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REVIEW: Samsung SGH-i600 Ultra Messaging Windows Mobile Smartphone
Posted by Arne Hess - on Friday, 20.04.07 - 19:32:42 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 57723x
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Thanks to Samsung, I've recently got my hands on the final version of a Samsung SGH-i600, the EMEA/APAC version of Samsung's BlackJack which was launched late last year. While the i600 was announced earlier, the U.S. got it released faster but since last month, the i600 is also available across Europe. Generally speaking, the i600 is the follower of Samsung's earlier introduced SGH-i320 and like the i320, the i600 is sporting a QWERTY keyboard for easy typing. This makes the device definitely another BlackBerry competitor. The i600 is part of Samsung's Ultra series and this one is also called "Ultra Messaging". Only 11.8 mm thin, the i600 fits perfectly into Samsung's Ultra series but UMTS and HSDPA makes it quite unique today. Not too many keyboard enabled smartphones features triband GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850 MHz aren't supported), singleband UMTS/HSDPA (up to 1.8 Kbps) as well as WiFi b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 EDR yet.

Sporting Windows Mobile 5.0 with the latest 3.4 AKU, the Samsung SGH-i600 is powered by a TI OMAP 1710 CPU at 220 MHz and features 128 MB ROM and 64 MB RAM which can be extended with microSD flash memory cards.
The 2.3" (non-touch) screen supports a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels at 65k colors. On the back, the i600 includes a 1.3 megapixel  camera for photos up to 1280 x 1024 pixels or videos up to 320 x 240 pixels. On the front, the device has a VGA camera for UMTS and HSDPA-based video telephony (if supported by the operator).

The sales pack includes the device, two standard batteries, a battery holder which also acts as a charger for the second battery, the AC 110 - 220 V charger, a USB sync cable, a stereo headset with microphone, CD-ROMs which contains Microsoft ActiveSync, add-on software, the User's Guide in PDF format and a printed Quick Reference Guide.

On the front, the device features the Windows Mobile typical Home and Back/Clear keys as well as two soft keys and for sure the Send and End keys. Centered is the 4-way navigation key with the OK/Action key in the middle.
Bellow is the thumb-keyboard (for this review, the German QWERTZ layout is used but Samsung also offers British and French localized keyboard layouts) and bellow the keyboard - on the right - you have the microphone. Above the function keys you have the screen with the speaker and video camera on the right.
On the back, the device features the 1.3 megapixel camera and left from it a mirror for self-portraits. On the right, the device has the loudspeaker which is used for hands-free calls and media playback. Unlike the SGH-i320, the i600 neither features a photo-light nor the dual speakers anymore:

On the left, the device features the volume up/down keys and bellow it has the headset/power adapter/data cable jack - protected by a flap. Unfortunately Samsung is using a propriety jack again and not supporting a standard mini USB jack. This means you have to buy new cables and chargers, if you need additional or spare. Also, accessories you might have bought already will not work with the i600 - for instance standard stereo headsets but you either have to use the original i600 stereo headset or a Bluetooth stereo headset. I'm not aware of a i600 plug to 3.5 mm stereo adapter yet:

On the right side, the device has (top down) the microSD card slot (also protected by flap), the clickable thumbwheel and another Back/Clear key which also acts as the camera key (by pressing and holding the key).

Having volume keys and a thumbwheel is quite unusual, most devices features either the one or the other but having both adds serious convenience to the device. Last but not least the i600 shows-off what it can do by having the WiFi and Bluetooth logos on the left side and featuring a HSDPA writing on the right side.

Under the battery cover, the device hosts the battery and the USIM card. On the right photo, we have the battery holder which also acts as an external charger for the second battery:

Size-wise, the i600 is a typical messaging device and similar sized to its competitors - like the Motorola MOTO Q 9h (which is another new UMTS/HSDPA Windows Mobile Standard smartphone):

Thanks to the rubberized soft-touch finishing on the back, the device is pleasing to touch and hold and even if it looks quite wide (and for sure it's wider than a regular candy bar phone) on the first sight, it's a pleasure to hold and use it.

Similar to the SGH-i320, Samsung also grouped the number keys at the i600 which means E and R acts as the 1 key, T and Z as the 2 key, U and I as the 3 key, etc. if you dial a number. This is unique for Windows Mobile smartphones and makes sense since it doubles the space for entering phone numbers. I already enjoyed this idea with the i320 since it makes dialing a number way faster. And, typical for Windows Mobile Standard based smartphones, the software either knows if you want to enter a number or a character or - for instance at the address book - it offers both in parallel.

Bellow a short video with some of the use cases including the use of the Thumbwheel and the use of the keyboard:

As said earlier, the Samsung SGH-i600 is running Windows Mobile 5.0 for Smartphone which means it doesn't has a touch screen. Samsung used the latest available AKU (3.4) to get most out of the operating system and AKU 3.x includes some additional benefits.

However, beside using just the vanilla operating system, as provided by Microsoft, Samsung added self-developed and licensed 3rd party applications to make the device even smarter and more useful.

This includes, for instance, several Home Screen designs and layouts you can find on Samsung devices only - like the Samsung Simple, the Samsung Popup, the Samsung Calendar and the Samsung Clock layout:

In addition, Samsung also added the sophisticated Card Wheel layout which was reviewed earlier already.

Another useful application is the Task Manager which can be launched from anywhere by pressing and holding the Home key. The Task Manager provides information about the currently running applications with the option to jump to an application or to close it as well as closing all running applications with a single click:

In addition, the Task Manager provides information about the battery status as well as memory information for the main and storage memory and storage card:

The Quick Launcher allows you to set up shortcuts to your favorite programs, website, files or folders to quickly access them, from wherever your are. To open the Quick Launcher just press and hold the thumbwheel and the Quick Launcher window appears on the right side of the display:

To make configuring the device even easier, Samsung also added an Operator Settings configuration utility which includes, depending on the country you got the i600 from, the available carriers and its WAP, MMS and Internet settings. This is pretty handy and convenient, since it is always a pain for a user to add the GPRS/UMTS APN, WAP proxy, etc. and most users even haven't heard about this stuff. With the configuration utility you simply select your carrier and everything else is done by the device automatically. It's even not requiring to reboot the device which means the device is ready to use right after the proper operator was selected:

As all Samsung Smartphones before (namely the SGH-i300 and SGH-i320), also the SGH-i600 includes this small helper utilities which makes the device even worthier in the daily use. For sure, Alarms (which works superior compared to the weak alarm implementation in Windows Mobile), D-Day, Smart Converter, Stopwatch and World Clock are not selling points mentioned in a store, for me however it makes sense to have such helpers on a device and shows that Samsung invested a good amount of time and money to think about what makes its Windows Mobile device even worthier:

Making the device even worthier for business users also includes the Notes and Picsel Viewer application. By default, Microsoft's Windows Mobile Smartphones are incompatible with Office Notes, it's are simply not supported which means you can neither sync Outlook Notes from your PC to your mobile device nor you have a utility on the device you can use to write down notes and memos quickly. However, Samsung again licensed Syncdata's SmartphoneNotes which closes both gaps. It's compatible with Outlook which means you can sync Notes from the PC to the device and vice versa and - on the device created Notes - can be synchronized back to the PC:

Same sad situation with Office files. While you can receive them via E-Mails, Windows Mobile 5.0 doesn't includes any viewers to open received Word docs or Excel spreadsheets. Therefore Samsung added the Picsel Viewer which supports Word, Excel, PowerPoint as well as PDF files. In addition, the Picsel Viewer supports a wide range of image files:

However, as the name says, the Picsel Viewer is a viewer only and therefore you can neither edit nor create Office files on the device.

Also for the MMS integration, Samsung went its own way. Unfortunately, the Windows Mobile platform still not includes a native MMS client and ODMs and manufactures have to add their own or licensed solution. The way Samsung added their MMS client makes really sense, because it was combined with the SMS inbox making it a unified inbox for mobile messaging:

This s pretty handy and makes creating, receiving and reading SMS text and MMS messages a pleasure.

Talking about enhancements. Also the Internet Explorer Mobile got an enhancement. However, this is part of AKU 3.x for Windows Mobile Smartphones and it includes a Windows Mobile 6-look alike Home Page.
Before, with previous versions, Internet Explorer Mobile always went to the Favorites after it was launched. Now, the Internet Explorer Mobile launches the Home Page after started and this Home Page is already known from Windows Mobile 6 and includes a Windows Live search filed as well as AJAX-look alike access to your Favorites and History:

Unfortunately, Samsung has overwritten this standard Windows Mobile Home Page with its own (WAP 2.0) start page. But a simple Registry change brings back the original Windows Mobile Home Page.

While we are talking about the Internet. Two other applications, added by Samsung are a RSS Reader and a Podcast podcacher:

The RSS Reader allows to import OPML files as well as adding new feeds on the fly which can be read offline later. It's either possible to update all feeds or a selected one only and feeds can be synched wireless as well as via ActiveSync:

The Podcast podcatcher allows to manage subscribed audio and video Podcasts which can be download over the air as well. It even includes a search functionality for Podcasts:

Downloaded audio and video Podcasts are played in the Windows Media Player 10 Mobile which is heavily skinned by Samsung to make it a nicer look and feel and even includes a equalizer kind of animation:

In addition, it's the latest Windows Media Player 10 Mobile version which includes a kind of smart dialing functionality to search for tracks from the Library:

Last but not least the cameras. The 1.3 megapixel camera on the back can be used for photos and video recordings and as always, the user interface is pretty complete and might be one of the best available camera user interfaces for Windows Mobile:

Unfortunately, the camera isn't what a modern mobile phone camera should be - at least 2.0 megapixel and therefore, even not too bad for a 1.3 megapixel camera only, the results are pretty poor compared with other Samsung mobile phones. Not sure why Samsung decided to use a 1.3 megapixel camera only.

The front facing VGA camera cannot be used for anything else than UMTS based video telephony and the following screens you only get while in video telephony mode. On the left side, the larger video, is the video stream your receive from the calling party. On the right side of the screen, the smaller video is a preview video of what you send. This can be disabled as well (right screenshot):

The front facing camera cannot be used stand-alone as well as the Video Call application cannot be launched separately but it's part of the telephony interface.

Final Conclusion

Is the Samsung SGH-i600 the perfect device? No, it's not but it's close to be perfect. However, I have a couple of objections. First of all the stand-by time which is way too short. The standard battery gives a stand-by of around 48 hours without any use. As soon as the device is used it might reach 24 hours only - or less. Sure, such a device is used for more than just a couple of voice calls and also UMTS drains batteries faster than GSM but I always have a bad feeling to leave my home if I know the day could be longer than expected. Yes, I have to admit that I'm using it for voice calls, web and E-Mail access as well as a photo camera but streaming live TV via the Slingbox gives an operating time of 2:40 h only which is too short. Thankfully Samsung provides a second battery but I don't want to carry a second battery at all.

The next objection is the camera. Having such a hump on the back for getting a 1.3 megapixel camera only doesn't makes sense and it's possible to have it leaner - as the Samsung i320 proves. The hump would be acceptable if the device would feature at least 2 megapixel, best with autofocus and optical zoom. Now it has a CMOS 1.3 megapixel camera only with 2x digital zoom. Still not bad for Windows Mobile but not state of the art for Samsung phones anymore. Samsung can do it better (up to 7 megapixel).

Last but not least the propriety connector which I seriously dislike. I would prefer mini USB instead. I understand, such devices don't have too much space anymore and technically it might be a problem to add mini USB. On the other side, Samsung is always using its propriety connectors and therefore it's questionable if it is a technical or business decision only. At the end it means you cannot connect any other accessories and since there is no adapter available, you even cannot use a better headset if you want to use the device as you MP3 player as well.

Okay, all the stuff above sounds pretty negative so it sounds like I'm not satisfied - right? Far from it because I love the device (with the few expectations). It's close to the best Windows Mobile Smartphone I had so far and I don't see anything better on the horizon yet. Therefore I'm sure it will escort me during the next 6 months or so.

GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA, WiFi b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 - what else does a wireless guy like me need? Sure, quadband GSM and triband HSDPA would be even nicer for international roaming as well as HSDPA with 3.6 Kbps and HSUPA would be better, but the carriers doesn't support 3.6 and HSUPA anyway at the moment so the 1.8 Mbps are quite enough. It's even close to my DSL line at home and at home, I never had the feeling that my DSL connection would be too slow, why should it be too slow for a mobile device?

Another great feature is the Thumbwheel and keyboard combination. This works perfectly for me and it's so easy to navigate and to use, that text and E-Mail messaging is a pleasure.

Last but not least the software integration. I really appreciate if ODMs and manufactures spend time to improve the original operating system they get from Microsoft and Samsung spent a lot of time to make Windows Mobile even better. Either by adding useful helpers like the Task Manager, the Quick Launch utility or the extra software, or by nicely integrating the MMS client. Here you see the difference between a pro like Samsung, who knows how to manufacture devices and ODMs which comes from other business like PC manufacturing. The hardware as well as the software is rocking solid and indeed it makes the Samsung SGH-i600 one of the best Windows Mobile devices available today.

If only it would features Windows Mobile 6 already. Especially after the Cingular BlackJack upgrade announcement, Samsung should better think twice if it also provides an upgrade for the i600 or not. On one hand it confirms that a Windows Mobile 6 ROM upgrade is technically possible (something we knew already anyway) on the other hand it could add some more benefit to a great device since Windows Mobile 6 features some enhancements, like HTML E-Mail support or Office Mobile, which are worth the extra time, Samsung might have to spend.

If you think now you need an i600 as well you might be surprised that it's not as expensive as you might expect. It's available in Europe for less than 499 Euro (without any contracts) - a fair price for such a device which features all the latest wireless technologies and even more.

Cheers ~ Arne

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