CNET readers frequently ask if they can buy a cell phone that's just a phone. Although carriers tend to emphasize camera phones and mobiles with fancy features, a sizable number of consumers just want their cell phone for one thing: to make calls. Fortunately for them, there are handsets that fit that description. Take, for example, the Samsung SGH-X495 for T-Mobile. A basic, functional cell phone, it's designed solely with this purpose in mind. The simplicity is also reflected in the low price of $129, which ends up being even cheaper with service.
Even though you think it might resemble the Samsung SGH-X475, the Samsung SGH-X495's sleek form factor more closely resembles that of an earlier T-Mobile phone, the Samsung SGH-E715 (minus the camera, of course). Between the two models, there's no external antenna, and a small, monochrome external screen shows the date, the time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). Yet, the X495 stands apart from its predecessor with its silver and white color scheme. Since silver Samsung phones are a dime a dozen, the white is a nice change; overall, it has a soothing effect. The phone is compact at 3.5 by 1.9 by 1.0 inches, as well as lightweight at 3.0 ounces, but it retains a relatively sturdy construction. Also, on the outside of the phone, you'll find a volume rocker and a headset port on the left spine.
Open the phone, and you'll find a 1.75-inch display that supports 65,000 colors. It's a decent size, considering the phone's compact shape, and it's adequate for viewing the user-friendly menus. You can change the backlight time, the brightness, and the font color but not the font size. Below the screen are the spacious navigation controls. A five-way toggle acts as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. It is surrounded by two soft keys, a Clear button, and the Talk and End keys. In the middle of the toggle is a button that serves a dual purpose. In standby mode, it acts as a shortcut to T-Mobile's t-zones Internet service, but when inside a menu, it functions as an OK button. It's not the best arrangement, but we've grown accustomed to it. The backlit keypad buttons are a bit small, and they're set flush with the surface of the phone.
The Samsung SGH-X495 has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone numbers and an e-mail address; the SIM card can hold an additional 250 names. You can organize contacts into caller groups, but only individual groups can be paired with one of the 20 polyphonic ring tones, 10 of which are MegaTones. You can also assign groups a picture, but it won't show up on the external display.
As for other features, you get a vibrate mode; Yahoo and AOL instant messaging; an alarm clock; a calculator; a calendar; a to-do list; one-minute voice memos; text and multimedia messaging; a timer; a stopwatch; and a unit converter for length, weight, volume, and temperature. We were glad to see that Samsung threw in a speakerphone, but you can turn it on only after you've made a call. Also, once you've done so, you must confirm your request--an unnecessary quirk.
You can personalize the Samsung SGH-X495 with a variety of wallpaper, messaging tones, and display patterns. If you're bored with those, you can download more options from T-Mobile via the WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. You get two Java (J2ME) games, SnowBallFight and BubbleSmile, but more titles are available if you want them.
We tested the triband (GSM 850/1800/1900) X495 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was average. Although we had no dropped calls and there was enough volume, audio quality on our end had an echo effect and was scratchy at times. On their end, callers could tell we were using a cell phone. On the upside, calls using the speakerphone were surprisingly loud and relatively clear. The rated battery life is 5 hours of talk time and 8 days of standby time. We got 4 hours of talk time and 6.5 days of standby time in our tests. According to the FCC radiation tests, the Samsung SGH-X495 has a digital SAR rating of 1.46 watts per kilogram.