The Samsung Alias 2 -- recently launched by Verizon Wireless -- doesn't look all that remarkable at first glance. It's a flip phone with a full physical keyboard, a two megapixel camera, GPS navigation, and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
Look a little closer though, and you'll find an innovative e-ink keyboard that changes to suit your needs, all contained in a small, lightweight package that won't weigh you down.
BUILD AND DESIGN
From the outside, the Alias 2 looks much like any other mobile phone, with a flip-style design, a hinge and camera at the top, with buttons and a microSD slot on the sides. The exterior is made of dark gray plastic, with metallic branding accents. The overall look isn't bargain basement, but there isn't anything particularly pretty or sexy about it.
The hinge works both ways, meaning that you can use it as a traditional flip phone, but also as a more messaging-centric landscape device. Right now the action is very tight, and requires two hands to manipulate; only time will tell if it will loosen up. When the phone is open, it is not possible to flip the display to the other orientation without first closing the device.
The device is just about the same size as other flip phones, and feels very nice in the hand due to the patterned back plate, which helps to increase grip and prevent the phone from slipping. It also feels amazingly light -- about the same as most other phones do before their batteries are installed. I was very surprised by the lightweight feel of the Alias 2. So many other phones weigh down your pockets, but not this one.
Verizon calls the keyboard on the Alias 2 a "Magic Keypad" and they're exactly right -- it's one of the outstanding features of this device. E-ink technology is utilized to make the keyboard match how you want to use the phone at any given moment.
Open it up like a regular flip phone, and you'll find a more traditional keypad layout, with two soft keys on the top row, directional and OK buttons below, send/clear/end, and then a numeric keypad. The buttons on the left and right serve as shortcut buttons that allow you to access the camera/camcorder function, use voice-activated dialing, turn the ringer on and off, or start a new text message. The buttons on the right control the Bluetooth function, the alarm clock, or take you to the games and applications menu.
Open up the device in landscape messaging mode, and the layout shifts automatically to a design more logical for that setup: a column of shortcut keys, then the numeric keypad, with send/clear/end on the bottom and directional buttons to the right. The text on the keys remains the same until you do something to change them, such as starting a new text message. In landscape mode that brings up a four-row full QWERTY keyboard that is absolutely a joy to use. In portrait mode, the numbers instantly transform into the three letter groupings you would expect for a T9 setup.
The keys are illuminated for use in low light settings, and have a unique feel to them. They are made of a slightly softer kind of plastic that feels slightly "tacky" or "gummy" to your finger. They have a very minimal convex curve and are rather close together, but I had no problems with hitting the wrong key at any time.
Of course one drawback to this keyboard is that until you become intimately familiar with all of the various layouts, you will spend a bit more time looking at your fingers than you would otherwise expect. In my mind, however, this is a reasonable tradeoff to make considering the benefits of having a phone that molds itself to they way you do business.
The screen is a 2.6-inch QVGA display, and it is especially bright and vibrant. So much so, in fact, that I can easily read it outside in direct sunlight, where most phones wash out so badly that they can be very hard to use. The text is very sharp, and when you dial the phone the numbers you press are giant, which is great -- most feature phones don't tend to use all of the display. The other icons such as signal strength and battery level, are also larger than normal.
The small exterior display shows the time and date, and music playback controls are located underneath.
A headphone jack is located on the left side of the hinge, but it's not a standard-size jack. All of the ports have hinged covers, so you don't have to worry about losing a tiny little part.
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