So long as you have a constant data connection and a bit of patience, the Samsung Galaxy Admire 2 (also known as the Axiom for U.S. Cellular) is a pretty good little smartphone for Cricket's lineup.
Compact, heavy, and a spitting image of last year's flagship Galaxy S3, the Admire 2 is nevertheless a smooth, polished Android 4.1 showing that has the added benefits of 4G LTE support, Cricket's Muve Music service, and a quite decent camera.
For $249.99 off-contract (or $11 down and $11 per month for 23 months), it's one of the priciest Cricket Muve Music phones around, but it's a significant savings over the higher-powered, but also much more costly Samsung Galaxy S4 ($580 in all) and Galaxy S3 ($480).
Music-loving Cricket customers should consider the likable Admire 2, but also be aware of its flaws: namely, the carrier's limited 4G footprint, and a frequently unstable music service that's overdue for an overhaul.
Design and build
If you're wondering how the Admire 2 compares with Samsung's original Admire, forget it. The two phones are like night and day. It's better if you see the Admire 2 as a modified Galaxy S3 Mini (which, of course, is already a heavily modified S3).
Samsung starts with a hefty (4.8-ounce!), compact pill-shaped body that stands 4.8 inches tall, 2.6 inches wide and 0.48 inch thick. Shiny blue-gray accents brighten up the illusion of brushed metal all over the smooth, high-gloss surfaces. The phone fits well in the hand and is short enough for my pockets, though its girth gives it a noticeably bulkier fit.
Running the risk of sounding like a broken record here, the phone's weight-to-size ratio makes it feel heavy when you're holding it up to your ear, or even when it's in your hand for awhile. However, it didn't make much of a difference in my already stout purse, and when I slipped it into a hoodie or sweatshirt pocket while playing tunes, I barely noticed it was there.
Smaller than today's 5-inch jumbo screens, the 4-inch WVGA on the Admire 2 here offers enough screen space to get things done, though the virtual keyboard is a little more cramped than the current fashion. Luckily, word tracing is built in.
The 800x480-pixel resolution doesn't hold up against top-tier HD phones when it comes to absolute image clarity, but there's nothing at all wrong with the 233 pixel count. One thing I will say is that the screen looked a bit dim on automatic settings, and I did transition to manual controls, especially in brighter surroundings.
Like the Galaxy S3, navigation takes place with the multifunction Home button (which also operates recent tabs, Google Now, and S Voice), and two backlit capacitive buttons that dim from view. There's a front-facing camera set next to an array of sensors, and around the spines are the volume rocker, power/lock button, microSD card, headset jack, and Micro-USB port.
On the back live the 5-megapixel camera and flash; the Micro-SIM card hides out beneath the back cover.
OS and apps
An Android 4.1 Jelly Bean phone, Samsung adds its typical TouchWiz OS on top. Like the design, this interface is last year's model, and doesn't have quite the number of assets found in top-tier phones like the Galaxy S4. Don't let that worry you. You'll still be able to gain quick access to system controls, use NFC and S Beam, and turn the phone into a hot spot (with the right kind of plan).
Cricket's Muve Music service is an enormous ingredient in the phone's appeal. Stitched into the monthly Android rate plan, the Muve app lets you download an "unlimited" number of songs and ringtones -- so long as you keep paying your bill, and until you run out of room on the microSD card (you can have up to 64GB to play with, so really, do your worst).
There's a radio station element as well in MyDJ, and social networking tie-ins.
The problem is that navigation can be a little clumsy and the software is overdue for a major upgrade. Worst of all, the Muve Music app frequently halts, crashes, and doesn't recover until you close it down or reboot the phone.
I still think that Muve is a genius addition that gives the Cricket customer an enormous value, but it's time for Cricket to reinvest in its third-party software partner. A flagship product like this one requires tending and forward progress.
Cameras and video
I've said it before: Samsung knows a thing or two about cameras, so that even its 5-megapixel shooter -- a little "low" in output compared with increasingly common 13-megapixel images -- can churn out clear, detailed, and satisfying shots. Photos taken indoors and outside focused quickly and delivered strong colors and textures.