Monday, May 6, 2013

Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere 2 Review

Today, we’ll take a look at a $50 Verizon smartphone. It features a full QWERTY slide-out keyboard for texters who prefer the tactile method of typing. Is Samsung Stratosphere 2 a good buy? Read on for the full review!

Let’s take a tour of the Galaxy Stratosphere 2. The main attraction, the screen, is a 4” Super AMOLED. This string of acronyms describes a decent, middling screen. It’s neither budget nor top-of-the-line. It has vivid colors and reasonable detail.

Next, let’s look at the sides of the device. A power button is situated on the right side. There’s a 3.5 mm jack on the top side. On the left, there’s a volume rocker. A micro USB portion is on the bottom. Overall, the phone is .53” thick. That’s not bad for keyboard phone, though a strategically band of chrome makes it look thinner than it is.

Turning the phone to its back, there’s a 5 MP camera and an LED flash. The back cover has a metallic pattern covered with a slippery finish.

Next, let’s consider one of the most important features of the Stratosphere II. This five row keyboard has handy search, emoticon, web launcher, and arrow keys. Individual keys are well spaced and have reasonable travel. In the middle of each key, there is a slightly raised bump.

A combination of a stiff hinge and slippery back cover make it difficult to slide out the keyboard.

Software and Performance
The Stratosphere II runs Android 4.1, also known as Jelly Bean. It’s great to see that this phone runs the latest version of Android. As usual, this Galaxy phone sports Samsung’s skin, Touchwiz. A “skinned version” of Android has manufacturer-applied tweaks to icons and home screen gadgets such as clocks, menus, etc. “Stock” Android is untouched by the manufacturer. The Samsung’s Stratosphere doesn't pack a lot of extra goodies that the Galaxy Note II or S4 have, though. It does have a S Voice, Samsung’s answer to Siri, and all the standard Google apps such as Gmail and Google Play. Verizon has added the Amazon suite of apps such Amazon MP3, App Store, Reader, etc. It has also added Zappos, Audible, Slacker Radio, Quickoffice, NFL Mobile, its own app store (you won’t be lacking app stores!), VZ Navigator, Media Portal, its ringtone store, and Verizon account manager My Verizon Mobile.

Overall, the Stratosphere performs respectably, albeit at a moderate speed. It has middle-of-the-road specs. A dual-core 1.2 Ghz processor and 1 GB of RAM keep things humming along fine. The only glitch I ran into is a brief lag when opening apps, though the lag didn't seem consistent.

Since I live in an area that doesn't have 4G LTE coverage, I wasn't able to test data speeds.
Here's a sample shot from the camera.

Though some 5 MP cell phone cameras gravely disappoint me, this one didn't  In outdoor and well-lit indoor conditions, it produces nicely detailed and correctly colored shots. In more dimly lit conditions, photos get softer but retain correct coloration.

Battery Life
Overall, the Stratosphere II seems to have decent battery life. With medium-light usage of light internet browsing, a few voice calls, and using a few apps, it gets through a day without a problem. However, I’m not so sure that it could make it through a day full of heavy usage.

Call Quality
Since I live in an area where Verizon coverage is around two bars or less, I think that it wasn't easy for this phone to produce great call quality. Even so, the Stratosphere 2 did a good job. The people on both ends of the line agreed that call quality was clear.

Competitors and Conclusion
Assuming that a physical keyboard is mandatory, there are two other options on Verizon’s network. First, there’s the Motorola Droid 4. It’s $99 on contract. This phone has an improved screen and an 8 MP camera. Second, there’s the free on contract Pantech Marauder. This phone’s main feature is its simplicity. The Marauder features a Starter mode that makes navigation easier. As you can see, neither of these phones are exactly identical to the Stratosphere 2. The Stratosphere 2 is sandwiched between these two in terms of price.

In this situation, I can’t recommend one phone above the other because they all cater to different customers. If you don’t mind the Stratosphere 2’s slightly poorer screen and lower resolution camera, pass on the Droid 4. If you’re a beginner smartphone user, the Marauder could be just as satisfactory as the Stratosphere 2. If you decide that the Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere 2 caters to your wants, you’ll likely be happy with it. It runs the latest version of Android, has a decent keyboard, and produces good call quality. The Stratosphere is not a premium phone, but it’s a good value for people who must have a physical keyboard.

Product Info

Price:$50 on contract from Verizon
    Well-designed keyboard, latest version of Android, good camera, clear call quality  
  • Moderate speed, stiff keyboard slider

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