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Samsung Rugby 3 review: With poor call quality, what's the point?

On the tools-and-games front, you'll be able to use a compass, a calculator, a calendar, and voice command, as well as record audio. There are alarms, a memo pad and to-do list, a tip calculator, converter, a world clock, a timer, and a stop watch. A demo version of Texas Hold 'Em is onboard, and you can purchase more games, apps, and music.

The Rugby 3's 3-megapixel camera takes decent photos for a flip phone and comes with quite a few settings. You can take continuous shots or panorama, plus smile shot, which snaps a pic when it detects a grin. There's also night mode, the ability to drop down a few megapixels, and automatically adjust white balance. You'll also find filters that apply black-and-white or sepia tones, among others.

Images themselves are passable, though colors are muted unless you're in bright outdoor light. In most cases, you'll have to shrink them down anyway to send through MMS or e-mail. To get the full-size image, you'll need to transfer via Bluetooth.

The screw keeps the back panel in place. Josh Miller/CNET

Shooting a video is also an option, though videos came out a little grainy, with dull edges and flat color. At least the image didn't jerk around.

Call quality and performance
I wasn't able to test the Rugby 3's push-to-talk functionality, but I did test audio quality in San Francisco using AT&T's network (GSM 850/900/1800/1900). It was, sadly, one of the worst audio experiences I've had in a long time, and on a simple cell phone like this, that's inexcusable. Voices sounded muffled to my ears, though volume was OK at medium and high levels. They also contained a static quality, and I heard faint background crackle while my caller spoke. Thankfully there was no white noise, though.

On his end, my regular test caller said I sounded a little distorted and garbled. He also detected scratchiness in my voice and noted that I was hard to hear.

Samsung Rugby 3 call quality sample Listen now:

The speakerphone was where the poor sound engineering really reared its head. My caller and I both noticed that voices have a high-pitched chirping quality to them. On my end, audio sounded ragged, though I didn't hear any echo.

For his part, my calling partner related a terrible time punctuated by vacillating volume and voices cutting in and out. He gave the experience a D-plus.

In my mind, call quality is the phone's most major performance indicator, but there are other secondary and tertiary indicators as well. As a 3G data handset, you'll find slow Internet connection, but at least it's there. There's no Wi-Fi, which is typical for this type of handset, and battery life was good in my tests, which kept the screen on far longer than the default settings.

Military specifications means the Rugby 3 can drop into a puddle and still accept calls. Josh Miller/CNET

The Rugby 3 has a rated battery life of up to 9 hours talk time and 20 days in standby mode. During our test for talk-time, it lasted 9.4 hours. According to FCC tests, it has a digital SAR of 0.47 watt per kilogram.

Should you buy it?
Although I like the phone's aesthetics, based on poor call quality in my tests, I can't recommend buying the Rugby 3 for personal or company use. That said, I didn't get to try the push-to-talk capabilities, which could redeem the phone for some parties. Call quality also varies by area, so AT&T customers might try the phone out in their region before making a final decision.

Other minor drawbacks, like the shared headset jack and charging port, are a bummer, but the higher-megapixel camera for this phone type could balance it out. If a rugged phone is what you're after, you might try Sprint's network, where the Kyocera DuraXT is the brightest of the bunch.

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