The 1.3-megapixel camera on the SGH-A517 can take pictures in seven resolutions (from 1,280x1,024 down to 176x144) and you can choose from three quality settings. Other features include brightness and white balance controls, exposure metering, multishot and mosaic shot modes, a self-timer, five color effects, 26 fun frames, and a 4x digital zoom. There are a few shutter and camera-function sounds, as well, but you can't silence the shutter completely. The camcorder takes clips in three resolutions (176x144, 160x120, and 128x96) with sound and a similar set of editing options. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at about 45 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the phone's available memory permits. Photo quality isn't the best; colors were fine, but some objects were blurry and the lighting was much too dark.
The SGH-A517 supports a music player that is compatible with the AT&T Music service. AT&T Music competes with the music services from Sprint and Verizon Wireless by offering a central application for downloading tunes to the music player and accessing related music content. We like that AT&T uses partners rather than operating its own stores, but at present you can't download music wirelessly. There's also support for MobiRadio and MobiTV, a Billboard Mobile channel, and a community section with access to fan sites. Unlike other AT&T music phones, there's no Music ID application, however. The music player interface is very basic; its features are limited to Shuffle and Repeat modes and playlists.
You can personalize the SGH-A517 with a variety of color themes, wallpapers, background colors and alert sounds. You can download more options, and additional ringtones, from AT&T using the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. The handset comes with demo versions of three Java (J2ME) games: Frogger, Jewel Quest, and Tetris. You'll have to buy the full versions for extended play. There's also a My Cast weather application for checking forecasts in your area.
We tested the quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung SGH-A517 world phone in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was above average but not spectacular. Though the volume level was loud and voices sounded natural, the signal wasn't always clear. We noticed some static and the reception faded in and out a couple of times. We wouldn't say it was a huge problem, but it was a noticeable issue nonetheless. On their end, callers said we sounded fine but they didn't love the call quality either. They could tell we were using a cell phone and they had trouble hearing us when we were in noisy environments. Speakerphone calls were a bit worse, unfortunately. The volume tended to be low and we had garbled reception on our end. Callers said they could hear us only when we stood close to the phone.
The SGH-A517 has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. In contrast, we managed to get a very impressive 10 hours and 25 minutes of talk time.