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Samsung Alias 2 review: The first E-ink cellphone

May 30, 2009

in All Articles,Cellphone reviews

Post image for Samsung Alias 2 review: The first E-ink cellphone

The Alias 2 is a solid cellphone with one significant feature. That feature elevates the phone enough that I believe it’s currently the best of its class. That feature is “E-Ink”. Specifically, that’s what the Alias 2 uses for its keyboard.

Technically, the keyboard is “virtual” – the phone’s buttons can change depending on what you’re trying to do with the phone: if you’re making a phone call, you get the usual numeric phone keypad. If you’re writing a message, you get a full QWERTY keyboard.

It’s a smaller phone, and would fit pretty well in a medium-sized pocket. If I had small pockets or tighter-fitting clothes, I might get a holster, but really, it would be a tricky decision – the phone is pretty small.

Alias 2 features

The Alias 2 is one of those phones where the designers tried to cram in a whole bunch of features. This is a good thing, because the designers also knew when to stop. The phone has a 2MP camera for pictures and video, which is mediocre, but there are many camera settings that impress my techie nature. It has Bluetooth and a microSD card slot for up to 16 GB of storage. The Alias is also a multimedia phone, with full access to Verizon’s V CAST music and video. If you close the phone (see the above photo), the front of the phone has touch-sensitive areas just below the display. This allows you to play and change music without opening the phone.

The phone is also designed to be a messaging and text phone, used for both communications and storage of calendars, notes, contacts and similar information. The applications are all there, but where the Alias 2 really shines is its keyboard.

Alias 2 – The first cellphone with E-Ink

When I saw the press releases on the Alias 2, an interesting fact caught my eye: the Alias 2 is the first cellphone to use E-Ink technology! Just to make sure, I had my Verizon media contact double-check this claim. He said:

“I just received confirmation and YES, this is the first eInk-using cell phone (The Sumsung Alias 2).”

If you know what E-Ink is, skip this paragraph. To anyone not familiar with E-ink, here’s a quick description: E-Ink is a newer technology allowing you to display pictures and text on a screen. The Amazon Kindle device is probably the most popular device right now that uses E-Ink. E-Ink is better in some respects than traditional ways of showing graphics on a screen. When done right, it uses less power and is easier to see.

The Alias 2 uses E-Ink to display the labels on the keyboard buttons. And I want to be very specific about what these buttons feel like: They feel like… well, buttons. You can see from this side view that this is not a flat-surfaced keyboard – the buttons are individually raised. Typing is very easy:

The Alias 2’s keyboard is very different when compared to a virtual keyboard (the kind with a keyboard graphic displayed on a flat touchscreen, like what you see on the Apple iPhone or BlackBerry Storm).

I personally like having a physical keyboard over a virtual keyboard. I find it’s easier to type when you can feel actual buttons under your fingertips. However, the advantage of the virtual keyboard is that you can change the keyboard contents based on what you’re doing on the phone.

Now, with the Samsung Alias 2, we have the best of both worlds: we get the functionality of the virtual keyboard with the accuracy and comfort of a physical keyboard, with no drawbacks of either one!

See below for animations of the Alias 2’s E-Ink technology. I made this first animation (four frames) while moving through the steps needed to compose an instant message. Watch how the keyboard contents change based on what’s on the display.

The second animation (two frames) is what you see when you have the phone open in standard “making a call” mode. You can switch between T9 Word entry, numeric / symbol entry, and straight text input.

Alias 2 review conclusion

I love the Samsung Alias 2. The Alias 2 is a full-featured, multimedia and messaging device. The E-Ink is an additional bonus – it’s not a gimmick, but a true functionality improvement that increases ease-of-use and typing accuracy.

Would I get one? For work, I personally can’t, because I need a “smartphone” – one with IT-administrator-level features. However, one of my frequent complaints about Verizon phones – the lack of corporate email support – is about to disappear. The Alias supports “RemoSync”, an application that lets you sync contacts, calendar and corporate email (like Microsoft Exchange) to the cellphone. The Alias isn’t a true “smartphone”, but for the majority of users, it’s close enough. If all I needed from my work environment was email, contacts and calendar, then absolutely, I’d get it. The Alias 2 would be a fine choice.

If I were purchasing this phone for personal use, and didn’t need a “smartphone”, my answer is a lot simpler: “YES”. I would love to have this phone. In fact, if you were to ask me to pick a phone for personal use, right now my choice would be the Alias 2.

Get ready for lots of E-Ink. I eagerly expect to see E-Ink implemented in many more cellphones – it’s too handy not to have.

The Samsung Alias 2 is available from Verizon Wireless for $80.


Additional features of the Samsung Alias 2:

  • Dual-hinge form factor with E Ink keyboard that changes based on what the user needs
    • Open it vertically as a flip phone and it has a traditional numeric keypad and can change to an alpha-only keypad
    • In landscape, the phone features a QWERTY keypad that can change to numeric with symbols
  • Supports RemoSync, so customers can synchronize corporate e-mail, contacts and calendars from their office PCs
  • 2.0 megapixel camera and video capture capabilities
  • Bluetooth ® technology with support for headset, hands-free, stereo, phonebook access, basic print, basic imaging, object push for vCard and vCalendar and serial port
  • VZ Navigator SM
  • Visual Voice Mail
  • Media Center-capable – downloadable games, ringtones, wallpapers, location-based services and more
  • Mobile Web
  • Mobile Email; Mobile IM; and text, picture and video messaging
  • microSD™ card slot with support for up to 16 GB (card purchased separately)
  • Personal organizer with calendar, calculator with currency converter, notepad, alarm clock, world clock and stop watch.
  • The Samsung Alias 2 is available today for $79.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate with a new two-year customer agreement. Customers will receive the rebate as a debit card that can be used anywhere debit cards are accepted.

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