With so few keyboarded smartphones available, putting a good one out there should be a no brainer. And for a manufacturer as big and popular as Samsung, how hard can it be? How about this: Take an aging Galaxy S III, stick a sliding keyboard on it, and boom, you’ve got the best keyboarded Android phone out there. Instead, Samsung took a similar, but decidedly more low-end approach with the Galaxy Stratosphere II, which is basically a Samsung Galaxy Stellar with a keyboard. At $49.99 it’s priced to sell, and keyboard-crazed smartphone lovers will be sated, but this phone could have been much better than it is.
Design and Call Quality
The Galaxy Stratosphere II measures 4.97 by 2.58 by 0.53 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.43 ounces. It’s a good size for single-handed use, though it does feel rather bulky compared with most other new phones. Then again, most other new phones don’t feature a slide-out, five-row QWERTY keyboard. The phone’s finish is a bit slippery, and the keyboard sliding mechanism is a bit stiff, so sliding the keyboard out can feel somewhat stilted, but if you like a good hardware keyboard, it’s worth it. The Stratosphere II’s keys are large, slightly raised, and clicky. I grew used to typing on it in no time and I love the dedicated row of number keys at the top. I just wish it wasn’t attached to a phone that’s so average.
The phone is made of a slippery black plastic with a dark gray band around the middle. There’s a standard headphone jack at the top, a Power button on the right, a volume rocker on the left, and four backlit capacitive touch keys on the face of the phone, at the very bottom, below the display and Samsung logo.
The 4-inch, 800-by-480-pixel Super AMOLED display is serviceable, but it’s not up to par with most of the competition in terms of size and resolution. I like inky color saturation, but the resolution could be higher, and the PenTile pixel layout makes text and images appear a bit fuzzy if you look closely.
The Stratosphere II works with Verizon 4G LTE as well as dual-band EV-DO Rev. A (850/1900 MHz), and supports quad-band GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz) and HSPA/UMTS (2100MHz), so you can use it in over 205 countries across the world. The phone can be used as a mobile hotspot to provide a connection to up to 10 devices with the proper service plan, and it supports 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi on the 2.4 and faster 5GHz bands. 4G LTE data speeds were fine in Manhattan, but nothing to write home about.
Voice quality, on the other hand, is excellent. Incoming calls sounded crisp, clear, and very loud in my tests. There’s even an on-screen option for ‘Extra Volume,’ though voice quality diminishes at very high levels. Calls made with the phone sounded clear and full, though the powerful noise-cancelling algorithm can cause voices to sound somewhat digitized (though it does wonders toward blocking out background noise). The speakerphone sounds fine and is loud enough to hear outside. Calls sounded good through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset. The phone comes loaded with S-Voice, which is Samsung’s answer to Siri, and I had no trouble using it over Bluetooth. Battery life was average at 9 hours and 24 minutes of talk time.
Hardware, Android, and Apps
Powered by a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960 processor, benchmark scores were solid across the board, due in part to the Stratosphere II’s lower screen resolution. You’re not going to get quad-core-like performance here, but everything feels smooth, and you shouldn’t have trouble running any of the 800,000+ apps or games available in the Google Play store.
The phone is running Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean) along with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI overlay. There’s no word on an update to Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean), but it’s already been updated from the earlier version of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) it shipped with, so we can’t really complain.
You get five home screens. Two of them are empty, while the other three come loaded with some standard apps and widgets, though you can customize them as you see fit. What you can’t touch, however, is the large amount of bloatware Verizon has loaded onto this phone. There are apps from Amazon, Amex, and the NFL, to name a few, and you can’t delete any of them. You can disable these apps so they don’t show up on your app menu or anywhere else, but they’ll still be taking up valuable space on your phone.
The Stratosphere II has NFC support, which doesn’t have many real world applications yet, but is nice to have for the future. You also get Google’s excellent suite of apps and services, including Gmail, Google Now, Maps, and YouTube. Samsung’s Media Hub is also on hand to complement Google Play, but largely seems overpriced.
Multimedia and Conclusions
You get 4.45GB of free internal storage. There’s also an empty, poorly placed microSD card slot underneath the battery cover. It’s located directly on top of the SIM card slot, so that the two cards rest on top of each other. There’s no indication you can stick a microSD card in it, so finding it was really a matter of blind luck. Once located, my 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards worked fine.
All of our music test files played back except for FLAC, and sound quality was fine over both wired 3.5mm as well as Bluetooth headphones. All test videos played back too, at resolutions up to 1080p.
The Stratosphere II’s 5-megapixel camera is fine. Shutter speeds are rather slow, at 1.2 seconds, since you have to wait for the autofocus to lock in after you press the shutter button. Pictures look good, if a little soft, and colors are mostly accurate. Video capture is good, with 720p video recorded at a steady 30 frames per second indoors and out. There’s also a standard 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat.
The Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II is probably your best bet for a keyboarded smartphone on Verizon right now, but then again, there isn’t much competition. The Pantech Marauder is free, but it has a pretty lackluster camera and its keyboard isn’t as good as the Stratosphere’s. The Motorola Droid 4, on the other hand, has aged pretty well, and has a slightly sharper screen and a better camera than the Stratosphere. But it’s well over a year old, more expensive, very heavy, and has a dated processor. If you don’t need a keyboard, your options open up considerably, and you can get a much more advanced phone like the LG Spectrum 2 for nearly the same price as the Stratosphere II.
|Phone Capability / Network||GPRS, CDMA, LTE|
|Screen Resolution||800 x 480 pixels|
|Dimensions||4.97 x 2.58 x 0.53 inches|
|Video Camera Resolution||720p Rear|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||9 hours 24 minutes|
|Available Integrated Storage||4.45 GB|
|Processor Speed||1.2 GHz|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960 Dual-Core|
|Service Provider||Verizon Wireless|
|Total Integrated Storage||8 GB|
|High-Speed Data||EDGE, EVDO Rev A, LTE, CDMA 1X, HSPA+ 21|
|Screen Type||Super AMOLED HD|
|Operating System as Tested||Android 4.1.2|
|Camera Resolution||5 MP Rear|
|1.3 MP Front-Facing|
|Screen Pixels Per Inch||233 ppi|
|Bands||850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 700|
|Screen Size||4 inches|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc