Finding an interesting-looking handset amongst the dozens of Samsung releases each year is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Samsung does release a few stunners; however, if the previous statement is true, then the A551 is just another handful of hay. Like the A811, J700, J750 and the G600 (to name a few), the A551 is a conventionally designed plastic slider and sure to be lost amongst the glam and glitter of its competition.
Though the exterior finish is nothing to write home about, the A551's utilitarian design certainly feels right, with a satisfying weight and a sliding mechanism that clicks into place when both opened and closed. Under the slide we find a flat numeric keypad with the digits divided by thin raised strips — again similarly designed to many of Samsung's brethren. The keypad design could be improved with raised buttons, but it's easy to use nonetheless.
The big drawcard here is HSDPA (3.6Mbps) data transfers on Telstra's Next G network. In truth, if you were to take away its Next G capabilities then the A551 would be a $150 budget-priced handset, left with only a 1.3-megapixel camera and basic raft of organiser and media playback applications. Next G connectivity does obviously elevate the functionality of this handset, allowing users to access Foxtel and BigPond TV, amongst other standard Next G services.
The A551 also features a front-facing VGA resolution camera for video-calling and a microSD card slot on the side of the handset gives you access to your memory cards without having to power down first.
Not only is HSDPA the major drawcard for the A551, it's also the strongest performing aspect of this device. Loading Web pages is lightning fast, and when we logged into a Foxtel channel it buffered briefly then played back the streaming video content seamlessly. The only downside to this excellent online experience is that the colour display has a terrible vertical viewing range, with images turning negative at slight angles off-centre. This is compounded when you want to watch mobile TV in landscape mode, making it the horizontal viewing axis which suffers, and requiring the user to hold the screen straight and still.
Reception during calls was a bit patchy, and the internal speaker is a tad quiet and crackly, making calls difficult to hear. Reception is a difficult feature to test effectively, with there being a range of reasons for disturbance and only some of these pertaining to this phone's hardware.
Battery life is above average with the cycles lasting between three and four days with light usage. However, we struggled to monitor the batteries' remaining charge, with the on-screen icon displaying two-thirds remaining power only minutes before the phone shut-down in some cases.
Telstra currently offer approximately 35 handsets, and if we were to rate these against one another, the A551 would sit at about halfway; not the best in show, but not the worst by far.
In terms of outright expense, the A551 sits in the middle of Telstra's current range. At the time of writing, Telstra offers the A551 on a $30 plan or for AU$559 as an upfront cost. This seems a hefty charge for what is essentially a basic handset with HSDPA, but then Telstra has never been known for bargain-basement pricing plans. That said, those who buy the A551 will be treated to a solid Next G handset.