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.