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REVIEW: Samsung SGH-i320 Windows Mobile Smartphone
Posted by Arne Hess - on Monday, 09.10.06 - 20:17:14 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 38566x
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The recently released Samsung SGH-i320 Windows Mobile Smartphones follows the BlackBerry idea - a mobile phone with a QWERTY thumb keyboard - as also build by Motorola as the Motorola Q and HTC as HTC Excalibur (O2 Xda cosmo/T-Mobile Dash).
The i320 measures 59 x 111 x 11.5 millimeters and weights 95 grams only. It's powered by Windows Mobile 5.0 with AKU 2.5 Smartphone Edition which means it hasn't has a touch screen but is used with the keyboard only. It's powered by a Samsung S3C2442 CPU with 400 MHz (which is quite unusual for today's Windows Mobile Smartphones). It supports GSM/GPRS/EDGE WAN communication featuring GSM 900/1800/1900 MHz but lacks GSM 850 MHz support as used in most parts of the U.S.
While the i320 also supports Bluetooth 1.2 (including A2DP and AVRC Bluetooth protocols for stereo), it lacks - like the Motorola Q but unlike the HTC Excalibur - W-LAN. However, unlike the Excalibur, the i320 has infrared onboard as well.
The memory is quite generous for a Windows Mobile Smartphone since it is featuring 160 MB ROM and 64 MG SDRAM which can be extended with a micoSD card.
The crisp 2.2" QVGA display supports the Windows Mobile typical 65k colors. The CMOS sensor camera supports 1.3 mega pixels and allows to record videos as well as taking photos.

Unlike BlackBerrys (and other followers), the i320 hasn't has a jog wheel or anything similar but it's featuring a D-Pad only.
The device is synced and charged through Samsung's propriety non-mini USB connector and the stereo headset is also connected with a propriety connector. However, on the back the device also features a kind of stereo speakers.

The sales pack includes the device, two 1000 mAh, Lithium-ion batteries, a battery holder for the spare battery, a 110V - 220V AC charger, USB sync cable, a wired stereo headset, the manual the typical Microsoft CD-ROM with ActiveSync and Outlooks 2002 and an extra CD-ROM with some more software:

The device itself is a typical messaging phone, with its thumb keyboard and the landscape display. The overall look and feel and the shape of the device remind a typical Samsung mobile phone, it even reminds the Samsung Ultra Edition, even if it isn't as flat as Ultra Edition mobiles are.
The color is black with a violet shine, looks good and high value, it's not looking like a cheap toy or a simple calculator:


On the other hand it seems that the used plastic is a little bit susceptible. After roughly one week of use, the backside had already scratches (left and right from the camera) where it overlies on the table:

While the upper part of the keyboard is pretty much Windows Mobile Smartphone standard, it's featuring a 5-way D-Pad, the green and red call buttons, two soft-keys the Home and back key, the lower part of the keyboard is the initially mentioned QWERTY thumb keyboard where every key has several meanings which includes the alphabet, the special characters and the number pad to enter phone numbers.
I don't need to explain you the alphabet here nor that you have to use the Fn key to get the special characters but I would like to highlight the way, Samsung has implemented the number keys.
If you are in the Homescreen and you want to dial a number, you can notice that the 1 to 9 number keys has a border (for instance for the 1, the E and the R are combined). The reason for that is that you can either press the E or the R (or both in parallel) to dial the 1. Same with T and Y to dial the 2, etc. Only the 0 is one single key (the space bar) and the * and # are a single key only.

That's pretty handy because this way of integration makes dialing a number way easier since you don't have to exactly hit the right key. However, this feature is active from the Homescreen only if you want to dial a number. If you want to enter an alphanumerical text, the R isn't the 1 anymore but the @.Same if you want to Smartdial from the Homescreen (searching for a contact). You also have to use the full keyboard to enter the name. If farts of the name are linked to the number keys, the device just dials this numbers. Like searching for HESS gives you 51 as the phone number to dial as well as it finds all contacts named Hess.

The 1.3 megapixel camera is on the backside of the device (since it isn't a UMTS device, it don't has a second camera on the front). Above the camera you have the photo light. Left and right from the camera, the device has the two loudspeakers which are used for audio playback or if the device is in hands-free mode during phone calls:

On the left, the i320 has the volume rocker only:

And on the right you have Samsung's typical Quick List button on the top which also key locks the device (similar to the Samsung SGH-i300 which had the same button with the same functions). Bellow you have the red button which has two functions (press and press and hold), Samsung allows you to customize. In the standard mode, the button starts the camera and is also the camera shutter:

Bellow you have the headset and the sync port, both covered by flaps which needs to be opened to plug-in the stereo headset or charger/sync cable.


Under the battery cover you get access to the battery, the SIM card and the microSD card. Don't ask me why Samsung decided to make the SIM card "hot swappable" (removing it without removing the battery) while you have to remove the battery to take out the microSD card. This doesn't make any sense since you always have to switch off and on your device if you just want to change the microSD but that's the way it works.

As with all of this thumb keyboarded mobile phones (doesn't matter if it is a BlackBerry, a Motorola Q, the HTC Excalibur or the Samsung SGH-i320), the main question is how the keyboard is working in the daily use and I've used the device for roughly one week now. I have to admit, that slowly I get used to this keyboard devices - thanks to my previous use of the O2 Xda cosmo. Right now, I feel way more comfortable with the i320 than I felt before with the Excalibur. However, this isn't because Samsung made anything better than HTC but because I trained the use with the Excalibur already and from my humble opinion both keyboards are pretty similar with small advantages for the i320. Even if it is not as wide as the Excalibur, the keys are not that close together (which also means they are smaller). However, the buttons are still big enough to be used for messaging purpose like E-Mail, SMS or chat. Dialing a phone number with the i320 is also easier because you have two keys per number and therefore it's easier to enter a phone number.

All the rest is Windows Mobile Smartphone standard as well - select the contact, navigate left right to select the number you want to dial and press dial.

As mentioned before, the i320 isn't powered by the latest AKU (which would be AKU 3) but by AKU 2.5 "only". Sure, this is not too bad and in the daily use you will not miss anything. Since it is AKU 2.5 it also features Microsoft's Messaging and Security Feature Pack which includes push E-Mail functions. All the other Microsoft applications are well known already. Even more interesting are the applications, Samsung added in addition and Samsung added many helper utilities and fine tuned the operating system.

For instance Samsung added its own Homescreen application again, which we already knew from the SGH-i300. Interestingly enough, Samsung also added O2 Germany's Genion support for Home- and Cityzone indication:

Samsung also allows customizing more or less all extra keys including the right soft button and the right application button as well as changing the Start menu from List View to Grid View:


Last but not least, the device can be used in the USB storage mode as well. While it made more sense for the i300 (because of its internal hard drive) this function gives you direct access to the microSD card without installing ActiveSync on a PC.

Pretty interesting is the way, how the 3rd party MMS client was integrated. It shares the folder with SMS which means your mobile messaging messages are stored in a kind of unified inbox. In addition to this, you can add extra E-Mail accounts for sure.

Now the helper applications Samsung added. Like before at the SGH-i300, Samsung also added an extra alarm application, a countdown application a world clock, a converter (which converts currencies, lengths, weights, volumes, areas and temperatures), a stop watch a task manager and the "SRS WOW XT" manager to fine tune the sound if you listen audio files.

The Windows Mobile File Explorer (which was just introduced with AKU 2) was also replaced with Samsung's own File Explorer:

Pretty interesting is Samsungs Launcher application which pops-up if you press and hold the Home key:

This Launcher is customizable and allows to group frequently used programs:

But you can even add URLs, folders, documents or multimedia files to the Launcher:

Since the SGH-i320 lacks native Office document viewers because it's running Windows Mobile for Smartphone, not Windows Mobile for Pocket PC, Samsung decided to add the great working Picsel Viewer application to the device. The Picsel Viewer handles all Microsoft Office application file formats as well as PDFs and can also be sued to view images and graphics. Unfortunately, as the name says, the Picsel Viewer is a viewer application only, so you can not create any documents with the device, even if the keyboard would be good enough at least for editing. However, this is a typical Smartphone platform problem and not Samsung's fault at all.

Final Conclusion

Yes, I made the i320 my regular device (at the moment) and it's doing it great. However, the lack of GSM 850 narrowed my (international roaming) use in the U.S. last week. Well, in international roaming you can (mostly) live without GSM 850. If you live in the U.S. and your carrier is Cingular, you cannot live without the 850 MHz at all. So if you are a Cingular customer, the i320 is definitely not your device.
The lack of W-LAN affects all, even if I read in the past comments that W-LAN isn't so important for business users. I would temped to disagree, it's important - if your office has W-LAN or if you travel a lot. W-LAN is often the cheaper broadband alternative (especially in international roaming) and I wouldn't watch my Slingbox via EDGE (if I'm at international roaming or if I don't have a flat fee). Sure, it always depends for what you use your device and if you reduce it to pure and serious "business use" like PIM and E-Mail, you might can live without W-LAN. However, since these kinds of devices are our daily companions, also in the evening or on weekends, W-LAN would be a nice add-on.

I'm definitely impressed about the tools and tweaks, Samsung added to the device to make the Windows Mobile platform even better. The unified inbox for SMS and MMS is pretty handy and the small helper tools are even handier (I've used them a lot when I was in the U.S. last week).
If you use mobile phone cameras, you might be positive impressed by the camera quality, which is far better than most HTC cameras.

And for sure I was pretty impressed how well the keyboard is working. At first I thought it's too small, especially if you compare it to other messaging phones but Samsung found a great working balance between size and usability. You get a clear tactical feedback if you press a key and in my past use, I made a good progress in using the keyboard to compose and reply E-Mails. As mentioned before, I'm even more impressed about the way, how the dialing functionalities are implemented by grouping two keys two one number.

Completely unimpressed I'm about the propriety sync and charge socket. I still prefer mini USB instead since I have dozens of mini USB cables floating around my office and home. The propriety cables means I have to carry the charger or sync cable between the office and home since I can not use other Samsung cables since the socket is placed deep inside the body which means most of the other Samsung cables I have are not working at all, even if the cables have the same jack. Also I'm not really impressed by the propriety stereo jack, even if the headset is doing great. It limits me to the original headset (or I'm using a Bluetooth headset) since there is no adapter available to use standard stereo headsets.

Last but not least the standby time. It's not as bad as I thought first and as you might have read about in the Internet but it's far away from being good or standard. Giving a standby time is always hard to measure, since it always depends on the use, but if you use the i320 regularly for phone calls, web access and E-Mail, the battery might not stand a whole working day. It makes sense that Samsung put a second battery into the sales pack; however I don't want to carry a second battery in my jacket nor can I charge the battery without the device. A cradle would make sense but unfortunately the time has gone where such devices included a cradle by default.

So is the SGH-i320 worth the money? Yes, it is - if you live in Europe or Asia/Oceania and if you don't need W-LAN and you don't use UMTS.
If you need faster web access you have two options: You either use a similar device (like the HTC Excalibur) which has W-LAN or you wait for the i320 follower, the SGH-i600 which will have both - W-LAN and UMTS/HSDPA.
Nevertheless, if you "just need/want" a regular GSM mobile phone with a great working keyboard which is well engineered and implemented, the i320 could be definitely your choice.
Currently it's my choice but yes, I'm also using a second device for W-LAN and UMTS access.

Cheers ~ Arne


 

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