While Samsung is still riding high on the success of the Galaxy S III, it also offers a range of affordable entry- and mid-level smartphones that provide great usability at a low price. The latest is the Galaxy Ace 2, an Android-powered handset that packs plenty of value for money.
Building on the foundation of the original Galaxy Ace, it adds a larger screen, better camera, more storage and faster performance, to make it a strong upgrade. Only the higher-than-we-expected price puts a slight crimp in this otherwise impressive Android phone.
With its smoothly curved-edges and textured rear panel, the chassis looks and feels far better than we’d expected at this price. Inevitably it lacks the polish of more expensive handsets and the plastics used aren’t particularly resilient, but overall build quality is very good.
Removing the rear of the case to access the battery and SIM card slot is easy, but highlights just how flimsy the rear panel is. While the components inside are suitably protected, it doesn’t feel reassuringly solid, although this helps keeps the chassis thin and light.
At just 11mm thin and weighing only 119g, it is a comfortably light device to carry and use. The textured finish gives it a tactile feel and a firm grip in the hand, so you’re less likely to drop the phone during use, which is lucky as the plastics are easily scuffed and scratched.
Only the generic black and silver colour scheme lets the device down slightly. This design is very common for modern smartphones and provides a neutral look designed to appeal to the majority of consumers, but some more flair and originality would have been preferable.
The gorgeous 3.8-inch touchscreen more than compensates, however. Providing some of the brightest, sharpest and most vivid images we’ve seen on an mid-level handset, colours pop from the screen and photos and web pages are rendered with beautiful clarity.
It could be argued that the display may be a little too vibrant, as it shows colours with almost unnatural zest. We really enjoyed using it for viewing photos, videos and browsing the web, though, and few Android phones at this price can match it for sheer impact.
High-definition 720p video is also shown off well, thanks to the screen’s sharp 480 x 800 pixel resolution. And with the handset’s accelerometer automatically adjusting video to landscape mode when you turn the device on its side, it’s easy to enjoy movies on the move.
It’s equally easy to capture your own photos and videos as well, thanks to the high-quality 5-megapixel camera on the rear. Capturing photos up to a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1920 pixels, and video up to 720p HD at a rate of 30fps, results are suitably impressive.
There are a huge array of features on offer in the default camera app, including exposure controls, blink detection, panoramic mode, and macro and auto-focus, among others. The sheer amount is staggering and helps you fine-tune your shots for the best results.
Photo quality is generally excellent, with the camera capturing images with impressive clarity and vibrant colours. The auto-focus works well to ensure photos are as sharp as possible and even the LED flash provides decent results when shooting indoors or in low-light.
Panoramic shots in particular work well and are simple to capture. Rather than take multiple photos, you just slowly move the camera sideways and it automatically captures the required images and stitches them together, making it very easy to get full panoramic images.
Video quality also impressed us, with the camera capturing suitably sharp high-definition 720p video. Even the accompanying sound quality was surprisingly good, making this a fantastic handset for capturing mid-level HD content wherever you go, a real bonus at this price.
There’s also a forward-facing 0.3-megapixel camera on the front of the chassis, which lets you capture quick portrait shots and make easy video calls. Inevitably the quality is very basic, but it’s a nice addition for anyone that needs this type of functionality.
Storage is predictably basic for this price, with just 4GB on offer. This can be upgraded to as much as 32GB via MicroSD card, however. A nice touch is that the card reader is fitted externally on the left side of the chassis, making it easy to switch cards on the fly.
Out of the box performance is more impressive thanks to the handset’s decent mid-level components. The 800MHz dual-core processor and 768MB of RAM load apps quickly, captures video without any noticeable lag and doesn’t struggle with multi-tasking.
Unfortunately Samsung has opted to use the now ancient 2.3 Gingerbread version of Android, rather than the latest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or 4.1 Jelly Bean iterations. There is little excuse for this omission so we can only hope an update will be forthcoming.
Luckily Android 2.3 still works very well, however, so only Android-experts will notice the missing features. Combined with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface it is a great OS to use and provides an intuitive user experience for smartphone beginners and experts alike.
The screen’s capacitive touch technology makes it very responsive to use. Navigating the OS and controlling the device with a tap or swipe of your fingers is suitably fluid. The display is susceptible to smudges and fingerprints, however, and will require regular cleaning.
In particular we found the onscreen keyboard a pleasure to use. The large keys make it easy for smartphone newcomers to start tapping away with minimal mistakes. And with Samsung’s unique Swype texting feature, it is one of the best phones to use for messaging.
Swype lets you input text by simply swiping your finger across the keyboard from one letter to the next, rather than tapping. While it can take some getting used to, it’s a powerful feature once you master it. There are even some handy tutorials included, to get you started.
Alongside the touchscreen, there are two touch-sensitive buttons – Menu and Back – and a single hardware Home button, for controlling the Android OS. All three buttons are responsive, with the Home button offering a shallow travel that makes it easy to use with a soft press.
Samsung hasn’t neglected call quality either. The Galaxy Ace 2’s microphone picks up sound well and the speaker lets voices come through loud and clear. The secondary speaker on the rear is also suitably loud, if you’re keen on playing your music without headphones.
A good array of extra features rounds out the package and doesn’t disappoint for this price. 802.11n Wi-Fi provides high-speed wireless internet access, while Bluetooth 3.0 lets you wirelessly connect to external devices, to share data and synchronise with peripherals.
And battery life is also more than capable. Samsung quotes up to 7 hours of talk time and 640 hours of standby time on 3G and we found these figures pretty accurate. As long as you don’t use it around the clock, you’ll easily get a full days use out of it before needing to recharge.
Other than its dated Android operating system, the Galaxy Ace 2 is an excellent mid-level smartphone that packs great value for money. Android 4.0 would have pushed it to even greater heights, but as it stands it’s a good update to the original Galaxy Ace.
At around £240 SIM-free, it’s not the most affordable smartphone, particularly as rivals such as the Sony Xperia U offer a similar specification for only £200 and the Vodafone Smart 2 provides a less-equipped but still fantastic choice for the first-time buyer, at only £70.
But you get what you pay for, and the extra cost of the Galaxy Ace 2 buys you a better phone, with its stunning screen, ample power and great features more than justifying the extra cost. As long as you’re not set on having the latest version of Android, make sure to put this great value phone high on your shopping list.