Hands-on with Samsung Galaxy S II for Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile

In New York City on Tuesday night, Samsung finally brought the second generation of its gleaming, Android OS-based Galaxy S smartphone line-up to U.S. shores. I was there at the crowded press event to get a first-hand sense for the differences and similarities among how three US carriers -- Sprint, AT&T Wireless, and Verizon -- will deliver the newly dual-facing-camera-enabled gadgets to consumers and business users.
Samsung Galaxy S II ComparisonBefore Samsung took the wrappers off the three U.S. editions of the Galaxy S II in an onstage presentation, a PR manager joked that nobody could fault Samsung for a lack of dramatic timing around product rollouts. An unintentional buildup for the S II included a rare East Coast earthquake last week and Hurricane Irene a few days later. In fact, Samsung pushed back the launch event by 24 hours from the initially scheduled time of Monday night to make it easier for journalists to get there.
Across the board, the Android OS 2.3 ("Gingerbread") phones from Samsung will feature improvements such as an 8 megapixel (mp) rear-facing and 2 mp front-facing camera, for video chat; 4G connectivity speeds; dual-core processors; enhancements to Samsung's TouchWiz user interface (UI), Media Hub and Social Hub; and a new Voice Talk feature, for issuing voice commands to the phone around dialing, text messaging, and Web search, for instance. The Super AMOLED screen of the original Galaxy S will be replaced by even brighter "Super AMOLED Plus" technology, officials contended during the presentation.
Later on, in demos at booths manned by Samsung and the trio of carriers, I got a peek at some software not mentioned on the stage, including on-board photo editing and video editing software and carrier-specific entertainment, navigation, and management tools.
I also learned that, while Sprint and T-Mobile will both offer Galaxy S II phones with 4.5-inch screens, AT&T will depart from the pack with a 4.2-inch, ultra-thin edition. In addition, for its part, Sprint 's new phone will drop the hard pull-out QWERTY keyboard included in the first Epic, Sprint's version of the original Galaxy S phone.
Samsung Galaxy S II from AT&TLike seemingly just about all device makers these days, Samsung is targeting the revamped Galaxy S phones at "prosumers." On the business side, new amenities will include on-device encryption of user data; full support for Exchange ActiveSync, version 14; mobile device management through Sybase Afraria; and support for Cisco's virtual private network (VPN) and WebEx conferencing capabilities.
Verizon Absent from the List
When Samsung unveiled a slide on stage displaying the logos of its US wireless partners for the Galaxy S II, Verizon's name was glaringly missing.
In contrast, the first Galaxy S phone -- introduced at a launch event last year in New York City -- is sold in various flavors by Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile, along with regional carriers US Cellular and Cellular South.
Samsung Galaxy S II from AT&TSpeaking with me afterward, Ryan Bidan, director of product marketing for Samsung's Wireless Terminal arm, confirmed that Verizon has decided to opt out of the Galaxy S II. Yet on the other hand, Verizon will add multiple additional phone models from Samsung, outside of the S II, over the next few months, Bidan added.
According to widely circulating rumors, Verizon is sitting back from the S II out of concerns that Samsung's phone won't compete effectively with Apple's iPhone 5. Bidan, however, didn't comment on Verizon's reasoning.
AT&T Announces a Slim Version

In the first batch of Galaxy S phones, Sprint tore away from the pack with the only model to include either a hard keyboard or dual-facing cameras. This time around, AT&T is grabbing the limelight with the thinnest of all the S II phones, measuring 8.9 mm at its skinniest.
Although specific pricing hasn't been made known yet, AT&T will price the new phone "aggressively," at less than $200 with a two-year contract, a spokesperson told me. The AT&T phone will simply be known as the "AT&T Samsung Galaxy S II."
Unsurprisingly, in playing around with the prototype, I did find that it felt thin and comfortable in my hands.
David Owens from SprintI also came across AT&T specific software tools that included My AT&T; AT&T Navigator; AT&T Family Map; and AT&T Mobile Code Scanner.
Sprint Plans Epic 4G Touch

Sprint's new SII phone will be known as the "Samsung Epic 4G Touch," according David Owens, Sprint's VP of product development, during another demo. Sprint will price the 4G touch at $200 with a two-year contract, he noted.
Samsung Epic 4G Touch from SprintWhy is Sprint leaving out a hard keyboard this time around? "To give customers another choice," Owens answered. Where the first Epic offers a 4.0-inch Super AMOLED screen, the Epic 4G Touch will feature a 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus display.
Instead of replacing the Epic 4G with the Epic 4G Touch, Sprint will sell both phones simultaneously, Owens elaborated. Sprint, though, has already started dropping the pricetag on the original Epic, he acknowledged.
Sprint-specific tools aboard the Epic 4G Touch are set to include Sprint Mobile Wallet, Sprint Zone, Sprint TV & Movies, NASCAR Sprint Mobile; and VoiceTalk-enabled Sprint Navigation.
T-Mobile's Mysterious Intentions
Likewise, T-Mobile's model of the Galaxy S II will also be outfitted with a 4.5-inch screen, according to spokespeople at a T-Mobile booth.
That's about all that they were able to say, however. Details are still under wraps about the name of T-Mobile's upcoming S II phone, any T-Mobile-specific hardware or software features, and pricing.
On-board Photo Editing and Video editing

As I browsed through the menus on the S II phones displayed at the launch, I noticed icons for "Video Talk." However, Video Talk hadn't yet been enabled on any of the prototypes I tried. 

Video EditorNeither was the video chat functionality. However, it will ultimately support Web-based videoconferencing services like Stype and Tinychat, I was told.
Samsung's Bidan, though, gave detailed demos of the new photo editing and video editing tools slated to ship with all models.
The video editing software will exploit the new front-facing camera, Bidan pointed out. Users will be able to trim movies for HDMI output to HDTVs. Other tools will include movie templates, a drag-and-drop timeline, and audio editing capabilities.
The photo editing software, on the other hand, will include tools for cropping images and for applying effects such as blurs and blends.
Image Editor"You won't be able to resize photos in the photo editor, but you'll be able to do so in the photo gallery," Bidan informed me.

Screen Capture and Touch Gestures

The Galaxy S II's improved TouchWiz UI, designed for better multitasking and app management, will come with Live Panel, a customizable widgets view for quick access to apps like e-mail, weather, and Samsung's photo gallery. A TouchWiz UI notification service on the lock screen will notify users about missed calls and text messages without forcing them to navigate through other menus.
The improved Social Hub on the Galaxy S II will transfer e-mails, IMs and other social network connections from LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook into "Feeds" and "Messages" folders. Users will then be able to separate the contents of those folders into various tabs or combine the contents into lists, I was told.
Officials of Samsung and its wireless provider partners weren't able to shed more light on the future enhancments to Media Hub, except to say that a lot more entertainment is on the way through pacts with media empires like Warner Brothers, Paramount, NBC Universal, FOX, MTV, and CBS.
However, other new features of the S II phones will include screen capture and six-axis motion sensing. Scrren capture will let you take screen grabs by pressing the poer button and home key simultaneously.
Six-axis motion sensing will use a built-in accelerator and gyrometer to let you perform touch screen gestures for turning off ringing phones and zooming in on photos, for example.