When it comes to Android phones the Samsung Galaxy S2 is generally considered the default choice. It has a good balance of features and performance, and is generally well-regarded among Android users. A generous screen size, expandable memory, slim lightweight design and reasonable battery life.

It became the fallback when I got tired of shopping for the perfect Android smartphone. Sure someone could argue there are better phones out there but if you’re wanting a good all-rounder you can’t go too far wrong with a Galaxy S2. Prices are dropping significantly with the S3 making an appearance so you’ll probably pick one up at a bargain price (try www.pricespy.co.nz to see who’s doing the best deal).

I’ve had the Samsung Galaxy S2 for about a month now and learned a few things along the way I’d like to share with you. I’m sure there’s more to learn but here are the big questions I had and the answers I came up with – it might save you some time because some issues didn’t seem to have obvious answers when I Googled them.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the S2 – it does everything I think it should and has only locked up when I’ve tried to make it do something it really shouldn’t (like plugging in a non-standard USB keyboard). If you have any questions or would like to add your own Galaxy S2 tips feel free to leave a comment.

1 – Micro-USB is really useful

One thing that’s exciting about smartphones like the Galaxy S2 is that they are basically mini-computers. I’m about to travel overseas for four months and a laptop is just too big to be carrying around Europe. The thought that I could just use my phone to connect to a mouse and keyboard and then fire up Google Docs, Gmail and anything else I needed was very appealing. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Micro-USB adapter – For most devices, such as memory sticks or keyboards, that you want to plug-in to your phone you’ll need standard USB. Buy a USB to micro-USB adapter for the job.
Low-powered devices only – The S2 can only accept low-powered USB devices. It doesn’t have enough grunt to support many devices that require extra juice – it will warn you when a device is too demanding (in my experience this error can also appear if your phone is in power-saving mode).
Standard USB devices only – If a device is not built to standard spec it’s quite likely it won’t work. I was keen to use a roll-up flexible keyboard but none that I tried would work. So don’t expect just because it’s USB it will play nicely with your phone.
USB hubs can work – Even though there is only micro-USB plug on your phone I have successfully run a USB hub and connected two devices (keyboard and mouse). It can be hit and miss however.
Bluetooth is another option – If the USB option isn’t working for you you can always buy a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse set.

2 – Don’t bother with a larger battery

I was seriously tempted to buy a larger battery just because I’m not used to having to recharge my phone every other day. You can find larger batteries on Trade Me to replace the standard 1650 battery for around $30.

The downside is that some, due to their larger size, require a new phone cover (your existing covers may no longer fit) and there are reports of batteries overheating. And, because I have yet to see or read any reliable proof that they significantly improve battery life I’ve decided to pass on the bigger battery for now and just look at ways to conserve what life I do have.

There are apps such as Juice Defender which are very popular but basically its about switching off the services you don’t need e.g. GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth etc. It’s common sense really.

3 – Play all video formats

Before you convert your entire video collection to mp4 to play on your S2, install the MX Player app. This app will play almost any video file e.g. avi, mkv etc.

Of course you might need some extra memory so go out and buy yourself a 16Gb micro-SD card to beef up storage on your phone. Just remember to get Class 6 (higher transfer rate that Class 4 or lower) or higher so videos play smoothly.

4 – Get familiar with the Google Play store

This is where the real action is. The S2 is a great phone but really it’s all about the apps. Browse the store, get recommendations from others on great apps and you’ll have your own favourites in no time.

It’s a good idea to read the reviews for additional information about apps and don’t stress too much about all the permissions they request when you download – most apps are the same and if an app was causing problems you can be sure Google would pull it from the store pretty quickly!

5 – Silence that camera!

One of the biggest gripes from users seems to be that it is impossible to shut the S2 camera up (the rumour is that it has to do with child safety laws in Korea where the phone is manufactured).

There are camera apps that you can download that say they offer a silent option but in my experience none of them work.

One option that does work (I have tested this) is to install the Camera360 app. Use ES File Explorer (only available for rooted phones – this is the best guide on how to do it) and navigate to the root directory (which is why you need to root your phone to do this). Find the System > Media > Audio > UI folder. Rename all the camera related sound files e.g. change Cam_Start.ogg to Cam_Startold.ogg.

Now start the Camera360 app and choose the silent option. No more embarrassing clicks or whirrs when taking photos at the art gallery.

6 – GPS has limitations

GPS might seem like magical technology. Track your friends whenever you want. Find your exact location in seconds. Sadly no. It’s important to understand the limitations of GPS so you don’t get all disappointed when it doesn’t work out.

Firstly, GPS will not work indoors. Your phone will use WiFi or cellular positioning when you’re inside (or underground), which is less accurate. The Galaxy S2 has A-GPS, which simply means it can start up GPS quicker, nothing else.

Secondly, GPS will drain your battery. Smartphones in general are battery hungry but GPS makes it even worse. Switch it off if you don’t need it (drag down the top of the screen) to enable or disable GPS (and other services).

If you do want to track your friends then get the Google Latitude app. This will require a data connection (so your phone can transmit its location to the Google servers).

7 – Educate yourself

One advantage of the S2 is there are a lot of other S2 owners out there, so by doing a bit of Googling you can quickly find tips on shortcuts and secret button combinations that can turn you from average to power user in no time.

Did you know that by holding the Home button and pressing the Power button that you can take a picture of the phone’s screen? You only need to hold the Home button for a second before pressing the Power button (otherwise the Recent Tasks window appears obscuring the view!). This is a handy way to share your screen with friends.

Another tip: Hold the Power button for at least 10 seconds will force the phone to shutdown (if it locks up).

8 – Beware of auto-updating apps

It might seem the convenient option but it can chew through data if all your apps are set to auto-update, even if you set it to only update when on WiFi. My personal preference is set the default to not update and only manually update those apps that really need updating, rather than letting apps re-download and install themselves every time the developer does a bug fix!

9 – Precache maps on WiFi

Want to use Google Maps on the go but don’t have a data plan or don’t want to incur extra costs? The solution is to precache maps in your Google Maps application (make sure you have the latest version).

Go to Settings and choose Labs. Tick the Precache option. Now when you’re on a WiFi connection you can long touch a spot on the map and choose the option to precache the map. It will save a 10 mile radius of the area. Handy.

10 – The Galaxy S3 is out

This is more a general reminder that no matter what phone you buy, there is always a better, faster model around the corner. Don’t get sucked in to the consumerism vortex – just buy what you need and stick with it. And now that Ice Cream Sandwich is available for the S2 you’ll be able to match the new phones OS at least.

11 – Bonus – Music players. What music player?

Ok, so just one more. This is my own pet peeve with Android. You would think with all the billions behind Google they could at least come up with an iTunes equivalent. I have tried several different music players and have not found a semi-decent music player for the Android (disclaimer: have only tried free players) – none appear to have any reasonable method of managing your music and playlists from your PC. I’ve ended up going low tech – create separate folders for each playlist and just do a straight copy from iTunes to the phone using the USB cable.

Of course there’s lots more to learn about the Samsung Galaxy S2 but hopefully this will help you hit the ground running. Feel free to leave a comment of your own and share your tips.

10 things you should know about the Samsung Galaxy S2
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