Samsung Sunburst A697 Review

Introduction and Design

We rarely witness a cell phone design that is truly different from our general understanding of how such a device should look. Over the years, we have come to think that Samsung is among these few companies that have affinity to experiment to a certain extent with the design of their handsets. The Samsung BEAT DJ immediately comes to mind here. Now, we are seeing just that happening in the U.S., with the new Samsung Sunburst that has recently made its appearance with AT&T. The Sunburst is one of those cell phones, which look truly unique, when placed next to the other offerings of the same class. Let's see if there's something more to it than meets the eye.


The Sunburst is a small device that fits well in the hands and should be a good size even for those with tiny hands.  It has sleek, curvy lines and the design is straight out of Star Trek.

You can compare the Samsung Sunburst A697 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The Samsung Sunburst’s 3” touchscreen predictably takes up most of the phone’s front real estate, but below Samsung has squeezed in Send, End, and Back keys.  Those who have been around awhile may feel some nostalgia for the Motorola v120 when they see the design element Samsung uses to separate these buttons: a swooping “V” that is chrome when off but lights up white when the phone is unlocked.  The keys feel good, are big enough to press easily and have good travel.

The volume rocker and microSD slot can be found along the left side of the phone while the right side houses the combo charging/data/headset port, lock button and camera key. In this day and age we are surprised and disappointed to see Samsung’s proprietary charging port and lack of a true headset port, especially since a 3.5mm adapter is not included.  The 2 megapixel camera and speaker are on the back of the phone.  The back door and sides of the phone have a soft touch coating giving a high quality feel.

The Sunburst is without a doubt a well-built phone that feels solid in the hand and slips comfortably in the pocket.  For the most part Samsung has used premium materials for the Sunburst and it really shows.  It is not a high-end phone on the spec sheet, but it certainly feels like one.

Samsung Sunburst A697 360 Degrees View:

User Interface:

The Sunburst utilizes Samsung’s TouchWiz UI for navigation, something we’ve seen many times at this point.  There are three screens that the user can customize with widgets and a side bar to house these widgets.  As we’ve mentioned with past TouchWiz phones the idea is solid but the implementation feels cluttered and we prefer to keep it minimal while using the side bar much like you would use the launcher bar on a Mac.

The only thing really new here is Samsung’s Smart Unlock which lets you draw patterns on the lock screen to execute various commands.  The user chooses from five pre-assigned gestures and set them to one of the following actions: Unlock, Browser, Contacts, IM and Create Message.  To put it frankly it doesn’t work well at all.  The Samsung Sunburst had lots of problems recognizing even simple gestures such as drawing a triangle.  It’s another idea that sounds good on paper but doesn’t play out so well in reality.

Other than that TouchWiz works as expected.  There is a new notification bar on the lock screen to inform the user of missed events which is a nice addition.  TouchWiz has never been the quickest UI, which is a nuisance on high end devices but is plenty zippy for a low to mid-range device like the Sunburst.

Messaging, Software and Multimedia:

The Sunburst shows its low-end side by not utilizing threaded messaging but instead having a separate inbox and outbox.  It supports IM from AOL, Yahoo! and Microsoft as well as automatic settings from many popular providers such as Yahoo!, Gmail and Microsoft, plus the option to configure other providers.   Everything is pretty standard here.  The onscreen keyboard (both landscape QWERTY and portrait T9) was unfortunately pretty laggy and texting took longer than it should, with more mistakes than normal.  This is not one of Samsung’s better keyboard efforts to be sure.

AT&T preloads its AppCenter portal to app, game, ringtone, etc. download.  There are many preinstalled applications, including several games and some useful apps like Mobile Banking, MusicID, My-Cast Weather, WikiMobile and several others (many of which are demos.) The Samsung Sunburst is GPS-capable and supports GPS apps like AT&T Navigator, Where and Loopt.

The camera was nothing special, maybe even slightly below average compared to other Samsung 2MP shooters.  Colors were slightly muted and there is some distortion when images are viewed at full resolution.  The Sunburst is a mid-range device at best, however, so these results are just fine.  Images looked perfectly acceptable on the device itself and are plenty passable for casual use.  The Samsung Sunburst can record video at a max 320x240 resolution and we measured it at 14fps; results were similar to what we achieved with the still shots.

The music player is pretty basic, but can be minimized and controlled with a TouchWiz widget.  The lack of a 3.5mm headset jack really hurts the Sunburst as a music device, though it does have stereo Bluetooth to compensate for it.  It had no problems loading and recognizing our side-loaded music. 

Performance and Conclusion:

Callers were impressed with the sound quality of the Sunburst, saying we sounded very clear and rating us 8.5/10.  They sounded good to us as well, but background noise came through almost as clear as the caller did.  Still, their voice was reproduced naturally and volume was good.  Battery life is rated at just 5 hours of talk time, very low especially for an EDGE feature phone. It will be enough to get you through a day or two.

So what is the Samsung Sunburst?  It’s a fun phone that will appeal to the younger crowd who care more about style than substance.  It’s perfect for the high school and college crowd who haven’t graduated to smartphones yet.  Given its shortcomings and target audience the $60 AT&T is asking for it on contract is a bit steep.  Still, the Sunburst offers compact size, good call quality and the oh-so-popular touchscreen which should make it a hit for family add-a-lines.


  • High-end build quality and large touchscreen in a svelte package
  • Good call quality


  • Messaging is not threaded
  • Keyboard is laggy
  • Proprietary charging port and no headset jack

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User Rating:

3 Reviews

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