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Samsung Sunburst (SGH-A697) Review
In the box
All information is printed in English and Spanish.
This is a review of Samsung Sunburst SGH-A697 released for AT&T. As this is an AT&T phone, large portions of the phone menu and software were redesigned to fit the demands of this carrier and its services. We are reviewing the phone itself, not AT&T services or their implementation in this phone. These services vary from carrier to carrier, are not phone specific and therefore will not be reviewed, we will only note their presence if they effect the important functions of the device.
Inside AT&T colored paper box there is a cheap black plastic tray containing the phone, manual, battery, etc. The phone’s front and back are covered with plastic film.
As a large GSM carrier AT&T has a very good choice of phones from various vendors and Samsung Sunburst is only a small addition to that portfolio. The keyword is “small”: the vast majority of touchscreen phones on the market are bigger, iPhone like devices that do not fit the needs of people who would like to have a touchscreen phone, but are staying away due to the size limitations and costs associated with larger touchscreens as a rule. Here is where the Sunburst bursts into scene – it is tiny and cheap. Yes, it lacks the functionality of its larger and more expensive smartphone brothers, but it aims at a different target audience all together – young people who want to look cool, but have no money to afford a better phone or simply do not need all the bells and whistles of a smartphone. It does what it needs to do just fine, looking small, cool and not cheap for the newest phone rage (touchscreen) at a low price point for $189.99 without a contract and as low as $39.99 with a 2 year contract after all rebates.
The price of the phone did not leave any room for Samsung to use anything but plastic. The chrome band around the screen is plastic, the screen itself is plastic, the back is mate rubberized plastic covered with pattern on the bottom. Overall the quality of materials is very much Samsung like nice. The phone comes in any color as long as it’s Black.
The assembly quality is excellent: nothing is squeaking, crackling or feeling loose. In fact, the panels fit so tight, it is a pain in the butt to take off the battery cover and you need to do it to get access to SIM card.
Measuring 4.33” x 2.08” x 0.51” (110 x 53 x 13 mm) and weighing 3.08 oz (87 g), Sunburst can be called a perfect phone size. It is however not very comfortable for use with a single hand of an average male size due to the UI buttons located very low relative to the center of weight of the phone.
On the front, besides the screen serving as a main UI control, we have three buttons: Pick Up, Hang Up and Back/Cancel. On the top and on the bottom we do not see any controls. The back side features a 2.0 MP camera without a flash as well as a speaker; the right side is used for a camera button, proprietary charger/headphones jack and Lock/Unlock button, when the left side takes care of the microSD card slot and the volume controls.
Display is what it can be in a cheap touchscreen phone – a smaller size (3”), with only 262K colors TFT matrix with a decent for this screen size resolution of 240 x 400 pixels. The pictures and menus look fine, under the sun the colors fade and the screen becomes unreadable. As with other Samsung touchscreens, VibeZ technology is used to give you a tactile feedback with every key pressed and you can choose not only to have a tone signal for every key pressed, but to regulate its volume.
There is a motion sensor, allowing switching between the Portrait and Landscape modes of the screen. Up to 7 lines of text fit on the Menu screens. The fingerprints are noticeable, but not to the point of disgusting.
You can adjust the amount of time required for the screen and controls to lock up choosing as little as 8 seconds or as long as 10 minutes, or a few options in between. The phone also has a so called Smart Unlock feature, where to unlock you need to draw a preselected picture (i.e. a triangle) on the screen. Did not work well and, while amusing to try, with a dedicated Unlock button and another unlock icon on the screen, not really needed.
As mentioned in the specs, the phone comes standard with a 1000 mAh Li-Ion battery, optimistically rated by Samsung to last 5 hours of talk time and up to 250 hours with no talking. Obviously, these are ideal numbers achievable only in manufacturer’s labs under perfect conditions, but these claims are BS for all manufacturers. In our case, the battery lasted about 42 hours of total time with an average of 3 hours of talk during these hours, which is not bad at all for a phone with touchscreen. Bluetooth was actively used for a few hours during this time. It takes about 2 hours for a full recharge from a wall outlet. The phone uses a proprietary connector for charging and a USB cable is not included in the package, it is available from AT&T separately.
A whopping 189 MB of storage space is allocated for the user, but thankfully external microSD cards (up to 16 GB) are supported and you can have your music, etc. with you on the go. There is access to all the memory data available through the Menu, where you can see the status of the storage and also change whether you want your pictures, video and music to be stored in the phone or on the card. There a File Manager called My Stuff, allowing you to copy and move files from one folder into another.
The sound from the speaker is nice and clean, with the voices sounding naturally. Speakerphone and mic work fine; people had no difficulty hearing or understanding me.
There is a pull out bar with a Widget menu on the left side of the screen and three screens to place them on.
The service notifications bar on top of the screen allows you to see the network status, message updates, alarm status, battery condition, SD card availability and music player state.
On the bottom of the screen shortcuts lead you to Dial, Contacts, and Menu. Press of Menu leads you to a single screen with 3 x 4 icon grid, half of the icons being AT&T related applications. Press on the Settings will take you to the actual phone settings. Everything is pretty straight forward, easy to adjust to and use.
Like most Samsung touchscreen phones, the Sunburst has widgets that can be installed on the screen(s), customizing your phone to your taste and creating fast and convenient access to a variety of features and information. The available widgets include some of the carrier related applications (AT&T Social Net, AT&T Navigator, App Center,) as well as generic ones (Analog Clock, Digital Clock, Dual Clock, Create Message, Photo Favorites, Voice Recognition, Mobile Web, MySpace, Facebook, Today, Calendar, Favorite URL, Picture, Games, Widget Memos (3), Message Inbox, Record Audio, Memo, Timer, Birthday, Sound Profile, Bluetooth, Calculator, Video, Yahoo! Search and MSNBC). You can choose which ones you want to see in the Widget menu. There is also a highly useful Events Widget that shows you what happened while you were knocked out after a fun filled Saturday night. It pops up automatically if you missed a call, got a message, etc. and allows you to listen to a voicemail, call back or answer a text without going through the menu, right from the desktop. Obviously, having these shortcuts available at a touch of a finger is amazingly convenient, but on my particular phone they often just piled up on top of each other on the desktop by themselves and had to be moved back to where they belonged.
Overall there are 30 widgets available on the phone. No other phone manufacturer today can provide such a variety and flexibility of interface on a feature phone. There are three screens you can place the widgets on and you move between them by flipping them with your finger.
Caller ID shows only the number, but no name of the caller like home or office system, which makes call screening on the go not very comfortable. Luckily, Sunburst allows to block callers, so should you wish to have a Black List it is easy to accomplish.
Conference calling or three way calling is possible.
Voice recognition, powered by Nuance Communications technology, is easy to use via a dedicated widget and works with a very high rate of voice recognition (no mistakes in my limited use). It’s somewhat annoying inevitable confirmations of what you’ve just said can be turned off.
The phone comes with 9 one-touch speed dial (#1 is used for voicemail by default).
164 contacts transferred over Bluetooth from Nokia 5530 within a couple of minutes (Picture ID did not transfer) without any glitches.
Access to the Contacts is available through a one touch button on the bottom of the standby screen. Once pressed, a list of contacts opens up in alphabetical order with a shortcut for a phone call to the right of each name. On the top of the list is a search window and if you do not want to scroll through all of your contacts you can use it. There are two not very convenient details about search: only two contacts are showing as the result at one time, so if you have 5 Johns in your phonebook you’ll either have to enter the full name and start to type the last name or try to scroll through all the search results. The problem the window left on the screen for the results is there is the relatively small (remember, 2 contacts are showing at the same time), so it is easy to screw up. The second problem is that Search is not showing all the contacts with the searched letter combinations in both first and last names, so if you forgot the first name of somebody in your phonebook, you are in trouble as there is no search by last name alone.
To see the particular contact details you need to enter the contact. For a feature phone the phonebook is very good and allows you to enter multiple mobile, home, office, fax, other numbers (one of the numbers is default), email addresses, URL, DTMF to dial extensions, Nick Name, Company, Job Title, Addresses for home and business, assign a picture and a ringtone. Unfortunately, there is no Date of Birth option; that has to be done via Calendar.
On top of the Contacts list is a fall down menu allowing you to quickly go into Groups and Favorites (speed dial).
Talking about the Groups, the phone comes with some, but you can edit and delete them as well as create new ones. You can assign a distinct ringtone to a Group and also use it to send group members messages at once.
Call logs are 30 calls long for each of the Made, Received and Missed categories.
Click on the call and you can see the date, time and duration of the last three calls to or from this number, depending on which part of the phone list you are in as well as a total number of calls to/from/missed from this number in the phone’s memory. You are also given a convenient option of calling that number or messaging to it right from the log. All calls to and from the same number are showing in the list separately.
SMS – gives you an option of a regular 3x4 keypad, a full QWERTY keyboard or handwriting recognition. The last one is acceptable in my experience, but you have to practice, so it’s more of a toy. Phone does not support predictive text input in Portrait mode, but does in Landscape.
The full QWERTY keyboard is relatively comfortable for the screen of this size.
You can send text, picture and video messages, the latter two also directly from the camera interface.
Once you opened a text message you can go through all the messages in your Inbox by without going back – just press the Left or Right arrow on top of the screen and the next open message will appear.
There are standard Inbox, Sent, Outbox and Draft boxes available.
Email is available only as a part of carrier software for additional $5.99 per month and supports the majority of online mail services as well as POP and IMAP servers.
A pretty basic affair, but with everything necessary for the vast majority of users. You have weekly and monthly views, reminders, repeating events, list of events. The Calendar widget allows to have the small version of the month view right on your desktop, so you see the upcoming events in advance and Birthday widget will remind you of the upcoming birthday by popping on the screen a few days before the event.
Bluetooth. The supported profiles include basic HS (Headset) and HFP (Handsfree), and more advanced A2DP (stereo), FTP (File Transfer), OPP (Object Push), SIM Access Profile (SAP), Dial-Up Networking (DUN), Basic Printing Profile (BPP), and Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP). The management is not initially intuitive – while the search is easily done with a Search button once the other devices are found connecting to them is not that simple. Someone unfamiliar with Samsung menu will have to read the manual to understand how to pair the Sunburst to a headset, etc. Overall there were no complaints about the Bluetooth other than a relatively low speed of the connection to already paired devices. The tests were done with Nokia 5530 phone, Bluetrek Crescendo Voice headset and Parrot MKi9200 car kit.
USB. USB connection test has not been done – the phone has a proprietary data connector and the USB to Sunburst cables are available as an option only. The phone does not come with the Samsung PC Studio CD either.
Airplane mode could be activated.
The phone does not support 3G, but the EDGE data downloads proved to be very acceptable, in fact faster than CDMA 1X EVDO Rev 0 3G speeds found in recently tested Samsung Caliber. The browser loads fast everything fast, the fonts are visible and easy to read, the content firs into the screen size, so you only need to scroll up and down to see the whole site.
2MPx without Auto Focus, a weak (even when lighting is decent) camera with a pretty good interface typical for Samsung. All the UI icons are right there on the screen, making it easy to change settings, send pictures or video, etc.
There is no way to change ISO, but you can adjust the brightness and assign geo tags to your pictures. You can move the images and video files between the phone and card memory directly from the camera menu.
Video is shot in MPEG4 with the choice of a full video or a video message limited to 15 seconds. A couple resolutions are also available for video: 320x240 and 176x144, otherwise the setting possibilities are very similar to a camera Single shot mode. The quality is very poor and the zoom is not smooth.
Multiple alarms can be created and various sound files used to wake you up. You can select the days of the week if you want them to repeat and add a snooze function to each.
You can choose between up to 24 different time zones to be displayed out of 24 available.
Standard with selection between 12 and 24 hour formats.
Just a panel to write your notes. No reminder, no tasks, nothing fancy here.
Standard simple calculator.
Allows marking lap times.
A very convenient tool, allowing to easily calculate the tip by entering such variables as the amount of the bill, the number of people to split it between and the rate of the tip.
Allows to easily covert currencies, measurements and weights.
There is one free game installed on the phone – Tumbling Dice. If you are two 60+ years old Turkish guys you may find it amusing, otherwise it is boring. Other games are installed in Demo modes only and after a couple minutes will ask you to pay AT&T money.
There are four Sound Profiles in Sunburst: Normal, Silent, Driving and Outdoor. There is no way to add your own profiles, but there is a way to edit the ones you have – you can choose the vibration pattern and ringtone melody, setting the volume for it at the same time.
The player itself is basic and yet fully functional part of the phone. The major problem is the lack of a 3.5mm jack – a headset with a proprietary connector is sold by AT&T separately, I assume. I assume because it was not in the box and it is not on the “available accessories” leaflet included with the phone, so there either is a headset nobody knows about or there is none. I’m far from an assumption that Samsung would release a phone with the MP3 player to be listened over Bluetooth headset only. MP3 and AAC files can be played, the interface is straight forward. You have Play/Pause, Rewind, Fast Forward buttons on the bottom, Equalization (Normal, Rock, Dance, Jazz, Wide, Dynamic, Surround or Classic presets), Repeat and Shuffle On/Off buttons a little higher. Song information including Album Art when available, progress bar, elapsed time and total time display on the top. Phone owner can create Playlists, view the Library, search for music files.
As mentioned before, the phone features volume control on the left side and has a tendency to lock up within an established adjustable period of time. The volume controls continue to work, however no other music player controls are available without taking the phone out, unlocking it and going to the player if you exited it before. Any incoming or outgoing calls pause the player.
Samsung Sunburst is a very nice touchscreen feature phone. It feels expensive, has multiple of advanced features and is very easy to personalize to your personal taste. The single major drawback is the lack of 3.5mm jack for the headset. While it’s price without a contract is good for what it has to offer, but can be outbid by a few unlocked competitors without AT&T software and limitations, the rebates run at this time do make Sunburst a good value if you are looking for a budget touchscreen and don’t mind a new carrier and a contract.
Michael Savuskan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published 07 April 2010
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