Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
We'd like to think that cell phone sequels only improve upon the first hit, but the Samsung Solstice II (SGH-A817) for AT&T mostly rehashes the original Samsung Solstice with a few visual differences--not all of them welcome. The original had much to offer in its prime, like a responsive display and quite good photos. However, the Solstice II feels cheap and it bypasses the opportunity to correct past faults. For instance, it loses the self-portrait mirror, there's still no dedicated headphone jack, and the microSD slot remains inconveniently placed behind the back cover. Still, the 3G Solstice II is fine for new users looking for a touch-screen messaging phone, and it's a solid pick for previous Solstice owners seeking more of the same on a newer handset. It costs only $29.99 with a new two-year service agreement.
Editors' note: Due to some identical features, portions of this review are taken from the review of the Samsung Solstice.
The Solstice II varies from its namesake very little. It's black and silver with rounded corners and measures 4.3 inches tall by 2.1 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick. The Solstice feels solid at 3.4 ounces, yet it's fairly slim and compact, so it's easy to tote around. As with the previous model, we weren't wowed by the Solstice II's looks, but it isn't ugly. We take no issue with the handset's curved lines, although the dimpled, matte silver bezel lacks a premium feel. The Solstice II's soft-touch finish keeps the back cover from getting smudged, but we still prefer the classier look and feel of the original model's leatherette backing.
Samsung has retained the Solstice's 3-inch touch-screen display that supports a 240x400-pixel resolution and 65,000 colors. A larger screen would have been welcome, but the size is just large enough, and the colors appear bold and clear. The sequel model also sports the Samsung TouchWiz 2.0 interface, which features a slide-out tray of icons for quick access to the phone's features. We wish the customization options were more extensive--you're restricted to Samsung's widget choices--but the TouchWiz widget tray is present on all three home screens. As for the menu interface, it's icon-based and intuitive to use. Permanent touch icons on the bottom of the screen open the dialpad, the phone book, and the main menu.
The dialpad and QWERTY keyboard are unchanged from previous Samsung touch-screen models. The dialpad features large alphanumeric numbers for calling and sending texts using T9 predictive text. We prefer to use the full alphabetic keyboard, however. The keys are somewhat small, but you can use T9 here as well. Basic punctuation is surfaced on the primary keyboard, but you must click through to a second keyboard for numbers and symbols.
The Solstice's accelerometer works across many applications. As with other Samsung touch-screen phones, you can switch between the keypad and keyboard by rotating the phone to the left (rotating it to the right will result in an upside-down keyboard). The handset offers a motion-detection feature that will automatically mute a call or an alarm tone when you turn the phone and place it face down on a surface--you can activate it in the settings.
Samsung updated the look of the three physical navigation controls located just below the display. The circular Back button is flanked by the Talk and End buttons. On the right side there's a camera shutter button, a button that pulls up onscreen shortcuts, and the lock button that wakes up the screen. The volume rocker and the combined Micro-USB port and charging jack sit on the left spine. There's a 2-megapixel camera with camcorder on the back, but the Solstice II loses its predecessor's self-portrait mirror. Beneath the back cover is a microSD card slot that holds up to 16GB, though we find the placement awkward.
Each entry in the 2,000-contact address book holds multiple phone numbers and e-mail addresses (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). In addition, there are fields for group calling, a URL, a birthday, a nickname, and a note. The Solstice II appears to have lost its instant messaging handle field, however. You can pair a contact with a photo, and assign one of eight ringtones, other music from your library, or a silent, vibrating mode.
Connectivity options include 3G and Bluetooth. The Solstice II is also GPS-capable. The basics are all there--a calendar, an alarm clock, a note pad, a tip calculator, a to-do list, a unit converter, a world clock, a timer, and a stopwatch. There's also an audio recorder and voice commands (powered by Nuance).
In the communications arena, texting, multimedia messaging, and instant messaging with AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo Messenger are present and accounted for. So are e-mail (AOL mail, Windows Live Hotmail, AT&T Mail, Gmail, other Web mail), Twitter and Facebook social networks, and AT&T video share. Internet is handled by the ATT.net browser.
There's no shortage of AT&T-branded and third-party apps. There's AT&T Navigator, AT&T Maps, Family Map, Where, YP Mobile, My-Cast Weather, Star Tweets, Pic Dial, and mobile banking. The Solstice II also has MobiTV, and a shortcut to search for music videos. A slew of AT&T music apps and services starts with AT&T Mobile Music for $4.99 per month, streaming radio, AT&T Radio, and MusicID, a song-identification service. There's also Answer Tones support, which lets you buy ringback tones for $1.99 with a 99-cent monthly subscription.
A simple but functional music player greets you on the Solstice II. You can browse for songs by category, or search by title or artist. Playlists are easy to make, even on the fly. The controls are intuitive, and the default art is colorful where album art isn't available. The biggest complaint is being forced to share the Micro-USB port if we want to use headphones while we rock our tunes.
The camera's digital controls are finger-friendly icons. You can choose among four camera resolutions from 1,600x1,200 to 320x240 pixels; five color effects; six shooting modes; three exposure meters; and five white balance settings. There's also a self-timer, a brightness scale, night mode, and shutter sounds. The quick view button is an added bonus for reviewing saved photos.
Our appreciation of the Soltice's camera hasn't dwindled any with the Solstice II. Photos remain fairly clear with good color fidelity and little digital noise. As with other camera phones for AT&T that have a camcorder, there are options to record at the regular resolution (320x240) or cut back the quality to 176x144 to squeeze it onto a multimedia message. Video quality was quite good for a phone of this type--not too choppy or grainy in our tests. In addition to playing back 3GP, it also supports MPEG4, AAC, and H.264 (HD). You'll have 256MB internal memory to feed your photo and video habit; you have an additional 16GB external memory.
We tested the quad-band (850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Solstice II in San Francisco using AT&T's network. Call quality was variable on our end, with distortion at the higher levels, pervasive white noise, buzziness, and some background blips. With the exception of one garbled call that required hanging up, we could understand our callers and voice fidelity was strong. Our friends, meanwhile, reported clear call quality and clarity throughout the call, with strong volume.
Samsung Solstice II call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone was highly echoey for us, and was characterized by distortion at higher levels. We can't argue with the strong volume, however. Our friends reported that volume was high and relatively clear, not as hollow-sounding as most speakerphones.
It took about 10 seconds to load a choppy-looking mobile-optimized version of CNET.com and about 5 seconds for subsequent text-only pages.
The Samsung Solstice II has a rated battery life of 5 hours talk time, plus 10.4 days standby time. Our tests revealed a talk time of 5 hours and 17 minutes. FCC radiation tests measured a digital SAR of 0.84 watt/kilogram.