Thick, durable, and up to speed on military specification for dust, humidity, temperature, altitude, and a host of other elements, the Samsung Convoy 2 flip phone for Verizon updates the design of its predecessor, the original Samsung Convoy. While it's a more attractive flip phone to our eyes, the latest model of the durable, push-to-talk handset seems less rugged now that it's lost its rubberized sidings.
Although we have misgivings about dropping the thing from great heights, the Convoy 2 does have some nice features that make it more than just a sturdy handset. The Convoy 2 costs $79.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate and with a new two-year contract.
Thick and substantial in the hand, the Samsung Convoy 2 advertizes its durability in its design: large, square buttons; dark, hard plastic; sturdy hinge; dimpled finish. The Convoy 2 stands 3.9 inches tall, measures 2 inches wide, and is a brawny 0.9-inch thick. It weighs a solid 3.9 ounces for its size, but feels comfortable on the ear. It might be a tad thick for more tailored pockets.
This Convoy sequel loses the rubberized sidings from the previous model, which aided in grip and insulating the phone from bang-ups and falls. It seems tough enough when we knock it against a table, but we're not convinced that the new, all-plastic design will stand up to serious impact.
As did the original Convoy before it, the Convoy 2 has a 1.3-inch external CSTN display (128x128-pixel resolution), with support for 65,000 colors. While you won't be able to customize much, you will be able to use the controls just below the screen, along with the volume rocker, to access an abridged menu that pulls up messages, voice commands, and a long list of other shortcuts. Other times, the three hardware buttons act as music controls to go forward, back, play, and pause a track.
Above the small screen on the Convoy's closed face is a 3.2-megapixel camera/camcorder with flash. On the right spine, plastic covers conceal a Micro-USB charging port. Unfortunately, Samsung has stubbornly stuck to the outdated 2.5-millimeter headset jack instead of the standard 3.5-millimeter jack. There's also a speakerphone button on the side.
On the left, you'll see a red button that serves as a programmable convenience key in regular cellular mode, and as the push-to-talk key when you're in that mode (turn on PTT through the Settings.) Below that is a wide enough, but rather shallow volume rocker that's a little tough to locate by feel (especially with gloved hands.) You'll also find the covered Micro-USB card slot that takes up to 32GB.
Flipped open, you'll see the Convoy's 2.2-inch internal QVGA display (320x240 pixels) with support for 262,000 colors. It's a pretty standard resolution for the screen size, and one that delivers predictable levels of sharpness and vibrancy. Familiarity is no crime; the same Verizon menu we've seen for years makes navigation a snap.
Below the screen, the roomy navigation area and dial pad are even better, with large, ridged keys that rise above the surface. Fully separated keys would be easier for dialing by feel, but feeling where the raised edges stop and start works, too. The Convoy 2 has a shortcut button dedicated to launching the camera and camcorder, and another one that turns on voice commands, and also turns the camera flash into a bright flashlight (just press and hold.)
The back cover is pretty plain, save the metal "screw-top" panel that protects the battery from Mother Nature's more tricky conditions. It's easy enough to screw off with a fingernail or a coin, no special equipment necessary.
The Convoy 2's phone book is 1,000 contacts deep, with room enough for multiple phone numbers and e-mail addresses, an IM name, a photo ID, a calling group, and one of 21 ringtones, plus silent mode. You can customize the message tone as well.
As with any rugged phone, some of the most impressive features account for resistance to shock, altitude, temperature, radiation, humidity, sand and dust, and so on. In addition to that, the Convoy 2 includes push-to-talk mode.
There are other creature comforts as well. In the phone book, Samsung includes contact backup and in-case-of-emergency (ICE) numbers. There's text and photo messaging, mobile e-mail, an HTML Web browser, and a music player. There are voice commands, as well, and access to VZ Navigator and VCast Video. Universal search is also included, as is a storefront for downloading more apps, like Bing search and Uno.
Of course, the Convoy 2 also has essential tools like a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stop watch, a world clock, and a memo pad.
The camera display is messy, but navigable, and there are options for choosing one of five shooting modes, four resolutions (from 3.2 megapixels to 0.3 megapixel), four flash settings, five white balance presets, four effects, and so on. The camcorder shares many of the same settings, but can also limit your shooting resolution to better fit into a video message. It's got a tiny 128MB of internal storage for photos and video, but the microSD card will hold up to 32GB.
As for the image quality itself, color fidelity was pretty good if not perfectly rich for all shades. While some pictures we took were spot-on in focus, others were off. Manually focusing on such a small view finder is tough, and you may find you need to work harder to hold the camera still.
While video volume is serviceable, the playback was shaky and pixelated. That's to be expected from a phone of this class, so we can't hold it too much against Samsung; although we'd love to be pleasantly surprised.
We tested the dual-core Samsung Convoy 2 (CDMA 800/1900) in the San Francisco Bay Area on Verizon's network. Call quality was adequate overall, although we did notice some cut-outs and bleeps of digital distortion. On our end, caller volume was strong and voices sounded fairly faithful, although the voice clarity sounded muddy to our ears. On their end, callers described our voice as "warbly," fluctuating at frequencies. For both sides, the call quality improved over the duration of the call. We were unable to test the push-to-talk feature at this time.
Speakerphone quality was poor. Voice timbre sounded robotic and unnatural to our ears, in addition to hollow. Even with the volume boosted all the way, conversation was difficult to make out. Our friends had better luck. They noted the customary echo, but said they could tell it was us talking.
Samsung Convoy 2 call quality sample Listen now:
We had good 3G (EVDO Rev. A) service during our testing period. On the Internet front, the Convoy 2 comes with the new version of Opera Mini installed--it includes Opera SpeedDial, a Google search bar, and multiple tabs, though on a screen this small we'd recommend keeping your open tabs to a minimum. CNET's mobile-optimized site loaded in about 15 seconds; ESPN's mobile site finished loading in almost half that time, albeit with blurry photos and sketchy text. The Opera browser worked very well in our tests, with plentiful features and settings options for the small screen.
While brawn is generally the most important feature in a rugged phone, the Samsung Convoy 2 also has its share of brains and a certain rugged charm to its thick, boxy clamshell design. Yes, we'd like to see more in the way of rubberized grips, but the phone gets kudos for its up-front music controls, its conveniently placed shortcut keys, and the large, edged key pad that makes dialing easier to achieve with wet or gloved hands. We're not sure if it's laziness or cost that kept Samsung from upgrading the 2.5-millimeter headset jack to a 3.5-millimeter port, but either way, it's a real turnoff for a purported music-friendly phone. The Convoy 2 was satisfying overall, although we had hoped for unimpeachable call quality on a device we can see being required for heavy voice communication. The $80 price tag seems fair, too; however those looking for a seriously heavy-duty handset, or for a rugged smartphone, may want to keep looking.