TeleNav GPS Navigator. A few of the programs could potentially be useful -- Polaris Office, for example, or Netflix -- but it's still annoying that T-Mobile baked them into the phone instead of letting you decide if you wanted them.

As part of its deal with the bloatware devil, T-Mobile also made one other unfortunate choice: It removed the video chat capabilities from Google's Android-integrated Google Talk app. Google Talk typically lets you video chat with anyone signed into the Google Talk platform -- whether they're on a phone, on a tablet, or on a PC (Google Talk is the same platform used in services like Gmail and Google+). T-Mobile apparently wants you to use the third-party Qik service for video chatting, though, so it took that function away. Because hey, why give users choice when there's extra money to be made, right?

T-Mobile's Galaxy S II: Bottom Line



All in all, T-Mobile's Galaxy S II is a solid phone in a very strong lineup of devices. It has a sleek design, a large, gorgeous screen, and is generally fast and responsive.

That said, T-Mobile's modifications to the device put this GSII a hair behind the others. It's unfortunate that the carrier found it necessary to deteriorate the user experience with its greedy software moves. The stuttering issues also take a ding off the device's final score, especially when you compare it to the near-immaculate performance of the other GSII models.

But all that stuff, while irritating, isn't enough to strip the phone of its glory. The T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S II is a standout device with plenty of excellent qualities. If you don't mind a nonstock UI experience and can live with the added bloat, T-Mobile's Galaxy S II is bound to satisfy. Just maybe not quite as much as Sprint's or AT&T's version.

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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