Mobile : Expert Review: Samsung Rugby II SGH-A847 (AT&T)

THE GOOD: The Samsung Rugby II has a durable, comfortable design and a solid feature set. It builds on its predecessor by adding voice dialing and by performing better.

THE BAD: The Rugby II has a nonstandard headset jack and Samsung hides the memory card slot behind the phone's battery.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Samsung Rugby II improves on its predecessor and delivers a functional, rugged phone with satisfying performance.

"Stick with what works" appears to be Samsung's theme with the Rugby II for AT&T. In both design and features the Rugby II, aka the SGH-A847, is nearly identical to Sammy's first Rugby phone. You'll find they both share the same rugged design and a strong focus on communication with support for AT&T's push-to-talk network. Fortunately, the Rugby II offers better call quality than its predecessor did and it adds the all-important voice-dialing feature. However, on the downside, with the Rugby II, Samsung still forces you to use a nonstandard headset jack. The Rugby II costs $99 with a two-year service agreement; if you don't want a contract, you'll pay $249 for the phone's full price.

If you put the Rugby II next to the Rugby, we'd wager that you wouldn't be able to tell them apart. The Rugby II has a different color scheme (silver and black versus burgundy and black) and is slightly larger, but its remaining design elements are the same. The large speaker above the external display is designed for PTT calls, the ribbed sidings give the phone a comfortable feel in the hand, and the tough plastic skin should take many blows. The Rugby II is slightly larger (4.01 inches long by 2.05 inches wide by 0.86 inch deep) than the Rugby is, but at 3.52 ounces, it's a tad lighter.

The camera lens sits below the external display.

The color external display shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and photo caller ID. It also displays your recent call log, but we were disappointed that you can't use it a self-portrait viewfinder for the camera. Speaking of which, the lens is just below the viewfinder. You don't get a flash for night shots.

The PTT button and volume rocker sit on the left spine. Thankfully, they're easily accessible during a call. On the right spine, you'll find the speakerphone control and a Micro-USB for the charger, a USB cable, and a wired headset. Not only does that mean that you can't use a 3.5mm headset, but also you can use only one peripheral at a time. The battery cover uses a locking mechanism to keep out moisture. It's easy to remove, which is a good thing since the microSD card slot is located inconveniently behind the battery.

The 2.2-inch internal display supports 262,000 colors. That's a bit bigger then the Rugby's display so we appreciate the extra space. It's bright and vibrant with sharp graphics and readable text. You can select one of two easy-to-use menu styles and you can adjust the brightness, the backlighting time, and the dialing-font, size, type, and color.

The Rugby's navigation array is almost the same as its predecessor's is. Samsung covers the phone's square toggle in a textured material, but all of the navigation controls are flush. The OK button in the toggle's center is a Web browser shortcut in standby mode; we'd prefer that it take you to the menu instead. You'll also get two soft keys, a clear control, the Talk and End/power buttons, a shortcut for a user-programmable Favorites menu, and a shortcut for the GPS feature. Honestly, we don't find the latter very useful on a device that's not a smartphone. You can program the toggle to give one-touch access to four user-defined features.

Though they're also flat, the keypad buttons are spacious and the keys and separated from each other. We could dial and text quickly, though not by feel. The numbers on the keys are large, however, and they have a bright backlighting.

As mentioned, the Rugby II shares many of the Rubgy's features. We'll review them quickly for the uninitiated before diving into the changes. You'll find a 1,000-contact phone book with multiple fields for each entry, support for AT&T's Address Book feature, six polyphonic ringtones (a rather measly offering), text and multimedia messaging, a solid array of organizer features, instant messaging, and Web-based POP3 e-mail support for a variety of providers.

Also on Rugby II are support for stereo Bluetooth, USB mass storage, PC syncing, AT&T's Video Share application, and AT&T's PTT network for making walkie-talkie calls to other compatible AT&T phones. For GPS, you not only get access to AT&T's navigation service, but also AT&T Family Map, AllSport GPS, Loopt, Where, Trimble Outdoors, TeleNav Track, and GPS TimeTrack. Keep in mind that these services will require an additional cost.

As a 3G device, the Rugby also supports AT&T's Cellular Video service, which offers tons of streaming-video content, and AT&T Mobile Music, which brings wireless song downloads through a variety of partners. And here again you'll find assorted music services like AT&T radio, music videos, a Music ID application, a Billboard Mobile channel, and a community section.

We were very glad to see that the Rugby II offers speaker-independent voice dialing and commands. This was a serious omission on the original Rugby, particularly in an era of hands-free calling laws. The Rugby II also gets a boost to its camera resolution with a 2.0-megapixel shooter. It takes pictures in four resolutions and it offers a choice of three quality settings.

The camera lens sits below the external display.

Other camera options include a self-timer; brightness and white-balance controls; mosaic, panorama, multishot, and night modes; 20 frames; three color tones; a 4x digital zoom (unusable at the highest resolution); and three shutter sounds. Its camera's photo quality was among the best we've seen on a midrange phone. Its photo colors were bright, with sharp clarity, and no image noise.

We liked the Rugby II's photo quality.

The Rugby II's camcorder records clips in a 176×144-pixel resolution with sound and a similar set of editing options. Multimedia messaging limits cap clips to about one minute and 30 seconds; otherwise, you can shoot for as long as the available memory will permit. The Rugby has about 70MB of shared internal memory, that's almost half of what Samsung gave the Rugby II. We can't fathom why Samsung made the cut, though even 70MB should be enough for most users. If it's not, however, you can use a microSD card up to 32GB.

You can personalize the Rugby with color themes, greetings, wallpaper, and alert tones. You can download additional ringtones and other options via its WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser. You also can log on to download various applications, but a fair number come of the phone including My Cast 5 Weather, Mobile Banking, WikiMobile, AT&T Social Net, Yellowpages Mobile, and MobiTV. Samsung gives gamers demo versions of Big Range Hunting II, Tetris, and World Series of Poker with the phone.

We tested the quad-bad (GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz) Rugby II world phone in San Francisco using AT&T. We are glad Samsung improved the Rugby II's audio quality over that of the Rugby's. Where with the Rugby's audio was harsh, making our friends' voices sound like robots, the Rugby II's voice quality is smooth and clear. Our friends sounded like themselves, the volume was loud, and the signal stayed relatively strong. We still heard a slight hum in the background, but it was quieter on the Rugby II than its predecessor was.

On their end, callers said we sounded good. They also heard a slight hum, but they didn't report any problems hearing us. Most of our friends said they could tell that we were using a cell phone, though automated calling systems understood us even if we spoke softly. Its speakerphone and PTT audio quality are also fine. The Rugby II's speakerphone distorts audio when at the highest volumes, which isn't unusual, so you need to sit close to the phone when speaking.

As an e-book reader, the Tab has plenty going for it. The included Kindle app grants you access to one of the most popular e-book retailers in the world. Through the Android Market, e-book software from Barnes & Noble and dozens of other sources can be installed. As an alternative to a dedicated e-book reader, such as the Kindle, Nook, or Sony Reader, the Tab's paperback-like dimensions make it a natural fit. On the downside, the Tab's battery life is relatively low; it's considerably heavier than most e-readers; and its highly reflective backlit LCD isn't as revered by book lovers as e-ink screens.

Samsung rates the Rugby II's battery life at three hours talk time and 10.4 days standby time. It lasted 4 hours and 59 minutes in our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Rugby II has a digital SAR of 0.52 watts per kilogram.

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