THE GOOD: The Samsung Messager II has an easy-to-use design with a comfortable, tactile keyboard. Its features are functional, and its performance is satisfactory.
THE BAD: The Messager II's display offers few customization options. The camera lacks a flash and self-portrait mirror and we don't like the placement of the soft keys on the keyboard.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With definite advantages over its predecessor, the Samsung Messager II is a solid addition to MetroPCS and Cricket lineups.
When we saw the Samsung Messager earlier this year, we thought that it was an adequate messaging phone, but we were disappointed it didn't offer much else. Fortunately, Samsung took a little more care in designing the new Samsung Messager II. With a more appealing design and a stronger feature set, the Messager II, aka the SCH-r560, offers messaging and multimedia in one easy-to-use package. Call quality is decent and the photo quality is good. The Messager is available with both Metro PCS and Cricket Communications. We tested the former, but with the exception of some performance differences, the two handsets will be largely similar. Also, as neither carrier requires contracts you will have to shell out more for the Messager II than you would at a standard carrier. At MetroPCS the price is $149.99, while Cricket charges $129.
The original Messager wasn't unattractive, but we couldn't get over the fact that we thought it looked like a toy. In contrast, the Messager II is larger with a sturdier feel. Its profile and blue-gray color scheme aren't particularly striking, but for what it lacks in pizazz, it makes up for with a bright display and well-designed controls.
The 2.2-inch display supports 262,000 colors. Its graphics and photos are more than presentable, and its colors are bright. It lacks the impact of the some of the higher-resolution displays, but it's a good match on a phone of this caliber. The menus are easy to use as well, and we like the shortcut icons on the standby display. However, we'd prefer to have more controls over which icons we'd like to appear. Also, though you can change the backlighting time, no other display options are customizable.
The Messager II's nifty navigation array is one of its biggest draws. The circular control functions as both a four-way toggle and a scrollwheel. Indeed, we could move our finger all the way around when navigating menus. The control in the middle of the toggle opens the menu when in standby mode and functions as an OK key when inside menu pages. Its remaining controls are spacious and tactile. You'll also find two soft keys, a speakerphone shortcut, a clear button, and the Talk and End/power controls.
Below the phone controls is the standard numeric keypad. The keys are flush, but you have enough space for dialing and even texting. The individual buttons are also separated from each other, though the numbers on the keys are somewhat small. Users with visual impairments should test the phone before buying it.
A volume rocker and the microSD card slot are on the left spine, while the camera shutter and the Micro-USB port are on the right spine. The latter is used to connect a USB data cable and the charger. On the top of the phone is the 3.5-millimeter headset jack--that's a nice touch on a music phone. The camera lens and speaker sit on the back of the handset. The Messager II lacks a flash and a self-portrait mirror.
To find the Messager II's keyboard, just tip the phone to the left and slide up the top face. The slider mechanism is neither too stiff nor too loose--you can open and close it with one hand and it clicks into place at either end. The display will rotate to landscape mode when opening the keyboard, though the Messager II doesn't have an accelerometer. The keys are flat, but the keyboard's spacious layout makes it easy to use and comfortable. What's more, the top row of keys is not too close to the bottom of the sliding face.
The large space bar is conveniently positioned in the center of the bottom row. On its left side, you'll find the messaging shortcut and the shift and function keys. On its right side are the arrow directional buttons. As on many messaging handsets, the numbers share space with letters and symbols. We didn't like that the soft keys are at either end of the bottom row. Though they're a different color, they are a long way from the corresponding commands on the display. Also, though the buttons are backlit, they numbers are difficult to see on the sliver keys.
The Messager II has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers and an e-mail address. You can save callers to groups and you can pair them with a photos and one of 13 polyphonic ringtones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calculator, a calendar, a tip calculator, a voice recorder, a world clock, a stop watch, a unit and currency converter, and a notepad.
Beyond the basics, the Messager II has Bluetooth with a file transfer profile, voice commands and voice dialing, USB support, and can run a handful of applications including Loopt, MetroNavigator, Mobile IM, @Metro e-mail, premium directory assistance, Pocket Express, and MetroBackup. Your exact selection will vary by carrier. The handset also supports additional content downloads through the WAP Web browser and MetroWeb. The Messager II has 40MB of internal memory, but you get additional storage with an external memory card.
The 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in five resolutions, from 1,600x1,200 pixels down to 176x144 pixels. Other editing options include five quality settings, four color tones, an adjustable ISO, a night mode, a self-timer, three white balance settings, spot metering, series and mosaic shot modes, a digital zoom, and adjustable brightness. Its camcorder options are similar, though not as plentiful. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds, but you can record video for a much longer time in standard mode.
When finished shooting, you can save videos to the phone's internal memory, or you can transfer them off the handset in a multimedia message or via the memory card. Its photo quality was quite good for a 2-megapixel shooter. Our photos showed natural colors and not too much noise. Lighting was a bit tricky--either too much or not enough--but that's expected on a camera phone. Its video quality was just average.
The Messager II's music player is standard for a Samsung device. The interface is simple and easy to use, and the scroll wheel is convenient for scanning through a long list of songs. The player supports album art and even lyrics for some songs. You also can set an equalizer visualization. Additional features include playlists and shuffle and repeat modes. However, its music quality isn't great over the external speakers, so we suggest using a headset.
You can personalize the Messager II with wallpaper, alert tones, and a banner. Additional customization options and more ringtones are available. The handset doesn't come with any games.
We tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1,900; AWS) Samsung Messager II SCH-r560 in San Francisco using MetroPCS' service. Call quality was mostly satisfactory. We enjoyed clear conversations with enough volume and little static or interference. Voices sounded mostly natural, through there occasionally was a robotic effect on our end. It wasn't a big deal, but it was there. Its speakerphone calls were loud and relatively clear.
On their end, callers reported few problems beyond some background noise. Most of our callers were satisfied with the voice quality. They could tell that we were using a cell phone, but that's a common experience. If we were in a loud place, we had to speak at a loud volume to be understood. Calls to automated systems were fine, but we had to be inside. Bluetooth headset calls with the phone were decent.
The Messager II has a rated battery life of 4 hours talk time and 12.5 hours standby time. in our tests, we found that the Messager II has a rather short talk time of 3 hours and 1 minute. According to FCC radiation tests, the Messager II has a SAR of 1.10 watts per kilogram.