A small flashlight sits on the top of the phone next to the looped antenna. It's quite bright for its size, so it should be useful if you lose your keys or can't find the door in a dark room. The battery cover uses a locking mechanism so it should stay secure under most conditions. You must remove the battery and cover to access the memory card slot. Normally we'd complain about such an arrangement, but we'll let it pass here since the SGH-A657's design is all about durability.
The SGH-A657 has a hefty 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for six phone numbers, an e-mail address, an instant messaging handle, and notes. Of course, you can save callers to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 10 (72-chord) polyphonic ringtones. The SIM card holds an additional 250 names.
Basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, call timers, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a calculator, a unit and currency converter, a tip calculator, a world clock, a timer, and a stopwatch. You'll also find stereo Bluetooth, USB syncing and mass storage, a voice recorder, instant messaging, access to AT&T's PTT network and support for the carrier's AT&T Navigator GPS service. On the downside, e-mail is limited to Web-based POP3 access, and there's no voice dialing.
The SGH-A657 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.
For audiophiles, the handset also has a solid selection of music-related features, such as support for XM Radio Mobile, a Music ID application, a Billboard Mobile channel, music videos, and a community section with access to fan sites and downloads. We especially welcome the application that lets you create your own ringtones and save music tracks as ringtones. You can personalize the SGH-A657 with a variety of themes, background colors, wallpaper, and a greeting message. More options and additional ringtones are available from AT&T using its wireless Web browser. The phone offers demo versions of thee games--Midnight Pool 3D, Tetris, and World Poker Tour Hold Em 2--you'll have to buy the full versions for extended play.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung SGH-A657 world phone in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was more than respectable. We enjoyed clear conversation with a strong signal. There was little static and no interference from other electronic devices. Volume was softer than we'd like, but voices sounded natural, and the phone didn't pick up excessive background noise.
On their end, callers said we sounded fine. They could tell that we were using a cell phone, but that's hardly unusual. Most of our friends also reported the soft volume, but it should be fine unless you're in an excessively noisy place. We had a similar experience with automated calling systems--we were understood as long as we were inside.
Speakerphone calls were quite good. The volume was much louder than with standard calls, and the audio was clear. Callers could hear us even when we were a few feet from the phone.
Unfortunately, streaming video was mostly poor. The display size is just too small and the images suffered from excessive pixelation and choppy motion. What's more, the audio wasn't always in sync, and videos paused to buffer. They only bright spot was the videos loaded quickly thanks to the strong 3G (UMTS; HSDPA 850/1900) connection.
Music quality was a bit better. The external speaker has a strong output, though the audio lacked range. Headphones will provide the best experience.
The SGH-A657 has a rated battery life of three hours take time, which is rather low for a GSM phone. Promised standby time is 10.5 days. In our tests, the SGH-A657 has 4 hours and 1 minute of talk time. According to FCC radiation tests, the SGH-QA657 has a digital SARof 0.682 watt per kilogram.