AT&T's GoPhone service offers budget services for low-maintenance users. You can choose from a prepaid (pay-as-you-go) option or you can ask to be billed for a specific amount each month (pick your plan). Features are minimal and the handsets tend to be basic models built for communication. The new Samsung SGH-A167 is one such handset. For $69.99, the A167 gives you a VGA camera, but ultimately this handset is about making calls. It performs relatively well, though we weren't crazy about the keypad and controls.
The A167 has a standard flip-phone design. The smooth lines are typical, but its royal blue color is rather unique. The compact phone measures 3.54 inches long by 1.83 inches wide by 0.78 inch thick and weighs 3.1 ounces. It fits easily in a pocket and won't weigh you down. The hinge mechanism feels sturdy, though the plastic skin won't withstand extreme environments.
The postage-stamp-size external display is monochrome (96x96 pixels), but it shows all the needed information including the date, time battery life, signal strength, and caller ID. Yet, it won't support photo caller ID or work as a viewfinder for the camera. The lens sits just above the display. Other exterior features include a volume rocker on the left spine and a proprietary headset jack/charger port on the right spine. The combined port means that you can use only one peripheral at a time.
The internal display supports 64,000 colors (160x128 pixels). Since it's relatively low-resolution, colors and graphics won't look fantastic, but the screen is bright, and the menus are intuitive. You can change the dialing font size and color, the menu font color and style, and the backlighting time.
The navigation array is spacious, but we didn't like its flimsy, plastic feel. What's more, since the controls are relatively flush, they're not very tactile. Besides the toggle and central OK button you'll find two soft keys, a back button, and the Talk and End/power controls. It's the same story with the keypad buttons--though we get enough room the flush controls don't feel very sturdy. We also don't like that in standby mode the OK button open the Web browser instead of activating the main menu.
The Smooth has a 200-contact phone book with room in each entry for 5 phone numbers, an e-mail address and notes. You can save callers to groups and you can pair them one of 10 polyphonic ringtones. The SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. Other basic feature include text and multimedia messaging, a vibrate mode, an alarm clock, a calculator, a currency and unit converter, a timer, a stopwatch, a world clock, and a tip calculator. You'll also find access to instant messaging and most POP3 e-mail accounts, though they're only accessible through the tedious WAP browser.
The VGA camera takes pictures in four resolutions and three quality settings. Editing options include a self-timer, four white balance settings, eight color effects, a night mode, spot metering, and three shutter sounds. The SGH-A167 does not record video. Photo quality was poor, unfortunately--colors were muted and most shots were blurry. The SGH-A167 has 4MB of user accessible memory.
You can personalize the A167 with a variety of wallpaper, background colors, and greetings. More options and additional ringtones are available from AT&T's Media Mall service using the wireless browser. The handset includes demo versions of three games--Platinum Sudoku, Ms. Pac Man, Super Jewel Quest, and Tetris--you'll have to purchase the full versions for extended play. You also get trial versions of three applications: WikiMobile, Mobile Banking, and The Weather Channel.
We tested the Samsung SGH-A167 in San Francisco using AT&T service. Keep in mind that as a dual-band (GSM 850/1900) phone, it will not work outside North America. Call quality was generally good. Voices sounded natural and the signal was free of interference, but the volume was a tad low. We could well as long as we were inside, but we had more trouble in places with a lot of background noise.
On their end, callers could tell that we were using a cell phone, but they didn't report significant problems beyond a couple of audio cutouts. It should be fine for occasional use, but we wouldn't recommend the SGH-A167 as your only phone. Speakerphone quality was average. The audio could get loud, but it was distorted at the highest levels.
The SGH-A167 has a rated battery life of three hours talk time and 10.5 days standby time. Our tests showed a talk time of 3 hours and 2 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the SGH-A167 has a digital SAR of 0.452 watt per kilogram.