Review: Samsung Alias 2

Samsung’s Alias 2 is aptly named; it leads a double life. On one hand, it’s slick and cool, with a vibrant swivel screen and an E Ink keyboard that would make even a Kindle user slightly jealous.

But its alternate personality comes straight from a Judy Bloom novel, with desktop themes suitable for tweens, impossibly cheesy ringtones and, ahem, rainbows. The resulting phone is a device that seems to be in constant conflict with itself, equally at home at a board meeting or being waved in the air at a Jonas Brothers concert. Put the Alias 2 in a lineup and its best feature sticks out like a face tat: the unique keyboard. All the keys are clear plastic with E Ink behind them — the same tech that forms text on the screen of the Amazon Kindle. But unlike the Kindle, these keys are backlit. (Hear that Amazon? Backlighting can be done.)

The coolest trick the Alias 2 can pull off is changing from a number pad to a text keyboard as you flip it open. It’s a cool trick and makes the Alias 2 somewhat like the Optimus Maximus of phones. This keyboard beats a touchscreen any day of the week; the little mounds offer tactile feedback not found in any iDevice.

But we would have liked to see a dedicated D-pad and function buttons. This would have allowed more room for shortcuts to common menu items. Overall though, the newness and coolness of the keyboard overrides any quibbles. And we also dig the external LCD, with its prominent clock and media player buttons that can control music or activate the camera.

In stark contrast to the phone’s E Ink deftness other parts of the Alias 2 are decidedly girlish and silly. An included theme for the phone evokes a she-teen boudoir that counts colorful Trapper-Keepers, potted plants and a rainbow peeking in the window among its touches. Access the menu, and the room comes alive, with menu items as knickknacks, recent calls as a dorm message board, and utilities in a toolbox on the floor. Fortunately, you can change this, if you dig around in settings long enough. The preinstalled ringtones are laughable, ranging from cheesy period pieces, to earsplitting high-range electronica, to faux hip-hop distilled somewhere in Seoul’s equivalent of 8 Mile. Anyone with a shred of self-respect would be wise to immediately hop on the internet and download a decent Black Sabbath riff for a ringtone.

The Alias 2’s duality is troubling, and it seems like the company didn’t know what audience to aim for. But despite its weird lack of identity, it’s a good phone. Calls sound great, the speakerphone is loud, and it can pull off nearly six hours of talk time. If you take the time to customize it to your preference — be it Ozzy Osborne or Hannah Montana — the phone is worth looking into.

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