You probably wouldn't expect much from a phone that cost only about $10 with a service contract. Chances are, you'd be downright suspicious. But the Samsung SPH-A560 for Sprint PCS may surprise you. It isn't anything James Bond would be caught carrying, but with a speakerphone and voice dialing, it offers more than you might assume. On the downside, the minimalist design will disappoint everyone but the most basic user. Also, the Samsung SPH-A560 lacks a Web browser, and its voice quality is unimpressive. We would pass on it for frequent chatting or if we had to pay the full price of $169, but if you can get it for nearly free and plan to use it only for emergencies, it's not such a bad choice. The compact Samsung SPH-A560 (3.54 by 1.85 by 0.99 inches and 3.35 ounces) has the same wedge-shaped top hiding its antenna as its similarly shaped but better-endowed cousin, the . Encased in a navy blue, matte-plastic faceplate with smooth silver edges, the A560 lacks any external adornment save a volume toggle and a headset jack on the left spine, a speaker grillelike design on the front (which is is actually a red message-waiting LED), and a real speakerphone grille behind the right shoulder. The phone has no external display, which means you have to open it to see the caller's identity.
Inside you'll find a pedestrian display. Though it is bright and supports 65,000 colors, it's relatively small at 1.75 inches diagonally. You can, however, change the contrast and the backlighting, and larger fonts will help the vision-impaired make sure they've hit the correct keys. As with the Samsung PM-A840, you can program the five-way navigation toggles for direct access to specific functions. The phone also has two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, and a Back key. Above the toggle is a small speakerphone button.
The unimaginative but functional ice-blue-backlit keypad is a mixed bag. Raised ridges bracketing the 5 key barely make up for the nearly flush buttons, which make dialing by feel difficult. That said, the keys are a bit larger than those on the A840, lessening the chance for misdialing.The Samsung SPH-A560's surprisingly--and probably unnecessarily--expansive phone book has room for 299 entries, with room for up to five numbers, an e-mail address, and a Web address for each. You can organize contacts into groups or pair them with one of 15 polyphonic ring tones, 20 polyphonic "melodies," and 9 monophonic tones.
Other features include a vibrate mode, text messaging, a scheduler, a world clock, an alarm clock, a to-do list, a memo pad, a calculator, and a countdown timer. You also get a handful of higher-end frills, such as voice dialing and commands, voice memos, and a speakerphone (with a dedicated button) but no Web browser or camera--and hence, no multimedia messaging. You can't even receive pictures sent in a message. Instead, you'll receive a really long URL, which is probably more trouble than it's worth. You'll have to manually copy every letter, number, character, colon, backslash, underscore, question mark, period, and equal sign in the approximately 60-character address into your desktop browser just to see some crummy VGA snapshot.
You can personalize the A560 with a variety of wallpaper, but since it doesn't have a Web browser, you can't download additional options or other ring tones. You can't buy games, either, nor do any come with the phone.Considering that the trimode (CDMA 800/1900; AMPS 800) Samsung SPH-A560 has an internal antenna, it provided solid reception in usually troublesome Manhattan, where we tested it. Both voice and ringer volume were loud enough, but voices sounded thick and muddy, requiring us to set the volume louder than was probably safe. The speakerphone's quality wasn't much better, which we expected, but the rear speaker placement muffled the scratchy sound. For the best sound, be sure to rest the phone upside down.
Rated talk-time battery life is short: 3.3 hours in digital mode and 2 hours in analog mode. In our tests, we came in at just 3 hours of digital talk time. According to FCC radiation tests, the A560 has a digital SAR rating of 1.2 watts per kilogram and an analog SAR rating of 1.12 watts per kilogram.