The SGH-C417 doesn't try to hard to look pretty, but that's OK. We liked the phone's understated design, with its sleek lines. The SGH-C417 is relatively thin and compact, at 3.66 by 1.89 by 0.65 inches. It is, however, too small to cradle comfortably between your ear and shoulder. At 2.86 ounces, the SGH-C417 is also relatively light, but we couldn't help but notice that the flip mechanism and the stubby antenna felt flimsy. This isn't a phone for the adventure sports enthusiast.
The external grayscale display measures 1 inch (96x96 pixels) and shows all the required information: date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (when available). It doesn't support photo caller ID, but it does act as a rudimentary viewfinder for self-portraits with the phone's VGA camera. You can only change the display contrast, but fortunately it is visible when backlighting is dimmed. The camera lens sits above the display, but doesn't come with a flash. A volume rocker and a covered headset jack sit on the left spine while a camera shutter key and the charger port sit on the right spine.
The internal display measures 2 inches and supports 65,000 colors. Though it's perfectly adequate for navigating through the minimal but functional menus, the display isn't very bright or vibrant. Perhaps we've been spoiled with 262,000-color displays, but the difference between more modern screens and the SGH-C417's resolution is stark. You can change display font, color, brightness, and backlighting time, but that's about it.
The navigation controls and keypad buttons suffer from the same problems that beset many thin phones. Not only are the buttons flush with the surface of the handset, but also they're slippery. While the red SGH-C417 has an easy-to-read silver interior, the gray SGH-C417 comes with a black interior that makes keypad numbers and letters harder to decipher. Primary navigation is through a four-way toggle and a central OK button. The toggle doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined functions, while the OK button opens the phone's Web browser when in standby mode. This isn't ideal, as we'd prefer the OK button open the menu instead. However, it's a design quirk that you quickly get used to. Other controls include two giant soft keys, a clear button, and the Talk and End/Power buttons. The keypad buttons have a unique design that unfortunately doesn't make them very easy to use. Each row of numbers sits on one long button, with different pressure points for each number. There's little tactile separation between the individual digits, so dialing by feel is difficult.
The phone book holds 500 contacts, with room in each entry for five phone numbers, an e-mail address, and additional notes. You can assign callers to groups, or pair them with one of 10 polyphonic ring tones. You also can pair friends with photos, but the images won't show up on the phone's external display. Other basic offerings include text and multimedia messaging, a voice recorder, AOL instant messaging, a vibrate mode, an alarm clock, a calendar, a task list, a notepad, a calculator, a converter, a timer, a stopwatch, and a world clock. On the high-end, the SGH-C417 has Bluetooth capability and a speakerphone.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung SGH-C417 in San Francisco using Cingular's wireless service. Sound quality was satisfactory, but voices at times sounded hollow. Volume level was fine, and callers could hear us plainly. Yet we did experience some problems with the phone's voice-response systems when the surroundings were noisy. Speakerphone calls were good, and we had no troubles using a Bluetooth headset.
The Samsung SGH-C417 has a rated talk time of 5 hours and a promised standby time of 10 days. Our tests showed a surprising talk time of 10 hours and 28 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the SGH-C417 has a digital SAR rating of 1.51 watts per kilogram.