Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II (Verizon) review:

Midrange messaging phone with great call quality

The front-facing camera has fewer features, but sports the same exposure meter, timer, compositional line option, image qualities, and geotagging preferences. There is an added option to save a photo as flipped. Video-recording features are the same as the camera features, except there are two shooting modes.

Photo quality was impressive and consistent. In outdoor scenes with ample lighting, objects throughout the whole photo were in focus with defined edges. For the most part, colors were true to life. However, with very bright colors (a flower, for example), hues can look oversaturated. Indoor images with dimmer lighting fared a bit worse. Objects looked grainier, but generally were still in focus.

Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II (outdoor)
Though the flowers are in focus and clear in this outdoor shot, the bright pink hue is washed out. Lynn La/CNET
Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II (indoor)
Objects, like the chair and the small table, appeared understandably grainier in this dimmer indoor shot. Lynn La/CNET
Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, objects were in focus, but there is a subtle yellow tinge across the white background. James Martin/CNET

Video was also perfectly adequate. There was little to no lag between my moving the camera and the feedback I saw, and nearby audio was picked up well. Colors were accurate, though bright whites did look a bit washed out. Finally, both moving and still objects looked sharp with little pixelation or blurriness.

I tested the Stratosphere II in CNET's San Francisco offices, and call quality was excellent. Audio didn't cut in and out, none of my calls dropped, and during times of absolute silence, I didn't hear any static noise. My friends sounded clear, and maximum volume was appropriately loud. Speaker quality on high volume did come off tinny and harsh, but overall, it was great.

Likewise, my friends reported that I sounded good as well. They said that my voice was loud and easy to hear, they didn't hear any static on their end, and there was no extraneous buzzing.

Listen now: Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II call quality sample

The device operates on Verizon's 4G LTE network, and data speeds were adequately fast. On average, it loaded both CNET and The New York Times' mobile sites and full desktop sites in 6 seconds and 15 seconds, respectively. ESPN's mobile site took 6 seconds as well, and its full site loaded in 9 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 2.73Mbps down and 4.24Mbps up. It also took about a minute and 28 seconds to download the 23.32MB game Temple Run.

Performance: Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II
Average 4G LTE download speed 2.73Mpbs
Average 4G LTE upload speed 4.24Mbps
App download (Temple Run) 23.32MB in 1 minute and 28 seconds
CNET mobile site load 6 seconds
CNET desktop site load 15 seconds
Power-off and restart time 50 seconds
Camera boot time 2.8 seconds

Powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, the handset runs smoothly enough, but it isn't the most impressively swift phone I've experienced. Don't get me wrong, the majority of tasks, especially the simple ones like navigating the app drawer and flipping through the home screen pages, were executed fine. But other actions did take a few moments to carry out -- namely, switching from portrait to landscape mode when opening up the keyboard, launching the camera, and clicking the shutter button continuously. On average, the camera took about 2.8 seconds to launch and it took about 50 seconds to restart the phone entirely.

Riptide GP, a graphics-intensive game, didn't stall during gameplay, nor did it unexpectedly quit or stutter at all. Though it's understandable that I saw higher frame rates on top-tier devices like the Nexus 4, graphics on the Stratosphere II were fairly smooth.

The handset's 1,800mAh battery has a reported talk time of 17 hours when 3G is enabled and 15 hours with 4G. During our battery drain test for video playback, it lasted 11.63 hours. Anecdotally, it had respectable battery life. It charges fairly quickly, and after a 30-minute conversation, the reserves had only drained about 3 percent. However, with heavy usage and the screen brightness cranked all the way up, you'll undoubtedly need a charge to make it through the workday. According to FCC radiation standards, the Stratosphere II has a digital SAR rating of 0.37W/kg.

If a QWERTY keyboard isn't your top priority, I suggest the Droid Razr HD or the HTC Droid DNA over the Stratosphere II. Yes, at the time of this review they're $20 and $70 bucks more, respectively, but the Razr HD is a speedy performer, with a beautiful screen and a high-end design, while the latter is simply one of our favorite Android phones to date.

However, if you're in the market for a Verizon handset with a physical keyboard, I'd choose the Stratosphere II over the Motorola Droid 4. Though it is indeed currently $50 cheaper, the Droid 4 is also an older phone, and has the same size screen despite a bulkier construction, and while it does have a more powerful 8-megapixel camera, the difference in photo quality isn't drastic.

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