Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Evergreen SGH-A667 (AT&T)

THE GOOD: The Samsung Evergreen has a responsive QWERTY keyboard and a unique convenience key for opening onscreen features.

THE BAD: Call quality could be improved.

THE BOTTOM LINE: An eco-friendly texting phone, the midrange Samsung Evergreen is comfortable and easy to use, although its mediocre call quality and plastic backing cheapen the feel.

Lest we believe Samsung forgot Mother Earth, here comes the Samsung Evergreen (SGH-A667), a very affordable AT&T messaging phone with a list of lower-impact eco-credentials. The hardware is built from 70 percent recycled post-consumer materials, and the packaging is made from 80 percent recycled post-consumer paper and is printed with soy ink (regular ink is petroleum-based). The user manual comes on a CD. These are similar to measures taken with Samsung's other environmentally conscious phones like the Reclaim, Restore, and the Blue Earth.

At only $29.99 with a two-year contract from AT&T, the 3G-capable Evergreen has enough interface perks and midrange features to make it a good-value messaging phone for heavy texters who can do without a touch screen. A responsive slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a roomy dialpad, and AT&T's extra services, like AT&T Music, make the Evergreen appealing to budget-conscious socialites and tree-huggers alike.

You'd hardly call the Samsung Evergreen a small or stylish phone, and indeed, with rounded corners and a black plastic body, it resembles most other all-black Samsung messaging sliders of its type, with only a few colorful accents around the navigation toggle and on the keyboard–bright green, in this case–to give it some interest. That said, the Evergreen is inoffensive to the eye and its dimensions (4.56 inches tall, 2.2 inches wide, and 0.6 inch deep) make it pleasant in the hand. It wasn't more brickish than other QWERTY phones, and it ranks standard in weight, too, at 4.5 ounces.

The Earth-conscious Samsung Evergreen still needs to have an appealing design.  Good news, it does.

The 2.4-inch QVGA display supports 320×240 pixels and 262,000 colors. This isn't a high-resolution display by mobile standards, but it is common for this type of phone, and it's bright and colorful. Navigation is straightforward and responsive with the four-directional toggle that sits below the screen; it has a central Select button. On both sides of the navigation array are gently concave buttons that host the two soft keys, a texting shortcut, and the combined Clear and Back button. The Talk and End buttons are slightly raised and also easy to press. We were pleased with the roomy dialpad and the corresponding large, onscreen numbers. Each wide, backlit dialpad key has an angled bottom edge, which makes it possible to dial by feel.

Although the Evergreen's spines have the usual attributes–a volume rocker, a Micro-USB charging port, a microSD card slot, and a camera shutter–there is one surprise. Sharing the camera shutter rocker is a convenience key that opens an onscreen ticker through which you can launch a variety of features like the texting or gaming module and the music player. Note that while there is a player on board, there's no dedicated headphone jack–you'll need to use the Micro-USB port instead. On the back is a 2-megapixel camera.

We've seen a lot of QWERTY keyboards, and the Evergreen's ranks fairly high. It manages to be spacious without being too wide, and the domed keys are nice and responsive to press. Samsung did well placing the tall soft keys on either end of the keyboard, making them easy to get at.

The Samsung Evergreen has all your basic messaging features, plus a few more besides. The address book holds 2,000 entries, each with room for multiple phone numbers and e-mail addresses. There's also space for a caller group, note, customized message tone, photo ID, and one of 11 default ringtones.

One unique external hardware feature is a button for launching common apps, like the music player.  Too bad there's no dedicated headset jack for plugging in earbuds or earphones.

Tools include a calendar, an alarm clock, an audio recorder, a calculator, a to-do list, a note pad, and a tip calculator. There's also a voice command app (powered by Nuance). For communications and connectivity, there's text and multimedia messaging; Bluetooth and GPS support; AT&T Social Net (powered by iSkoot), which pulls down RSS feeds; and Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace status updates. Various other AT&T-branded apps also make an appearance, like AT&T Navigator, AT&T Maps (powered by NavTeq and YellowPages.com), and AT&T Music for $4.99 per month (run by PacketVideo). In addition, there are third-party apps like Where and Yellow Pages Mobile.

If you activate it, the Evergreen supports AT&T's Video Share feature, which streams video live to another caller who also has the service enabled. For Internet, there's the highly stylized ATT.net browser. AT&T Locker is an online storage unit for your photos.

We can't crow about the photo quality.  A 2-megapixel camera is certainly a step up, but you won't be replacing your point-and-shoot anytime son.

The Evergreen's 2-megapixel camera is a step up from many of its 1.3-megapixel cousins. Supported resolutions are 1,600×1,200; 1,280×960; 640×480; and 320×240. In addition to the aforementioned Video Share setting, the camera offers an optional night mode, three focus settings, five white balance settings, five color effects, and six shooting modes, including panorama and continuous. Additional settings control shutter sound.

The camcorder shoots at a 320×240 resolution, and has an option to limit message length for video messages–about 30 seconds long at a 176×144-pixel resolution. Otherwise, the camera and camcorder share all other settings. The Evergreen has 256MB of internal memory for storing your media. The microSD card slot accommodates cards up to 16GB.

As music players go, the Evergreen's is functional, with onscreen controls to pause, play, and skip. You can shuffle and repeat a song, and create playlists in advance or on the fly. The music player controls also extend to Bluetooth headsets, but remember again that there's no dedicated jack for wired headphones. There is a shortcut from the music module to AT&T's music store to purchase more songs.

There are six games onboard the Evergreen, a few of which are Brain Challenge 3, Pac-Man Champions, and Tetris. You can also purchase more from AT&T's online application storefront.

The Evergreen's Earth-friendly properties include energy-saving power settings that automatically adjust screen time-out and brightness. You'll also find a pedometer (a tool called Eco Walk), an eco calculator that calculates your driving efficiency, and appropriately themed wallpaper and ringtones.

We tested the quad-band Samsung Evergreen (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) in San Francisco using AT&T's network. Call quality was acceptable, but hardly stunning. We heard a pervasive digital buzzing on our end every time a caller spoke. We didn't notice any other distortion, breaks, or interruptions, though. On their end, callers said our voice clarity sounded flat and dull but also mentioned there was no problem with the overall conversation.

Speakerphone volume sounded nice and loud to our ears, but we noticed that same buzzy distortion. Our friends, by contrast, said we sounded quiet, and noted some digital distortion. They had a hard time hearing us and asked us to turn speakerphone off.

AT&T's online services tend to load slowly, even over 3G. We often lost patience before things loaded or had to set down the phone to come back later. That's not uncommon with messaging phones, but it may make all but the most dedicated users think twice before exploring an app or service.

The Samsung Evergreen has a rated battery life of 5 hours, and a standby time of 10.4 days. FCC radiation tests measure a digital SAR of 0.41 watt per kilogram.

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