The Good The Samsung SGH-A197 has a comfortable design with Bluetooth and a bright display.
The Bad Samsung SGH-A197 has different call quality. It may feel a little too light in the hand and it has little internal memory.
The Bottom Line The Samsung SGH-A197 does its job reasonably well, but it’s not our choice for a prepaid AT&T phone.
In its quest to be king of the cell phone world, Samsung is an equal-opportunity handset manufacturer. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of high-end smartphones like the Mesmerize, but Sammy also gives us enough simple models like the SGH-A197. Made for AT&T’s prepaid GoPhone service, the A197 has a basic flip-phone design with minimal features. It’s exceedingly simple to use, though we’d recommend it only for occasional users given its variable call quality, low internal memory, and plastic construction. It is inexpensive, at just $49.99 without a service contract, but we’d suggest the Samsung SGH-A187 as a better choice for a GoPhone.
Like the Samsung M360 and the Gusto, the A197 is oblivious. Indeed, black and clean lines give it a somewhat retro look. It is also compact (3.78 inches long by 1.85 inches wide by 0.75 inches deep) and light (2.68 ounces) for easy portability.
The A197 has a simple construction that feels a little too light in the hand.
However, on this note, we are careful not to subject the A197 to much abuse. The plastic sheath feels quite bouncy and the hinge is a little loose. This should be fine as long as you keep your phone in your pocket, bag, or glove, but it is not an earpiece for adventure or risk averse.
The monochrome external display is tiny but proportional to the size of the phone. It shows the date, time, battery life and one charge. You can resize your watch and write a tagline. The camera lens sits above the external display. Given its VGA resolution, we didn’t expect a flash, though we hoped for a way to take self portraits. The appearance is completed by the volume rotation on the left spine and the Micro / USB headset connector on the right spine. Of course, a combination port means that you can only use one peripheral at a time.
The internal display measures 2 inches and supports 65,000 colors (160×128 pixels). It’s bright enough, but the graphics and photos don’t look great at low resolution. You can change the backlight time, add greetings and adjust the standby font style and color.
The A197 has flat controls.
As mentioned, the A197 is an accessible and user-friendly phone. From the simple menu design to the spacious navigation array, you should have no trouble navigating through the phone’s features and finding what you need. The circular toggle is slightly raised and marked with a silver ring; in standby mode it doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined features. Surrounding the toggle are two soft keys, a camera shutter, the Talk and End/Power buttons, a Clear key, and a shortcut control that will activate the AT&T Mobile Care feature. Our only complaint about the array is that in standby mode the OK button opens the Web browser and not the main menu.
Although they are slightly angled, the keyboard buttons are blurred. This wouldn’t be a problem in itself, but the A197 buttons are sleek and have a cheap plastic feel. We didn’t have any real problems typing or typing, but it’s not the keyboard we’d like to use widely. The keys are highlighted and the numbers on the keys are not too small.
The A197 is built with regard to communication, so it has only the basic functions. The phone book contains 450 room contacts in each entry for five phone numbers, email address and notes. You can save callers to groups and connect them to one of 10 polyphonic ringtones. You can also record your own tunes using the A197 recorder. The SIM card contains an additional 250 names, and you can select calls from specific phone numbers directly to voicemail.
Organizer features include calendar, overlays, calculator, timer, unit and currency converter, stopwatch, alarm clock, world clock, and tip calculator. The A197 also supports Bluetooth, text and multimedia messaging and various POP3 email services such as Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail. Keep in mind that you will use a clunky web interface to access your email.
The A197 lens sits above its small external display.
The VGA camera takes photos in four resolutions, from 640×480 to 128×96. Other options include self-timer, brightness meter, 4x magnification, four white balance settings, seven color effects, spot metering, night mode and three shutter sounds. A197 does not record video.
The A197 VGA camera does not take the best pictures.
Photo quality is average for a VGA camera. The colors will be dim and you will see a lot of image noise, but that’s the nature of the VGA beast. The A197 has a total of 128 MB of shared memory, which will limit approximately 14 images at the highest resolution.
The A197 comes with a My-Cast Weather app. Just keep in mind that data use will result in extra charges. You can get more applications through AT&T’s App Center, but the A197 is too basic to be an app-friendly device. It also comes with demo versions of Tetris and Bejeweled. You’ll need to download the full versions for extended play.
We tested the dual-band (GSM 850/1900) Samsung SGH-A197 in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was uneven in our experience. Though it was reliable most of the time, there were occasions where the audio cut out on our end and we heard a bit of static. Also, the volume level was much too low for most situations. As a dual-band phone, the SGH-A197 won’t work outside of North America.
In the end, the subscribers also had several complaints. They could hear us perfectly if we were inside, but if we called from a noisy place, they would have trouble hearing us clearly. The calls to the loudspeaker were equally variable. We could communicate, but the sound was distorted and the volume was too low.
Sample call quality Samsung SGH-A197Listen now:
Rated A197 battery life is 6 hours talk time and 12.5 days standby time. According to our tests, the talk time is 6 hours 27 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the A197 has a digital SAR of 0.24 watts per kilogram.