The good: The Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket has a beautiful 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus display along with a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, an NFC chip, and support for AT&T’s LTE network. It ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, and has an 8-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video capture and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera.
The bad: AT&T’s LTE network is only available in a few cities at the time of the Skyrocket’s launch, it has a somewhat cheap, plastic feel, and you can’t remove bloatware.
The bottom line: If you live in an area that gets AT&T’s LTE network, we highly recommend the powerful and beautiful Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket.
Editors’ note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluations of the other Samsung Galaxy S II models.
At long last, AT&T is finally rolling out its much-awaited LTE network that promises much faster speeds than its existing “4G” HSPA+ network. (What will AT&T dub its LTE network to differentiate it from HSPA+? 4G Plus?) The carrier promised that LTE will be in at least 15 markets by the end of 2011, and along with that comes the launch of AT&T’s first 4G LTE handsets–the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket and the HTC Vivid.
Those familiar with Samsung’s Galaxy S II handsets will feel right at home with the Skyrocket. Interestingly, the Skyrocket has more in common with the T-Mobile version of the Galaxy S II rather than the AT&T version; it has a similar footprint, NFC support, and the same Qualcomm dual-core processor.
Of course, the big differentiator is the Skyrocket’s LTE chipset. That’s the reason the Skyrocket is priced at $249.99 after a two-year contract.
The first thing that strikes you about the Samsung Skyrocket is its size. Due to its 4.5-inch display, the phone has quite a large footprint. At 5.15 inches tall by 2.75 inches wide by 0.37 inch thick, the Skyrocket is not the most pocket-friendly of phones. Yet, its smooth curves do make it more comfortable to hold than other large handsets. The phone is clad in plastic from head to toe, which gives it a slightly cheap feeling, but it also means it’s quite lightweight at 4.71 ounces. The battery cover on the back feels similar to the one on the unlocked version of the Galaxy S II. It has a very slight texture that reminds us of wood veneer.
As we mentioned, the Skyrocket has a huge 4.5-inch display. Because of that, it looks more similar to the T-Mobile version of the Galaxy S II, as the AT&T version has a smaller 4.3-inch display instead. The Super AMOLED Plus screen is as gorgeous as ever, with vibrant colors and sharp images. It’s still stuck with the 800×480-pixel resolution, which doesn’t look as crisp on a big screen, but we still thought it looked great.
The touch screen is very responsive to our taps and swipes. You can also use motion gestures and certain finger gestures: if the appropriate settings are turned on, you can flip the phone over to mute it, and you can tilt to zoom in and out with two fingers on the screen. You can even “pan” the phone (flicking left or right) to move a home screen icon. These gestures strike us as more gimmicky than useful, but they’re there if you wish to use them. A more interesting feature is the Vlingo-powered Voice Talk app that lets you perform various actions using voice command.
Beneath the display are four touch-sensor controls for the home, menu, back, and search functions. On the left is the volume rocker, while the power/lock button is on the right spine. A Micro-USB port sits on the bottom, while a 3.5mm headset jack is on the top. Sitting above the display on the upper left-hand corner is a 2-megapixel camera for video calls, while the main 8-megapixel camera is on the back along with an LED flash.
AT&T packages the Skyrocket with an AC adapter, a USB cable, and reference material.
As we mentioned earlier, anyone who is familiar with the Samsung Galaxy line of phones will be familiar with the Skyrocket. It runs Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread along with Samsung’s latest TouchWiz 4.0 interface. It has seven home screens, and a notification pull-down menu for easy toggling of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, silent mode, and autorotation. You can also customize the home screens easily by dragging and dropping widgets and shortcuts through the various panels.
You can also now resize Samsung Live Panel widgets and there’s a more fluid motion when scrolling through widgets lists and home pages. Some of the changes are purely cosmetic, but they certainly add some polish to the UI. There are also some useful additions, such as an integrated task manager that displays all your active applications, downloaded apps with the option to uninstall, RAM status, and system storage. Also great: you can capture screenshots by simply pressing the power button and home key simultaneously.
The Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, conference calling, voice dialing, video calling via Qik, and text and multimedia messaging. It also supports Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), and GPS. The embedded NFC chip means you can use the smartphone to scan, read, and share RFID tags. Once Google Wallet is supported beyond the Nexus 4G, you should be able to use the phone to make mobile.
All of Google’s services are ready and available for you to use. They include Gmail, Google Maps, search with voice support, Google Talk, Places, YouTube, and Latitude. Other smartphone tools are available as well, like a calendar, a calculator, an alarm clock, a world clock, a stopwatch, and a timer. You get plenty of extra apps on here too, like Amazon.com’s Kindle app, Quickoffice, Kies Air (a Wi-Fi-based PC-to-phone sync manager), MOG Music, a Mini diary, NFS Shift, Social Hub, MyAT&T, AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T FamilyMap, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Ready2Go, and AT&T Live TV.
Like the other Samsung Android handsets, the Skyrocket comes with Samsung’s own Media Hub app, through which you can download movies and TV shows to rent or own. There’s also the stock Android music and video player, of course. You can shoot your own videos and photos with the phone’s 8-megapixel camera, which can shoot 1080p HD video. You get plenty of tools and features with the camera, like color effects, white-balance controls, ISO settings, and an image editor that lets you crop photos. There’s even a video editor that lets you piece together clips right on your phone.
Picture quality was commendable. Low-light photos looked great, with rich colors. The LED flash came in handy in especially dark environments. Camera performance was fast as well. Video quality looked great for a phone, with very little blur or pixelation. You can store the media files in the phone’s 16GB of internal memory or on a microSD card–the phone accepts up to 32GB. You can then share your shots via DLNA or the usual social network channels.
We tested the quad-band Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was very good. Audio quality sounded clear with plenty of volume. We didn’t detect much background noise, though there was a tiny bit of hiss at times. On the other end, callers reported similarly great quality. They did say our voice quality was a little harsh at times, but not extremely so.
Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket call quality sample Listen now:
Of course the most important part of the Skyrocket is its support for AT&T’s nascent LTE network. Unfortunately, San Francisco is not one of the cities where that’s available. In fact, at the time of this writing, AT&T’s LTE network is only available in Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Athens, Ga., Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. Until we get AT&T’s LTE network here in San Francisco, we’ll have to test the Skyrocket as if it’s a 3G phone.
The Skyrocket actually isn’t such a bad 3G phone, however. It does support AT&T’s HSPA+ 21 network, which theoretically supports download speeds of 21Mbps. Using Ookla’s Speedtest.net app, we averaged a download speed of 3.2Mbps and an upload speed of 1.1Mbps. We were able to load the full CNET page in 15 seconds and the mobile page in 10 seconds.
Like the T-Mobile version of the Galaxy S II, the Skyrocket is equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S3 1.5GHz dual-core processor to accommodate AT&T’s LTE chipset. We felt navigation was nice and snappy, and didn’t notice much lag or sluggishness when switching between apps.
The Samsung Skyrocket has a rated battery life of 7 hours of talk time and 10.4 days of standby time. According to the FCC, it has a digital SAR of 0.3 watt per kilogram.
AT&T couldn’t ask for a better phone to kick off its LTE network. The Skyrocket is a beautifully designed phone with all of the high-end features that Android power users have come to expect. It ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread and should be upgradable to Ice Cream Sandwich in the next year. Notable features include a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel rear camera, a front-facing 2-megapixel camera, NFC support, and of course support for AT&T’s LTE network.
Unfortunately, that network is only available in a few cities right now, and the rest of the country will have to wait for AT&T to roll out LTE nationwide. By the time that happens, a better smartphone will probably have come along. If you don’t live in one of the blessed areas, our suggestion would be to wait, or get another Android smartphone–like the Samsung Galaxy S II for AT&T, perhaps, which is around $50 less than the Skyrocket.