Brilliant. Genius. Great idea. It’s a wonder no one thought of using the E Ink electrophoretic display technology found on Amazon’s Kindle to create a multi-use keypad for a cellphone. But that’s exactly what Samsung has done with its second-gen Alias 2.
Using E Ink, the icons on the 42-square keyboard appear as a dialpad-concentric arrangement when the dual hinge clamshell is flipped up vertically and as a QWERTY-centric array when the lid is flipped horizontally. In addition, you can also toggle through multiple arrays showing different sets of keys in each position. These changeling keys enable Samsung to eliminate the dual keypad on phones such as the LG enV3 or Samsung Rant, and create an amazingly flexible keyboard that seems to be reading your mind.
But does the rest of Alias 2 match up to its magic keypad? Click onward to see…
Features and Design
As noted, the Alias 2’s E Ink keypad is the definition of unique. When lit, the keys are a dull opaque gray/white with dark gray icons. Not all 42 keys include icons, however. In vertical dialpad mode, for instance, 10 keys are blank, which helps differentiate the keys that are active.
In addition to the number dial keys, you get navigation controls, and direct access keys to the camera, games, alarm clock, Bluetooth, vibrate and a host of other commands you’d otherwise have to drill through the menus to get to. In portrait mode, you also get a typical three-line QWERTY keyboard layout. What’s more, there’s also a toggle key to get you to a key array with punctuation (only the period is included with the QWERTY), plus numbers and symbols as well.
Either way, the keys are easy to read, but only when backlit. As such, the Alias 2 is easier to dial than on, say, a BlackBerry-like slab keyboard. And, of course, easier to type on than most hard cell phone QWERTY keyboards, although you don’t get as much tactile response.
Outside of the keyboard though, the Alias 2 is a run-of-the-mill multimedia clamshell phone. Like all Verizon phones, it’s EV-DO Rev. A with an HTML browser; equipped with email and texting functions; packs a 2 MP camera and camcorder; and has a music player with external touch controls. You can also expect a 1.3-inch external and a beautiful 2.6-inch internal color screen.
Aesthetically, the Alias 2 is large and heavy – it’s got an open vertical height of 7.5 inches, much larger than its predecessor. Moreover, the charcoal gray Alias 2 also lacks its predecessor’s metallic champagne style. Needless to say, it’s clearly a book that can’t be judged by its cover, or color.
Since the Alias 2 has copious external real estate, all the necessary controls and jacks are arrayed on its perimeter, including a power on/off key and the microSD card slot.
Unfortunately, however, the handset is equipped with Samsung’s proprietary jack instead of the industry standard microbus and a 2.5mm instead of a 3.5mm jack. Samsung’s insistence on maintaining old jack technology is largely pointless, and becoming increasingly annoying.
Portable Media Player (PMP) Functions
Alias 2 includes V CAST video, but what is offered is barely watchable. Videos are grainy and blotchy, text highly jaggie – surprisingly disappointing. Plus, the white status bar remains jarringly visible above the videos, ruining the full screen effect.
You do get plenty of volume from the twin speakers bracketing the screen, however.
Oddly, with all those blank E Ink keys and room on the external perimeter, there is no key that takes you directly to the music player. Fortunately, pushing down the external play/pause touch control helps remedy the situation.
From a volume standpoint, the Alias 2 delivers, while Verizon’s EV-DO/1X network offers a consistently good connection in our Manhattan test area. Alas, call quality leans toward the muddy side of the spectrum. Ringer volume is also a bit low, and it’s doubtful you’ll be able to hear it if the phone’s stuffed in a bag and you’re in anything but a tomb-quiet environment.
With the changeling keypad supplying a direction connection to several oft-accessed features, the Alias 2’s menus have been vastly simplified. Users can anticipate a nine-item list with large, colorful icons and clear numbered sub-menus behind each.
If you need to switch from portrait to landscape mode to get to the QWERTY keyboard, you can always close the lid then re-open it in landscape mode without losing your place. But even though there’s a QWERTY keyboard included, there’s no threaded text messaging option – bummer.
Unlike most Verizon EV-DO Rev. A phones, Web surfing isn’t as speedy here. Most mobile-optimized pages such as CNN, ESPN and The New York Times load in 5-8 seconds or less, three to four seconds slower than other Verizon EV-DO models, while bulkier HTML pages take twice as long to load.
This lag may be a result Verizon’s clunky Access Web browser. Navigation is all framed with Verizon graphics and branding, which seems redundant since you are already using a Verizon phone.
In addition, URLs for saved favorites are long intricate addresses with a VZW Verizon prefix. For instance, the “favorites” URL for the mobile version of CNN is http://vzw.cnn.mlogic.mobi/ instead of simply http://m.cnn.com. Plus, you can’t get to your favorites from the browser menu – you have to cycle back to the Verizon VZW home page. In fact, you can’t even change the homepage. There is no way to zoom in on text, either.
Photos are bright and colorful, but many seem out of focus. The less light there is, the poorer the picture. QCIF videos are dark and pixilated, especially when expanded beyond their native postage stamp size. Worse, footage is nearly unwatchable in any form.
Rated talk time is five hours, but we managed to squeeze out 5:45 hours of continual chatting, way above-average.
The Alias 2’s E Ink keyboard is the cleverest input solution we’ve seen in quite some time. It solves nearly every problem and complaint anyone’s ever had with every other kind of keyboard, both touchscreen and physical, and creates unprecedented flexibility for navigation and control. Unfortunately, the phone’s more pedantic attributes counter its keypad innovation, especially the lack of threaded messaging and clunky Web browsing. We can only hope supporting E Ink technology is quickly extended to use on phones with more functional attributes.
- E Ink keyboard
- Dual-hinge clamshell design
- Large, bright 2.6-inch screen
- Long talk time and battery life
- Clunky Web browser
- No threaded messaging
- Soft focus photos, poor QCIF videos
- Low ringtone volume