Samsung’s Galaxy S II smartphone blew us away with its combination of dual-core performance, impressive Super AMOLED Plus display and super-slim dimensions, beating the HTC Sensation to the market. The company’s official accessories haven’t been so timely, however, but the Samsung Vehicle Dock Kit, HDTV Adapter, Desktop Dock and Battery Charger Stand are finally on the SlashGear test bench. They’re joined by Case Mate’s “Barely There” Tough Case, too. Check out our full review after the cut.
Given Google Voice Navigation has already replaced many standalone PNDs, it’s no surprise that Samsung offers an official Vehicle Dock Kit for the Galaxy S II. After all, the smartphone’s display is, at 4.3-inches, bigger than many dedicated GPS units offer, and the Super AMOLED Plus panel is bright enough to be visible even in direct sunlight.
The kit itself consists of a suction-cup mount for the windshield, with a sturdy release latch and an adjustable ball joint where the separate phone cradle latches. This holds the GSII in place while still leaving access to the side controls, headphone socket and even the 8-megapixel camera on the back, meaning you could potentially shoot photos and video of where you’re driving. On the bottom, a pull-down microUSB section docks with the GSII to charge it.
Samsung includes a 9v car power adapter which plugs into a standard microUSB port on the side. Right next to it is a 3.5mm audio-out port, which can be used to pipe the GSII’s sound to the input on your car stereo, if it has one. That means you can play music and listen to voice guidance through your car speakers. As soon as you dock the phone, it loads up the Navigation UI with oversized buttons and easy access to the voice recognition system for hands-free control.
The cradle fixes on and detaches reasonably easily, but we’d like to have seen an easier way to rotate it between portrait and landscape orientation. Instead, you have to loosen the ball joint and rotate it that way. Still, priced at £39.99 it’s cheaper than other generic car-kits we’ve seen, and Samsung has obviously thought through the design: there are cut-outs for the GSII’s rear speaker, for instance.
While we’ve seen smartphones with HDMI ports before, the Galaxy S II uses a technology called MHL for its HD output. Rather than a dedicated port, MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) uses the USB connection to simultaneously charge the phone and output up to 1080p Full HD video and up to 7.1-channel surround sound.
Unfortunately MHL adapters have been in short supply, and weren’t on sale back when we reviewed the Galaxy S II. Samsung’s official dongle is a compact affair, a thin black box roughly the size of a few sticks of gum, with a short microUSB cable to hook up to the phone and, on the box itself, a full-sized HDMI port and microUSB port.
Connect up your TV with a regular HDMI cable, plug in a power supply and what’s shown on the GSII’s display is automatically mirrored on the big screen. It won’t function without power, unfortunately, so you’ll need your AC adapter or a USB connection from a computer, but otherwise it’s plug & play. Within seconds we were watching YouTube videos, browsing the web and playing Angry Birds, all on our HDTV and with no sluggishness.
The useful thing about the HDTV Adapter is that MHL isn’t just Samsung’s standard – it’s gradually being adopted across the industry. We were able to use the same adapter with the HTC Sensation, for instance, which takes some of the sting out of the £24.99 sticker price.
Docking stations for mobile gadgets vary in complexity from simple stands to full multimedia stations with various audio and video outputs, charging, and pass-through sync. Samsung’s official Desktop Dock for the Galaxy S II falls somewhere in-between, an attractive black plastic block shaped like a pyramid toppled backward, with a cut-away middle section. The phone drops in at the front and there are volume buttons on the right edge along with – in a chrome-finish end plate – a 3.5mm audio output port and a microUSB charging port on the back.
In the cutaway section there’s what looks at first glance to be a speaker grille, but in fact is the outlet for a sound pipe. In the cradle, behind the GSII’s own rear speaker, there’s a cutaway that channels the phone’s audio through and passively amplifies it along the way. It works surprisingly well, though you get better results – in stereo – by plugging in a set of external speakers into the dock’s audio-out socket.
The phone charges when there’s an AC adapter attached (though the volume buttons control it whether it’s powered or not) with a blue LED to indicate status, but you can’t sync. Neither will the MHL HDTV Adapter work when plugged into the dock, which undermines its usefulness somewhat. The GSII automatically boots into desk display mode, with the time, weather and user-assignable shortcuts to media and voice search.
For most users, not providing pass-through data likely won’t be too great an issue – Google’s apps all sync wirelessly, after all – but developers who like to use a dock while coding and testing may find its absence frustrating. It’s priced at £39.99.
We were pleasantly surprised by the Galaxy S II’s longevity on a single charge, but heavy users – such as those taking advantage of the Super AMOLED Plus display for multimedia playback – may still find the smartphone’s standard battery can’t get them through a full day. Samsung’s Battery Charger Stand addresses that, a simple external battery charger which accepts – under a lift-up hatch – a second GSII power pack and uses a regular microUSB power input to top it up.
Samsung has carved a rubber-lined slot out at the front, allowing you to prop up the Galaxy S II in either portrait or landscape orientation, hence the “Stand” part of the name. It works but of course it doesn’t charge up the battery in the phone itself at the same time, and nor does Samsung include a second AC adapter in with the charger.
A pass-through cable would’ve been a neat addition, so that you could recharge both batteries at the same time, but we can’t quibble too much for £14.99. Just bear in mind you’ll still need to buy the second battery itself, since that’s not included.
As cases go, the Tough Case is straightforward. No rubber, leather or fancy clasps, just a lightweight ABS plastic skin that the Galaxy S II clips inside so as to protect the back and edges. Cut-outs allow access to the camera, power button, volume keys and lanyard hole, while there are gaps to allow the microUSB port and headphone jack to be used.
The silicone coating is smooth and scratch-resistant, and there’s little in the way of bulk or weight added to the phone. Still, the entire fascia is left unprotected, and while Samsung has used Gorilla Glass to cover its screen, that’s not infallible. We’d recommend a screen protector in addition to the Case Mate, and are a little disappointed that – at £24.99 – the company doesn’t throw one in the box as well.
More on the Samsung Galaxy S II in our full review.
Thanks to Clove for the loan of the Galaxy S II accessories.
Writing for R3 Media since 2006, Chris Davies is currently executive editor for SlashGear, Android Community and the other network sites. Based in London, UK, he's responsible for SlashGear's editorial decisions and covers all forms of consumer technology. You can follow him on Twitter.