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Samsung Galaxy Admire 2 review: Big on value, with a few hiccups

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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.

The Admire 2 faithfully renders colors and edges. Click for full resolution. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Ripening peppers at high noon. Click for full resolution. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Skin tones look realistic in this shady shot. Click for full resolution. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
This lunch combo looks good enough to eat. Click for full resolution. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
The petals at the center of focus (at the right of the frame) correctly have the most definition. Click for full resolution. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
The camera focused very quickly in this text-heavy shot. Click for full resolution. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
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Exposure was mostly even in this standard studio shot, but a little dark, especially on the right side. Josh Miller/CNET

Call quality
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).

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Results from diagnostic speed and performance tests using and Quadrant apps. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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.

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