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Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II (Verizon) review: Midrange messaging phone with great call quality

With its comfortable QWERTY keyboard, decent 5-megapixel camera, and 4G LTE connectivity, the Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II is ideal for texting enthusiasts on the go.

Lynn La
Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
4 min read

While the midtier Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II doesn't have the chops to be a high-end flagship phone, its reliable performance and graciously spaced keyboard do make this 4G LTE device stellar (forgive me, but I had to).


Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II (Verizon)

The Good

The <b>Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II</b> has a comfortable five-row keyboard, NFC, a decent 5-megapixel camera, and 4G LTE.

The Bad

The Stratosphere II's slick coating makes opening the keyboard tricky, the display has a subtle blue tint, and some tasks took a noticeable amount of time to execute.

The Bottom Line

Although it isn't banging on all cylinders when it comes to top-tier specs, the Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II's reliable performance makes it the QWERTY keyboard phone to buy on Verizon.

All jokes aside, this handset is great for those looking for a keyboard handset on Verizon. Currently priced at $129.99 after users sign a two-year contract, the Stratosphere II offers up Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, an adequate 5-megapixel shooter, and respectable call quality. Not to mention, a few extra goodies like NFC give it that extra oomph to make it a worthy midrange candidate.

The Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II sports the familiar Galaxy aesthetic, complete with severely rounded corners and a long rectangular body. A chrome strip wraps around the edges of the device, and overall, it has a curvy, pebblelike shape.

It measures 4.97 inches tall and 2.58 inches wide, and due to its sliding keyboard underneath, has a thick 0.53-inch profile. At 5.43 ounces, it's on the heavy side, with a dense, solid construction.

Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II
The Stratosphere II sports a five-row keyboard, which includes navigational arrows and shortcut buttons. James Martin/CNET

On the left is a volume rocker. Up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack, and at the bottom is a Micro-USB port for charging. The right houses a sleep/power button that can be hard to find by feel since it's small and flush with the rest of the handset's surface.

The back, which has a subtle diamond pattern, houses a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash. Below it are two small slits for the audio speaker. Using a small indent up top, you can pry off the plastic back plate and get access to the battery and the microSD card, which is expandable up to 32GB.

The 4-inch display is bright and responsive, requiring only light flicks and taps of a finger to register. However, as with most Super AMOLED displays, colors can appear oversaturated, especially blue and green hues. It has a 800x480-pixel resolution, so don't expect the crispiest experience. I noticed that even default wallpaper images looked grainy.

Above the screen are an in-ear speaker and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. Below are four hot keys (back, home, recent apps, and menu) that light up white when in use.

Underneath the display is the five-row keyboard. Though the snapping mechanism is sturdy, it does require a bit of muscle to push open. Also, the device itself is very slick and smooth, so you'll have to be careful that it doesn't slip out of your hands while you access the keyboard. The buttons are both generously spaced and sized and even though they sit flush with the surface, they're still easy to press. The keyboard includes four navigational arrows, and shortcuts for opening up messages, search, and Web browsing.

Lift off with the Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II (pictures)

See all photos

Software and features
The phone runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and packs numerous Google apps such as Gmail, Plus, Latitude, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, portals to Play Books, Magazines, Movies and TV, Music, and Store, Google Talk, Search, and YouTube.

Basic task management apps include a native browser and e-mail client, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a memo pad, music and video players, and a voice recorder.

Verizon loaded some of its own apps as well. These consist of its app store, mobile hot-spotting, My Verizon Mobile (through which you can check your account and data profile), the carrier's ringtone store, voice mail, the media portal Media Hub, and VZ navigator for maps. There's also the voice assistant S Voice.

Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II
The handset features Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and Samsung's TouchWiz interface. James Martin/CNET

Other apps include Amazon's Store, Kindle, and MP3, Audible for audiobooks, IMDb, two games (Let's Golf 3 and Plants vs. Zombies), NFL Mobile, the mobile office suite Quickoffice, Slacker Radio, and Zappos.

Additional features include NFC (and S Beam), Bluetooth 4.0, and 8GB of internal memory.

Camera and video
Camera features include a flash; a 4x digital zoom; four shooting modes, which include panorama and cartoon; four photo effects; 14 scene modes; an exposure meter; touch, auto, and macro focus; a timer; six photo sizes (from 640x480 pixels to 2,560x1,920 pixels); five white balances; four ISO options; three metering choices; compositional lines; three image qualities; and geotagging.

Video options are two shooting modes; a flash; the same effects, exposure meter, digital zoom, white balances, compositional lines, and qualities as the camera; a timer; and four resolutions (320x240 pixels to 1,280x720 pixels).

The front-facing camera has fewer features, but sports the same exposure meter, timer, compositional line option, image qualities, and geotagging preferences. There is an added option to save a photo as flipped. Video-recording features are the same as the camera features, except there are two shooting modes.

Photo quality was impressive and consistent. In outdoor scenes with ample lighting, objects throughout the whole photo were in focus with defined edges. For the most part, colors were true to life. However, with very bright colors (a flower, for example), hues can look oversaturated. Indoor images with dimmer lighting fared a bit worse. Objects looked grainier, but generally were still in focus.

Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II (outdoor)
Though the flowers are in focus and clear in this outdoor shot, the bright pink hue is washed out. Lynn La/CNET

Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II (indoor)
Objects, like the chair and the small table, appeared understandably grainier in this dimmer indoor shot. Lynn La/CNET

Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, objects were in focus, but there is a subtle yellow tinge across the white background. James Martin/CNET

Video was also perfectly adequate. There was little to no lag between my moving the camera and the feedback I saw, and nearby audio was picked up well. Colors were accurate, though bright whites did look a bit washed out. Finally, both moving and still objects looked sharp with little pixelation or blurriness.

I tested the Stratosphere II in CNET's San Francisco offices, and call quality was excellent. Audio didn't cut in and out, none of my calls dropped, and during times of absolute silence, I didn't hear any static noise. My friends sounded clear, and maximum volume was appropriately loud. Speaker quality on high volume did come off tinny and harsh, but overall, it was great.

Likewise, my friends reported that I sounded good as well. They said that my voice was loud and easy to hear, they didn't hear any static on their end, and there was no extraneous buzzing.

Listen now: Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II call quality sample <="" p="">

The device operates on Verizon's 4G LTE network, and data speeds were adequately fast. On average, it loaded both CNET and The New York Times' mobile sites and full desktop sites in 6 seconds and 15 seconds, respectively. ESPN's mobile site took 6 seconds as well, and its full site loaded in 9 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 2.73Mbps down and 4.24Mbps up. It also took about a minute and 28 seconds to download the 23.32MB game Temple Run.

Performance: Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II
Average 4G LTE download speed 2.73Mpbs
Average 4G LTE upload speed 4.24Mbps
App download (Temple Run) 23.32MB in 1 minute and 28 seconds
CNET mobile site load 6 seconds
CNET desktop site load 15 seconds
Power-off and restart time 50 seconds
Camera boot time 2.8 seconds

Powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, the handset runs smoothly enough, but it isn't the most impressively swift phone I've experienced. Don't get me wrong, the majority of tasks, especially the simple ones like navigating the app drawer and flipping through the home screen pages, were executed fine. But other actions did take a few moments to carry out -- namely, switching from portrait to landscape mode when opening up the keyboard, launching the camera, and clicking the shutter button continuously. On average, the camera took about 2.8 seconds to launch and it took about 50 seconds to restart the phone entirely.

Riptide GP, a graphics-intensive game, didn't stall during gameplay, nor did it unexpectedly quit or stutter at all. Though it's understandable that I saw higher frame rates on top-tier devices like the Nexus 4, graphics on the Stratosphere II were fairly smooth.

The handset's 1,800mAh battery has a reported talk time of 17 hours when 3G is enabled and 15 hours with 4G. During our battery drain test for video playback, it lasted 11.63 hours. Anecdotally, it had respectable battery life. It charges fairly quickly, and after a 30-minute conversation, the reserves had only drained about 3 percent. However, with heavy usage and the screen brightness cranked all the way up, you'll undoubtedly need a charge to make it through the workday. According to FCC radiation standards, the Stratosphere II has a digital SAR rating of 0.37W/kg.

If a QWERTY keyboard isn't your top priority, I suggest the Droid Razr HD or the HTC Droid DNA over the Stratosphere II. Yes, at the time of this review they're $20 and $70 bucks more, respectively, but the Razr HD is a speedy performer, with a beautiful screen and a high-end design, while the latter is simply one of our favorite Android phones to date.

However, if you're in the market for a Verizon handset with a physical keyboard, I'd choose the Stratosphere II over the Motorola Droid 4. Though it is indeed currently $50 cheaper, the Droid 4 is also an older phone, and has the same size screen despite a bulkier construction, and while it does have a more powerful 8-megapixel camera, the difference in photo quality isn't drastic.


Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II (Verizon)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 8
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