When we first picked up the A801 (51.3 by 104.5 by 13.8 millimetres and 79 grams, for those who like measurements and weights), it felt somewhat familiar, both in that way that many vendor phones start to all look alike after a while, but also in a more concrete sense; bar a lick of paint, the A801 is the spitting image of the in pretty much every respect. This is hardly a new trick -- we've lost track of the number of Motorola phones that have used the basic RAZR design, for example. It arguably works best when the underlying design is a good one (which is why you don't see Nokia plying anything that looks like the N-Gage any more), and thankfully the D900/A801 has a pleasant and stylish design. It's a slider phone with an embedded 3.15-megapixel camera on the rear, very nice large dialling buttons and a bright, clear 5.4cm (2.12-inch) 262K QVGA TFT display. The A801's even managed to put the D900 design on a further diet, dropping 6 grams from its predecessor.
Many of the features that made the D900 stand out are still present in the A801 -- from the "Living World" interface that automatically downloads a picture of the city you're in, SMSes you when your (presumably stolen) phone has a new SIM inserted and gives you custom menu control, through to the camera, albeit in a slightly better resolution. It's Bluetooth-capable, including A2DP for stereo headsets. One odd step down is in the quantity of included memory; while the D900 had 62MB of onboard memory, the A801 has to make do with only 50MB. A microSD card slot on the side should see you right in data terms, as long as you remember to pick up a card when you buy the A801.
The bigger change with the A801 is that it's not a GSM phone, although it can fall back onto tri-band GSM networks outside of 3G areas; instead this is a specific Next G model, with all the improved data rates -- and data prices -- that this brings. Being Telstra-specific also means that the interface has a Bigpond and Foxtel button on the display by default, and at least with Next G you should have the throughput to handle both within metropolitan areas.
As we mentioned in the introduction, sharing a design with an existing (and in this case, award-winning) phone can be a good thing, but at the same time, you're also taking on board any and all design flaws. In the A801's case, that means you're stuck with the same custom connectors that aren't friendly to those with delicate (or chewed) fingernails when opening, and once open, are somewhat flimsy in terms of build quality.
One area where the A801 did impress us was in the quality of the inbuilt camera. While it's no replacement for a digital SLR, we could certainly see ourselves stepping out with the A801 for happy snapping duty and leaving the compact digital at home.
Samsung rates the A801's battery life as up to 170 minutes in GSM mode or 140 minutes for 3G-based calls, with a split 230/180 hours standby time. We weren't impressed with the D900's battery life when we reviewed it, but neither were we appalled. Unfortunately the A801 did itself no favours here, tilting more firmly towards the appalled side of the spectrum -- we found we needed to recharge it every couple of days on only moderate usage; those with heavy usage patterns would almost certainly have to recharge it every day.