The A197 is built with communication in mind, so it comes with only the essential features. The phone book holds 450 contacts with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, and notes. You can save callers to groups and pair them with one of 10 polyphonic ringtones. Alternatively, you can record your own ringtones using the A197's voice recorder. The SIM card holds an additional 250 names and you can choose to send calls from specific phone numbers directly to voice mail.
Organizer features include a calendar, a memo pad, a calculator, a timer, a unit and currency converter, a stopwatch, an alarm clock, a world clock, and a tip calculator. The A197 also supports Bluetooth, text and multimedia messaging and a variety of POP3 e-mail services like Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail. Keep in mind that you'll be using a clunky Web-based interface for all e-mail access.
The VGA camera takes photos in four resolutions, from 640x480 down to 128x96. Other options include a self-timer, a brightness meter, a 4x zoom, four white-balance settings, seven color effects, spot metering, a night mode, and three shutter sounds. The A197 does not record video.
Photo quality is average for a VGA camera. Colors will be dull and you'll see a lot of image noise, but that's the nature of the VGA beast. The A197 comes with just 128MB of shared memory, which will limit you to about 14 images at the highest resolution.
The A197 comes with a My-Cast Weather app. Just keep in mind that data use will result in extra charges. You can get more applications through AT&T's App Center, but the A197 is too basic to be an app-friendly device. It also comes with demo versions of Tetris and Bejeweled. You'll need to download the full versions for extended play.
We tested the dual-band (GSM 850/1900) Samsung SGH-A197 in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was uneven in our experience. Though it was reliable most of the time, there were occasions where the audio cut out on our end and we heard a bit of static. Also, the volume level was much too low for most situations. As a dual-band phone, the SGH-A197 won't work outside of North America.
On their end, callers had a few complaints, as well. They could hear us fine if we were inside, but if we called from a noisy place, they had trouble hearing us clearly. Speakerphone calls were equally variable. We could communicate, but the audio was a tad distorted and the volume was too low.
Samsung SGH-A197 call quality sample Listen now:
The A197 has a rated battery life of 6 hours of talk time and 12.5 days of standby time. According to our tests, it has a talk time of 6 hours and 27 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the A197 has a digital SAR of 0.24 watts per kilogram.