Samsung Galaxy S III vs. Galaxy S II (Comparison)

A few weeks back we took a look at the upcoming Galaxy S III, and compared it to the iPhone 4S. But what about Galaxy S II owners, the ones who purchased Samsung’s previous greatest phone back in October or November? Not even a full year later and Samsung is pushing out their latest and greatest. So is it worth the upgrade, even so soon, or should you hold back until the next turnaround?


The Galaxy S II (GS2, and GS3, from here on out) came in two sizes, 4.3” and 4.5” displays in the US (GSM models were all, for the most part, the 4.3” model). Aside from the display, both devices were identical in size except for width. When I first reviewed the Galaxy S II for AT&T, which has the 4.3” screen, I said it was the perfect screen size; not too big, not too small, and with brilliant color and light contrast. The Epic 4G Touch was slightly different; it, along with T-Mobile’s model of the GS2, are wider. At the time, I said it was at the cusp of being too wide, and that there would definitely be users who would find the phone uncomfortable.

Then more and more larger phones came out, and the Epic 4G Touch didn’t feel so wide. Today, I can say without a doubt that I can hold it without a problem, driving, walking, or whatever.  It just took some time to get used to.

The GS3, however, has a 4.8” display, the largest of any smartphone aside from the Galaxy Note. Now the Note was a pseudo tablet-phone, but the GS3 is all phone, no stylus included. But it is huge. I felt that the HTC One X and Evo 4G LTE were both fine to hold, but again at the cusp of being just plain too big. So it’s hard to say. One the one hand, it may indeed be too big. I know both the recent HTC handsets were troublesome to use one-handed, and that isn’t going to change with the GS3. On the other hand, I adapted, and most people can. But if you already like the GS2’s size and don’t want to have to adjust to an even bigger phone after finally adjusting to this one, then the GS2 wins out.

Winner: Galaxy S II, which is smaller overall and easier to use one-handed, and won’t require additional adjusting to the larger size.


“Compared to the Galaxy S II, the newer Galaxy S III looks plasticy and somewhat poorly built.” That’s what I said back when comparing the GS3 with the iPhone 4S, and that hasn’t changed. The GS2 models, across the board, looked great. They had nice clamshell bodies, a comfortable dark look, and a pleasant frame. The GS3 looks more like the original Galaxy S; clunky, too glossy, and too much plastic. Samsung may seem to be going all out with the GS3, but if we’re judging on looks alone, that claim is deceiving.

Winner: Galaxy S II, which although older has a cleaner, better designed finish.


One of the biggest problems with the GS2 when it was first released was the display resolution. 800×480 is fine, but it’s also the low-end of the smartphone curve. At the time, qHD (960×540) was all the rage, and today the king resolution is 720p, like on the Galaxy Nexus and HTC One X. But again, even then, the resolution was a curiosity.

But the GS2 has a really great SuperAMOLED+ display. Color contrast is extremely high (to the point of inaccurate but stunning colors), and the additional pane of glass between the OLED display and touch-sensitive glass made the display visible in daylight. Colors were washed out and everything had a blue tinge, but at least you could read on it.

The GS3 aims to correct all of that. It’s a 720p display, but instead of SuperAMOLED+, Samsung opted for a Pentile display, which has been panned for the last two years as a weaker display technology. Pentile uses an RGBG coloring system for pixels (red-green-blue-green), which at lower resolutions is noticeable and ugly, which is why it’s so universally disliked. On the GS3, however, that won’t happen because of the increase in pixel density. With a 4.8” 720p display, we’re talking about 260ppi (roughly), so it’ll be next to impossible to notice individual pixels on the screen for a normal distance.

Does this mean that the picture quality will be worse? Most likely, yes, because SuperAMOLED+ just looks fantastic, even if it intentionally oversaturates colors. But the GS3 will also provide more accurate colors and will display clearer images thanks to the 720p display. Furthermore, it’s brighter and easier to see outdoors, instead of barely readable. And don’t forget, a 4.8” display is better for viewing than a 4.3” or 4.5” display.

Winner: Galaxy S III, with a larger, higher resolution display that is brighter and clearer..

Operating System

This one’s a no-brainer. The GS2 is still, for most users, stuck on Android 2.3. Only this week did 4.0 release on T-Mobile’s GS2 models. The GS3 ships with Android 4.0, and as the expected highest-selling Android phone on the market (and an extremely powerful one at that), it is likely to maintain the most current OS.

Then again, we all thought that would happen with the GS2, and boy were we proven wrong.

Winner: Galaxy S III, because it ships with Android 4.


Another no-brainer, the GS3 ships with the latest Exynos 4 processor that is superbly fast. The 1.4GHz quad-core CPU can do just about everything, from running high-end 3D games at 60fps in benchmarks to 1080p video playback. The Exynos 3 in the GS2 was powerful, but not even close to this.

Then again, that’s just for the non-US models. In the US, the GS3 will use the same Qualcomm processor in the HTC One X, which proved to be even faster than the quad-core models.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which has the best in show 1.5GHz processor.


Both the GS2 and GS3 shipped with 16GB of internal storage with upgradeable memory. So an easy tie.

Winner: Tie, identical memory.

Wireless Connectivity

The GS2 was available on three carriers in the US, two GSM and one CDMA for Sprint. That means all Verizon users weren’t privy to the phone, but most everyone in the world was. It was also limited to 4G networks across all carriers. The GS3, on the other hand, will ship for all major US carriers include US Cellular (which isn’t a major carrier), and will support LTE as well as 4G. Sprint’s model is the only one that doesn’t support 4G, which on their network is WiMax.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which supports all of the latest network connections except for WiMax.


Both the GS2 and GS3 have 8MP rear cameras, but only the GS3 has a 1.9MP front-facing camera, compared to 1.3MP. There have also been significant improvements to the lens and speed of the GS3’s shooter. According to most users who have it, the GS3 is one of the best cameraphones on the market. And that’s not unexpected at all, considering how good the GS2 was, and still is.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which has an improved camera system.

Battery Life

Battery life on the GS2 was one of its major flaws. The thing lasted a day almost no matter what, but barely so. The Exynos 3 drained the battery exactly the same amount to a fault, even under a light workload.

The GS3, on the other hand, has the 3rd largest battery of any smartphone at 2100mAh, and has so far been rated for about 15 hours of use before completely discharging. That’s a huge step up, and again that’s with the 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos. With the Qualcomm processor in the US version, there’s no doubt that the battery life will improve even more thanks to the better battery consumption of the processor and half the cores, which still provide better performance.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which has a much larger battery and improved power conservation in both hardware and software.


The GS3 is expected to be the largest release of any Android phone in the US. It’ll release on all four major carriers for the first time ever, as well as US Cellular. That means, of the 300 million plus Americans, 95% will be able to purchase the GS3. The GS2 never came to Verizon and is still exclusive to AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile in slightly different models. The GS3 will be identical to all users, regardless of carrier.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which is coming to all major carriers.


If you’re in the market for the GS3, the price in all likelihood will be $200 or $300 across all carriers. It’s unclear as of yet what the finalized price point will be. But the GS2 can be found for just a penny with a service contract, and it’ll likely open up to that low low price until it’s no longer sold anywhere.

But if you’re a GS2 owner already thinking of upgrading, and you just signed a new service contract with the phone, then don’t expect any special treatment, at least not yet. Samsung has made no announcements regarding current GS2 owners, and with over 10 million units sold in the US alone, that will be a lot of people. Remember the noise iPhone owners made when the iPhone 3G was announced? We may be seeing that with the GS3 as well.

As for the off-contract price, expect anywhere from $650-$720.

Winner: Galaxy S II, which as an older model is available for plenty of deals and is very affordable.

Overall Winner

It’s no surprise that the Galaxy S III won this bout. But the question remains: are the improvements good enough to warrant purchasing the newer device? If you’re already looking to upgrade because your contract is expiring or you are getting a deal, then yes. If not, then it will be a potentially hefty price to pay for this latest and greatest Android phone.

For Galaxy S II phone owners especially this will be a hard time. The upgrades to the GS3 are huge compared to the GS2. It is, in many ways, almost unfair. But that’s the world of tech; as soon as you buy one thing, the next big thing is announced and coming out in a very short while. Is it worth it to upgrade? If you need the faster data speeds, can’t live with the GS2’s battery life, or live in a pile of gold, then absolutely yes, without a doubt. Otherwise…probably not, especially if you have the GSM GS2 model.

The GS2 is still an excellent phone, even with its flaws. There’s really no reason to give it up to get the latest and greatest model, even if it improves upon the last generation in almost every way. That’s why Apple releases phones yearly and makes significant changes every other year: to not piss off consumers signing two-year contracts. I foresee a lot of pissed off GS2 owners in the very near future, especially since the followup model (Galaxy S IV, most likely) will come out a year later and still before any GS2 2-year contracts expire.

Even then, the GS2 is a very good phone, and I wouldn’t recommend switching up just because the GS3 is better. When we take a full look and have a full review, I’ll confirm whether that is the case or not, but feel free to hold onto your cash, spend it somewhere else, and not worry about what to eat because OMG THE LATEST PHONE EVAR.

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James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.

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  1. The galaxy s 2 is available on us cellular and has been since it came out! Get your facts strait before you publish them on the internet!!!

  2. I used to have perfect vision but now absolutely must use reading-glasses for any close-up work. I know this is sour-grapes, but for me the GS2’s 800×480 res is much easier on the eyes. For instance, the GS2 has four app icons in a home screen row whereas the GS3 has five, but each one is slightly smaller. Plus there’s the awesomeness of the AMOLED display. (I’m a photography nut.)
    I looked at a GS3 in the store and confirmed that I’m probably better off with the GS2 regardless out of concern for eyestrain, and I don’t play action games anyway so the extra processing power doesn’t figure in (for me) either.
    But If my vision was still perfect, I might already have the GS3 even though I got my GS2 only four months ago. That said, if the iPhone 5 features a 5″ display, I might take a look and consider getting that and a tablet to move my ‘droid apps over to. (I already have a boat-load of iTunes apps because I own an iPod 3 but now don’t use THAT anymore except as an mp3 player in the car.)
    And on and on it goes, right?
    : )

  3. My SII has ICS – it’s an easy manual upgrade. Since the upgrade, battery life is much improved as well (with juice defender anyway). The SII is a great phone to be stuck with for the next 2 years. The next greatest phone is always another month away. Just get the latest and greatest when the next upgrade cycle hits.

    1. It’s a tough sell. I had the Epic 4G Touch, and there’s no way I’d switch to the GS3 for Sprint, especially if there’s no 4G included. Plus I really liked the design of the GSM version; I wouldn’t be keen on trading it in for a much larger phone at full price, or even half price.

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