Samsung Galaxy S II review
With the Galaxy Note fresh off the assembly line and rumors of the Galaxy S III breathing down everyone's necks, the Samsung Galaxy S II doesn't show up in the spotlight as often as it used to. Still, it's one of the top Android phones out there, and is far from outdated. With it getting cheaper and cheaper and putting up camp in the mid-range price segment it's gaining a lot of new users, and yours truly is one of them. Read on for a review of the Samsung Galaxy S II (international version).
The Samsung Galaxy S II is identical to an iPhone in every respect, so much so that no person can be expected to tell the difference between the two. Or at least that's what Apple is claiming with all its ridiculous lawsuits against Samsung these days. All kidding aside, this is a tried and true design by now – but actually not identical from one model of the S II to the other. The phone is essentially a rectangle, with only slightly rounded off corners to save it from being an object that attracts toes in the dark. The front of the international model has no carrier logo but instead the Samsung logo up by the speaker, sensors and front camera. The four capacitive buttons on the bottom of some S II models have been replaced (or rather the other way around) by two capacitive buttons – back and menu – and a physical, rectangular home button.
The right side of the phone has the power button, which Samsung insists on putting in what I frankly consider the dumbest places on all the devices I buy from it. I guess it's intended to be reachable when holding the phone with one hand, but for me it only makes it accidentally pushable when holding it with one hand. The placement is causing some issues with cases too, so it can't be just me.
The left side of the phone has a lanyard hole and volume rocker, while the top is reserved for the 3.5mm jack and a (noise cancellation) microphone now that it doesn't have to host the power button. The bottom has the main mic as well as the microUSB port used for charging, connecting to a PC, and connecting various accessories. I know microUSB is a standard and all, but I can't help but look at it and be scared that it might break just from me glaring at it.
It also doesn't help the argument that my Galaxy Tab is sitting next to it and using a completely different connector, which while proprietary at least looks like it can hold the weight of a paperclip. My (likely unfounded) insecurities about microUSB aside, it would at least be nice if Samsung could pick one connector and stick to it. Say what you will about Apple, at least iPad and iPhone accessories fit either device.
The back of the phone has the battery cover, which is removable. The battery cover itself is plastic, and is detached by using your finger nails. A gift certificate for nail repair was surprisingly missing from the box, probably just a mixup at the factory as it is definitely needed. Underneath the battery cover you'll find the battery (bet you didn't guess that one), SIM card slot and microSD card slot. Forget about easily switching cards or transferring files quickly with an external card reader – the thing is so well buried in the phone that it isn't worth the hassle.
The back also houses the 8 megapixel camera with LED flash and the loud speaker. The latter is located at the bottom of the back, which is part of the phone itself and not the battery cover. With the stock battery cover on there this "lip" extends farther from the phone than the rest of the back, tilting the entire phone slightly backwards if lying down flat. I did however buy the official extended battery kit with my phone and used the 2000mAh (compared to 1600mAh stock) battery and special included battery cover right from the first boot, and that cover raises the rest of the back so that the entire back is flat. The phone's physical specifications clock in at 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5mm and 114 grams, with that offical thickness measurement being "thinnest point" as the back lip is about another 1.5mm thicker. With the extended battery in place the 10mm lip thickness measurement simply goes from being "thickest point" to "even thickness" and the weight jumps up to about 127 grams. Not much of a difference, in other words.
I have no clue why this wasn't the original design, as it frankly makes more sense than having a lip like that on the back. The front, sure, but the back? The speaker (with resonating chamber) and antennas are in there, but I still don't see any reason for it to be thicker than the rest of the phone. Considering the price of the extended battery kit being as low as it is (I paid about $35 here in Norway), I think Samsung made a huge mistake in making it a (late) optional accessory rather than include it from stock, as it is such a no-brainer accessory that it isn't the least bit funny to see someone run around with the 1600mAh battery in the phone when the extended battery kit is such a bargain for the price. Then again, Samsung doesn't even list it on its site, so no wonder people aren't aware of it.
The fact that it's an optional accessory also means that not all cases will work with the extended battery kit (though many will, without it being intended). My advice? If you end up buying this phone, or have it already, just get the battery kit – a straight up 25% increase in capacity that also fixes what I and many others consider a design flaw is just too good to ignore.
As for materials, the phone itself is plastic with the front being glass. The thinnest piece of plastic is the battery cover, which is bendable to make it snap securely into place the way it's meant to. There's been a lot of discussion about the materials choices on the S II, and not everyone likes the use of plastic. There are third-party battery covers available that are made of brushed aluminum, however these can potentially affect your non-phone wireless signal reception (GPS and such). Metal bumper cases can also be found, which could also cause issues with reception if they cover the back lip where the cellular antenna is located.
Some have left the materials be and just sanded the phone matte instead. Personally the plastic doesn't bother me and I actually prefer it over some heavier, easier to break materials. I don't think the battery cover is flimsy at all, and love that it's a replaceable piece to allow for larger batteries, other materials and so on. Still, I can see how some people react to this much plastic on such an expensive phone.
As far as feel goes, the S II is a very comfortable phone to grip. The textured battery cover helps a lot with making the phone stay in place in your hand, also making one hand operation a breeze. A 4.3-inch device is large by many standards, though in the 2011/2012 market the phone has been surpassed in size by phones from many brands, not just Samsung. I've played with the Galaxy Note, and while I think it is a truly awesome device that potential S II buyers should also include in their considerations, the size isn't for everyone. The S II is a phone that most people can get a comfortable grip on, which is quite crucial for a mobile device.
The hardware in the S II is what makes this as much of a top model as anything else out there, even if it's coming up on a year old. Powering this thing is Samsung's own Exynos chipset, which is the same chipset that you'll find in the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, Galaxy Tab 7.7 and Galaxy Note – all of which are much newer models. Assuming you don't end up poking it with the stick that is SetCPU, the two cores in the S II will run at 1.2GHz – the same as the 7.0 Plus and 0.2GHz lower than the 7.7 and Note. The GPU is the same Mali-400MP though, and it's a good one. Posting benchmarks with devices like this is borderline pointless as you can switch ROMs, overclock the cores and even just reboot a device to make the benchmark scores vary. For instance, I've seen users post Quadrant scores ranging from 3000-4500 with this thing. Compared to the Note, which is pretty much winning all tests at the moment, the S2 will trail behind it by 10-20% in most tests assuming both run stock software. This might sound like a lot but remember that we're talking about two phones that are both faster than most people really care about. I've yet to see anyone call the S II slow in any respect, which is pretty much the bottom line as far as performance goes.
The RAM in the S II is 1GB, which is pretty standard for Android these days. As with the CPU and GPU it's enough to get you where you need to be and still have enough left over to play Angry Birds. The S III is rumored to have 1.5 or 2GB of RAM, and more is always better, but with 1GB we're at the stage right now where RAM shouldn't be an issue for most people.
As for ROM, the S II comes in both 16GB and 32GB varieties. Limited internal storage capacity is often an issue with Android phones, making SD card storage a necessity, but that's luckily not the case with the S II. For the 16GB model, about 5GB mounts as various system level directories using the Linux EXT4 file system while about 11GB mounts as SD storage, which is actually internal memory but the part of it that's user accessible. This "SD" bit is FAT32.
You do have that microSDHC slot though, and most people will use it. It officially supports up to 32GB, which is the limit of the SDHC standard, but like most devices it won't commit suicide by microUSB cable if you shove a 64GB microSDXC card in there. With the way SDXC works today, the incompatibility is actually caused by the exFAT file system used by those cards, not the cards themselves. Whether you do it manually on a PC first or let the phone do it for you, formatting a 64GB card to FAT32 should up your maximum capacity to 96GB. Naturally there's also USB host functionality through adapters so you shouldn't ever run out of storage for this thing.
On to sensors, you have the standard five that you find in most
tricorders phones today; accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, digital compass, and assisted GPS. I already mentioned the two cameras, where the 2 megapixel front camera giving you five times the pimple resolution you actually need for the screen and the back 8 megapixel camera providing both good pictures and 1080p video recording. With my own lack of a sense of direction as well as my dependency on contact lenses, I can't help but feel somewhat emasculated by my phone being more aware of its surroundings than me. Then again, at least I don't spend the night with a microUSB cable shoved up my…moving on.
Ah, the screen. The screen is a 4.3-inch 480 x 800 pixel Super AMOLED+ display, and none of that pentile mess. "Super" simply refers to the touch layer and glass screen being a single piece, eliminating a layer of air and any issues that causes (like reflections). I wasn't sure how I'd feel about AMOLED's somewhat unnatural saturation and contrast levels when I first got the S II, but like with most people, the screen really grew on me. Put simply, the screen is absolutely beautiful, subjectively speaking. AMOLED is known for very black blacks and very high contrast colors, making anything you view on it look like something that came out the back end of a My Little Pony. AMOLED has self-illuminating pixels, so when they display black they're actually turned off – not just set to display black.
Black wallpaper is hence very popular with the S II because the screen then blends so seamlessly into the phone itself (assuming you have the black model) that it looks like it's all a big screen. I've tried a few infamous videos on it (like the Planet Earth series) and the 4.3-inch S II screen has me more glued to the screen than a 1080p normal LCD does, despite the resolution difference. Resolution isn't everything, in other words, and if you compare this screen to e.g. the higher resolution, higher pixel density iPhone 4(S) screen most people would still pick the S II.
That being said, Samsung's own Galaxy Note phone makes the S II screen looks silly in comparison both when it comes to resolution and screen size, and it also boosts an AMOLED screen (be it a Pentile one). In a side by side comparison the pixel density of the Note (285 vs 217 PPI) makes the S II look more outdated than any other comparison between the two, but once you chase your friend with the Note out the door and get back to cuddling with the S II on its own you won't have any complaints.
Still, the Note has an absolutely beautiful screen, and with the two being as similar as they are in almost all other respects the screen is what's at stake when you consider whether to drop the extra cash on the Note. That, and the size and digitizer pen, of course. For me, the Note was simply too expensive in comparison. Here in Norway, carriers are required by law to operate with total cost of ownership prices for anything with a contract, rather than just slap a $199 price tag on something and hide the costs in a two year contract. After sweet talking a customer rep from my carrier into giving me a ~$100 discount based on other carriers' S II prices, the difference in price ended up being about 2000 NOK (about $350 if you ignore other variables that affect price differences between the US and Norway). After having compared the two directly, I think I made the right choice as far as size is concerned as well, as at this point the S II is more or less a smaller version of the Galaxy Note. On a side note, tethering doesn't cost any more than normal data in Norway, so the S II's WiFi hotspot functionality was one reason why I chose it – and when the internet connection went down during the writing of this review that feature was what saved me.
I already mentioned this briefly, and the bottom line is still the same – the S II is fast enough for pretty much anything you throw at it (and I include that qualifier to avoid having anyone take it as a challenge). I've yet to experience lag in any part of the OS, and games like GTA III run just fine (you can even activate some performance heavy settings that the developers disabled and get it looking even better). Graphics heavy launchers (like SPB Shell 3D), pinch to zoom, all that stuff runs as fast as you could want it. I know people optimize ROMs and overclock the cores on this thing, but frankly I've not quite understood what it is they do on it that requires that – power saving aside.
Like I mentioned before, 1080p high profile h264 video plays without a hitch on the S II, courtesy of hardware video decoding. Some more obscure formats will require software decoding which is less happy with high resolutions, but you really shouldn't be using those formats to begin with (which is why I didn't include it as a performance shortcoming above – software video decoding is just bad). Naturally the S II's screen doesn't require 1080p, but 720p isn't wasted as the next common steps down fall just short of filling the screen. There's also the HDMI adapter – which I'll get back to – which turns the S II into a media center for your TV, happily blasting out video with bitrates that would make some computers reconsider their life choice.
The biggest issue you'll face with video playback is actually the limitation of the FAT32 file system, refusing to deal with any single file larger than 4GB. Android and NTFS aren't on speaking terms at the moment, so forget about external memory using that file system. To finish up this clusterfail of a file system mess, it also refuses to have anything to do with external storage formatted to EXT4, complaining that it's "blank". Basically, in an attempt to make the mountable file systems play nicely with Windows, the S II has ended up as a device that is severely limited as far as large files are concerned. Not good.
In a nutshell, what's stopping you from watching that 10GB Blu Ray rip of Twilight isn't as much the phone's ability to play the file as it is the phone's ability to get access to a file that big…and of course that the phone screen would shatter if you put that movie on there.
Performance aside, as I said before, the Super AMOLED screen makes watching videos an awesome experience – assuming you don't mind the effect it creates. I originally intended for my Galaxy Tab to be a video device, but with the S II showing off its Super AMOLED screen all the time the Tab's screen makes me wonder if I lost my color vision in comparison.
2.3 going on 4.0
The S II is currently running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, with version XWKI8/Android 2.3.5 being the latest update available for my model from Samsung, but Samsung has confirmed that the S II will receive an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update sooner or later. As with most Samsung devices, the S II now has TouchWiz all over it, but with Google's decision to force the Holo theme option on any certified 4.0 device that is likely going to be optional once the ICS update hits. That plus the other updates that 4.0 brings have made many S II owners rather impatient since the update was confirmed. Personally, I'm not all there on the whole ICS thing. Updates are nice, but when I look at the S II as it is now I don't really see anything in the 4.0 features list that makes me jump up on and down like a crazy person. The ICS multitasking menu certainly won't get any praise from me, and they better keep those on-screen buttons as far away from me as possible (as if a double set of buttons isn't enough of a reason already).
As for TouchWiz, well, it does add a few nice features to the phone that I think many people will want to keep, but I'm not sure how many of those are in the theme or just in the ROM itself. TouchWiz will get updated too, so we'll see. As for the launcher, the S II comes with the TouchWiz launcher as the only option, but third-party launchers are only a few Market searches away. I never got Samsung's icon size preferences and general lack of customization options, so one of the first things I did with the S II was to install Go Launcher and switch it around to 5 icons wide, fiddle with the number of home screens, icons and so on. Sometimes it amazes me how alien the notion of a custom launcher is to people, enough so that they want new phones when the complaints they have are actually about the launcher. In my opinion, things like toggle switches in the notification tray are good enough reasons to not wish for a more stock Android experience, as long as it doesn't slow down my device and I can switch out the launcher.
One rather unfortunate casualty of the Samsungized 2.3 is the keyboard. The S II comes with Swype and Samsung's own keyboard, but actually not the stock Gingerbread keyboard. When the whole device branding goes from adding things to removing things, I stop being apathetic about it. The Gingerbread keyboard is available from the Market though, so not the hardest problem to fix.
The three buttons act the way you'd expect back, menu, and home buttons to act, with some added functionality. Holding down the home button brings up a menu of running apps with a shortcut to the task manager, which is always nice, though the task manager's automatic white list aren't up to par with third-party task managers. Holding the home button and then pressing the power button takes a screenshot, which is the exact same way you do it on an iPhone – kind of. It's actually a bit tricky to make this feature work, because it's supposed to require both buttons being pressed at once, but only really works if the home button is pressed first. Otherwise you simple turn off the screen, bring up the shutdown menu, and so on. A bit less reliable than on the iPhone, but still nice to have screenshot functionality built right in.
Double clicking the home button is the last shortcut hidden in the buttons, and starts driving mode with voice input. From there you are supposed to be able to use the phone hands free, but Samsung has a long way to go before this becomes Siri. Limited functionality and code word requirements are pretty much given with voice services on Android, but this takes all of that and adds an issue that is both annoying and ridiculous to the point where it's hard to understand how it made it to market: it doesn't handle apostrophes. And it thinks they are semicolons, for some reason. If you tell it something with an abbreviation like "can't", it will read it back to you as "can semicolon t". It gets annoying quickly and pretty much renders the voice feature useless.
As for that search button that is missing compared to some US models of the S II, the search feature is still present – but activated by holding the menu button. I quite frankly don't see the point of a dedicated search button as I've never ever used that feature, while the other three are so crucial for any operation, but perhaps I'm missing something here.
The S II comes with a lot of Samsung apps. Whether you think of it as bloatware or useless is up to you, but I find myself using very few of the included apps. Memo is an app that is designed like a cork board and basically just does what the name says, lets you add memos. Mini diary is a peculiar choice for a built in app, letting you add pictures, text, and locations to a nice looking planner-like day view book. I like the idea even though I haven't used the app, I just find the inclusion of a personal diary app a bit arbitrary.
AllShare is also included, being Samsung's DLNA app. DLNA basically lets you stream content from one device to the other, but isn't as advanced as AirPlay where you can send the actual screen output. I've briefly tested AllShare and it works, and adds another option for connecting devices.
The S II also comes with a radio app which uses the earphones as an antenna for actual FM radio reception. Not an overly common feature in any device these days, but a nice inclusion nonetheless. There's something timeless about a device that can do everything from receiving FM signals to streaming Spotify.
Samsung also wants to provide content for its devices. You have Game Hub and Samsung Apps which are portals for finding apps and games that work nicely on the S II. Music Hub is a music store, powered by 7digital – one of the large digital music stores out there. Reader Hub is similar, being a launch platform for PressDisplay (newspapers), Kobo (ebooks), and Zinio (magazines). The point of these built in apps is basically to give people a pointer as to how they can get things like that one their phone. Lastly you have IM, email and Social Hub which are essentially apps that deal with communication. I'm a Google guy myself so as long as I have the official Gmail and Gtalk apps I don't feel a need to touch these Samsungized apps.
What happens when you have both Samsung, Google and user apps on the same phone is that the app tray gets a bit confusing. Having multiple video players, email clients, music players, and even four apps that start with the word "Voice" certainly doesn't make the app tray the cleanest out there, but it isn't really an issue. It's just how stock Android ROMs work.
Samsung also have some back end systems going, such as the ability to sync to Kies over WiFi or track a lost device. Kies, the PC-side Software that is essentially Samsung's iTunes, is in my opinion an annoying-as-heck piece of software that doesn't belong in this day and age, so having it be wireless doesn't help much. Tracking the phone is of course a nice feature, but if you're really worried about security there are far more powerful third-party solutions that are even wipe-proof. As with pretty much anything that comes on this phone by default, these features are for the everyday user who doesn't want root and custom ROMs, just a phone that works out of the box.
This is an aspect of the S II that deserves its own section of the review simply because it's one of the absolute biggest letdowns of this device. The S II uses a Yamaha sound chip that doesn't sound very good, a major step down from the Galaxy S' Wolfson chip. The use of the Yamaha chip also makes the S II completely incompatible with the Voodoo sound hack, so there's not much chance of magically fixing this issue. The creator of Voodoo co-authored the Anandtech review of the international S II, which includes a very thorough overview of the sound quality issue that's well worth reading for anyone who is seriously concerned about this. As for other fixes, some people use system-wide equalizers to try to compensate, but you're essentially just tweaking bad instead of fixing bad.
Unlike some other Samsung devices there's also no aptX Bluetooth codec support, so forget about going wireless to fix the problem. It's also not like an iPad where you can just connect a USB DAC and fix it that way, so this is a major issue when it comes to the S II.
As I've mentioned earlier, I'm using the extended battery with my S II. It increases the battery life by 25%, which isn't a subjective number, so it's easy to scale battery life between the stock and extended battery. "Fun time" battery life with the stock battery is about 7-8 hours, meaning the battery life you'll end up seeing if you take a fully charged S II and play some videos, games, or similar activity until it runs out. Talk time will add 3-4 hours on top of that. As with all battery life measurements though, this depends highly on what you do and at what screen brightness you do it.
As for more everyday use battery life, I've been seeing 2-3 days of battery life on my S II. I don't talk on the phone much, but do play around with apps and such. All notifications are on, from email to Market updates to IM. I normally use the S II for communication through third-party (non-phone) services, use various information look-up apps (not very performance demanding) and essentially use it as a small tablet. That's the kind of use that gives me 2-3 days on the extended battery, which I know is at least a day more than many get. Really though, battery life is such an arbitrary number with electronics these days.
The S II's camera is very good, as you'd expect from a high end smartphone. This is reflected in the available settings in the stock camera app, which are quite advanced. Everything from resolution to ISO and screen visibility is covered, and you get he feeling of using an actual camera (perhaps with the exception of the lack of a shutter button). There are third-party camera apps out there as well, but the stock one does a very nice job of providing enough toggles and settings to keep most people happy.
One thing to mention is that the video function also has access to the flash, which is then a constant light. Cree LEDs like what provides the flash in phones like this use a lot of power, so I wouldn't exactly encourage using the LED for prolonged periods of time simply because it would drain the battery. LED settings are in place though, so you can freely turn it on and off as you please.
As mentioned earlier, the S II will do photos up to 8 megapixels and video up to 1080p. Resolution isn't exactly a measurement for quality, but you do need it in place to have something to add quality to. As for the image quality, well, I ended up selling my point-and-shoot camera after getting the S II, simply because I knew that while the standalone camera is better, the S II is good enough that its portability will make it the camera of choice when I don't have my DSLR. This time of year the place I live look somewhere between Hoth and Chernobyl and doesn't provide good photo subjects, so instead of providing you with some rather depressing sample photos myself I think it's more useful to point to this thread on XDA that shows off people's best photos taken with the S II. YouTube has plenty of sample videos that are also much less depressing than this place right now.
The S II is such a popular device at this point that accessory-wise it's closer to the iPhone than most devices I've seen. Still far off, but at least you won't have any trouble finding simple things like cases and chargers for it. There are actually an ocean of cases out there, both cheap no-brand cases from eBay and Chinese sites and more costly brand name cases. I first tried my luck with an SGP Neo Hybrid EX case, which is a bumper-style case with an inner layer of silicone and an outter layer of hard plastic. I didn't like it, and ended up with the Noreve Tradition C case I just reviewed on here.
Aside from cases, there are some accessories that might be worth picking up. There are a few official ones as well, including a car kit, dock, HDMI adapter, USB host adapter and a variety of cables and such. There are also many third-party accessories, and I ended up with a much cheaper (than the official one) Kidigi desktop charging dock which works just fine. Desktop docks are very often just plastic device holders with pass-through connectors for power, so there's no reason they should be overly expensive. The Kidigi dock does the job just fine in that respect, and makes me a bit more relaxed as to the safety of that microUSB connector than just having a cable plugged in and the phone placed somewhere for charging.
If you carry multiple batteries, you can also get desk chargers for those. The microUSB port also comes with another nice difference from the Galaxy Tab tablets, namely that it will charge off any normal USB charger without having a built in Samsung-specific trigger. That means USB power packs, generic car chargers, and other power related accessories all work fine.
HDMI (MHL) adapter
One of the accessories I ended up with myself is the official HDMI adapter. This uses the MHL standard for microUSB-to-HDMI, so it's compatible with other devices as well. The one I got though is the official Samsung adapter. While the packaging doesn't say S II only, you'll often see this branded as an S II accessory in stores simply because up until now the S II has been the Samsung phone to hook up HDMI to.
Physically, the adapter has a microUSB connector in one end, a female microUSB connector where the cable goes into the other part of the adapter, and a full sized HDMI connector on the other side of that adapter. HDMI output simply won't work unless a charger is hooked up to that female microUSB connector, which is a pity and something of an annoyance. I can understand Samsung not wanting this the S II to become a set top box on battery power and leave users unhappy with how fast the battery drains, but forcing you to have the charger connected is a bit drastic.
I can however live with the charger being connected. What I can't live with however is the way this adapter acts when hooked up to a screen via an HDMI to DVI adapter. HDMI and DVI is the same basic signal minus audio for DVI, so unlike e.g. VGA to DVI where one's analog and the other is digital the adapter between HDMI and DVI is purely physical. It therefore makes little sense that this shouldn't work, and it – together with the HDMI adapter for my Galaxy Tab – is the only HDMI device that have had issue with this on my screen. I'm typing this on my laptop hooked up over HDMI and the adapter right now, my PS3 does the same all the time, and my iPad 2 spits out video to the screen on occasion too – all via HDMI and that adapter, with no issues whatsoever.
So, how does it act with an HDMI to DVI adapter? It doesn't recognize the resolution of the screen, and displays 480p no matter what. That's the default output for the adapter when only mirroring the screen, with any 1080i/p scaling handled by the screens themselves. When you play video though the stock player however, it is supposed to switch to up to 1080p for the video and go into a dual screen mode where the phone screen and external screen show different images. This is where it fails with a DVI adapter in between, and simply stays at the 480p resolution. This makes the adapter worthless to those who use the same setup as I do, and it is disappointing to see Samsung make such a crucial error in HDMI output when no other company I have yet seen does the same. Other people have reported the same issue online, so this is definitely not just my screen.
Assuming you have a normal HDMI connector, you should be fine. Having HDMI output on a phone like this is quite brilliant considering both the phone's ability to play high quality video and its video recording capability. Even with a required charger in tow, it's nice to be able to carry around HDMI connectivity. Other brands tend to use microHDMI instead of this adapter mess though, so i can't exactly give Samsung too much credit for this adapter.
I also can't help but look at the size of a HDMI cable and think that the adapter should be longer to prevent the HDMI cable from pulling the phone all over the place. If I were to rely on this a lot for TV hookup, I would probably nail down the HDMI end of the adapter to make sure it didn't destroy my S II's microUSB port.
If it wasn't already clear, this adapter doesn't come with the phone. It's an additional $15-$30+ depending on where in the world you are. Considering where you live it might not be so easy to find, but online stores seem to carry it in most countries.
USB OTG (host) adapter
USB host adapters help the S II connect to USB devices, namely external storage. The official adapter that was the first to arrive on my doorstep (these adapters can be bought from third-parties, cheaper and with more intelligent designs, but it takes longer) is a rather large thing that looks a lot like the MHL adapter. You have the microUSB connector in one end, a small cable, and a female USB port in the other end. You'll get rather limited power out of that connector, so if you plan on connecting something more power hungry than a normal flash drive you'll have to use a split USB cable to another power source of put a powered USB hub in between. Hard drives are possible to get working assuming the file system is FAT32, there's enough power, and the drive isn't too full of data.
The physical design of this official adapter isn't the smartest I've seen. While the MHL adapter should have been longer to compensate for what the HDMI cable does to it, the USB host adapter should rather have been as flush to the S II as possible. Angled downwards or upwards perhaps, to have the flash drive be flush to the bottom of the device. The reason that Samsung didn't go this route is likely that it would break case compatibility and compatibility with wide flash drives and other unusually sized USB plugs. As a result, you're left with a rather over sized adapter.
Another downside of this is of course that you can't use the MHL adapter and the USB host adapter at the same time. Ideally, you should be able to hook up both host adapter, HDMI cable and power at the same time. This could have been easily done by adding a second female microUSB connector to the MHL adapter. Assuming of course that the phone can handle those inputs and outputs going on at once though a single 4 pin microUSB connector.
As with the MHL adapter, this is also a standalone accessory. It won't run you too much money, especially if you pick a third-party one. To activate USB host the fourth pin on the microUSB cable is connected to the fifth one, triggering host mode. This means you can make one yourself, as many have, but there isn't really any money to be saved by doing so as thee adapters are dirt cheap.
The S II was a technological marvel when it first came out. That's closing in on a year ago now, but the phone is still one of the top phones out there. With a chipset that puts most phones – and tablets – to shame, enough RAM and ROM to not cause any of the typical low-end Android phone issues, a screen that is hard to hate, and a camera that you would actually use for proper photos it seems to have it all. It falls short in the audio quality department, and could do well with smarter solutions for things like external file systems and accessories. Its place as Samsung's top model has now been passed to the Galaxy Note, but the S II is as much a smaller version as it is an inferior one. The S II still sells like crazy all over the world, and with good reason; it's one heck of a phone.