When Samsung introduced its trio of Galaxy S II phones this fall, its initial offering for AT&T was a little weak. It "only" had a 4.3-inch screen, while its Sprint and T-Mobile siblings had a 4.5-inch display. Enter the $149 Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket, which not only has a larger 4.5-inch display, but also runs on AT&T's fast 4G LTE network. But how does it compare to the other 4.5-inch LTE phones on AT&T? Read on to find out.
Click to EnlargeLooking at this monster 5.1 x 2.7 x 0.4-inch slab of a smartphone, you'd expect it to be heavy. Pick it up, though, and the Skyrocket feels surprisingly light. At just 4.7 ounces, it's the same weight as the T-Mobile Galaxy S II, and just 0.2 ounces heavier than the LG Nitro HD. The Skyrocket is almost 2 ounces lighter than the 6.2-ounce HTC Vivid, which has the same size screen. While our review unit was black, the Skyrocket is also available in white.
Make no mistake, though. This is a big phone. In our small hands, the phone was manageable when thumbing out text messages, but unwieldy when we tried taking a picture one-handed.
Click to EnlargeOne way Samsung keeps the Skyrocket trim is by using a plastic back cover that looks like brushed black metal. It gives the Skyrocket a sophisticated look that belies its goofy moniker. However, when we removed the thin cover, it felt a little flimsy and cheap. The backside of the phone bumps out ever so slightly at the bottom, but less than the T-Mobile Galaxy S II's rear does.
The top edge of the Skyrocket houses the 3.5mm headphone jack, while a microUSB port and microphone sit at the bottom edge. On the left side is a volume rocker with chrome dots indicating up and down, and on the right near the top is the power button.
Display & Audio
Click to EnlargeThe 800 x 480-pixel Super AMOLED display on the Skyrocket spoils us once again. As with other Galaxy S II phones, colors were deep and vibrant without being overly saturated. This panel is also extremely bright, measuring 441 lux to the Vivid's 381 and the Nitro's 324. (The AT&T Galaxy S II averaged 286 lux.) Still, the Vivid (960 x 540p) and the Nitro (1280 x 720p) have displays with much higher resolutions. As a result, a trailer for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo looked great on the Skyrocket with superior contrast, but was nowhere near as crisp as on the other two phones.
Listening to "Afternoon Delight" by the Starland Vocal Band on the Skyrocket sounded decent, but not remarkably better (or worse) than on other smartphones, However, it did distort slightly at the highest volume setting. The volume actually sounded fuller with the speaker face-down on our desk; placing the speaker face-up produced a tinnier sound. No matter which way the speaker was placed, we could clearly hear the song's high-pitched chirping birds and the low-end rumble of the whooshing skyrockets in flight.
The Skyrocket includes three virtual keyboards: the Android 2.3.5 keyboard, Samsung's blocky keyboard, and Swype. We preferred using the Android keyboard due to its predictive suggestions. We also really liked how its suggestion row turned to punctuation marks after each space. It was faster to choose from those suggestions than using a long press on the "." key to access them. Swype worked well, but gave our thumb a vigorous stretching workout when we traced letters across the expanse of the Skyrocket's screen.
Software & Interface
Click to EnlargeLike its Galaxy S II siblings, the Skyrocket features Samsung's TouchWiz 4.0 interface over Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread. There are seven home screens that cycle continuously when you swipe the display, meaning you can keep swiping in one direction and eventually come back to where you started. The Applications list does the same thing.
TouchWiz 4.0 doesn't add too much clutter to the stock interface. You get a few resizable live widgets that continuously update, including AccuWeather and AP mobile. Samsung also offers a tilt-to-zoom feature. When enabled, placing two fingers on the screen and tilting the device forward or back will make the screen zoom in or out. On the home screen, for example, you're able to view all of your screens at once. It's a little gimmicky, but still a cool feature. Lastly, simultaneously pressing the home button and power button will take a screenshot, making it easy for Android enthusiasts to share what their home screens look like.
Click to EnlargeSamsung pre-loads some of its own apps on the Galaxy S II Skyrocket. These options include AllShare for streaming your videos (pictured), photos, and music to a DLNA-enabled HDTV; Kies air for wirelessly connecting your phone to your PC; Media Hub for streaming TV and movies; and Social Hub for keeping track of your friends. Using AllShare, we were easily able to connect the Skyrocket to our Samsung HDTV and view photos from the phone on the TV.
The Skyrocket also comes with a collection of AT&T-branded apps, including a QR code scanner; a navigation app powered by TeleNav; AT&T FamilyMap, which keeps tabs on your family members' GPS locations; Ready2Go, which helps you wirelessly set up your phone from your browser; and Featured Apps, which has a list of apps curated by AT&T. The carrier also includes MOG for streaming music. The majority of these apps are actually links to download the app itself from the Android Market.
The Skyrocket features a 1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm APQ8060 processor, which is different than the 1.2-GHz Samsung Exynos C210 CPU found on the HSPA+ version of this phone from AT&T. With that chip, this handset scored 3,035 on the Benchmark CPU test, below the AT&T Galaxy S II (3,340), but well above the HTC Vivid's score of 2,129 and the LG Nitro HD's score of 1,107.
On the graphics benchmark An3DBench, the Skyrocket scored a strong 7,428, just above the Nitro's score of 7,353 and well above the Vivid's score of 6,001. However, it was almost 300 points below its Exynos-powered sibling on AT&T (7,754).
In practice, the Skyrocket was fast and responsive. We quickly zoomed in and out of locations in satellite view on Google Maps, and switching between apps was quick and painless. Playing the included demo version of Need For Speed Shift, we could see detailed trees as our BMW M3 whizzed by on the track.
Web Browsing & 4G LTE
Click to EnlargeAs of this review, the Skyrocket is one of three AT&T phones capable of using the carrier's 4G LTE network, the HTC Vivid and the Nitro HD being the other two. By end of the year, AT&T's LTE network will cover 15 markets and approximately 70 million users, in comparison to Verizon's 190 markets.
When we tested in New York using the Speedtest.net app, the Skyrocket averaged a download speed of 28 Mbps down and 9.5 Mbps up. That's pretty fantastic.
Click to EnlargeThe Vivid averaged 21.6 Mbps down and 11.1 Mbps up, and the Nitro HD averaged 27.3 Mbps down and 11.1 Mbps up. So the Skyrocket delivered slightly faster downloads but slower uploads than its AT&T LTE competition.
In Chicago, where AT&T's LTE network is available, but not as swift as other cities offering AT&T's LTE service, the Skyrocket averaged a download speed of 5.2 Mbps on Speedtest.net. The upload average on the same test was 1.8 Mbps. By comparison, the HTC Vivid averaged 5 Mbps down and 1.3 Mbps up in the same location.
Web-browsing on the Skyrocket was quick. The phone loaded the mobile version of The New York Times in 3.9 seconds, ESPN's mobile page in 5.8 seconds, CNN mobile in 4.5 seconds, and the full version of Laptopmag.com in 13 seconds.
Click to EnlargeThe Skyrocket's 8-megapixel rear camera produced excellent images that looked good even when viewed on our computer screen. However, the flash tended to flatten details. When we took a picture of a rose outside against a fence, the flash blew out the deep pink of the flower. Turning the flash off produced a much better image of the same subject. A landscape photo of a street corner taken just as the sun was going down produced a striking image without the flash as well.
This handset's front-facing 2-MP camera produced better-than-expected images. A Google Talk video chat looked smooth with very little pixelation.
The Skyrocket is also capable of 1080p video, which looked crisp and clear. Though the handset held focus while moving the phone around, it was unable to autofocus on a car coming toward us.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Calls on the Skyrocket were clear on our end, and our caller said he could hear us clearly, too. The speakerphone was reasonably loud.
The Skyrocket is rated for 7 hours of use and 10.4 days of standby. Over 4G LTE on the LAPTOP Battery Test, the Skyrocket lasted 5 hours and 43 minutes, 5 minutes less than the AT&T Galaxy S II, but almost 2 hours less than the T-Mobile Galaxy S II. Still, the Skyrocket easily outlasted AT&T's other LTE phones; the Nitro HD's time of 3:53 and the HTC Vivid's time of 4:21 were well behind.
While using the Skyrocket for a few days to make a few phone calls, check our email, surf the web, take a few pictures, and watch YouTube videos, we didn't start worrying about finding a charger until late in the day.
As with the Nitro and Vivid, AT&T offers three data plans for the Skyrocket: DataPlus 200MB ($15 per month, $15 for each additional 200MB), DataPro 2GB ($25/month, $10 for each additional 1GB), and DataPro 4GB ($45/month, $10 for each additional 1GB). Only the 4GB plan includes tethering.
Click to EnlargeWith its beautiful display, excellent camera, and super-fast 4G LTE speeds, the Skyrocket is a fantastic Android phone and our top pick for AT&T customers. While its large size may give those with small hands pause, we love its slim profile. At $149, this handset is the same price as the Nitro HD, but we prefer the Skyrocket for its longer endurance and less clunky design. Of the first three LTE phones on AT&T's network, the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket has launched itself ahead of the pack.