Hereís our review of the Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE (SGH-I757M) on Bell written by our own HC - NO "i"
With all the news about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S III I was a little surprised that Bell would be offering the Galaxy S II HD LTE. Thereís a good reason for the release; AT&T recently cancelled an order for the Samsung Skyrocket HD (aka SGH-I757M). Guess where those cancelled Skyrockets turned up? The Galaxy S II HD LTE on Bell is even wrapped in the ďTXTNG & DRIVING... IT CAN WAITĒ plastic that AT&T phones come in.
From a strategic standpoint, Bell has been selling their Galaxy S II 4G for longer than TELUS and Rogers have been selling their variants so itís time that they refreshed it.
As for the name, Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE I, one can only hope that they ship a pentaband version of this phone with no Android customizations. Then they can call it the Samsung Galaxy Nexus S II HD LTE X.
Design and Specifications:
Under the hood youíll find a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor, 1GB of system RAM and 16GB of storage of which 11.8GB is available. On the software side you get Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) with Samsungís TouchWiz customizations on top.
Hereís another way to think of it. Itís got the guts and software of a Galaxy S II LTE, and the screen from a Galaxy Nexus in a unique body.
Weíve covered the Galaxy S II to death in our previous reviews, the main focus here is the 4.65" HD Super AMOLED display first featured in the Galaxy Nexus. Itís got a resolution of 720x1280 pixels which is laid out in a PenTile matrix.
There is a 2-megapixel front-facing camera along with 4 capacitive buttons. The front of the phone looks very similar to the Rogers' "Skyrocket" Galaxy S II LTE (SGH-I727R) and TELUS' Galaxy S II X (SGH-T989D).
The back is a different story - The plastic battery cover has a rubberized coating with a unique texture. The camera and flash modules also look different from the original Galaxy S II (GT-I9100M).
On top is the headphone jack and secondary microphone,
The micro USB and main microphone
Underneath the battery cover is a micro SIM slot (unlike all the other Galaxy S IIís which take regular sized sim cards), microSD slot (up to 32GB) and a 1850mAh battery. Interestingly, there are two electrical contacts, which I suspect are for a possible NFC antenna but there is no sign of the actual antenna on the battery cover or the battery.
Size and weight wise itís in the same ballpark as its other Galaxy S II siblings. Supported wireless connectivity includes WiFi 802.11b/g/n, WiFi Direct, Bluetooth 3.0 and A-GPS. The mobile broadband supports LTE and UMTS/HSPA+ on the Bell Mobility network, and GSM/GPRS/EDGE fallback for roaming abroad.
Experiences and Impressions:
I find that the Galaxy S II HD LTE is more comfortable to hold than the Galaxy Nexus. However, it can get quite hot when there is an active LTE data session, or if Iím running demanding apps.
The HD Super AMOLED is very vivid. Colour-wise it a little on the cool side (slightly bluish) compared to the Galaxy Nexus. Itís similar to the original Galaxy S II in this respect.
PenTile matrix technology has been controversial in the geek world because some end-users notice a few of its drawbacks. Mainly artifacts around text, and in some cases colour shift when viewed from an angle.
Personally itís all quite subjective. For example, the recent Motorola "RAZR" looks greenish to me at certain viewing angles. However, I have not observed this with the Galaxy S II HD LTE (or Galaxy Nexus).
As for the artifacts, I donít really notice them when Iím looking at the display from a foot away rather than using a microscope.
So, as long as the colour is relatively accurate the display looks just fine to me. Donít forget that the screen has a really high resolution, and this really minimizes those artifacts.
My only complaints about the display are that it could be better outdoors or under bright lights. I also had some troubles with the row of soft keys underneath the relatively big, almost edge-to-edge, screen. I frequently pressed them accidentally.
Whether youíre flipping through menus, moving between the home screens or scrolling through web pages, there is minimal lag.
My favorite Samsung value-added feature is their Social Hubs (for email, Facebook and Twitter feeds)
Also included are games like GameLoft's Let's Golf, Asphalt and more to choose from the GameLoft HD game portal. Bell has also bundled in their subscription services, GPS Navigation, Mobile TV, Sympatico and Self Serve portal.
With the exception a few formats like MKV, video playback performance is fine. Donít forget that there are alternative players available in the Android Market.
The 1280x720 display causes the Adreno 220 GPU some difficulties when it comes to complex computer graphics. In synthetic benchmarks, the Galaxy S II HD LTE consistently scored lower than the Galaxy S II LTE on Rogers, particularly in the GL Benchmarks, by almost half. Now I realize that the Galaxy S II LTE has a lower resolution display, but it shows that the S II HD LTE's GPU isnít always up to snuff.
Still, when it comes to real world applications, I donít expect many end-users would really notice this. Angry Birds runs just fine.
I was able to capture excellent photos and video. I wouldnít be surprised if itís the same 8MP camera you find on many of its Galaxy S II siblings. The sharpness and details are almost identical. Colour-wise I find the HD LTE captures warmer more eye-pleasing tone than the original Galaxy S II. You can see more pics here
Audio performance is good with little interference and hissing noise observed during calls and media playback. The built-in speaker is not very loud, but should be adequate in quiet places. The outgoing call quality through the built-in microphone is also surprisingly good. Google Voice, Search and SpeakToIt voice assistant program pick up my voice accurately. I also tried the wired and Bluetooth stereo headset. The DSP effects make the whole experience more enjoyable and lively.
Letís talk about LTE. The latency on the Bell LTE network is relatively low - between 40 and 80ms. Downlink speeds range anywhere from 10 to 45Mbps with uplink speeds of 2 to 20Mbps on average in and around the GTA. I did notice that the handset has a tendency to stay in UMTS/HSPA+ mode for prolonged periods of time, even if there is strong LTE coverage.
Another thing worth mentioning is the RSSI readouts i.e. the "signal bars" in the LTE mode. Perhaps the algorithm has not calibrated for LTE or the LTE relies more on the relative signal quality than absolute signal strength. I found that 0 or 1 bar may not be realistic in the real world. There are places where it has got very low signal strength e.g. -110dBm and 11 asu, with no bar showing, yet it can still get 9Mbps for the downlink and 1Mbps for the uplink. At the same place, the UMTS/HSPA+ is either unusable or suffering from triple-digit high latency. So, while it is far from the theoretical limits, it is relatively usable. In some cases, it is faster than the WiFi hotspots.
The HD LTE's weakest link is its battery life. In my typical daily routine with the mix of WiFi and Bell LTE mobile broadband access, I only managed 4-5 hours before I had to run to a charger. The Galaxy S II LTE on Rogers usually lasts about 8-9 hours with the same pattern of usage. I have put the handset through 2 charging cycles with the AnTuTu battery test, the results are also in line with my real world observation.
So what drains the battery that fast? Is it the HD display? Is it the LTE? Both? I do not know. Again, YMMV and I hope that it is just my reviewing unit.
I copied a 4GB video and observed write speeds of 13.3 MB/s which is respectable.
Riding on the Galaxy S IIís red hot sales momentum, youíd think the Galaxy S II HD LTE would be a slam dunk. It adds LTE support and an HD display, while inheriting goodies like excellent camera and expandable storage. Donít forget that it will receive an Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 update soon. In its current form, itís a very well rounded package with the exception of its short battery life.
However, the timing is a bit puzzling since the Galaxy S III is just around the corner. The Galaxy Note with its similar specs and larger display further muddies the picture. If that wasnít enough the Galaxy S II and Nexus are currently being discounted significantly - so where does the Galaxy S II HD LTE fit into Samsungís lineup?
Iíd like to use the analogy of a clock. If each generation like the Galaxy S, Galaxy S II and Galaxy S III represents a ďtickĒ then the HD LTE is a ďtockĒ - an enhanced model in the Galaxy lineís evolution. Sort of like how the Rogers Galaxy S II LTE (SGH-I727R) and TELUS Galaxy S II X (SGH-T989D) are enhanced versions of the Bell Galaxy S II 4G. I could see how it could be positioned to replace the dated Galaxy S II and Galaxy Nexus as the next entry/mid-range "Superphone" at Bell. Considering its current starting price point at $99.95 with a 3-year contract, it has the room to become $49.95 on the same term when Galaxy S III drops this summer.
In the end, itís tough to recommend the Galaxy S II HD LTE for anyone who is looking to upgrade from a Galaxy S II series handset, or is looking forward to the Galaxy S III. But it may soon become an affordable choice for those who are looking for a decent deal, and are not pursuing the latest flagship.