When Samsung feels that it has a good idea, it's not shy about sharing it among U.S. carriers. The company certainly is doing that now with the various versions of the Samsung Galaxy S, but we also saw it spread the love back in late 2008 with four similar models of a midrange touch-screen phone. Sprint's Instinct, T-Mobile's Behold, Alltel's , and AT&T's Eternity each put its own spin on the concept, but at the time we liked what they had to offer. And now, more than a year and a half later, Samsung is hoping to repeat that success by hitting up AT&T again with the Eternity II.
Though we have no problems with the concept of cell phone sequels, they must follow certain rules like their cinematic counterparts. They must continue, rather then repeat, the story, and they must improve on their predecessor in some way. Sadly, the Eternity II doesn't do either. Sure, it's a tad prettier than the first handset, but it retains almost the same feature set. And for one feature, it even takes a step back. Though a handset like the Eternity II would have been fine two years ago, it's just looking dated now. You can get it for $69.99 with service.
If you prefer a physical keyboard, you might as well stop reading this review now. Like a handful of other Samsung devices, the Eternity II is all about a touch screen. Of course, there's nothing wrong with going that route, but we realize that some people like to feel buttons beneath their fingers. At 4.41 inches long by 2.11 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep, the Eternity II is relatively compact, though it is a tad heavier than you might think (5 ounces). Just remember to be careful and not drop the handset on its plastic cover. The royal blue color is unique and attractive, and we like the kooky 3D effect of the bubble design on the phone's rear side.
Of course, a smaller phone means a small display. Though that can be problematic on any phone, it's especially troublesome on a touch-screen device. Indeed, the Eternity II's screen measures just 3 inches diagonally, which is about a quarter of an inch smaller than our minimum. Fortunately, the Eternity II offers three home screens so you're not constantly scrolling to find what you need. Also, we have to commend Sammy for giving the display a decent resolution (262,144 colors; 240x400 pixels).
The Eternity II uses Samsung's TouchWiz interface. Its primary feature is a collapsible bar on the left side of the screen that holds icons for various features. When you drag the icons out to the main screen, you then get one-touch access to the corresponding feature. After a couple years of using TouchWiz, we're not completely in love with the interface--mainly because we'd like more customization--but we appreciate what Samsung tried to do. The shortcuts are convenient and we like the widgets for the music player and calendar.
The touch interface is relatively accurate, though you'll need a firm deliberate press for your command to register. You can calibrate the display if needed and change the intensity of the vibrating feedback. The Intensity II has an accelerometer and a motion detector that will silence the ringer if you flip the phone face down on a table. What's more, the "smart unlock" feature lets you unlock the phone by drawing a shape on the display with your finger.
The dialer interface has a standard design, and we approve of the larger numbers and letters on the touch controls. The QWERTY keyboard feels rather cramped given the display's size; we fumbled around during our first few minutes of use because the keys are small. Also, you'll need to switch to alternate keyboards for numbers and symbols. You even can use handwriting recognition, but the display isn't big enough or accurate enough for that feature. Luckily, the main menu feels a bit better, and we like that you can customize some menu icons and add multiple menu pages for more room.
At the bottom of the display are three touch controls for the phone dialer, your contacts list, and the main menu. Below them you'll find three physical controls: a back button and the Talk and End/power keys. On the left spine there's a volume rocker, and on the right spine you'll see a display lock key, a camera shutter, a Micro-USB charger port, a camera shutter, and a control for accessing a pop-up shortcut menu. The camera lens sits on the back of the phone, and the microSD card slot is behind the battery cover.
The Eternity II has a 2,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, e-mails, and URLS. You also can add a street address, a company name and job title, a nickname, a birthday, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can save callers to groups, and you can pair them with a photo and one of 10 polyphonic ringtones. Fortunately, you can use your own audio files and MP3 tracks as tones.