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Review: Samsung Convoy 2

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Sep 22, 2011, 6:23 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung's latest clamshell for Verizon Wireless would be an ideal tool for Rambo to take into the bush for some weekend adventuring.

Form

Is It Your Type? 

The Samsung Convoy 2 is a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners handset for the likes of John Rambo or Colonel Braddock. Need to ford streams, traverse rocky ridges, or tromp through a desert? The Convoy 2 will take you there and back again with no complaints.

Body 

Slick urbanites looking to impress the Saturday night crowd need not apply. No, the Convoy is a rugged clamshell that can take a beating out in the real world and still deliver the goods when it comes to performance.

As is the norm for phones of this ilk, it is a chunky block of tough-as-nails plastic. It feels as solid as a hockey puck in your hand. All of the moving parts fit firmly together, and the Convoy 2 feels like it could weather a hurricane with no problem. I was somewhat surprised by the slick feel of the plastics used in the Convoy 2. It is a slippery phone, which isn't the best thing for a device meant to be used out in the elements. A soft-touch paint job would have made more sense to me.

This is not a pocket-friendly phone. It'll fit, but its brick-shaped form will feel awkward. I imagine the Convoy 2 will be worn in a holster on the hip of the un-hip user.

 

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The front face of the Convoy 2 offers a tiny little display and dedicated controls for the media player in the form of three buttons. The buttons have good travel and feedback. The left side of the Convoy 2 has several controls, including a user-assignable shortcut button, the volume toggle, and the microSD card port. The shortcut button is red, which makes it easy to see. It also has a rough texture, making it easy to find without looking. Travel and feedback was pretty good. The volume toggle is a bit too flat for my tastes, but travel and feedback were OK. I could imagine gloved fingers having a hard time using the toggle. The microSD slot is protected by a hatch, which is easily removed.

There is a 2.5mm headset jack (boo, hiss, as that size requires an adaptor for most stereo headphones) on the right side of the Convoy 2, close to the top. The hatch covering it is not a problem. There is a speakerphone button below the headset jack. It is a bit small, but travel and feedback were OK. Last, there microUSB port is positioned close to the bottom of the right side. It, too, has a hatch, which is not a big deal to interact with.

The Convoy 2's hinge is rock solid, and offers a pleasant amount of spring assistance to help open the Convoy 2 up. The control cluster of the Convoy 2 is large and well organized. The d-pad, which is about the size of a quarter, has good travel and feedback, but the edges were not well defined, making it easy to accidentally press one of the adjacent buttons.

There are seven other buttons in the control cluster arranged around the d-pad. There are two soft keys up top. Moving down, there’s a dual-function voice action / flashlight button and a camera button. Across the bottom are the end/power, clear/back, and send buttons. All of these offer excellent travel and feedback.

The number pad is typical for Samsung: It is large, has relatively flat keys, and has great key response. It was easy to use for dialing numbers.

The battery cover has a little rotating lock for removing it. Use your fingernail to turn it, and it opens.

The one important thing to keep in mind with the Convoy 2 is that while it is rugged, and will take a beating, it is not waterproof. It meets MIL-SPEC 810F for altitude, temperature extremes, solar radiation, humidity, salt fog, sand, dust, vibration, and shock, but don't drop it into the drink.

The Three S's 

Screen

The Convoy 2 has dual displays. The external screen measures 1.4-inches across the diagonal and offers information in full color. It’s a low-quality display -- meaning it doesn't have that many pixels -- but it is bright enough for use outside.

The internal display measures 2.44 inches with 240 x 320 pixels (QVGA) and looks fantastic. It is extremely bright, colorful, and on-screen elements look razor sharp. This display works wonderfully outdoors.

Signal

The Convoy 2 includes separate signal indicators for Verizon's CDMA 1x and EVDO networks. Typically, they mirror one another and report the same signal strength. Sometimes they don't. This doesn't appear to have any sort of material impact on the Convoy 2's performance, though. The Convoy 2 connected firmly to Verizon's network. It never lost the signal completely, and was able to make phone calls when reporting zero bars. The Convoy 2 didn't miss any calls, and it didn't drop any calls. Data performance was more impacted by signal issues, however. It couldn't serve up Google.com when reporting zero bars of coverage, for example.

Sound

The Convoy 2 is a decent, though not stellar, voice phone. Call quality was inconsistent and ranged from poor to excellent. Some times calls were crystal clear, and other times they were garbled and full of static. Calls definitely sounded better when the network connection was stronger. The earpiece is loud, but not quite loud enough; I was hoping for more volume. The speakerphone, on the other hand, is outstanding. It is capable of intensely loud volumes, making it a good alternative to the earipiece when the Convoy 2 is being used in the loudest environments. Calls also sounded somewhat clearer when pumped through the speakerphone. The ringers and alert tones are all plenty strong, and the vibrate alert is jarring enough to wake the dead.

Battery

The Convoy 2's battery life is measured in days, not hours. It powered its way through almost three full days of use without breaking a sweat. The one feature that had a noticeable effect on battery life was the flashlight. Use that for 30 minutes and you just lost a day of battery life. Otherwise, you can probably get away for the weekend without bringing a charger.

Basics

Menus 

Amazingly, Verizon Wireless still treats its feature phones like we're living in 2003. It’s unreal that Verizon is foisting the same, crappy menu system on its non-smart devices.

 

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The main home screen presents three labeled and obvious choices: Use the soft keys to open the messaging or contact apps, or press the center of the d-pad to open the full menu. As with most feature phones, users can set the directionals on the d-pad as application shortcuts. For example, press left to open the browser, or press down to open a new text message.

The default view of the menu is a 3-by-3 grid that correspond to the numbers of the dialpad. Once you open one of the menu items, the icons switch to text and you just sort of have to dive in and learn what is located where. These menus have barely changed over the years. If you've used a Verizon Wireless feature phone at all, you'll know what to do.

The one novel thing Verizon has done is to provide access to a bunch of the Convoy 2's features from the external display. Double-pressing the fast-forward button unlocks the screen and then requires that you use the three media buttons and the volume toggle to interact with the slimmed-down menu. You can launch the calendar, Bluetooth menu, camera/video camera, messaging apps, music, and voice commands. The features available here are limited at best, but at least you can check your texts, access playlists, or take a picture without first opening the phone.

Calls/Contacts 

Calls

The Convoy 2 is a simple voice phone. The dialpad works great for pecking out numbers, and supports speed dialing for those you call most frequently. Pressing the Send button opens up the call log, which can be sorted by dialed, missed, received, and all calls. Punching the right soft key opens the options menu for taking actions such as saving the number, erasing the call log, etc.

The Convoy 2 also supports push-to-talk walkie-talkie calls. You have to first turn PTT mode on in order to use it, though it can be left on indefinitely.

The Convoy 2's best phone feature? A built-in fake calling application. The fake calling app has TONS of features. You can set the call to arrive in as little as 5 seconds, or as many as 30 minutes. You can set a number for the fake call to display, including "restricted". You can record voices/sounds to come out of the earpiece. After the timer expires, the phone rings and you're free to escape the really bad date you might be on, or sneak out of a meeting, and so on.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Contacts

The Convoy 2 has the same old Verizon feature phone contact system that we've seen for years. Pecking in new contact details via the dialpad is beyond painful. If you're an existing Verizon Wireless customer, do yourself a favor and back your contacts up using Verizon's Contact Back-Up service before switching phones. You'll save yourself gobs of time.

The contacts app holds the essentials, including at least three phone numbers, two email addresses, two street addresses and notes.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Messaging 

A smartphone the Convoy 2 ain't. It has a bare-bones collection of messaging tools that don't offer much in the way of substance or pizazz.

The text messaging app is the same as it has been for nearly a decade. It requires far too many steps to use when it comes to addressing new messages. Thankfully, however, it supports threaded messaging. Once you get a few threads going, you can manage your conversations with more efficiency. You can add photos/videos to text messages easily, as well as insert quick-text templates.

Verizon offers a cruddy ermail application to handle Gmail, Yahoo, and other POP3/IMAP accounts. If you subscribe to a data plan costing $9.99 and up, it is free to use. If you don't use one of those data plans, you have to pay $4.99 to use it. Your only other option is to go through the mobile browser, which really isn't an option at all when you consider how crummy the experience is.

The Convoy 2 includes Verizon's generic instant messaging application, which supports AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo IM. It’s relatively easy to use.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Rudimentary support for Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace is included, but the experience is pretty awful. The phone has the ability to post status updates to all three networks, as well as check messages, look at photos, add comments, but the interface is nothing but ugly text menus. Blah.

Extras

Media 

Music

The Convoy 2 handles media playback in the most rudimentary way. While it is easy to download music and ringtones from Verizon's content stores, it isn't as easy to sideload your own. You have to carefully stick it into a specific sub-folder on a microSD card in order for the player to find it. The player itself is bare bones.

 

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Video

The Convoy 2 plays back any video you've captured with the video camera. It will also play V CAST Video content (at a cost). It will not playback movies you already own.

Camera 

The Convoy 2 offers a 3.2 megapixel camera, and it also comes with a flash. The camera can be used with the phone either open or closed.

When the Convoy 2 is closed, just unlock the external display and select the camera. You'll see a small view of your subject. This is how you take self portraits.

When open, there are more tools available for controlling the camera. Scrolling sideways through this options bar opens drop-down menus for making adjustments to the camera's behavior.

The Convoy 2 offers a handful of different shooting modes, including panorama. The flash can be set to on or off; there's no "auto" behavior. Using the D-pad, you can adjust the brightness level, and well as zoom in or out.

 

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The camera is slow no matter what you try to do with it. Slow to open, slow to work the menus, slow to take pictures, and slow to save them.

Using the video camera application is almost identical.

Gallery

The gallery application is mostly unchanged from other phones that use the Verizon UI. It can be opened by jumping through the main menu or via the camera key and then to the gallery option. The latter of these two options is much faster. The gallery is locked to a two-column view, and lets you see six different pictures at a time. There are the expected set of options for moving, renaming and otherwise interacting with your pictures.

The editing tools have been revised somewhat, and now work similar to the camera interface itself. Users have a pretty solid set of options, such as crop, rotate, zoom, adding frames and other content and so on. More advanced editing controls include adjusting white balance, exposure, brightness, etc.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Photos/Video 

Photos

The Convoy 2's 3.2 megapixel camera does not take very good photos. Under absolutely ideal shooting conditions, it might get everything (exposure, white balance, etc.) right, but even that isn't enough to overcome the unavoidable presence of grain and digital noise. Grain is heavy no matter what the shooting conditions, and indoor shots are particularly horrendous. Images captured with this device might be OK for MMS sharing, but I'd avoid posting them to Facebook or Flickr.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video

The Convoy 2 can capture video at 320 x 240 pixels, or 176 x 144. Neither is particularly impressive, and the lower, MMS-friendly resolution is nearly worthless. Grain is present in all videos, and sometimes large digital artifacts smear their way across the screen when the Convoy 2 is panned to and fro. Bright spots and dark spots offer no details, and often confuse the Convoy 2's sensor. As with the photos, videos might be acceptable to share via MMS, but nowhere else.

Browse/Customize 

Browser

The Convoy 2 uses Opera Mini to help boost the mobile web performance. The Verizon home page loads with nine shortcuts (Opera Mini's Speed Dial feature) to content destinations such as Facebook, CNN, and ESPN. It also has a URL bar at the top, as well as a Bing search bar. It's nice to have the URL bar visible from this home page. Verizon used to force people to jump through hoops to leave Verizon's own web pages.

The Convoy 2’s browser was consistently good when it came to speed. Web sites loaded without making me angry most of the time, but when under less-than-optimal network conditions it was definitely slower.

Once they arrive, web sites look decent enough, and the Convoy 2 provides enough screen real estate for viewing content.

 

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Customize

The Convoy 2 lets users adjust the typical set of items, such as wallpapers, ringtones, alert tones, etc. Nothing too exciting.

Extras 

Bluetooth

The Convoy 2 supports mono and stereo headsets, as well as object push to other phones/devices. All of these functions worked well. Call quality via mono headsets was terrible. Music through stereo Bluetooth speakers wasn't too bad.

Clock

Press any of the buttons on the Convoy 2 to see the time on the external display. It is large, white, and readable at arm's length.

GPS

The Convoy 2 offers Verizon's VZNavigator service for mapping and navigation. It costs $10 per month to use. That's a steep price if you ask me, but the software does work well.

Wrap-Up 

The Convoy 2, while living up to its rugged billing, is a case where the software fails the hardware. The physical features and capabilities of the Convoy 2 are not in question. The phone is tough, works well, and does what Samsung's engineers built it to do.

The archaic menu system stuffed into the Convoy 2 by Verizon, however, is a shame. It's not particularly bad software, per se, but it is in no way compelling to use or interact with. It functions -- minus the fun.

Perhaps a simple feature phone user interface is what you're looking for; Maybe the awesome speakerphone and solid battery life are more important to you than slick software; Maybe fancy media features are of no interest as long as the phone keeps you in touch with your family and friends. It is these reasons that make the Convoy 2 a good choice for some.

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