It's been a busy year for Samsung, especially during the last few months, when every week it seems as if the company has pumped out a new cell phone. But now as 2007 draws to a close, we greet our last Samsung review of the year with the SGH-A747 for AT&T. Also called the SLM (can you guess why?), the SGH-A747 offers everything you'd expect from a 3G Samsung handset in a trim flip phone design. We admit the SLM name makes us a little nervous, mainly because we're hoping Samsung doesn't start dropping its vowels like Motorola does, but were intrigued by the model's ability to download songs over the air, the first such AT&T handset to do so. Call quality was acceptable, but unfortunately, the wireless music downloading application is disappointing. The SLM is $129 with service ($279 if you pay full price), but you can get it online for as little as $129.
Like many of Samsung's handsets, the SLM looks a lot like a model that came before it. In this case, it's the Samsung SGH-A717. Available in both blue and silver (we reviewed the blue version) the SLM has the same basic shape as its predecessor, but with a few changes. It's a tad smaller and lighter than the A717 (3.96x1.99x0.51 inches, 3.17 ounces) and fortunately, it has a larger external display. Instead of a tiny monochrome screen squashed into the top end of the phone, the A727 features a 1-inch display that supports 65,000 colors (96x96 pixels). That means it supports photo caller ID and wallpaper.
Otherwise, the SLM of the SGH-A717's external features include the swiveling camera, the volume rocker on the left spine, and the memory card slot and charger/headset jack on the right spine. The phone has a comfortable feel in the hand though the hinge mechanism felt the slightest bit loose.
The SLM's interior also resembles the SGH-A717's, but with some minor changes. The 2.25-inch, 262,000-color display is just about identical but it has a slightly lower pixel resolution (220x176 versus 320x240). The change is only barely noticeable, as the display renders virtually everything well. The easy-to-use menus come in two designs, and you can change the dialing font size and type as well as the backlighting time.
The navigation array has the same controls but they're arranged slightly differently. There's a five-way toggle, two soft keys, a dedicated music player control, a Clear button, the Talk and End/Power keys, and a "swap" button that activates a user-programmable shortcuts pop-up menu. The toggle also can double as a shortcut control, but we'd prefer that the OK button in its center opens the main menu when the phone is in standby mode. Instead, it opens the Web browser. The keypad buttons are almost unchanged as well. Just like with the navigation array, they're flat, but their large size makes them relatively easy to use.
The Samsung SGH-A747 has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry to hold six phone numbers, an e-mail address, an instant-messaging handle, and notes. The SIM card holds an additional 250 names, while a microSD card can hold even more. You can organize callers into groups and pair them with a photo and any of 13 polyphonic ringtones. Essential features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a voice recorder, a world clock, a calculator, a currency and unit converter, a tip calculator, a stopwatch, an alarm clock, a speakerphone, a timer, a task list, a notepad, and a calendar. Higher-end offerings include instant messaging, e-mail, USB mass storage, and full Bluetooth with a stereo profile. There is no voice dialing.
As a 3.5G HSDPA phone, the SLM supports the full range of broadband multimedia applications. AT&T Video brings a satisfying range of streaming-video clips from such networks as NBC, Comedy Central, ESPN, the Weather Channel, VH1, and CNN. There's a special channel for kids as well, with programming from the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network, and Muppets Mobile. Premium entertainment is offered from HBO Mobile, Music and Latin Videos, MobiTV, and Music Choice for an extra charge. For a full analysis of the offerings, see our Cellular Video review. You'll also find compatibility with AT&T's Video Share application, which allows you to send live or recorded videos to friends while you're on a call (provided they also have a Video Share phone).
As we mentioned earlier, the SLM is the first AT&T handset to accept wireless song downloads. The carrier still is partnering with subscription services such as Napster Mobile and eMusic for content (Verizon Wireless and Sprint operate their own music stores), but you'll be able to download tracks to your computer and your handset at the same time. The price structure is rather expensive--$7.49 for five songs per month or $1.99 each--but for impulse buyers it will eliminate the need to sync all your music through your computer. And as always, you can transfer unprotected MP3, WMA, and AAC music files to the SGH-A747 using a memory card or a USB cable.
The SLM's music player interface is like that of other AT&T music phones; it displays album art but features are limited to shuffle and repeat modes, playlists, an equalizer, and an airplane mode. The handset offers other music services including support for XM Radio Mobile, a Music ID application, a Billboard Mobile channel, and a community section with access to fan sites.
The SGH-A747's 2-megapixel camera takes pictures in four resolutions, from 1,600x1,200 down to 320x240. Other camera features include three quality settings; brightness and white balance controls; mosaic, panorama, multishot, and night modes; 20 fun frames; a self-timer, and three color tones. There's also a digital zoom (though it's unusable at the highest resolution) and three shutter sounds, plus a silent option. The camcorder records clips in a 176x144 resolution with sound and a number of editing options; clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at about 90 seconds, or you can shoot for as long as the available memory will permit. The SLM offers 50MB of shared internal memory. That's about average for a multimedia phone, so a microSD card is recommended. Photo quality was about average as well; images were relatively blurry, and the colors were washed out.
You can personalize the SGH-A747 with a variety of wallpaper, background colors, and a greeting message. If you'd like more choices, you can download additional options and ringtones via the lovely Opera Mini wireless Web browser. The SGH-A747 comes with demo versions of four games: Brain Challenge, Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man, Tetris and Jewel Quest 2. There's also My Cast for checking weather forecasts in your area, MySpace Mobile, and an application from IMDb for checking movie show times in your area.
We tested the Samsung SLM SGH-A747 in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was decent, though the clarity was muddy at times, and the volume could be the tiniest bit louder. On the upside, the signal was strong and free of static, and we didn't encounter interference with other electronic devices.
Callers reported much of the same on their end. They could hear us well, though they also said the clarity could be sharper. On the other hand, they didn't have any issues hearing us when we were in a noisy place. Also, we had no issues when calling voice-automated systems. The speakerphone was respectable, though not spectacular. The overall quality hardly changed from regular voice calls.
While we have to hand it to AT&T for enabling wireless song downloads to its phones (finally), we wish the service was more elegant. The interface, which is reached through the Web browser, is rather convoluted and clunky. It wasn't quite clear which options did what, and some choices looked more like ads than applications. The search function also was disappointing. More than once, we didn't get any results when we searched for a specific song by name. But when we searched by artist, then scrolled through entire track list, we were successful. The downloading process was buggy as well; we had to try four times before we could download a song. During the first three tries, the connection would time out even though we had a consistently strong 3G connection. Finally, on the fourth try we received our song relatively quickly--it took 30 seconds to download a 1.6MB track.
The SLM has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and a standby time of 10.4 days. We were impressed with our tested talk time of 4 hours, 49 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the SGH-A747 has a digital SAR rating of 0.478 watt per kilogram.