The Samsung Alias 2 is an affordable messaging phone that includes not only 3G data, Verizon's VCast Music store, and GPS, but also the industry's first E-Ink keyboard. Despite its somewhat bulky design, and given a few other caveats, we think Verizon Wireless subscribers will appreciate the comfortable keyboard, good call quality, and cheap $79.99 price, which makes this a top competitor against such popular devices as theLG enV2.
The Alias 2 updates the original Samsung Alias, which has the same dual-hinge form, and a slimmer profile. The dual hinge allows you to open the phone vertically, as you would a regular clamshell, or horizontally for easy typing on a full QWERTY keyboard; but, the original Alias lacked 3G connectivity, and Verizon's premium services. At 4.0 x 2.0 x 0.7 inches, and weighing 4.3 ounces, the new gunmetal gray Alias 2 is slightly bulkier than the original 3.8 x 2.0 x 0.6-inch, 3.6-ounce Alias.
Despite its budget-friendly price, the handset feels strong and sturdy, as does the hinge. When you move the screen back in horizontal mode, a light locking mechanism helps it stay upright and viewable. We would have liked a small groove or tab to make the Alias 2 easier to flip open horizontally, but that's a minor complaint.
On the front of the lid, the 1.3-inch (128 x 125-pixel resolution) display has touch-sensitive media controls, and a 2-megapixel camera. On the left side, you'll find a voice-dialing toggle button, volume controls, a charging port, and a 2.5mm headphone jack. On the right, a hold button is flanked by a power button, and a microSD Card slot (which supports up to 16GB).
The back of the Alias 2 has a ridged battery cover, which provides good grip. When you flip the phone open, you'll find a large 2.6-inch, 320 x 240 resolution display that's ideal for either horizontal or vertical viewing.
Instead of trying to cram text and numbers together on a small keyboard (as the original Alias did), the Alias 2 uses E-Ink technology to exchange text and numbers as needed. This is the same technology e-readers such as theAmazon Kindleuse, and it consumes less power (and unlit keyboards don't use any power). If you're placing a phone call, the white keyboard displays only small black numbers. When you're typing a text message, you can toggle the letter buttons to view a full QWERTY, making the numbers disappear. Switching back and forth becomes pretty addictive.
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The white keys are backlit, which makes the black text easier to read; and the buttons are soft and easy to type on. When you open the phone vertically, as you would a standard clamshell, the soft buttons aren't as close to the screen as we're used to seeing them. The send/end keys, and the directional pad are awkwardly far from the display, so there's a bit of a learning curve, even for owners of the first Alias. Also, it has quick launch keys for Bluetooth, your sound profile, alarm clock, games, messages, and more.
In messaging mode, the phone defaults to a number pad rather than the full QWERTY keyboard. Although it's easy to toggle, we think it should switch automatically to the latter, because it should assume that we're typing a text in this mode, and not dialing out. When you launch the messaging app, the phone switches to a QWERTY layout, which is helpful. Also, the directional pad is now on the right side of the phone, instead of the left (as it was on the original Alias).
The default classroom-themed My Place user interface is annoying to navigate, despite the fun animations. A compass on a shelf indicates navigation, recent calls are scrawled in chalk on a blackboard, and the computer denotes e-mail. We turned off that theme in favor of Verizon Wireless' standard icon layout, which is easier to navigate quickly. Adults might find the school setting a bit childish, and, we imagine, a younger messaging audience probably won't want to see a classroom during the summer.
Music and Video
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Although it lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack, the Samsung Alias 2 is a good multimedia phone. You can purchase tracks over the air from the VCast Music store for an expensive $1.99 each, or load your own via the microSD slot. While playing Zac Brown Band's "Whatever It Is," the speakers were loud enough that a friend nearby was surprised by their volume. The external music controls are useful for switching tracks, but we couldn't launch the music player from that screen.
A streaming video of Green Day's "Last of the American Girls" from VCast Video started playing in about 5 seconds. You can also view full episodes of popular TV shows such as Lost, but the episode is broken down into 8-minute segments. While the experience was fluid without interruption, and the audio was good, the picture was a little pixelated.
The Web browser is buried inside the Media Center, and it defaults to Verizon Wireless' VZW Today screen. To enter a URL, after you click Menu > Enter URL, it loads a separate search screen, which takes another 2 to 3 seconds; it's a bit tedious. M.CNN.com loaded in 4 seconds, m.ESPN.com loaded in 5 seconds, and m.NYT.com loaded in 6 seconds, which is on a par with most 3G messaging phones.
The Alias 2 excels at messaging. We had no trouble firing off texts with its keyboard. The device supports visual voicemail, e-mail from AIM, AOL, Windows Live, Yahoo, and IMAP/POP accounts. We set up our Gmail account in less than five minutes, and you can set it to alert you of new messages. The phone supports AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo chat accounts, which will also alert you of incoming messages.
If you want to use this messaging device as a corporate e-mail tool, the RemoSync application ($9.99 per month) ties in with Microsoft Exchange Server for your e-mail, calendar, and contacts.
Verizon Wireless includes its VZ Navigator software ($2.99 per day, $9.99 per month) on the Alias 2, which you can use for local search, and turn-by-turn directions with live traffic updates. We created a route from our house in Long Beach, N.Y. to the train station in about 15 seconds. VZ Navigator runs in the horizontal and vertical modes, too, so you can set it up on your dash for widescreen navigation in the horizontal mode. Surprisingly, the phone was able to locate us in Manhattan as well, a feat that most phones struggle with as a result of the canyons made by skyscrapers.
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The Alias 2's relatively simple 2-MP camera is nothing to call home about, but it takes Facebook-worthy photos. A pink cupcake was a bit blurry with noticeable pixelation at the edges, and the colors were washed out. A shot of the streets of New York City was decent, but the whiteness of clouds was blown out, making it hard to see the blue sky. Video quality was poor with noticeable artifacts in a small clip taken inside our office, but audio came through well.
Call Quality and Battery Life
During our testing period with the Alias 2, we experienced exceptional call quality. Voices came through loud and clear. Calls left on our phone's answering machine from outside sounded excellent; we couldn't hear any background noise in the recording, despite the whirr of cars, and the chatter of people nearby.
We made it through a full day, including 2 hours of listening to music, before the phone's battery depleted. With moderate use, you'll likely recharge it at least every other day.
Priced at $79.99, the Alias 2 is in the same league as excellent clamshell devices such as the LG Chocolate 3 (which costs just $10 more), and other full QWERTY messaging devices such as the enV2 (which costs $10 less). Both of those phones are excellent choices for different reasons, and the Alias 2 is a good combination of both forms. You'll lose the 3.5mm headphone jack and the rounded look of the Chocolate 3, but you also ditch the enV2's toylike faade. If you want a good messaging phone that offers great call quality, the Alias 2 is a good bet; just expect a bit of a learning curve as you get used to its E-Ink keyboard.