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So long as you have a constant data connection and a bit of patience, the Samsung Galaxy Admire 2 (also known as the Axiom for U.S. Cellular) is a pretty good little smartphone for Cricket's lineup.
Compact, heavy, and a spitting image of last year's flagship Galaxy S3, the Admire 2 is nevertheless a smooth, polished Android 4.1 showing that has the added benefits of 4G LTE support, Cricket's Muve Music service, and a quite decent camera.
For $249.99 off-contract (or $11 down and $11 per month for 23 months), it's one of the priciest Cricket Muve Music phones around, but it's a significant savings over the higher-powered, but also much more costly Samsung Galaxy S4 ($580 in all) and Galaxy S3 ($480).
Music-loving Cricket customers should consider the likable Admire 2, but also be aware of its flaws: namely, the carrier's limited 4G footprint, and a frequently unstable music service that's overdue for an overhaul.
Design and build
If you're wondering how the Admire 2 compares with Samsung's original Admire, forget it. The two phones are like night and day. It's better if you see the Admire 2 as a modified Galaxy S3 Mini (which, of course, is already a heavily modified S3).
Samsung starts with a hefty (4.8-ounce!), compact pill-shaped body that stands 4.8 inches tall, 2.6 inches wide and 0.48 inch thick. Shiny blue-gray accents brighten up the illusion of brushed metal all over the smooth, high-gloss surfaces. The phone fits well in the hand and is short enough for my pockets, though its girth gives it a noticeably bulkier fit.
Running the risk of sounding like a broken record here, the phone's weight-to-size ratio makes it feel heavy when you're holding it up to your ear, or even when it's in your hand for awhile. However, it didn't make much of a difference in my already stout purse, and when I slipped it into a hoodie or sweatshirt pocket while playing tunes, I barely noticed it was there.
Smaller than today's 5-inch jumbo screens, the 4-inch WVGA on the Admire 2 here offers enough screen space to get things done, though the virtual keyboard is a little more cramped than the current fashion. Luckily, word tracing is built in.
The 800x480-pixel resolution doesn't hold up against top-tier HD phones when it comes to absolute image clarity, but there's nothing at all wrong with the 233 pixel count. One thing I will say is that the screen looked a bit dim on automatic settings, and I did transition to manual controls, especially in brighter surroundings.
Like the Galaxy S3, navigation takes place with the multifunction Home button (which also operates recent tabs, Google Now, and S Voice), and two backlit capacitive buttons that dim from view. There's a front-facing camera set next to an array of sensors, and around the spines are the volume rocker, power/lock button, microSD card, headset jack, and Micro-USB port.
On the back live the 5-megapixel camera and flash; the Micro-SIM card hides out beneath the back cover.
OS and apps
An Android 4.1 Jelly Bean phone, Samsung adds its typical TouchWiz OS on top. Like the design, this interface is last year's model, and doesn't have quite the number of assets found in top-tier phones like the Galaxy S4. Don't let that worry you. You'll still be able to gain quick access to system controls, use NFC and S Beam, and turn the phone into a hot spot (with the right kind of plan).
Cricket's Muve Music service is an enormous ingredient in the phone's appeal. Stitched into the monthly Android rate plan, the Muve app lets you download an "unlimited" number of songs and ringtones -- so long as you keep paying your bill, and until you run out of room on the microSD card (you can have up to 64GB to play with, so really, do your worst).
There's a radio station element as well in MyDJ, and social networking tie-ins.
The problem is that navigation can be a little clumsy and the software is overdue for a major upgrade. Worst of all, the Muve Music app frequently halts, crashes, and doesn't recover until you close it down or reboot the phone.
I still think that Muve is a genius addition that gives the Cricket customer an enormous value, but it's time for Cricket to reinvest in its third-party software partner. A flagship product like this one requires tending and forward progress.
Cameras and video
I've said it before: Samsung knows a thing or two about cameras, so that even its 5-megapixel shooter -- a little "low" in output compared with increasingly common 13-megapixel images -- can churn out clear, detailed, and satisfying shots. Photos taken indoors and outside focused quickly and delivered strong colors and textures.
Some color tones looked a little off, and photos taken indoors under artificial lighting conditions weren't as clear. Overall, pictures are dynamic enough to share online and with friends, though you may not feel inspired to frame them for your wall.
Video capture with the 720p HD camcorder also turned in a solid performance, adjusting lighting and focus even in changing scenes. Audio capture on the Admire 2 was a weaker point, so keep that in mind when making home movies of objects far away, or of more cacophonous situations.
The reliable (if not astounding) image quality carries over to self-portraits on the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. Use this for soft-focus pictures and video chats. Colors and lined edges are pretty good for this caliber phone, which is all you really need to know, even if there are some issues with uneven exposure and graininess, which plagues every front-facing camera I've tried to varying degrees.
Samsung hands out plenty of presets and options for white balance, resolution, and effects. You can choose panorama mode and any number of presets for sports and landscapes, people, sunset, and night scenes, to name a few.
I tested the Samsung Galaxy Admire 2 in San Francisco using Cricket's roaming network (CDMA 850/1900/1700/2100MHz). Call quality was...strange. Voices were dull and muted on both sides, and volume was a little low on my end. My caller's voice sounded distant and muffled; it was very hard to distinguish syllables, and voices completely lost that crisp snap. On his end, volume was higher, but my partner said I sounded like I was speaking from within a tin can. on both sides, the line was entirely clear of background noise, with no hisses or crackles to be heard.
Samsung Galaxy Admire 2 call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone surprisingly yielded a richer speaking experience than the standard earpiece. It was louder to my ears, and more natural-sounding, but it crackled whenever my calling partner spoke. According to my caller, volume took a hit, but my voice also sounded slightly clearer, and slightly less muffled.
Performance: Speed, data, battery
Between the 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon and the 3G speeds I encountered, everything on the Admire 2 takes a little longer to accomplish.
Cricket's 4G footprint is still a bit limited, so if you're outside that area, you'll be in the service of 3G if there's no zippy Wi-Fi connection around. Web sites took a long time to load -- minutes versus seconds -- and the camera meditated for a full 3 seconds with autofocus (but no flash) before taking shots (some snap as quickly as 0.7 second).
Here's the time it took to do common tasks:
|Samsung Galaxy Admire 2||Cricket Wireless (3G)|
|Install CNET mobile app (5MB)||5 minutes, 14 seconds|
|Load up CNET mobile app||14 seconds|
|CNET mobile site load||22 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||30 seconds|
|Boot time to lock screen||30 seconds|
|Camera boot time||2.2 seconds|
|Camera, shot-to-shot time||3 seconds with auto-focus|
Over Wi-Fi or faster 4G (LTE bands 2/4/5/12), data performance jumps up a few notches.
In terms of storage and memory, the Admire 2 is outfitted with 1.5GB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, and room for a 64GB microSD card. (Muve-acquired music lives on the device if it has more than 4GB of available internal memory).
Battery life lasted the usual 8-to-5 work day on the phone's 2,100mAh battery. Rated battery tests suggest it will last up to 11 hours during a call and up to 12.5 days on standby. During our test for continuous video playback, the battery lasted 10.47 hours. FCC radiation tests measure a digital SAR of 0.77 watt per kilogram.
Buy it or skip it?
Cricket customers looking for an in-betweener Android would do well with the Admire 2. Its form may not captivate like its closest competitor, the HTC One SV, but the Admire 2's screen and photo quality win out over style and grace, and it also ships with Android 4.1 instead of Android 4.0. Although 4.1 is already two versions behind the times, you don't lose the most important Android capabilities, like Google Now and navigation.
Cricket needs to solve snags in its aging Muve Music software and extend its 4G footprint. If you're willing to switch carriers (and forego Muve Music), you can buy US Cellular's LG Splendor prepaid for $229, MetroPCS' LG Optimus L9 for $119, Virgin Mobile's Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE for $199 (reviewed here for Sprint), and Boost Mobile's Samsung Galaxy S2 4G for $200.