Samsung SGH-a657 Review

Introduction and Design

There are some people out there that really put their phone through some beatings. Whether it's from a drop or spilled liquid, very few devices can survive tough accidents. For the longest of times, the Nextel lineup had a large variety of push-to-talk phones that kept the rugged design in mind. Not really known as major player in this area, Samsung released the Rugby on AT&T last year to offer a device that was made to withstand a lot of abuse. Building upon that design, the Samsung SGH-a657 was crafted to meet military specifications and withstand not only the elements, but also the daily wear and tear of everyday use. From accidents like dropping it on the ground to getting splashed with water; this phone can survive through a lot of things.

The package contains:
  • Samsung SGH-a657
  • Charger
  • User Manual


Beauty is not something that the Samsung SGH-a657 is trying to market to the masses. Instead, it emphasizes a very simple design without all the bells and whistles others might embody. If you  look closely, the appearance looks similar to the Samsung B2700 that never made it to our shores. It makes senses that designers use a simple candy bar form factor to minimize any moving parts that may fail through normal wear and tear. Every surface gives off that rubbery feel; especially the sides that have a ribbed pattern for better grip. There are barely any exposed areas on the phone where debris can enter inside. As far as the construction, we like how the hard plastic used for the shell of the phone radiates a solid strong body. For being a phone built to military specifications, it does not feel too light or heavy (4.34 oz) in the hand. Although it is a little bit thicker (0.77”) than most candy bar phones, it's perfect when you consider the added cushion it will provide for protection.

You can compare the Samsung SGH-a657 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Although the two inch screen might seem too small for some, it does a good job in terms of brightness and clarity. The 176x200 pixel resolution with 262k colors provides ample viewing for just about anyone. Looking at it from different angles will pose no problem with the bright screen being visible. There were no issues when we were using it outdoors and in direct sunlight. The single speaker can be found above the display and is used for everything from phone calls to music listening.

The square navigation pad sits in the center of the phone with the middle button used for making selections. The numeric keypad and soft keys are all constructed out of the same material to reduce exposed areas on the phone. We felt as though the slightly raised buttons were a  little stiff when pressed down, but they are well sized with minimal spacing in between them. The only dedicated buttons found on the keypad are the GPS and back/clear key. We did not have a hard time seeing the keypad thanks to the bright white backlighting.

On the left side ofthe Samsung SGH-a657, you'll find the volume rocker and push-to-talk button. Both are placed correctly in traditional areas with a good tactile feel. While on the right side, the dedicated flashlight button and a quick launch menu key can be found to allow you access to some commonly used applications. The proprietary USB/charging port can also be exposed after removing the latch. The phone can be attached to something with the clip that is found on the top side. Additionally, the LED flashlight is located in the same area. It does an okay job of lighting up an area in front of you, but it would not replace a traditional one. Finally, you can remove the heavy duty battery cover by opening the lock mechanism. Removing the battery (1420 mAh) will provide you access to the SIM and microSD card slots.

Samsung SGH-a657 360 Degrees View:


The software used to power the Samsung SGH-a657 is pretty much the same one found on the B2700. Surprisingly, there are some personalization options to make it stand out from others. You'll have your choice of either a grid or list view for the menus. In addition, there is an option to allow you to make custom themes for both beginners and experts. The phone will guide you on making different selections when you choose the easy theme creator. But if you really want to take control of everything, picking the expert mode will allow you to modify just about everything. It's definitely a great thing for those with creative talents to make well balanced themes that perfectly suit their taste. The main menu will display nine icons to get into the commonly used applications. No complaints with the swift and very easy to navigate interface used on the phone.

You can store up to 1000 contacts on the a657 with a variety of information being saved for each. When creating a contact for the first time, it limits you to some basic information to input. But you can add more things later on if you need to.

Sending text messages will be a breeze to anyone using the phone. Additionally, you can use the Mobile Email application to send emails to people. Unfortunately, it is plagued with the limited accounts that we've seen on other devices. If you use generic accounts such as Yahoo or Hotmail, you won't find any issues getting your email. You're out of luck if you do not see you provider on the list though. Would you rather instant message someone on the phone? Well, you'll get your choice of IM clients from AIM, Yahoo, or Windows Live Messenger to choose from.

There are a lot of other programs that can be useful for the everyday traveler. AT&T Navigator is available to quickly give you turn-by-turn voice navigated directions. The software loaded up promptly and we were able to use it to find points of interests around us. Other GPS oriented applications such as Where, TeleNav Track, and Xora Time Track can be found on the phone as well. Some other useful applications found under the Tools Menu are the Stopwatch, World Time, Timer, Converter, Calculator, Tip Calculator, Notes, Tasks, Calendar, Alarms, and Audio Recording.

A rugged device might not be centered around media features, but the Samsung SGH-a657 does provide it nonetheless. Loading up an MP3 song on the media player displays the title, artist, and album. You can pause, rewind, and fast forward by pressing the corresponding buttons on the player. It's simple and easy to use, but exiting the application will cause the music to stop playing, instead of continuing to play in the background. Seeing that this is a push-to-talk enabled device, we were impressed by the audio quality produced by the single speaker. The sound had some strong tones with clarity being top notch. We had no problems distinguishing the audio when placed on the middle setting. Luckily, we did not hear any crackling noises when setting it on the maximum volume setting. On the downside, you'll have to buy an adapter if you want to use your own pair of head phones. The a657 does have a stereo Bluetooth option if you prefer to listen to your music wire-free.

The a657 does not throw out video playback from its list of features to concentrate on making it a tough phone. We tested it out by streaming a YouTube video on the phone. Viewing it on the two inch screen may pose a problem for some with loss in detail and text can be hard to distinguish. We managed to watch with a steady framerate without any hiccups or lag during play. It will automatically start to play in landscape view, but you can change it to portrait through the options menu.. Audio quality was also superb thanks to the speaker.

World travelers will be pleased to use the quad-band (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) in almost any part of the planet. The dual-band UMTS (850/1900 MHz) will only allow to get fast 3G service in North America. Bluetooth 2.0 is on board to allow for a variety of wireless transfers and pairing it with a wireless headset. 

The NetFront Browser v3.4 is loaded with the Samsung SGH-a657 to provide a decent web surfing experience. The load times were pretty quick on the phone with even complex web sites like ours taking under one minute to fully load up. Even scrolling horizontally and vertically came without any lag or slowdown. We were just impressed at how well the browsers runs on a non-smart phone device. Using the navigational pad will highlight each link accordingly as you scroll. If you want to go further down a web site faster,  the volume rocker will scroll down the page in equal portions. The only thing missing was just a page overview mode which could help for those really big sites. Nonetheless, we were still pleased with the performance of the browsing experience we received.

It looks like the phone comes with 105 MB of memory out of the box to store files. You can easily supplement that capacity by adding microSD cards up to 8 GB.


The Samsung SGH-a657 proves to be a very well manageable device for phone calls. There was either minimal or no background sounds as we used the phone. Voices sounded clear and easily audible through the speaker. And we did not need to place the volume on the highest setting in order to hear our conversation. People on the other line said that our voice was clearly heard with no noticeable degradation in quality. When using the speaker phone, we noticed just how much power it had and the little need to ask our callers to speak up. It was very vibrant and provided strong tones when listening to our caller. Conversely, the other person said they were able to hear us fine through it.  

Signal strength was fine throughout our use in the greater New York metropolitan area. Bars were equally strong when comparing it to other devices we used on the AT&T network.

The rated talk time for the a657 is 3 hours with stand-by at 252 hours; pretty mediocre when compared to similar devices. However, we had good results with four out of five bars on the battery indicator after four days of normal use. It's a little impressive in our books seeing that a fully charged indicator will show five bars. Yes, the rated talk time is a lot less than other phones with a hefty sized battery. We only hope they could have managed the battery consumption a little better so it could last a bit longer.

So we managed to do some crazy things we wouldn't normally test out on a phone. We would imagine something that was built to meet military specifications be extremely resilient to the usual accidents that would occur. Dropping the phone from 5 feet onto a carpeted surface posed no problems for the Samsung SGH-a657. It simply just bounced a couple of times and came to a stop. Then we decided to drop it from the same height, but on a tiled surface instead to really see if it can withstand it. To our dismay as we let it go, the phone flipped over and hit the tile floor with the screen impacting it. Of course we cringed because we know it wouldn't be pretty if we did that to any other phone. To our surprise, the phone still functioned fine after the extreme fall. We pressed on some of the keys on the dialing pad to make sure it still recognized them all. Finally, we decided to actually apply some weight on the a657 as it lay flat on a surface. Using one foot to apply some weight, we were amazed that the phone was able to withstand the pressure from our entire weight. At times we know that any ordinary phone would become paper weight if we put it through the same tests. Although not entirely water proof, it can be used in the rain without the worry of having it short out. To our amazement, the a657 does live up to its name as being one durable phone.


The Samsung SGH-a657 might have taken some of its design from the B2700, but some compromises had to been made to make it live up to those military specifications. You won't find too many features like a camera or video recorder, but this phone was made to last through just about anything you can dish on it. We've dropped the phone a few times on the ground from a decent height and it still functioned correctly. No scratches were found, but we would imagine there would be plenty if you drop it on a rough surface like concrete. Who says that design has to be the first thing to consider when you create a truly durable phone? In the end, the a657 proves to be a tough phone withstanding just about any abuse while still being a functional phone.

Samsung SGH-a657 Video Review:


  • Durable design
  • Audio quality
  • Decent web browsing


  • Isn’t water resistant
  • Low rated talk time
  • Tiny screen
  • Bland looks

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