In part 2 of the Samsung SGH-i300 review I'm concentrating on the software and the features, after part 1 of the review was about the design, size and hardware-usability.
As we got confirmed now, at least the first series of the to be released SGH-i300 is definitely working with Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition instead of Windows Mobile 5.0 which has some serious advantages over 2003 SE. So the question is, if the i300 is outdated already, right before it hits the stores and the simple answer is yes - if you just follow the feature-sheet. For sure, nobody would buy a PC today which is running Windows 2000 only and denies any upgrade possibilities to Windows XP. On the other side, in my humble opinion it is slightly different with mobile devices, especially with mobile phones (and I already know for this sentence I will be criticized). A Windows Mobile device isn't bad at all, just because it isn't running the latest software, if - and that's even more important - the whole package you get for the money is worth.
As said, the i300 is running Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition and features the latest AKU2 too which includes some important enhancements like Windows Media Player 10 Mobile which is required to play DRM protected WMA and WMV files (like from Napster, msn Music, O2 Music, etc.) on the device. Also, it features an Intel Bulverde CPU which is quite unusual for a Smartphone and supports a QVGA screen resolution. The built-in memory is around 50 MB with a total storage of around 18 MB:
As you can see from the two screenshots above, Samsung decided to use a bold font to make test reading easier, otherwise the text would looks too small and lost on a QVGA screen. Since the i300 isn't a Windows Mobile 5.0 device, the start menu isn't featuring the grid-view but list-view only - unfortunately (please note that I have rearranged the start menu, this isn't the standard configuration):
Beside the standard 2003 SE applications, the i300 also comes preloaded with many Samsung-specific applications: from utilities to device enhancements.
First of all and maybe most important, the i300's USB 2.0 mass storage feature which lets you use the device as a removable disk on any PC, doesn't matter if you have ActiveSync installed or not. Since the device includes a 3 GB harddisk, the USB 2.0 mode is useful to copy a huge amount of media files to the device. The USB Mode is part of the Settings menu and allows you to switch between the ActiveSync and Mass Storage mode:
Right after you've switched the USB mode to Mass Storage mode, the device works as a removable harddisk and while connected to the PC, it can not be browsed from the device but from the PC only. On the other hand, if Mass Storage is enabled, ActiveSync is disabled and the device isn't synchronized with the PC. Mass Storage and ActiveSync are not working in parallel:
As soon as it is connected with the PC, the PC recognize it as removable storage:
You can even access the HDD properties from the Windows File Explorer:
As soon as you disconnect it from the PC, you can browse the harddisk from the device itself again:
Copying files to and from the device in the Mass Storage mode works the same like you copy files from and to your harddisks and thanks to the USB 2.0 support, this works as fast as you expect to work it. You can even access and open files from the harddisk itself. No reason to copy it to the PC first and therefore the i300 can replace your USB memory stick. This would work even handier, if the i300 would use a standard mini USB connector instead of the propriety Samsung USB connector because this means you have to carry the USB cable with you if you want to use the USB feature. You can not take any USB to mini USB cable you might have in the office or around you, which is clearly a weakness.
Another i300 typical device enhancement is the support for Bluetooth stereo headsets, using the standard Bluetooth Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) which the i300 supports beside the standard Serial Port, Dial-up Networking, Headset and Object Push Bluetooth Profiles. While Samsung uses Microsoft's original Bluetooth stack implementation for standard Bluetooth support, they've added A2DP on top, using an implementation from Impulsesoft:
With this implementation you can use the i300 as a true unwired MP3 player with every Bluetooth stereo headset which supports A2DP. I've tested the i300 with Motorola's HT820 headset (which additionally supports the Headset Profile and can be used for voice calls also) and the i300 pairs fine with both profiles simultaneously - the A2DP and Headset Profile:
The i300 supports the full A2DP implementation which means you can control the music player on the device from the headset including play/pause/forward/backward. For a standard use, you don't have to take the phone out of the pocket and while listening the music, you can also receive and make phone calls. If you get a call, the playback is paused and you can use the headset for the call. As soon as the call is finished, the playback continues.
Music is a good keyword to have a detailed look into Samsung's own applications they have preinstalled on the device. First of all and most important might be the Samsung specific Media Player which isn't a full self-development of Samsung at all but sets-up on top of the original Windows Mobile Media Player 10 Mobile using Microsoft's OCX model. However, for some reasons, Samsung decided to use this player in addition to the original Media Player and one reason is the better harddisk support including caching to reduce battery drain during media playback. But, the Samsung Media Player - which can be launched with one of the buttons on the left side of the device - basically looks like the original Media Player and includes more or less the same functionalities:
For audio playback it supports the Basic , the Visual Equalizer and Album Art view (if supported by the media file):
Samsung's Media Player also supports videos and therefore you don't have to switch to Microsoft's Media Player. Also, the Library menu is - more or less - the same as used in Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, Portable Media Centers and Windows XP Media Center Edition and supports standard and full screen video playback:
What I really appreciate is the fact, that Samsung separated the Media Player sound from the system sound of the device. You know, normally you have to tune up the system sound of the Smartphone to listen music or video. Not with the Samsung Media Player where the Media Player doesn't cares the system sound settings. Really handy if you have normally set your system sound reduced.
Since the i300 is using Windows Mobile 2003 SE it can not use Microsoft's standard API for accessing the 1.3 megapixel camera but has to use its own camera application - which isn't that bad at all since Samsung has way more experience in camera phones then Microsoft. Therefore, the camera functionality (you can launch the camera from a button on the right side of the device) reminds pretty much on other non-Windows Mobile Samsung phones. Unfortunately it takes a little bit too long to initialize the camera (as Samsung calls it) and therefore you might miss the one or the other snapshot.
The camera itself supports photos in different sizes (1280 x 1024, 640 x 480, 320 x 240, 176 x 144) as well as videos without a length-limit (176 x 144 only).
Bellow you find some (click the thumbnail to get the unedited) sample shots with different resolutions:
1280 x 1024
640 x 480
320 x 240
176 x 144
Also the i300 camera can not replace your digital camera, the quality isn't that bad at all - if you keep in mind that it is 1.3 megapixel only. On my last vacation at Mallorca, I used it quite heavy for snapshots and you can seriously enjoy the photos. Also night shots or photos in a darker environment are working well, thanks to the strong and bright photo light. Compared to other Windows Mobile devices, you can clearly see Samsung's experience in building camera enabled mobile phones:
Since multimedia is one of the strengths of the SGH-i300, Samsung also splashed in a multimedia application called My Items which provides fast and easy access to the different types of media files. From here you can easily open your different media files like photos, videos, songs and sound files:
Last but not least the i300 comes with plenty of other small helpers called Tools which includes the typical File Manager (which is worth if you have a 3 GB HDD) a utility to Format your harddisk, Picsel Viewer to view Microsoft Office Documents as well as PDF files, a propriety program called Program Launcher which emulates the grid view (and can be launched through pressing and holding the Home button), a SIM Manager to edit your SIM card content (like phone numbers), Smart Convert to convert currencies, lengths, weights, volumes, areas and temperatures, SRS WOW XT to optimize the audio output, a Task Manager and a Time Manager which includes an Alarm (with Home screen plug-in), World Clock, D-Day app and Stop Watch):
See all Tools screenshots in the Photo Album here:
Talking about the Home screen: Samsung also provides its own Home screen plug-in which takes less space while it provides more information and easier access to functions. This Home screen plug-in is available in two configurations: a small bar where you have to navigate up and down to get the information and a large bar, which can be collapsed:
Beside providing information of the next appointment, opening the harddisk or storage card in the file explorer providing information about missed calls and received message, can also be used to control the Samsung Media Player right from the Home screen. However, I'm sure this is an optional feature only and don't expect to see it picked-up by all carriers as carriers might prefer different Home screen implementations.
Since the i300 is a mobile phone also, for sure it also supports WAP and MMS. Unlike other manufactures which uses the Internet Explorer for WAP, Samsung added a separate WAP browser:
However, in my opinion the page rendering is slower then the same rendering with Pocket Internet Explorer.
The MMS client - as you can expect it - is part of the Inbox and not a stand-alone application. However, unlike most other devices which are suing the ArcSoft client, again Samsung is using its own implementation:
No other Windows Mobile MMS client supports so many options to spice-up your MMS messages:
This makes the i300 MMS client the best MMS client I've seen so far at a Windows Mobile device!
Software-wise, Samsung made - nearly - everything right and the way the Samsung SGH-i300 works is the smoothest and nicest Windows Mobile Smartphone implementation I have seen so far. You can clearly see that Samsung has some real long-term experiences in the mobile phone world while - on the other hand - they also use the Windows Mobile strength where appropriate. Except in the selection of the operating system version which is clearly the weakness of the device! Using Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition isn't contemporary anymore for a device which hits the stores this fall. On the other hand - I must admit - for a standard user, Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition in the way how Samsung utilized it is still good enough and the standard user can and will (I'm sure) enjoy this phone and its features. But for a real "Mobile Phone Fan" who might be addicted to the latest Windows Mobile OS version, it's clearly not recommendable!
Nevertheless, the i300 made it to my regular Windows Mobile phone even if it stands in competition with other, more modern Smartphones like the HTC Tornado (aka i-mate SP5) which also features a QVGA screen but additionally adds W-LAN support and uses Windows Mobile 5.0. However, in the foreground I don't need W-LAN support for Windows Mobile Smartphones since the 30 MB GPRS plan serves my needs good enough but for sure I'm missing some 5.0 enhancements with the i300 like the better E-Mail implementation (not to talk about missing push E-Mail functionality) and smoother Pocket Internet Explorer implementation with better HTML support and full screen view. But I got a 3 GB harddisk (plus an micoSD card slot which I don't like at all since II would prefer to use miniSD or even better SD) to store all my media files on the phone which includes some 100 MB of music, photos and videos!
I also like the way how Samsung has implemented the camera and so far it's (again) the best camera implementation I've seen so far on Windows Mobile phones and together with Samsung's own MMS client it's even worthier.
Last but not least all the handy and useful tools Samsung has preinstalled like converters and its own alarm application. This adds another benefit (at least for me) which makes the device even worthier. But again, I would also prefer to see it released with Windows Mobile 5.0 instead of 2003 Second Editon but we should never give up the hope to see an upgrade later anyway.
So the questions stays open and I don't have a final answer: is the device worth to buy with an outdated operating system? In my humble opinion it is and the combination of hardware, look & feel and utilities and tools it makes it a worth buy. However, if you expect more from a new Windows Mobile device - such as W-LAN support, the latest OS and new features like Push E-Mail, the Samsung SGH-i300 cannot be your choice.
Cheers ~ Arne