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Samsung Chrono 2 (U.S. Cellular) review: Samsung Chrono 2 (U.S. Cellular)

Though its design and feature set are from another decade, the Samsung Chrono 2 succeeds at doing what a phone should do.

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Kent German
Kent_German.jpg

Kent German

Senior Managing Editor / Features

Kent is a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and has worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog, or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).

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If phones like the Chrono 2 were your only frame of reference for Samsung, you might think that the company hasn't progressed at all in the last decade. Indeed, Sammy has replicated this simple flip-phone design many times. Like the original Chrono, it has a postage-stamp-size external display, a flat alphanumeric keypad, and a smooth, slender profile that resembles a pebble.

Samsung Chrono 2 (U.S. Cellular)
6.0

Samsung Chrono 2 (U.S. Cellular)

The Good

The <b>Samsung Chrono 2</b> is exceedingly easy to use, its call quality is admirable, and you get the bonus of voice dialing.

The Bad

The Chrono 2 has a flat keypad and you can't change the backlighting time of the external display, and it can't shoot video.

The Bottom Line

Though its design and feature set are from another decade, the Samsung Chrono 2 succeeds at what a phone should do.

Thankfully, Samsung has grown quite a bit in the last 10 years, but it's good to know that the company hasn't completely abandoned the tried and true. Like its many predecessors, the Chrono 2's retro design is perfectly suited for making calls and basic phone functions. No, you don't get the kitchen sink, but you do get a user-friendly phone that does exactly what it's supposed to do.

The Chrono 2, aka the SCH-R270, is available with U.S. Cellular for free by singing a new contract or just $19.99 if you prefer to go prepaid.

Design
I have to admit that in this age where almost everyone has a smartphone, I felt a little strange using the Chrono 2 on the street. Indeed, it's been years since I've owned a flip phone or even had one in for review. Yet, I have to admit that it also left me feeling comfortably nostalgic. Perhaps it was a combination of flipping the phone open, the familiar clacking sound when it closes, or trying to remember how to text using T9 (believe me when I say that T9 isn't like riding a bicycle). Then again, maybe it was the fact that the Chrono 2 is so small (3.79 inches long by 1.88 inches wide by 0.73 inch deep) and lightweight (3.6 ounces) that I forgot I had it in my pocket. As far as I could tell, only one person gave me a weird look when I was using the Chrono 2 to snap photos, but that could have been due to entirely different reasons.

Samsung Chrono 2 (pictures)

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As I mentioned, the Chrono 2's smooth lines and rounded ends will remind you of a small stone that you find on the beach. The red accents add some style to the basic black skin, and I like the textured battery cover. The skin is plastic, so I'd avoid banging the phone around, but the hinge is large and sturdy. The 1.3-inch external display supports full color and you can change the wallpaper and clock style. It shows the date, time, battery, life, and signal strength and you can use it as a viewfinder when taking self-portraits. One word of caution, though, is that the display disappears entirely when the backlighting is off. What's more, you can't change the backlighting time and you have to open the Chrono 2 to get it to get it to light up again (none of the side buttons will activate it).

Above the display is a camera lens and around back is the single speaker. On the left side there's a large volume rocker and a Micro-USB charger port and the right side is the camera shutter and a 3.5mm headset jack. The rear cover is easy to remove, but there's nothing behind it except the 1,000mAh lithium ion battery.

The Chrono 2's keypad is flat, but spacious. Josh Miller/CNET

Inside is a 2.2-inch TFT display. Obviously, its resolution won't blow you away, but it's perfectly fine on such a simple phone. You can change a few options including the backlighting time, the color theme, the wallpaper, and the font size. The menu interface is easy to understand, from the grid of icons on the first page to the simple lists on the internal pages. The navigation array has a rectangular toggle with a central OK button, two soft keys, a clear control, and the Talk and End/power buttons. Though it's a spacious arrangement, all of the keys are flat. It's the same story with the alphanumeric keypad. Though you get a lot of room and the backlit keys are covered in a comfortable rubbery material, it's difficult to dial by feel.

Features
The Chrono 2's phone book holds 1,000 contacts with multiple fields for each entry. You also can save contacts to groups and pair individuals with a photo and one of 26 polyphonic ringtones. Other basic features include speed dialing, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a calendar, a world clock, an alarm clock, a tip calculator, and a unit and currency converter. On the whole, that's everything I expected, but I was glad to find that Samsung also added Bluetooth, USB mass storage, and voice commands and dialing.

The Chrono 2's camera lens lens sits above its external display, which is invisible when the backlighting is off. Josh Miller/CNET

The 1.3-megapixel camera is straight out of 2004. There's no flash and you get just three resolutions, but it also has a decent set of editing options, including a self-timer, three image quality choices, an adjustable white balance, a night mode, 29 frames, a digital zoom, a brightness meter, a mosaic mode, and a series mode. Just keep in mind that not all options are usable at the highest resolution. And in a real blast from the past, the Chrono 2 will not shoot video.

The Web browser is another relic. It shows only the simplest of pages, and you'll wonder how we ever lived in an era of wireless Web browsing without a touch screen. U.S. Cellular also throws in a couple of its own services like its EasyEdge Web portal, a dedicated ringtones store, and a selection of very basic apps like Pac-Man, AccuWeather, and Social Scene. You can buy apps more if you like.

Performance
I tested the dualband (CDMA 800/1900) in San Francisco using U.S. Cellular's roaming network. Call quality was quite enjoyable on the whole. The volume is loud, the signal is clear, and there was little distortion. Some of my friends' voices had a higher pitch than they should, but it was a minor distraction at first. Data comes over the carrier's 2.5G 1xRTT network, so you'll be waiting a long time even when sending a picture message.

Samsung Chrono 2 call quality sample Listen now:

On their end, callers said I sounded fine even if they could tell I was using a cell phone. A couple of people complained of some background noise when I was in a noisy place, but I had no trouble hearing in return. Speakerphone calls were just average, on the other hand. The volume gets loud, but there was an echoed effect on my end. And if I wanted to be heard, I needed to be in a quiet place and have the Chrono 2 right in front of me.

Without a flash, this studio shot is pretty dim. There's also a fair amount of image noise. Kent German/CNET

The Chrono 2's camera mutes colors and it's overpowered by bright light. Kent German/CNET

Distance shots, like this of San Francisco's City Hall, are better. Kent German/CNET

As you can see from the photos, the Chrono 2's image quality is fine for a 1.3-megapixel shooter, but miles away from what you'd expect from any other phone. In this case that's OK since I know that the camera is meant to be nothing more than an afterthought. The same goes for the Chrono 2's bare-bones music player. It works, but don't expect anything else from it. The handset comes with a generous 1GB of internal memory, which should be more than enough.

The handset has a 192MHz processor (they still exist!), but it needs nothing more. Indeed, I quickly navigated through menus and opened and closed apps. During our battery drain test, the Chrono 2 lasted 7.35 hours. According to to FCC radiation tests, the Chrono 2 has a digital SAR of 0.57 watt per kilogram.

Samsung Chrono 2 (U.S. Cellular)
6.0

Samsung Chrono 2 (U.S. Cellular)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 5Performance 7