Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Intensity II – deep gray (Verizon Wireless)

THE GOOD: The Samsung Intensity II has a full QWERTY keyboard, solid messaging and e-mail tools, and handy search and navigation extras. The attractive, compact design and eco-conscious construction is a bonus.

THE BAD: The navigation keys are a little cramped, the 2.5 millimeter headset jack is inconvenient, you can't download music directly to the phone, and the call quality could be better.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Intensity II is a good midrange phone for teens, thanks to its various social networking and communications tools. While there are some drawbacks, the moderate price is a draw.

Editors' note: For a teen's perspective on the Samsung Intensity II, check out CNET's From the Field blog.

We're no stranger to sequels in the cell phone world, and the follow-up to the original Samsung Intensity makes a worthy update for Verizon's lineup. While mostly the same as the original in features and appearance, the Samsung Intensity II adds an eco-friendly slant. Like the Samsung Reclaim and the Samsung Blue Earth, the Intensity II's packaging and handset are partially made from recycled materials, and the package is partially printed with soy ink. In addition, the box is smaller and is composed of 60 percent recycled paper.

Unlike the Blue Earth and the Reclaim, however, the Intensity II is firmly marketed to the younger set–just like the first Intensity and the Samsung Gravity III. Social-networking features complement a full QWERTY keyboard and a youthful menu interface to make this slider phone text-friendly. The Intensity II comes in metallic blue, which we reviewed, and deep gray. The features are the same on both devices.

In design, the Intensity II closely resembles its predecessor. Measuring 4.29 inches long by 2.09 inches wide by 0.61 inch thick, it has a compact build and rounded corners. The phone's black face is accented in electric blue, the same shade that also colors the sides and textured back cover. In contrast, the original Intensity had a soft-touch cover for easy gripping, though we don't find the Intensity II at all slippery. Weighing 4.1 ounces, the Intensity II won't weigh you down.

The Samsung Intensity II has a sturdy sliding mechanism with convenient keys.

At 2.2 inches, the Intensity II's screen is a tenth of an inch larger than its predecessor. The QVGA (240×320 pixels) display supports 262,000 colors, which make for a fairly crisp and bright screen, although as with many other cell phones, it's difficult to read in direct sunlight. The screen's brightness and backlight time are adjustable, as are the fonts, the clock format, and the display themes. Rather than present a standard list of menu options, this teen-minded menu is a pictogram of a computer desk with tooltips that pop up to signify certain tools and apps, like Settings and your call history. Those who prefer a more traditional setup can change the menu display to a list or to tab mode.

To the left of the screen are two black buttons that become the soft keys when the phone flips over to landscape mode. Beneath the display is the Intensity II's navigation array. There's a four-directional navigation pad with a central "select" button. If you're on the start screen, pressing each direction of the navigation pad pulls up a different programmable shortcut. As with the first Intensity, the close spacing of the two soft keys, Talk and End keys, speakerphone, and Clear key make it feel cramped. One the other hand, the numbered keypad below is more spacious– –in part because the keys curve up in a smile, with enough separation between keys to dial by feel. The pound button (#) also turns on vibrate mode and the zero key doubles as a dialpad lock.

On the right spine, you'll find the voice search convenience button, plus a dedicated camera button. We're pleased to see a microSD card slot located conveniently on the phone's side, rather than its previous roost beneath the back cover on the first Intensity. The Intensity II holds up to 32GB expandable memory. You'll need to buy any additional storage you want; none comes with the phone.

On the left spine are the volume rocker and Micro-USB charging port. Up top is the 2.5-millimeter headset jack that Samsung sometimes favors, though we always prefer cell phones to carry the 3.5-millimeter standard so we can use our own headset. On the back, a tiny vanity mirror accompanies the 1.3-megapixel camera. Nearby there's an infrared beam for night vision mode, and the phone's external speaker.

The Intensity II slides open to reveal its QWERTY keyboard. As with the previous model, the sliding mechanism is sturdy and snaps into place. The two soft keys that we mentioned above have moved from the QWERTY keyboard (in the original Intensity) to a new home on the Intensity II's phone face. You'll see it just below the screen while in landscape mode. The keyboard itself includes all the basic symbols, plus shortcut functions to compose a new text message, surface favorite contacts, and add emoticons. Samsung also has broken out the four navigation keyboard buttons and an OK button that used to share space with other keys.

Some people may prefer a more spacious keyboard on the Intensity II, like that found on the Gravity 3, though those with smaller hands may enjoy the compact feel. The keys are separated and raised above the surface, which makes typing quick and easy.

With room for 1,000 contacts in the phone's address book, socialites won't have to worry about running out of room for friends. Each entry allots space for five phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, an instant-messaging screen name, two street addresses, company information, a birthday, and notes. You also can add contacts to a caller group and pair them with a photo or one of 21 polyphonic ringtones. There's a silent mode if you choose. The contact list makes space for favorites and for three in-case-of-emergency (ICE) numbers, plus three items of personal info.

Basic features include a calculator, a calendar, an alarm clock, a stop watch, a world clock, and a notepad. There's also search through Bing, voice commands (powered by Nuance), and USB mass storage. Stereo Bluetooth is onboard, as is a mobile Web browser (WAP), a dedicated Bing search app, and the GPS-driven Verizon VZ Navigator (powered by NIM).

In addition to a 1.3 megapixel camera, there's a vanity mirror and a beam of infrared light that shoots out for night mode.

In addition to e-mail, instant messaging, and text, the Intensity II also tunes into social networking frequencies. The Social Beat app (powered by iSkoot), keeps you on top of your Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace streams. It can also tap into your Gmail account and Google Talk IM, and can display snippets of RSS feeds. The app has the power to upload photos in addition to text.

For tunes there's a basic music player that supports songs in MP3, AAC, AAC+, and WMA formats. The usual controls are there, plus the capability to create and edit playlists on the fly, and repeat and shuffle songs. Although the player is relatively simple, it has some settings that spice things up with four visual "skins" you see during playback: simple view, album art, a visualizer, and lyrics (when available). Other settings include a backlight and a music-only setting that shuts down the phon's cellular signal for airplane mode.

Like the original Intensity, there's support for Verizon's V Cast Music with Rhapsody service, and also like the original, you won't be able to download songs directly to your phone. The Intensity II has no speedy EV-DO connection, which is the likely culprit here. Instead, you'll need to download songs to your PC and transfer the batch to the phone–it's a slowdown for sure, but the method is functional. Those with a Rhapsody subscription can also sync tracks.

For capturing the moment, there's a 1.3 megapixel camera. We were hoping that Samsung would have upgraded its shooter from the Intensity days, but no luck. The Intensity II does, however, have night vision–but more on that later. The Intensity II takes pictures in six resolutions (280×960 pixels, 1,024×768 pixels, 640×480 pixels, 320×240 pixels, 160×120 pixels, 128×96 pixels), with five white balance presets, six color effects, and three quality settings.

The Samsung Intensity II, like the original Intensity, takes mediocre pictures.

The camera also contains night vision mode, a self-timer, and multishot mode. Other settings include metering (average, center, or spot), auto-naming, and three sounds each for the shutter and when the camera is ready, plus a silent mode for both. As with the original Intensity, the Intensity II produced mediocre photos. While fairly sharp, the color is slightly off, especially in indirect-lighting situations. Samsung calls it "unique," but night vision mode just produced overexposed black-and-white images in our in-the-dark tests. 100MB of internal memory, combined with any expandable microSD card you purchase, would store quite a few snaps and songs.

It's possible to intensify the Intensity II with wallpaper, with additional ringtones and ringback tones, and with games that you can buy through Verizon's stores. Ringtones typically start at $2.99 for a single tone, $5.49 for a two-fer, and $9.99 for a four-pack through the VZW Tones hub. Games typically range from $1.99 per month to $3.99 per month, or $6.99 to $8.99 for lifetime use.

We tested the dual-band Samsung Intensity II (CDMA 850/1900; 1xRTT) in San Francisco using the Verizon Wireless network. Call quality was fine for the most part, though we did hit quite a few aural snags. While volume was good, voices often sounded muddled on our end, and words were difficult to make out when either party spoke too quickly.

Our callers' experience was largely the same. According to them, we sounded loud and mostly clear, but they couldn't always make out individual words or sounds. While speakerphone produced enough volume on our end, our callers unanimously reported fuzziness and said we sounded distant, as though we were speaking through cotton.

Audio playback on the phone's external speakers was passable, but tinny. You'll have better luck with stereo headphones, though keep in mind that you'll either need an adapter or headphones that fit a 2.5-millimeter jack.

The Samsung Intensity II has a rated battery life of 5 hours, with 12.5 days of standby time. We found that the Intensity II had a tested talk time of 5 hours and 2 minutes. FCC tests measured a digital SAR of 1.04 watts per kilogram.

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