For a long time, Sprint Nextel has had a lock on rugged cell phones with push-to-talk capability, but with the new Samsung SGH-A837, AT&T is trying to get back in the game. The SGH-A837, aka the Rugby (presumably because it can take a lot of blows), is the first AT&T rugged PTT handset since the Motorola V365. Strong and sturdy with an outsized speaker, the Rugby very much plays the part. It also offers trendy features such as Bluetooth, a 1.3-megapixel camera, and a music player, but its performance didn't hit the highest marks. The Rugby is a bit pricey ($279); or you can get it for $179 with a two-year service agreement.Design
The Rugby SGH-A837 isn't encased in rubber, but it has a durable construction. Indeed, the plastic skin feels relatively tough and the hinge mechanism is sturdy. Even though it is no Motorola i365, we're confident it could take a few blows. At 3.95 inches tall by 2.05 inches wide by 0.90 inch deep and 4.66 ounces, the Rugby is on the hefty side; it should still fit in larger pockets, and it slides easily into a bag. What's more, it has a comfortable feel in the hand.
The Rugby's external display is about the size of a postage stamp, but it supports 65,000 colors. It shows all necessary information, including the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID. Though you can change the clock style and add a greeting, the short backlighting time is not adjustable. Above the display is the massive speaker for voice and PTT calls. It couldn't be in a more convenient location. The camera lens is right below the display; there's no flash or self-portrait mirror.
On the SGH-A837's left spine you'll find a volume rocker and the PTT button. They could be a tad bigger, but they're easy to find by feel. A dedicated speaker button and the charger port/headset jack sit on the right spine. The speaker button is great, but the combined jack is inconvenient. Not only does it require a headset (or an adapter) with a proprietary connection, but you can also only use one peripheral at a time.
Like Nextel's handsets, the Rugby is certified to military specifications for dust, shock, vibration, rain, humidity, solar radiation, and temperature extremes. Just keep in mind that the Rugby is not waterproof, just water resistant, so don't try taking it for a swim. The battery cover features a locking mechanism that keeps out dust and water. While that's a point in the SGH-A837's favor, you have to remove the battery to access the memory-card slot.
The internal display is a bit small (2 inches) for the phone's overall size, but with support for 262,000 colors is both bright and vibrant. Colors and graphics are sharp and text is readable. You can select one of two easy-to-use menu styles and you can adjust the brightness, the backlighting time, and the dialing-font, size, type, and color.
The Rugby's navigation array is spacious, but we wish it were a bit more tactile. Though the square toggle is covered in a textured material, all of the navigation controls are flush. As such, we had a few misdials at first. You'll also find an OK button in the toggle's center, two soft keys, a clear control, the Talk and End/power buttons, shortcuts for the GPS feature, and a user-programmable Favorites menu. You can program the toggle to give one-touch access to four user-defined features.
The keypad buttons on the Rugby are well-designed. They arrangement is spacious and the keys are tactile and separated from each other. We could dial and text quickly and dial by feel. The numbers on the keys are a bit small, but they have a bright backlighting.
The Rugby has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for six phone numbers, two e-mail addresses, two URLS, an instant-messaging handle, a nickname, a birthday, two street addresses, a company name, job title, and notes (the SIM card holds an additional 250 names). You can assign callers to groups and pair them with one of 10 polyphonic ringtones. Alternatively, if you want to get more creative, you can use files for the phone's audio recorder as ringtones. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a tip calculator, a stopwatch, a currency and unit converter, an alarm clock, a world clock, a timer, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, and a calculator.
For more active users, the SGH-A837 offers a voice recorder, stereo Bluetooth, USB mass storage, PC syncing, support for AT&T's Video Share application, and GPS with support for AT&T's navigation service. And of course, the Rugby supports AT&T's PTT network for making walkie-talkie calls to other compatible AT&T phones. Messaging addicts will find instant messaging and Web-based POP3 e-mail support for a variety of providers. There's no syncing for IMAP4 e-mail, which is to be expected, but the lack of voice dialing is disappointing.
The Rugby supports AT&T's Cellular Video service, which offers tons of streaming-video content, and AT&T Mobile Music, which brings wireless song downloads through a variety of partners. The experience on the two applications is similar to that on other AT&T phones; both are minimalist in their designs, but the music player supports a wide variety of file formats and it offers useful features, such as album art, playlists, and shuffle and repeat modes. The Rugby also has a solid selection of music-related features, such as support for XM Radio Mobile, music videos, a Music ID application, a Billboard Mobile channel, and a community section with access to fan sites and downloads.