THE GOOD: The Samsung SGH-A177 offers a simple design with a comfortable keyboard. Its practical feature set centers on texting.
THE BAD: The Samsung SGH-A177's call volume is low. Speakerphone quality is unimpressive.
THE BOTTOM LINE: If you can live with its variable call quality, the Samsung SGH-A177 is a functional and easy-to-use texting phone. It's affordable and it doesn't require a contract.
In case you haven't noticed, messaging phones are in. Once the domain of high-end smartphones, full alphabetic keyboards have trickled down over the past year into a broad variety of basic, midrange handsets. These messaging phones are built primarily for texting--POP3 e-mail is offered as an afterthought only and Outlook syncing is unavailable. But as communication devices, they let you tap out long messages relatively quickly.
In the past year, messaging phones have arrived at all carriers and have come down in price. And with the new Samsung SGH-A177 for AT&T's Go Phone service, they're now available for prepaid customers. The A177 isn't anything special, and call quality is variable, but it offers functional features, a simple design, and a comfortable keyboard. The camera is unimpressive. The A177 is $99.99, but keep in mind that you don't need a contract.
The rectangular A177 doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is, and that's a good thing. It doesn't hide its keyboard behind a flip or slider design; rather, it's out in front for all to see. But what it lacks in high-end styling, it makes up in usability. The plastic shell probably won't withstand a lot of bruises, but the A177 has a comfortable feel in the hand. The phones measures 4.29 inches tall by 2.32 inches wide by 0.47 inch deep and weighs 3.09 ounces. It travels well and fits comfortably into a pocket.
The 2.2-inch display takes up almost half of the phone's real estate. Though its color support (64,000 hues) and pixel resolution (220x176) are rather low by current standards, the display serves its purpose. Graphics and photos won't look great, but the screen is bright. You can change the backlight time, the brightness, and the dialing-font size and color. The easy-to-use menus come in grid and list styles.
The navigation array is spacious and intuitive. The large toggle and central OK button are raised above the surface of the phone, so we had no issues cruising through the menus. The OK button opens the Web browser when in standby mode, but you can use the toggle as a shortcut to more features. Surrounding the toggle are two soft keys, the Talk and End/power keys, a messaging shortcut, and a back/clear button. Though these controls are flush, their large sizes makes them easy to use.
Other buttons include back and return controls, shift and symbol keys, a handset-locking switch, and shortcuts for IM applications, the camera, and the games and applications menu. The space bar is conveniently located in the center of the bottom row.
The remaining exterior features include a volume rocker on the left spine and a charger port/headset jack on the right spine. The combined port means that you can use only one peripheral at a time and the proprietary connection forces you to get an adapter if you want to use your own headset. The camera lens and self-portrait mirror are located on the A177's rear face.
The SGH-A177 has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes. You can save callers and pair them with a photo and one of 10 polyphonic, 64-chord ringtones. Alternatively, you can use your own audio recordings as ringtones. The SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts.
Essential features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a notepad, a calculator, a tip calculator, a currency and unit converter, a timer, a stopwatch, and a world clock. You'll also find instant messaging, a voice recorder, and Bluetooth.
The VGA camera takes pictures in three resolutions (640x480, 320x240 and 220x165 pixels). Other options include a self-timer, four white balance settings, four color effects, adjustable brightness, a night mode, and metering exposure. Photo quality is just average, even for a VGA camera. The SGH-A177 has about 14MB of shared memory, but it does not record video.
The SGH-A177 offers demo versions of several games and applications. They include AT&T Mobile e-mail, JuiceCaster, Mobile Banking, GraffitiWriter, WikiMobile Bubble Bash, Diner Dash 2, Guitar Hero III, and Bejeweled. You can personalize the handset with a variety of wallpaper, themes, background colors, and greetings. More options are available from AT&T using the WAP 2.0 browser.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/19000) world phone in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality had its high and low points. Though the signal was generally strong and free of static, some voices sounded a tad garbled. It didn't happen constantly, but when it was there, it was noticeable. Also, the volume level was insufficient if we were speaking in a noisy place.
On their end, callers could understand us. Landline and cell phone users reported some voice distortion, but again it wasn't universal. Also, some of our friends had to strain to understand us if we were speaking on a busy street or in a large store with announcements over the public address system. Similarly, automated calling systems could understand us, but it was best if we were in a quiet room. Speakerphone calls were disappointing. Though we had enough volume, the distortion effect was magnified,
The SGH-A177 has a rated battery life of 5 hours talk time and 10.5 days standby time. Our tests showed a talk time of 5 hours and 10 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the SGH-A177 has a digital SAR rating of 0.724 watts per kilogram.