Samsung Galaxy Ace 2
If you're about to buy a mid-range phone, then you'll more than likely be glad of the help from sites such as Pocket-lint, because it is, without doubt, the most confusing part of the market. At the high-end, with phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X and, of course, the iPhone, things are simple. These are all good phones, and each one will be a pleasure to use.
At the low end things are a little confusing, but many handsets are perfectly usable day to day. When you're paying £100, you're really getting something basic, but more than likely it will surprise you - read our review of the Orange San Francisco II and the T-Mobile Vivacity to see why.
And then there's the mid-range, in which the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 sits, along with phones like the ZTE Grand X and the Huawei Honour. These three phones are all different, and the quality, and usability varies wildly. If you're buying a phone for about £200, then you're going to need some advice. So let's hope we can help.
It's a phone, what can we say. On these budget handsets Samsung doesn't push the boat out with exciting design. Here we have a black rectangle with rounded corners - don't tell Apple - and a hard button, and two capacitive controls on the front. This follows the usual Samsung style of a menu key on the left, and a back button on the right.
Elsewhere on the phone you'll fine a power button on the right, a volume rocker on the left, and a headphone socket on the top. charging is done via USB, which is located on the bottom of the phone. The battery is removable, there's a full-sized SIM card slot too, and microSD near the volume rocker.
There's a camera lurking on the back of the phone, which has an LED flash, and there's the usual video-calling front-facing shooter.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the Ace 2 is that it's the right size. It's not too small to be useful, but it's not too big to be a hassle to lug about either. This is perhaps one of the most overlooked things about modern smartphones, so it's nice to see a handset that appeals to the people who want a phone-sized phone.
Phone stuff and texting
Because of the size and shape of this phone, it actually does calls and text messages with considerable skill. Perhaps it's aimed at that group of people who like phones, and live on text messages, but aren't too bothered about apps and multimedia. Although we wonder if those people exist any more. But there are people who just don't have £450 to spend on a phone, and this is the territory of the Ace 2.
In terms to keyboard customisations, you get a choice of a standard Samsung system, which we rather liked. Or you can use Swype, which we do think is a good input method, but it does take a little bit of learning, and comes into its own on slightly larger screens.
Call quality is super too, the earpiece is loud enough, but calls are very clear too. This is nice, and we found it pretty easy to get the earpiece over our ear too. Don't laugh, on some handsets that's a lot harder than it sounds.
There's not much wrong with the Ace 2 in terms of performance. It feels slick, and we never felt it was lacking. The processor is a dual core chip running at a modest 800MHz, and there's just 768MB of RAM and an annoyingly small 4GB of storage. The storage can be improved with a microSD card though, and the RAM never really felt like a problem in day-to-day use.
The screen is a 480x800 TFT LCD, and it's nice. Bright enough outside - just - and very clear, despite being quite a modest resolution. We prefer LCDs to OLED because the colours are more natural, and they're better in bright daylight.
You get an FM radio too, which is surprisingly good, and we are always pleased to see them on phones. Samsung is especially good for including them, and this one works well. It auto-scans and the quality is decent.
Apps and that
Samsung goes light on pre-installed apps, which we like. It covers the basics, so there are music and video players to get you started with media. We like the video player, but we think there are better music players on the market.
Samsung is also obsessed with "hubs". It's almost as if humans used the word "hub" in normal conversation. In fact, it's like "keeping something on your radar". Humans aren't equipped with radar, so the whole thing sounds like it was made up by someone trying to sound clever. Anyway, the social hub is where you can tell the phone all your social media logins, and it can then pillage them for information and updates. It will be popular, as it brings a new dimension to the phone, and makes sharing things easier too.
There's a Samsung app store: the thing is ghastly and annoys us no end, as it just means you need a Samsung account, and that in turn is another load of nonsense to sign up for. There are probably exclusive Samsung apps here, but really, who cares? You might, in which case feel free to sign up, we think it's largely nonsense.
ChatON is also included, which is Samsung's version of Messages on an iPhone. It works the same way, and can help you communicate free if your friends also use the service. The app is free to all, so actually it's probably worth telling people about and getting them to use it.
Allshare provides some DLNA support. We don't get on with it, and it wouldn't play much of anything from either our Windows shares, or Plex. There are better apps - try Skifta - out there, so we wouldn't bother. It is better for sending things from the phone to another device though, so you might get some mileage out of that feature.
Video on the Ace 2 is a surprise. The phone will happily manage HD at 720p in MKV containers. There's a problem with AC3 (Dolby Digital) audio though, the phone can't play it, so if you want to hear video with this type of sound you'll need to flatten it first using an app on your computer. But we love that HD video plays smoothly and crisply on a £200 phone. We've used phones that cost twice as much that can't handle this sort of thing.
Video quality is really good too, the smallish screen has enough pixels to make the screen look impressive, and the colour is excellent, it looks very natural. You can thank the LCD for that, because the Samsung doesn't use one of those ghastly AMOLED things.
It's worth noting that the standard Samsung video app is really quite good. It plays files simply, with minimal fuss. It also remembers your place, so if you get interrupted, or even start watching another thing, you can always go back to where you were.
Sound from the small, built-in speakers is decent enough. It's tinny, and there's not much range which makes listening to must a real pain. But for speech from TV shows or phone calls, it's actually quite serviceable. It's also pretty loud, which is good if you are a speakerphone sort.
Sound from headphones is deeply impressive - depending on your headphones, of course - but there's loads of range, and the bass is deep and impressive sounding. This is, sonically, quite a capable phone, so if music is your thing, that's good news. There's a bias toward the low end, but that's to some people's taste. There's also a faux 5.1 effect. It's dreadful, don't use it.
Yes, it's a bit predictable, but the camera isn't brilliant on the Ace 2. We found that colours were far too over-saturated by default. This produces results that catch the eye, but there's no definition in these bright colours, and that makes the results incredibly disappointing.
There is also a slight issue with the focus, it's quite simply not very accurate, and it seems to keep focusing well after you think it's stopped. What that meant to us, was that we'd touch the screen, to lock on, then press the shutter button, but the result was blurred. You can work around this by holding the camera still for longer than you think and waiting for a final lock. It's still a bother though.
Aside from the colour issue, detail is average on photos. The traditional smear of low-cost digital cameras is present and correct, but it's not as bad as budget phones, it's just not really ideal either.
We like the Ace 2 a lot. It's a sensibly priced phone that, while not overflowing with high-end features, holds its own in a busy market. The screen is good, the build quality is excellent, and as a phone, it excels at the phone tasks that often get forgotten in reviews.
It's a good size too, you can operate it easily with one hand - all too hard on big-screen handsets - and it fits in pockets and bags without any problems. It's also sturdy enough to carry around without worrying you'll break it at a moments notice.
Problems are, on the whole, minor too. The camera isn't brilliant, but it works well enough for tweeting, Facebook and other similar. Overall, we like the Ace 2, it's not as exciting as a flagship handset, but it's also more than half the price.