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

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MSRP: $449.99

The Good The Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II 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.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

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).

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.

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).