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Motorola Electrify 2 (U.S. Cellular) review: Motorola Electrify 2 (U.S. Cellular)

Svelte and protected by kevlar, the $199.99 Motorola Electrify 2 is a handsome addition to U.S. Cellular's lineup.

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Brian Bennett
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Brian Bennett

Senior writer

Brian Bennett is a senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET. He reviews a wide range of household and smart-home products. These include everything from cordless and robot vacuum cleaners to fire pits, grills and coffee makers. An NYC native, Brian now resides in bucolic Louisville, Kentucky where he rides longboards downhill in his free time.

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The $199.99 Motorola Electrify 2 for U.S. Cellular has the same sticker price as the Samsung Galaxy S3. Offering the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, a bright 4.3-inch screen, responsive performance, and long battery life, the Electrify 2 would make a very compelling option in a world without Samsung's superphone. Unfortunately for Motorola, shoppers on U.S. Cellular will be hard-pressed to find a reason to choose its phone over the more capable Galaxy S3.

Motorola Electrify 2 (U.S. Cellular)
7.0

Motorola Electrify 2 (U.S. Cellular)

The Good

The <b>Motorola Electrify 2</b> offers Android 4.0, a bright screen, nimble performance, and long battery life in a thin and stylish package.

The Bad

The Electrify 2 lacks 4G data and its camera can't compete with those found on HTC and Samsung phones.

The Bottom Line

The $199.99 Motorola Electrify 2 is a thin, stylish performer on U.S. Cellular, but slow 3G data is its Achilles' heel.

Motorola's sleek and silver Electrify 2 (pictures)

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Design
Motorola definitely didn't depart from its current design philosophy when crafting the Electrify 2. The phone's clean lines and thin, angular chassis make it a close cousin to the Droid Razr and Atrix HD. I do prefer the Electrify 2's elegant silver highlights though to the sober black and dark gray of the Razr or white plastic feel of the Atrix HD (also available in titanium gray).

The Electrify 2 sports attractively angled edges and a silver and black color scheme.

Measuring 5.1 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.3 inch thick at its thinnest point, the Electrify 2 has practically the same small footprint as the Droid Razr. Weighing a mere 4.6 ounces, it's also much more compact and portable than the original Motorola Electrify model.

With a profile reminiscent of the Droid Razr, the Motorola Electrify 2 measures a third of an inch thick.

On the front of the handset is its 4.3-inch LCD with a VGA camera above it. There are no physical or even capacitive buttons here, but three icons running along the screen's bottom edge serve to control main Android functions. Continuing the phone's minimalist aesthetic, the only actual keys are a thin volume rocker on the device's right edge and a power button up top placed next to the 3.5mm headphone jack and Micro-USB port. A flap on the Electrify 2's left side covers slots for micro-SIM and microSD cards. The phone lacks an HDMI port, however, to connect it to HDTVs.

The device features Motorola's signature Kevlar fiber coating around back that's designed to provide a sure grip, plus guard against scratches and prints. Besides offering the cachet of Kevlar, it feels soft and I think futuristic. A hump on back contains the phone's 8-megapixel camera and LED flash. Since the 1,780mAh battery is embedded, you won't find a back plate to remove.

The Electrify 2's back is guarded with Kevlar fiber. Sarah Tew/CNET

Display
In keeping with the company's latest handsets such as the Atrix HD and Photon Q 4G LTE, the Electrify 2's 4.3-inch qHD (960x540-pixel) screen uses what Motorola calls ColorBoost technology, which promises a wider color range than on many Motorola handsets before it. Motorola even claims ColorBoost serves up more colors than the iPhone 4S.

Indeed the display does look very bright and produces natural hues. When stacked up against the HTC One V and Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the difference was clear. With all three phones set to maximum brightness, the One V's LCD screen appeared slightly green while the Galaxy Nexus' AMOLED display pumped up reds a bit too much. That said, the greater resolution of the Nexus' screen created sharper details while its higher contrast produced pleasingly deep blacks.

Features
Though its price places it at the top of U.S. Cellular's hardware lineup, the Motorola Electrify 2 is moderately appointed but not brimming with bells and whistles. For instance the device lacks a 4G data connection, and has no NFC chip to support short-range wireless transmission via Android Beam. These are all capabilities the Samsung Galaxy S3 (U.S. Cellular) offers for the same price.

That said, the Electrify runs the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS that provides a modern mobile computing experience. Rousing the handset from sleep launches its lock screen, which displays time and date in a slim and attractive font. You can also switch sound on or off by sliding a switch at the top of the screen. Placed at the center of the display is a flashing key symbol that you drag right to unlock the device. Pulling the key left, up, or down will launch the camera, phone, or messaging function respectively.

As an Android smartphone the Electrify 2 brings to the table support for all of Google's popular services, such as Gmail and Google+, along with Google Play stores for music, books, and movies. Motorola has added a version of its special UI, formerly known as Motoblur, on top of Android, but on the Electrify 2 its influence is much less evident than on other devices. Unlike on the Atrix HD and Photon Q 4G LTE, there isn't the option to add extra home screens (up to seven) to supplement the Electrify 2's standard supply of five.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich provides easier access to widgets in the application tray.

There's a modest selection of third-party apps preloaded such as the Kindle e-book reader, the Audible audiobook subscription service, and Amazon MP3 music. The Electrify 2's application tray has standard U.S. Cellular software too, such as Daily Perks for news and weather, and Mobile TV, which provides both live programming and full TV episodes and movies. Taking a page from other mobile carriers, the service adds an extra $9.99 per month to your bill. It's basically a ploy designed to soak up your data ration like a thirsty sponge since the app won't connect over Wi-Fi.

The 8MP main camera boasts plenty of scene modes and fun filters.

One feature Motorola talks up a lot is its Smart Actions app. Essentially, the software is meant to automate and implement smartphone functions to improve performance. If Smart Actions detects your Wi-Fi network it assumes you're home and that it makes more sense to connect to your router than via the nearest cell tower. Smart Actions will suggest other efficiency tactics, and you can also use the software to create your own rules for phone behavior. It's a nice idea in theory, but many times Smart Actions suggested or even forcibly connected to my Wi-Fi even after I repeatedly chose not to.

Camera
Based on my experience with the Atrix HD and Photon Q 4G LTE, I expected to be underwhelmed by the Motorola Electrify 2's camera. To the contrary, while indoor still-life shots were slightly on the dark side, colors were well-saturated. With the option to take either full 8MP or 6MP pictures to match the handset's wide-screen display, detail was relatively clear and sharp. Of course, other phones such as the HTC One V, though using a 5MP sensor, took images with more lifelike color.

Still-life shots were dark but colors were saturated. Brian Bennett/CNET

Moving outside, pictures I snapped in strong sunshine were also pleasing, with brighter colors and adequate details. Video quality wasn't spectacular; test movies I captured weren't as smooth as I would like, lurching from time to time during playback.

Flowers also had pleasing color. Brian Bennett/CNET

Motorola Electrify 2
The camera was fast enough to capture the action. Brian Bennett/CNET

Performance
Powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM, the Motorola Electrify 2 felt very quick on its feet. The phone flipped through menus and home screens and launched applications with no noticeable delay. That said, while Motorola has not confirmed the make and model of the handset's CPU, the Electrify 2 didn't impress when running the Linpack benchmark. It managed a low 71.5 MFLOPs, taking a long 2.36 seconds to do so. Still, that's double the score the HTC One V turned in on the same test.

Testing the Motorola Electrify 2 in New York and roaming on Sprint's CDMA network, call quality was decent but not outstanding. Callers reported that my voice sounded flat and they could immediately identify that I was using a cell phone. That said, they didn't hear any static, hiss, or other abnormalities. Voices piped through the phone's earpiece were clear but volume was on the low end even when set to maximum. The speakerphone, however, fooled callers into thinking we were speaking through the earpiece.

Motorola Electrify 2 call quality sample Listen now:

If you plan to rely on the Motorola Electrify 2 to provide a blazing-fast mobile data connection, you're in for a rude awakening. The phone is only capable of latching onto 3G signals and coughed up speeds to match during New York testing. Download throughput barely cracked 1.6Mbps while upload speeds plodded along at a slow 0.8Mbps.

Despite its thin size, the Electrify 2's 1,780mAh lithium polymer battery helped it demonstrate impressive longevity. It played an HD video file for a long 7 hours and 51 minutes continuously during anecdotal testing. That's longer than the HTC One V managed (6 hours and 4 minutes) but nowhere close to the Samsung Galaxy S3's fantastic stamina (9 hours and 24 minutes).

Conclusion
The $199.99 Motorola Electrify 2 takes a lot of Motorola's current design DNA and expresses it by being slim, stylish, lightweight, and eye-catching. The problem is it costs the same as Samsung's Galaxy S3 superphone and, as you might guess, the GS3 is the much wiser choice. While the Electrify 2's screen is bright, its 4.8-inch qHD (960x540-pixel) resolution LCD screen can't stand up to the Galaxy S3's 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED (1,280x720-pixel) display, which is both sharper and higher-contrast. The Galaxy S3 also boasts a faster processor and twice the RAM, not to mention a better camera and longer battery life. Simply put, the Electrify 2 might make sense at $99.99 perhaps, but not for much more. Also, compared with the Electrify 2, the $99 HTC One V is a smaller and more affordable U.S. Cellular option. I'd choose the HTC One V over the Electrify if you would rather have a more compact device that matches the Electrify's stylish construction but costs $100 less.

Motorola Electrify 2 (U.S. Cellular)
7.0

Motorola Electrify 2 (U.S. Cellular)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 7