From the start, the Samsung SPH-A580 looks like your basic cell phone, and in many ways, it is. You'll find a speakerphone, but there's no camera, multimedia messaging, or any of the fancy offerings that carriers are fond of touting. But sometimes looks can be deceiving. Though the SPH-A580 is primarily a phone for making calls, you'll also find a new and interesting Sprint feature: wireless backup, which offers SPH-A580 owners an opportunity to, well, wirelessly back up their contacts to Sprint's Web site. Though the SPH-A580 is a tad expensive if you pay full price ($179), service rebates should knock it down to less than $100. And better yet, by purchasing it online, you could eliminate the price tag altogether.
Given Samsung's long history of pumping out silver flip phones, the SPH-A580's design is ho-hum. There's no external antenna, it's relatively compact (3.6 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches; 3.4 ounces), and it feels solid in hand. We like the blue border that continues to the phone's rear face and the prominent speaker above the external display. Speaking of which, however, the external screen is not impressive. Tiny (96x32 pixels) and rectangular--no bigger than the display on the Sanyo VI-2300--it supports only 4-color, grayscale resolution. It shows the time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available) but not the date. Immediately above the screen is a tiny service light that blinks during calls, but you can turn it off.
Inside the phone is the satisfying main display. Measuring 1.75 inches diagonally, it supports 65,000 colors (128x160 pixels) and is sufficiently bright and vibrant. You can change the contrast, the backlighting, the brightness, and the font size and color; as expected, it's impossible to view in direct light. Below the display are the amply sized and tactile navigation controls. A four-way toggle surrounds a menu/OK button, and it doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. Below it are two soft keys, a Back button, the Talk and End/power keys, and a dedicated speakerphone control--nice.
The keypad buttons have an appealing design. They're large for a phone this size, and there's spaced well enough apart. Dialing by feel and in the dark is easy too, as the buttons are raised above the surface of the phone and brightly backlit. The individual numerals are also quite large. On the left spine are a large volume rocker and a covered headset jack. On the right spine, you'll find a voice-command/dial control, while the charger port is on the bottom.
The SPH-A580 supports a basic feature set, but the speakerphone and the voice-dialing features are welcome, and we always appreciate being able to activate the speakerphone before you make a call. The phone holds only 300 contacts, but each entry stores six phone numbers, an e-mail address, a Web address, and a birthday. You can assign callers to groups and pair them with one of 9 monophonic ring tones or 20 polyphonic ring tones. You can also pair contacts with a picture, but you'll have to download them from Sprint since there's no camera or multimedia messaging. In any case, the images don't show up on the external display, so why bother?