For this fall, cell phone manufacturers have gone back to basics to produce handsets that, well, simply make calls. One such cell phone is the Samsung SGH-X497 for Cingular Wireless. With this basic mobile, what you see is pretty much what you get. There's no integrated camera, advanced multimedia features, or Bluetooth hiding behind this compact flip phone. Instead, you get an affordable ($49.99) cell phone that makes quality calls, has a speakerphone, and comes with a host of messaging options.
The Samsung SGH-X497 has an understated design that matches its minimalist functionality. Outfitted in black and silver, the flip phone is compact and light (3.5 by 1.8 by 0.9 inches; 3 ounces) and should slip easily into a bag or a pocket. That said, the antenna stub does add some bulk but not enough to be bothersome. On the front cover, there is a monochrome display that shows the time, the date, battery life, signal strength, and photo ID (where available). And though it's small, we like that all the information is still visible, even when the backlighting goes off. Flip open the SGH-X497, and you're greeted with a 1.7-inch-diagonal screen that displays 65,000 colors and a 128x160-pixel resolution. Text and images aren't the sharpest, but you can adjust the brightness of both displays. And while you can change the dialing font color (Black or Rainbow), you can't change the font size.
Below the display are your traditional navigation controls. You get two soft keys, Talk and End keys, and a Clear button--all surround the four-way navigation toggle, which can act as a shortcut to four user-defined functions. The control in the center of the toggle opens the Web browser in standby mode and functions as an OK button in the simple menus. We have a couple of complaints about the toggle: It's a bit cramped, and we often found ourselves hitting the down directional control when we were actually just trying to use the center key. Also, the buttons felt a bit stiff, so we had to push down firmly on each directional key for the command to register. That said, the numerical dial pad is spacious, and since the keys are raised above the phone's surface, we had no trouble dialing by feel. The backlighting is also bright enough for dialing in a dark room. Finishing out the design of the SGH-X497 is a 2.5mm headset jack and a volume rocker on the left spine; unfortunately, you can't use it to navigate through the menus.
The Samsung SGH-X497 has a 500-name address book with room in each entry for five numbers, an e-mail address, and notes; the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts. You can assign contacts to a group and, for caller ID purposes, pair them with one of 10 (40-chord) polyphonic ring tones or an image. Since the SGH-X497 doesn't have a built-in camera, however, you'll have to download images with the Web browser, receive them in a multimedia message, or choose from a number of basic graphics included on the phone, ranging from comical faces to zodiac signs to sports images. Also, be advised that images do not show up on the external display. The SGH-X497 does have a speakerphone, but we'd be happier if there were an easier way to launch it. As it is, you have to activate it through the Options menu after making a call. You can also keep in touch with family and friends by sending text and multimedia messages, or you can log on to your instant-messenger client (AIM, ICQ, or Yahoo) and dish that way. Admittedly, instant messaging on a cell phone isn't ideal with the headache of entering text, but it's still a nice feature to have. Other goodies on the SGH-X497 include a vibrate mode, an alarm clock, a calendar, a to-do list, a calculator, a stopwatch, an audio recorder, and a WAP 2.0 Web browser.
You can customize your Samsung SGH-X497 with a variety of wallpaper, screensavers, or color themes. Of course, if the provided options don't suit your tastes, you can always download more from the Web. The phone includes two Java (J2ME) games--SnowBallFight and BubbleSmile--but again, you can get more if you so desire.
We tested the triband (GSM 850/1800/1900) Samsung SGH-X497 in San Francisco on Cingular's network and experienced great call quality. Callers could tell we were on a cell phone, but they reported clear sound. We experienced the same on our end and found the volume to be so loud that it was borderline painful. We actually had to turn it down to the lowest setting in order to continue our conversation. Turning on the speakerphone diminished the call quality a tad, but that's to be expected. We were still able to hold conversations without too much trouble. The SGH-X497 has a rated talk time of 5 hours and a promised standby time of 8.3 days. In our tests, we got a solid 6.5 hours of talk time on a single charge, and we met the rated standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the SGH-X497 has a digital SAR rating of 1.14 watts per kilogram.