Samsung Solstice II


The Samsung Solstice (Free, 3 stars) was a decent if unremarkable touch-screen cell phone. The revised model, unceremoniously dubbed the Solstice II ($29.99-179.99), continues the same tradition. It's a very modest refresh; the changes are confined to some styling and feature tweaks and improved global roaming options. Unfortunately, that's not enough to stand out in a sea of other choices on AT&T, especially because of AT&T's expensive service plans and cheap smartphones.

Design and Call Quality
The Samsung Solstice II measures 4.3 by 2.1 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.4 ounces. It's made entirely of cheap-feeling plastic, but the textured silver accent band and soft-touch back panel give the phone a touch of style. The 3-inch, 240-by-400-pixel, plastic resistive touch screen was suitably bright and colorful. Three function buttons beneath the screen handle Send, End, and Back duties. Since the End key doubles as the power button, an extra hardware lock slider on the top right edge lets you put the phone away quickly, The on-screen QWERTY keyboard was a bit cramped thanks to the smallish screen, but a touch of haptic feedback helped keep my typing reasonably accurate.

The Solstice II is a quad-band EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and tri-band HSDPA 7.2 (850/1900/2100 MHz) device, meaning that it can hit 3G data speeds both here and overseas. The tri-band capability is new; the original lacked overseas 3G support. There's no Wi-Fi, but that's typical of feature phones like this one.

Overall, voice quality was mixed. Callers sounded thin in the earpiece, with too much upper midrange. Callers said I sounded OK, but not as clear as I do on other AT&T phones. Reception was also subpar; a number of calls descended into computery-sounding distortions at times, despite the average-strength AT&T coverage area I tested the phone in.
Specifications

Service Provider
AT&T
Screen Size
3 inches
Screen Details
240-by-400-pixel, 65K color plastic resistive TFT LCD touch screen
Camera
Yes
Network
GSM, UMTS
Bands
850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100
High-Speed Data
GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA

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Calls sounded fine through an Aliph Jawbone Icon ($99, 4 stars) Bluetooth headset. Voice dialing worked well over Bluetooth without training. The speakerphone lacked sufficient oomph for use outdoors, and still sounded distorted anyway. Battery life was great at 6 hours and 28 minutes of talk time.

User Interface and Apps
The home screen has three customizable panels, plus a pullout TouchWiz 2.0 bar on the left, in typical Samsung fashion. Meanwhile, the main menu consists of three screens you can swipe between, with a total of 34 icons. A Customize button at the top adds a fourth panel, and gives you the option of removing some of the icons—but sadly, AT&T's usual payload of bloatware is burned in. Click on the wrong icon—say, for the app Where—and you'll sign yourself up for extra monthly charges before you even get to try it out.

That said, the Solstice is a fine messaging and social networking companion. Text messages are threaded. AT&T Social Net hooks into Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace accounts, and can also aggregate status updates in a single page view. The preloaded, rebranded Opera Mini Web browser did a fine job with both WAP and desktop HTML pages, but it took two steps to enter each URL for some reason. The TeleNav-powered AT&T Navigator offers voice-enabled, turn-by-turn directions for an extra $10 per month. AT&T Mobile E-mail and IM clients provide extra-cost access to Web mail and IM accounts; we say skip 'em and use the browser-based versions for free (at least for e-mail).